Each week, Hannah and Asriel will discuss the Young Women’s and Young Men’s lessons for the coming week from a feminist perspective. This week is lesson 42.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
Lesson 42: Courage to Try
Things I love about this lesson: we actually see a scriptural example of a female role model—Esther. I love that a large portion of the lesson is dedicated to discussing the significance of her story. I laughed when I read the line, “Ask the young women to think of a time when they tried something new and worthwhile, such as giving a talk…” because when I think of everything new and worthwhile and exciting in this world, speaking in church isn’t really first on my list. But anyways, I did enjoy the overall point of the lesson.
It seems like there’s definitely something in the culture or doctrine of the LDS Church that encourages women to pause before contributing, to only participate in certain acceptable activities and in acceptable ways, and to above all be modest in both dress and action. Women are rarely if ever told to be daring, to be spontaneous (beyond just according to the whisperings of the Spirit), or to be bold. I personally hate being ladylike and would like to see that cultural admonition eradicated from society, but that’s a different blog post—my point is that if I had been receiving messages to be audacious or intrepid, I think I would remember them in contrast to all the meek and submissive lessons I was getting.
My beef(s) with this lesson: it’s binary yet again (“be courageous, don’t be scared to speak up, do things you’ve never done before as long as they are righteous”), it seems more like a counseling session for struggling teens than a gospel lesson focused on spiritual development (in this 1,556 word lesson, there are zero mentions of Jesus Christ, one of God, and four of The Lord, with one of those references being made in a scriptural context), and lastly that it feels inadequate. This last critique is a personal qualm, I suppose. I just think if we want to convince the young women of the Church to be courageous, we’re going to need to do more than recite a tepid lesson about a Biblical woman who was righteous because she talked to her husband. I know it was a big deal culturally. But can we get a more current and applicable example perhaps? The only other story shared in the lesson is also Biblical, and it’s about a man. Why are there no stories of the thousands of pioneer women who exemplified courage? Is the LDS Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ really so bereft of female role models exemplifying courage that only ONE would pass correlation?
The Aaronic Priesthood
Lesson 42 is about honesty. The lesson opens with the old story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I see a possible connection between this story and Mormon feminism. As young Mormon feminists, do you ever feel pressure to pretend that you see women’s issues in the church the same way everyone else seems to? Do you feel as though if you were to speak out, you would be ridiculed or not taken seriously since all the members that are “spiritually in-tune” obviously have no qualms about the inequality women and men experience in the gospel? Perhaps I’ve found a connection here between this lesson on honesty, and the Young Women’s lesson about courage—it takes courage to be that honest young person when the honest answer is not the popular answer.
I also had a little difficulty with the story of Elder Wilcox applying to be a naval officer. Elder Wilcox is spared from danger because he was honest, according to the story. However, I don’t think the story is meant to imply that the soldiers that did die were dishonest.
I am glad that the manual suggested that instructors “may wish to adapt these examples to situations in your own area.” What a great suggestion to ensure that the principle is taught in the lesson, and that the specific stories are not particularly necessary.
I still remember being taught this lesson when I was fourteen, and mostly because of that story about Brother Palm. Who has a hole in his palm. And Brother Palmer feels guilty for being dishonesty with Brother Palm. And then in what should be the touching moment of the story, Brother Palmer accidentally places his finger in the hole in Brother Palm’s palm. I remember as my Teacher’s Quorum Adviser was reading the lesson to us, his eyes got really wide as he read that last part, and he just looked up at us and said “That is just weird.” I agree.
Hannah: It rankles me a little bit that the Young Men’s lesson is chock full of anecdotal examples of men exemplifying the quality the lesson is based on, compared to the Young Women’s lesson, which gives only two stories, and only one of them is about a woman. One of the stories in the Young Men’s lesson is about a Hans Christian Andersen story, which also irks me because it makes me wonder if it’s really the best example of honesty in all of Church canon and history. I hate to be a stickler for using scriptures/comments from Church leaders in lessons because I do recognize that there are important points to be made by non-Churchy sources; I just can’t help but wonder if it’s because those stories are superior at teaching the moral lessons, or if it’s because there just aren’t any good scriptural stories.
Asriel: That’s a good point. Esther’s story may be inspiring, but it isn’t as relatable as Elder Wilcox’s experience applying to be a naval officer. Young men can imagine themselves filling out an application and feeling tempted to lie on it; I’m not convinced that the young women can relate as easily to a woman who needs courage to stand up to the King of Persia.
Hannah: I noticed that the Young Men’s lesson directs the teacher to “Emphasize that all dishonesty, no matter how small, or insignificant, affects others.” But aren’t there instances of dishonesty in the church? Wasn’t Nephi dressing up and speaking as Laban a form of deceit and thus dishonesty? It seems to me like this kind of statement, while generally a good rule to live by, glosses over many historical gospel examples of incomplete truths or deceit.
Asriel: Oh yeah. The ol’ Nephi and Laban story. I have been trying to hash that one out since I was probably ten years old. I don’t even know how an instructor could even address that—don’t lie unless it is going to have a good outcome? Something I wanted to get your input on was in the opening of the Young Women’s lesson; the lesson outcome is that “Each young woman will have the courage to accept opportunities to improve her life.”That comes across as overly passive, especially considering the principle being taught is courage.
Hannah: Right, we should be encouraging the Young Women to actively pursue opportunities and not just accept them. Your point about the Laban story reminded me that I kind of wish the Young Men’s lesson had included more stories where the people suffered for being honest. I think it is important to teach our youth that honesty doesn’t necessarily bring rewards at all on this earth.
Asriel: Ha. Absolutely—having integrity isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. Ok, so one last thing I want to mention is the repeated warnings to the Young Women instructors not to endorse risky behaviors that might take courage. This is a church lesson, so I really doubt that any young women are going to take from the lesson the idea that the church encourages them to experiment with drugs or anything like that. So it came across as a little overprotective, to me.