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 48.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
This week the young women yet again have a strange, non-doctrinal lesson, except that this week there is the added bonus of it being utterly devoid of any scriptural quotes. It consists instead of a few quotes from General Authorities and two case studies.
The second case study involved a young woman named Claudia who was dating a non-member, a “very nice young man.” The young man had a demanding work schedule, and the only day he could spend time with her was on Sundays, so Claudia found herself skipping church meetings to be with him. Given the severity of this crime, her family and church leaders staged an intervention to alert her to how her current relationship was “jeopardiz[ing] her long-range goal of temple marriage by not considering the importance of short-range goals, such as dating only those with high standards who would respect her Church activity.” I found the implication that her boyfriend did not have high standards and did not respect her Church activity simply because he could only spend time with her on Sundays to be offensive. It seems that young women are being taught that young men who are not LDS are not worthy of them and will not respect their faithfulness. Additionally, if Claudia is still in Young Women’s, there is no reason to suggest that her dating a “very nice young man” would have such an impact on her ability to get married, especially since she will hopefully not be getting married for a few years at least.
The Young Men’s lesson on baptism really only contained one statement that I thought merited discussion in this critique. The manual refers to the priesthood authority to baptize as a privilege, rather than just a duty or responsibility. Bearing children, however, is never referred to as a privilege in the Young Women’s lesson. In fact, the young women are taught the following in lesson 16 on the priesthood:
“There is indeed no privileged class or sex within the true Church of Christ; and in reality there can be no discrimination between the sexes only as human beings make it or permit it. Men have their work to do and their powers to exercise for the benefit of all the members of the Church regardless of sex or age.”
“So with woman: Her special gifts are to be exercised for the benefit and uplift of the race. This equally shared responsibility makes men and women real ‘team-mates’ in that which makes for human progress. Each one is a complement to the other and neither sex alone may function completely in the world’s work” (Priesthood and Church Government, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], p. 92; italics added).
“Never in history have women enjoyed the freedom of thought and action accorded the women of this Church. From the day of its restoration women have been accorded their full religious franchise, and in the temples of the restored Gospel a man may not partake of the highest ordinances without his wife by his side. In all life pursuits she is given her entire independence.”
“This gives to woman a mighty responsibility which, if she honors and uses, will be increased in power upon her; but if she ignores it or treats it lightly or fails to magnify it, she may lose that which she now possesses and thereby forfeit her birthright. For this great privilege women of this Church should be eternally grateful and willing to use and cherish this precious and priceless relationship. Where much is given, much is expected” (Leah D. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Womanhood, as quoted in Priesthood and Church Government, comp. John A. Widtsoe, pp. 90–91).
So according to the Widtsoe’s, there are no classes or groups (such as gender) within the church that are more privileged than another, and the fact that the church allows women to have independence is sufficient cause for eternal gratitude. That seems like an overly generous analysis of the status quo of gender equality in the LDS church.
Asriel: You mentioned that there are some anecdotal stories and some general authority quotes, but no scripture reference. Obviously there is a higher priority for Chinese proverbs such as the one at the beginning of the Young Women’s lesson. Just thought that was funny.
Hannah: That’s true, I’m glad you brought that up. When I read that proverb in the lesson, my first thought was, “Why didn’t they use Alma 37:6, the by small and simple things are great things brought to pass scripture?” I’m not trying to come up with alternatives to the lesson, but to me it seems like a pretty obvious scripture to use that would have conveyed the same idea. Mostly the lessons this week bothered me because it seems like the young men are getting another lesson where they learn about their divine potential and their immense power to act as God’s agents, while the young women have another lesson reminiscent of a breakout session at a business retreat.
Asriel: Haha, I agree that the Young Women’s lesson does seem more like a motivational speech than religious instruction. Perhaps that is part of the justification for not basing it in the scriptures? I mean, if the lesson isn’t really spiritual, maybe it is more fitting that the manual doesn’t suggest construing the scriptures to support a lesson that is based more on good ideas of time management than pure doctrinal/spiritual principles. Of course, if the lesson is not based on doctrinal/spiritual principles, then that raises the question of why it is in the manual for church instruction.
Hannah: Yeah I guess my point is not so much to simply say, “I hate it when there are non-scriptural/LDS doctrine quotes in the Young Women’s lessons” as it is to say “Why aren’t these lessons more based out of LDS doctrine, and why are they including quotes and examples from non-LDS sources when there are LDS sources that would be just as, if not more, effective?