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 46.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
I appreciate that the Young Women’s manual has a lesson dedicated to this topic- it’s one that I wish could receive even more focus in more lessons throughout the manual. I loved the quote towards the end by George Q. Cannon that says, “The proper education of a man decides his welfare, but the interests of a whole family are secured by the correct education of a woman.” I appreciate that the lesson emphasizes that a woman’s education is so influential; I do also wish that the education of woman was independently revered and not just as a means to improving the lives of her family, but I am still happy that they mention its importance.
Throughout the lesson, I found myself frustrated that homemaking is considered the norm, and vocations are the exception. The lesson divides education into three sections: in a vocation, in the gospel, and in the home. The vocation section contains this quote: “There are impelling reasons for our sisters to plan toward employment… We want them to obtain all the education and vocational training possible before marriage. If they become widowed or divorced and need to work, we want them to have dignified and rewarding employment.” It’s clear that the sole purpose of girls receiving an education for a specific vocation is to prepare for if her husband dies; the lesson does not give any examples or mention however briefly the possibility that women may work for their own fulfillment, and I find this limiting for young women.
The one anecdotal story in this lesson is about a father encouraging his son to prioritize his education. When it is clear that females and males in the gospel pursue education for different purposes, I fail to see how a story of a male receiving an education is applicable in this Young Women’s lesson.
One of the review/discussion questions caught my attention because of its potential for great discussion. After the young men write a list of PROS and CONS (a “decision sheet”) about a decision, the manual poses the question, “Can one person effectively make a decision sheet for another? Why?” with the implication that each individual has to evaluate her or his own decisions because no two people are exactly the same. The manual doesn’t suggest this, but what a great time to bring up gender equality, perhaps in marriage. The idea that no two people would have identical PROS and CONS lists for a decision carries constructive implications about the problems with one spouse “presiding” over the other.
The lesson relates a story about Tom, who postponed a mission on advice from his friends and girlfriend, but later decided to serve a mission after turning to the scriptures and personal revelation. The manual suggests that one of the reasons Tom was persuaded to postpone his mission was because the people from whom he initially sought advice were not qualified to help him with a life decision, suggesting that his friends and girlfriend “were probably looking at Tom in a selfish way—what his decision would mean to them personally.” It didn’t make sense to me that his friends would have a selfish reason to suggest he not serve a mission, since the reason they gave him to stay was that it didn’t make sense to spend money on a mission when he could earn money with a job. And all that Tom’s girlfriend said was that she would not guarantee that she would wait for him to get back from his mission.
I thought, as I read about Tom’s experience, how much more effective a story about a young woman deciding to serve a mission would be in a discussion on making difficult but important decisions. A young man’s decision whether to serve a mission is often heavily influenced by the church’s counsel that all worthy young men should serve missions—young women do not receive the same counsel, and it seems to me that their decision would be more challenging because of that—there is no prescribed or optimum outcome.
Hannah: Maybe it was just this week’s lesson in which the young men were led through a sort of guided scripture study about Oliver Cowdery in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon—but I feel like there’s a pattern here. It seems like a pattern that the young men get these guided scripture study activities, whereas the young women get a list of quotes from General Authorities. The problem I see with this is that guided scripture study empowers young men to know how to meaningfully study the scriptures later on their own, but the young women will still have to rely on their lessons on Sundays to hear more obscure quotes from church leaders.
Asriel: Now that you mention it, I think I’ve recognized that pattern, too. I can’t think of a practical reason for why that would be, either. Hopefully any returned sister missionaries reading the blog can address in the comments whether they felt they needed to adjust their old scripture study habits for their missions. I was surprised you cut that quote from Howard W. Hunter before the last sentence. The last sentence seemed the most egregious.
Hannah: You mean “If a sister does not marry, she has every right to engage in a profession that allows her to magnify her talents and gifts”? I didn’t include that because it wasn’t relevant to the exact point I was making at the time, but I do agree it is pretty egregious. I dislike this wording because I think any woman would seek to engage in activities that magnify her talents and gifts, and I think that such behavior should be encouraged, not relegated to an alternate social path that is second best.
Asriel: Well, it also presents not getting married as “second best.” I guess that idea is unavoidable when we talk about the importance of the temple sealing in the plan of salvation, but presenting being single as “second best” doesn’t seem particularly useful in our day-to-day interactions in mortality. But, yes, President Hunter is perpetuating this idea that if you don’t get married, then you can use your talents and gifts. Specifically, then you have the right to use them—do married women not have this right?
Hannah: I was intrigued that the lesson included the minor detail about Tom’s girlfriend telling him she wouldn’t promise to be there for him when he returned if he served a mission. It’s interesting to me not just because it feels like her honest declaration seems to be cast in a negative light, but because it never occurred to me that the young men might be receiving the opposite message about this situation that I was in Young Women’s. When I was in Young Women’s, we were constantly being told how we needed to encourage the young men to go on missions, because as young women, we were so influential in helping them decide to serve. But it was always in a positive light—there were always stories of young men whose righteous girlfriends pushed them to serve missions. It didn’t occur to me that the young men might be getting cautionary tales about girlfriends exerting more sinister influences.
Asriel: Have you never heard the saying “your girlfriend won’t wait for you, but your wife will”? I almost brought up the fact that it annoyed me that the Aaronic Priesthood lesson manual used a girl expressing a healthy attitude about dating relationships (I’m not saying that the whole waiting two years thing is always bad, but I think it definitely has problems and is not for everyone) as an example of this girl making it more difficult for Tom to make the decision to fulfill his priesthood responsibility to serve a full-time mission. It subtly supports this idea that “women are the devil until after your mission” that is so prevalent in the church and in mission prep classes.