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 45.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
I was excited when I saw the title of this lesson- how progressive! I quickly saw that my optimism was somewhat misguided though. There is once again a petty object lesson (frequent readers will notice I’ve made the image for these posts a picture of the object lesson from the Young Women’s lesson for the last three weeks at least) and one of the first quotes in the lesson seems completely out of place-
“No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life” – Spencer W. Kimball
It’s not simply the masculine wording that gets under my skin- it’s the fact that the lesson has clearly appropriated a quote intended for the young men (according to their gender role in the church) and tried to apply it to the young women. Some might call this equality, but in my personal opinion, if you’re going to teach me that I am so different from men and gender is an essential characteristic and feminism is bad because it says that men and women are the same, but then you pretend like I should be content praying to only a male God and should be content accepting the many parts of the gospel that are male-centric – don’t be surprised if I struggle to understand my divine role from an LDS context.
I chuckled when I read this snippet from a story in the lesson:
“‘One day I read an article by a General Authority telling of a man who visited a scrub woman who had the boring task of scrubbing a set of stairs … every day. When the woman complained about the monotony of her life, the man explained that if he had the job he would try to make it more interesting by finding out everything about it. …’What that story did to me was make me realize that it’s your attitude toward what you do that is important, not necessarily the job itself,’ said Sister Clynick.”
What man suggests that you should find out everything you can about scrubbing a set of stairs? What would that even entail? Clearly this General Authority has never scrubbed a set of stairs.
Additionally, the lesson contains a completely random story that the rest of the lesson refers to frequently. It’s short, so I’ll share it here:
“A traveler once approached a stream that lay in his pathway. A stranger appeared and told him that if he would pick up some pebbles and put them in his pocket, when he reached his destination, he would feel both sad and glad. He did as the stranger told him and rode on. Upon arriving at the next village, he took the pebbles from his pocket and to his astonishment found that they had turned into precious gems. He then knew what the stranger had meant. He felt sad that he had not picked up more pebbles, but glad that he picked up as many as he had.”
I guess I don’t understand the story very well- was the stranger supposed to be Christ or something? Or some weird magic peddler? Are there really not enough scriptural and General Authority quotes that could be used in this lesson that we had to have this extremely weird fable in the lesson?
I wish that the lesson had included an example of a woman who worked in the traditional sense of the word, meaning some kind of career- the only concrete example we have is of a woman who set up a babysitting service in her home, and that hardly seems to represent the broad possibilities available to women nowadays.
My general irritation with the lesson is that it seems to classify work as everything that happens after you get out of bed in the morning. Such a broad definition suggests to me that the lesson is attempting to emphasize to young women that they should be content with somewhat limited interpretations of “work,” such as service projects, part-time jobs, and childcare services, which are the only specific forms of work that are mentioned in the lesson.
The awkward sex lesson. I’m still not sure which is more uncomfortable–this lesson from your advisor on why sex is going to be awesome, or the combined third hour lectures on the law of chastity. Oh well; just because a conversation is uncomfortable doesn’t mean we can pretend it doesn’t need to happen. There are a few parts of this lesson that, in my mind, are relevant to young Mormon feminists, but I’m just going to focus on the one tonight.
Asriel: This seems like a lesson about why women should get hard-working husbands. Which is not a bad goal, but it shouldn’t pretend to be a lesson about women’s hard work and self-reliance (i.e. economic independence).
Hannah: Yeah I was trying to get at that in my write-up; that the lesson isn’t so much about work as in becoming financially independent as it is about generally being a hard-working person and making sure you get a good breadwinner for an eternal companion.
Asriel: Haha, yeah; valuing work in others.
Hannah: From most people I’ve talked to, it seems that sex is taught to the young women as something dangerous and bad and utterly off-limits, until you get married and then it’s fine. But from what I’ve heard and now from reading this Young Men’s lesson myself, it sounds like it’s taught to the young men as something inherently good and wonderful and you just need to do it at the right time- so it seems like the youth are getting mixed messages. Do you think this is a good thing or no?
Asriel: I would say that the mixed messages are a problem; but to be honest, I don’t know another way to teach the sinfulness of breaking the law of chastity and the healthy role of sex in committed relationships.
Hannah: I can imagine young men getting a powerful message when they hear things like “You can establish a home, a dominion of power and influence and opportunity.“ Quotes like that emphasize domination, presiding, and the male role in establishing his family. Is this simply rhetoric, or is this the way things are? I don’ t know if there’s an official answer, and I get weary sometimes of trying to distinguish culture from doctrine, particularly when I feel so strongly that these lesson manuals should strictly be promoting doctrine and never culture anyways.
Asriel: Oh I definitely think that the rhetoric surrounding the messages young men receive in the church is empowering. For instance, I considered bringing up in my discussion of the Aaronic Priesthood lesson that at one point the manual suggests that the young men will one day “select” a spouse. These wording issues may seem small when looked at one at a time, but when these ideas are taught repeatedly and in language that puts the young men in the perspective of being “in the driver’s seat,” so to speak, it really does establish a pretty deep-rooted worldview that men somehow should control more than 50% of what goes on in the world. As for whether this is a policy/practice/culture thing or rooted in the doctrine, I’m definitely going to have to go with doctrine. There are countless examples in the scriptures where the husband or male figure makes all of the decisions and receives all of the revelation. Even some of the women traditionally revered as strong female characters in the scriptures are just acting under the direction of men–Esther, for example, was just going along trusting what Mordecai suggested for her.
Hannah: This isn’t really a serious point of discussion, but I just love the Young Men’s lesson for how awkward it is. “You will notice the changing of form and feature in your own body and in others. You will experience the early whisperings of physical desire…You are old enough, I think, to look around you in the animal kingdom.” Haha.