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 47.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
Overall, I like this lesson. It’s an important topic and the overall point of the lesson was good. There were just a few things I had problems with that I’ll share here.
The first thing that stuck out to me in this lesson is that it suggests an optional object lesson that I found really weird. The teacher is instructed to bring small objects with her, like paperclips, pennies, some string, etc. Before the lesson, she is supposed to pull aside each girl individually and place the object in plain sight on the girl’s body but sort of disguised so that it’s not obvious at first; “for example, drape a thread over a young woman’s shoulder, twist a wire or slip a bobby pin through a buttonhole, tuck a pencil over an ear.” At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher asks the young women to try to spot as many of these small things as possible from a list of the objects. Based off this exercise, the teacher can lead a discussion on how looking for those objects is like discovering talents.
I resent this activity for several reasons- one, because week after week I keep seeing these stupid object lessons pop up. Teenage girls are not in primary. Treating them like naïve children does not empower them to understand their full potential and to act on that understanding; instead, it debilitates them into adopting simplistic rationales and ways of teaching the gospel. Two, I resent it because it’s a pathetic object lesson. The lesson suggests the teacher drape or weave random objects through the girls’ clothing and then challenge them to locate all the objects… to teach about discovering talents? Maybe I’m missing something here, but this object lesson doesn’t even seem to accurately teach the topic. Three- I guess it’s not really a substantive point, I just recoil at the thought of walking into a random classroom at church on a Sunday this is being taught and see the girls with little bits of crap on their bodies for the purpose of this lesson.
My other problems with the lesson are minimal; a large portion is devoted to explaining how Vincent Van Gogh’s brother encouraging him to use his talents led him to become such a renowned painter, and this seems like an absurd anecdote to share in a Young Women’s lesson (are there no other stories of siblings encouraging each other that could be used from a gospel standpoint?) particularly when the lesson makes a disclaimer that there are many aspects of Van Gogh’s life that the church does not endorse and not to mention to the young women. The other minor problem I had was that it seems like the tone of the lesson overall is that talents are to be developed so that you can help other people. While this is a noble and worthwhile motivation, it’s also not the sole reason, in my opinion, why a woman should develop her talents. She can and should develop them for her own personal benefit as well as for the benefit of others.
My review of lesson 47: Consecration and Sacrifice will be a short one. The main theme of this lesson was being willing to give of oneself in order to accomplish higher/spiritual purposes. the sacrifice and consecration involved in choosing to serve a full-time mission was definitely the primary example used to illustrate this point, and in the scenarios, there are lots of mission examples weaved in. The church’s recent decision to allow women to serve missions starting at age nineteen and men at age eighteen has made the starting ages more similar, and I’ll be interested to see if mission preparation intensifies for the young women. The young men’s lessons are really driven toward helping young men serve missions, after all. However, since missions are still optional, or at least not considered a responsibility, for women, I have a feeling that it will be a secondary priority at best.
For instance, even though young men and young women can now serve missions shortly after high school, I can’t really imagine a scenario in which Mike and Jennifer were concerned that they had feelings for each other because they both really wanted Jennifer to serve a mission. A social pattern I’ve seen in LDS dating practices is that young LDS women are expected to constantly encourage young men to serve missions, but returned male missionaries often have an incentive to talk their girlfriends out of serving a mission.
Asriel: We’ve brought this up in weeks past, but the primary example in this lesson is Vincent Van Gogh and his brother. Van Gogh is a dude. So is his brother. The story illustrates the point nicely, but in addition to your suggestion that an example within a gospel context would be appropriate, I would also add that it could/should be a female example. Of course, if we combine those two suggestions, we might run into the problem that there are not many female examples available within the scriptures and church history.
Hannah: I would agree, but only to the extent that there are no examples as dramatic as flipping Vincent Van Gogh, who became a world renowned artist because his brother encouraged him to develop his talents. I’d say that regardless of how popular or well known a woman became because of her talents, it was still a good thing that she developed them.
Asriel: There is probably something that could be said for how we measure success and how that affects the importance of developing talents (eg the difference between developing a talent and becoming world-renowned, and developing a talent in order to be a better person). Somewhat related, although not perfectly, is that after the scripture review in the Young Women’s lesson, the manual’s suggestion for a reflection question invites the young women to share how they feel about developing talents, rather than something more like the questions that young men typically receive that ask them to evaluate something, such as why developing talents would be relevant to their eternal progression.
Hannah: I appreciate that point because in my personal experience as a woman in the church, I feel like (haha) my religious education has been focused on how I feel about things. An example would be the Relief Society in one of my student wards here at BYU where it seemed like every lesson was composed of a litany of General Authority quotes and scriptures and then a discussion of how those made us FEEL. There was rarely an in-depth discussion of the doctrine itself beyond just reading generally about them through scriptures and quotes. Speaking of scriptures being used in lessons, what’s up with the billion scriptural references and stories in the Young Men’s lesson this week compared to four references in the Young Women’s lesson.
Asriel: I actually didn’t notice the difference in the amount of scripture citations between the lessons when I first read them, but yeah you are right. This is probably the first time that the lessons we’ve been evaluating have been on such related topics. I could even make a case for how these two lessons are teaching the same principle—dedicating your life to service and giving—but the Young Men’s lesson presents it in the terms of consecration and sacrifice, whereas the Young Women’s lesson presents it in more temporal terms about developing talents and using them to progress the Lord’s work on earth.