The Wise Girl and the Foolish Girl: Feminism in Primary

Now, I know that Primary is not the place to preach my feminist ideals. So, while I don’t think I should do a lesson on the three waves of feminism during sharing time, I do try to bring in examples of underrepresented groups of people whenever I can.

I loved Mary Ann’s guest post on FMH for new verses to Follow the Prophet posted last year about this time. And, since then, I’ve been looking for ways to make some Primary songs a bit more gender inclusive. One of my male evangelical students pointed out Proverbs 14:1 that has made me rethink ways to present, “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man.” The Primary songbook lists Helaman 5:12 and Matthew 7:24-27 as the scriptures that go with this song.

Then, Proverbs 14:1 has the same theme:
“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”

Admittingly, there isn’t a “rock” she’s building on, but still the imagery of building and destruction is there.

Now comes the task of how to get the Primary to join me in “The Wise Girl and the Foolish Girl” or a verse about Deborah in “Follow the Prophet.”

I was thinking of showing the kids that Primary songs are a way to learn about scriptures and showing them the footnotes that list the Matthew and Helaman passages. And, then, I would show them that by our own personal scripture study, we can find more connections to these stories and themes.

I worry that I will look like I’m trying to indoctrinate the kids, but really, my primary purpose in using songs that we’ve changed is for children to see themselves in the scriptures. I want my African-American girls to see the above picture of Deborah, I want the Hispanic kids (and the rest of us) to learn some Primary songs in Spanish.

What do you do in Church (Primary, youth programs, even with adults) to include all members of your class?

Artwork: “Deborah Under the Palm Tree” by Adriene Cruz

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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54 Responses

  1. D'Arcy says:

    Part of me is saying, “Just do it! Sing those songs! Teach about those women! Challenge your kids to think outside the box! And do it now!!!!” and the other part is saying, “Take it very slow and steady…because you’re going to meet with resistance….and other things.”

    I have been in a singles ward for a long time, but I will be transitioning to the family wards come this birthday. I have been teaching Gospel Doctrine to many young girls (not primary age, but 18-23 can seems pretty young to wise ole me!) And I have found the same thing about mentioning things outside the normal male-prophet examples. I have done this slowly and steadily and I have felt people cringe a time or two, but honestly not much. I have actually had Sunday’s where we are all really communicating and sharing and formulating ideas that are new, but right and true.

    Woman in the church are changing. The fact that our generation is part of this change gives us the opportunity to be examples of a more far-reaching female spirit in the church. As the church continues to grow, it is the responsibility of the members to help it grow in the right ways.

    I was reading a book this morning about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and one of the characters says “What good is it to believe in peace and talk about peace if you only want to live the same old ways?” And I think that, in a sense, is what you are hitting upon here. We can talk about equality and union in the gospel, but if we keep doing things the same old way, we will never achieve a higher plane.

    Thanks for this post. I am sure we all have similar situations in our little spots of the world.

  2. D'Arcy says:

    oops, I forgot to hit the follow-up comment button so I have to post again!

    I wanna know what y’all have to say!

  3. Caroline says:

    Emily, I love this. You’ve given me a new vision of inclusive, woman-affirming work that can be done in Primary.

    Like D’Arcy, I also say ‘go for it!’ Show those kids that both men and women are important in the scriptures.

    There may be some minor eyebrow raising among some of the teachers, but I don’t think the kids will even blink. And I think you will have the support of the bishop, if anyone complains. After all, he called you knowing full well that you are a feminist.

  4. Southern girl says:

    Not long ago I started to wonder about women leaders of the church, I mean: why we never or almost never read anything about a woman, the RS and EQ read every year about a prophet, I never complain about it, but , in my interior there is this question, what about the prophet’s wife? Off course she didn’t have the calling, but I’m sure she played a big role behind such an important man.
    These days I being thinking about Jesus Christ, he appeared to a woman after his resurrection, and the bible has many examples of Jesus talking to women. I wonder if He is waiting for us humans to change our ways to reveal new ways to a more equal and united church/gospel???

  5. m&m says:

    It seems just as easy — and probably will have more impact, imo — to just explain that when we use ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ in the scriptures (or in hymns), it usually means men and women. I’d rather have kids understand that at a fundamental level so they can read gender inclusiveness into the scriptures and hymns on their own, rather than have people make explicit changes to the language to make that point. I actually think such alteration could create more problems rather than help them, because most people won’t make these changes and children shouldn’t expect people to do that. As a parent, I would rather that my children’s leaders teach them to understand how the language works, rather than seeking to change the language itself. This is what we do in our home, and it works. My children are still pretty young, but they are able to make that translation in their minds, and I think understanding that at a young age could prevent perception problems in the future.

    Besides, I don’t know how you would explain to the boys that you are only singing about wise girls building their house on a rock. You can generalize men or mankind to men and women, but you can’t generalize “girls” to boys and men. Again, I think you could create more problems than you would solve by trying to do something like this.

  6. Janna says:

    While this comment does not relate to the feminist teaching in primary, it does touch on the idea of inclusiveness – which is what I think we are getting at.

    When I taught the Sunbeams, we had a lesson on our ears. Yes, that’s right, in Sunbeams entire lessons are dedicated to body parts.

    Anyway…

    I brought in Latin, Indian, American rock, European classical, and African music for the students to listen to. It meant a lot to me when a little latina girl lit up when she heard the salsa! Not only do I think the music exposed the children to some new horizons, it also helped one feel very, very included. She was also the only one who could translate the lyrics (which were, by the way, “I love you! I love you!”)

    For the lesson on prayer, I brought in pictures of many types of people in prayer – people bowing on mats in front of an enormous Buddha, Muslims prostrate in a mosque, the blond Mormon girl with her hands clasped intently under her chin. I wanted them to see that many people pray in many types of ways, and how excited God is when they do. I made the point that it doesn’t matter how one prays, as long as one does it.

    Am I “indoctrinating”? You bet I am.

  7. Ana says:

    Just a quick endorsement on the sharing of different art.

    When I taught about Abish in Young Women, my Latina girls engaged in a whole new way with artwork I simply found online and shared with them.

    http://plainbookofmormon.com/images/Queen_and_abish.jpg
    http://www.sheridoty.com/images/illustration/IllustraitionAbishCallingthePeople600.jpg

    There was another, beautiful portrait that I cannot now find.

    Visuals are so powerful! And it’s really one of the only areas where I frequently bring in non-standard materials. I think the Church is doing a much better job than it used to of portraying diversity and international members in teaching materials, but sometimes I still want more for the African-American kids in my family and the Latino kids in my Primary class.

  8. z says:

    m&m, where would we be without you to dump cold water on any attempt to make positive change in the world? A more knee-jerk defender of the status quo I have rarely encountered.

    What do you get out of reading feminist blogs, if you’re so convinced that everything is already fair? Do you get some weird pleasure out of telling everyone they’re wrong all the time, and going through the same old passive-agressive “you don’t have enough faith, oh wait, I didn’t mean what I said” routine over and over and over? I just don’t understand you at all.

  9. m&m says:

    z,

    I never know quite how to respond to your pointed comments. But look, blogs are places for people to share their points of view, and often they differ. That should be ok. This isn’t about trying to throw cold water on someone, but simply to say that what one person regards as positive change is not always positive in everyone’s eyes. Sometimes, I think that is important to say. Please don’t paint me as someone who doesn’t care about change, because that isn’t true. I just don’t see the need for change in the same places and ways that you do. And some efforts and change concern me. This is an example. I am a parent, and this kind of thing is not something that I would appreciate my children’s leaders doing. I’m all for showing multicultural pictures, though….

    I read feminist blogs because these issues concern me, too. Because I am a Mormon woman who values women, too. I am concerned about how some of my sisters (and brothers) feel in the Church and I don’t want to minimize those concerns and struggles (I am not as closed-minded as you seem to think I am). But I also want people who don’t know much about us to know that many (if not most) of us don’t feel the need for change in the ways that are expressed on feminist blogs. I understand the desire to sort through thoughts on these issues. But again, a blog is a blog, and blogs are places where people express differing points of view. It should not be a surprise that not everyone will agree.

    So, clearly we disagree, but why not explain why you disagree rather than dissolve into personal attacks?

  10. Jessawhy says:

    EmilyCC,
    Thanks for the great post. I love being in Primary, and hope to stay even though it may be a strain on our family to do so.
    Gender roles in Primary are interesting. Last week a sunbeam’s father helped with (or actually delivered) his son’s talk so well that I thought, “wow, he should be the Primary president!” (Of course, he left pretty quick because he saw that his son’s teacher was AWOL, and I had to take all the JR Primary kids, oh well).
    Anyway, my point is that it’s hard to have all women in the Primary presidency always teaching about men in the scriptures, because even though there are references to men as mankind, they are obviously not all gender-neutral, and picking through semantics like that is not kid-friendly fun.
    I say wherever there is a woman equivalent in the scriptures, use her first. They’ll get all the men-centered stuff they need everywhere else, all the time.
    But, it’s very good of you to be careful about “pushing your agenda” as you said today.
    But, I’m totally in favor of your idea. Tell me how it goes!
    Wear your fMh bag and proudly sing “The Foolish woman and the Wise woman.”
    (thanks again for letting us come play today, we had a great time)

  11. m&m says:

    p.s. z, I wanted to add that I also read these blogs because these aren’t concerns that I share at the same level, and it helps me understand them. And, believe it or not, I have taken opportunity to give local leaders feedback when I felt that things happened that might create problems for women who do struggle. I did something like that just last week. So please don’t think that it’s that I’m uncaring or insensitive or unaware. That is not where my heart is.

  12. Starfoxy says:

    M&M As a parent, I would rather that my children’s leaders teach them to understand how the language works, rather than seeking to change the language itself.

    I don’t know if you would like the way I would explain this (cue tirade about women-as-property, male-as-default, and erasing women from the written word in the early 1500s). You might prefer me just adding “and women” where appropriate.

    More to your general point- I think language is fluid, and what once was acceptable in gendered language is quickly becoming unacceptable. When people hear the words ‘men and mankind’ they think of male humans. Furthermore I think that using the masculine form as a universal form sets up men (male humans) as default, and puts women as a deviation from that norm, an aberration if you will.

    Here’s my big thing- when I read the word ‘men’ (or similar) in the scriptures I have to take a moment and wonder “does that include me.” There is no reliable way to answer that, other than my best guess or the rare promptings from the spirit. Also, I always have to take that step to see if the scriptures apply to me, and men don’t have to- they know it applies to them. Unless prompted by some external source I don’t think men would take that extra step to wonder if women are included- and why or why not. I think that this hurts men’s ability to feel empathy for women. So I think boys can and should be made to go through the mental gymnastics required to take stories and songs about women and apply them to themselves.

    PS- I am glad you continue to post. Your contrasting views help create a dialoge far more informative than a one-sided post would be.

  13. EmilyCC says:

    D’arcy, I love the quote from your book. What’s it called?

    Caroline, at first I thought, “Does my bishop know I’m a feminist?” But, as Jessawhy pointed out, I guess everyone either knows or has guessed since my Primary bag is has the FMH logo 🙂

    Southern girl, what a good point about prophets’ wives! I complain about DH being gone for bishopric meetings. I think the prophets’ wives have some of the hardest “callings” of all! (Yet another reason to love Sis Hinckely!–oh, and Sis Monson!)

    m&m, thanks for sharing your pov. It’s helpful for me to have another perspective on this. I figured most people are already talking about gender-inclusive language–I remember hearing it growing up, but I want to push things a bit. Why not sing the “Wise Man” and then, sing the “Wise Girl” (or vice versa)?

    Janna, love, love, love these suggestions!

    Ana, bookmarked the first link–could you repost the second. I’ve long been looking for a pic of Abish. Yay!

    Z, I appreciate you coming to my post’s defensive, but I didn’t feel
    m&m was being passive-aggressive–just sharing her viewpoints.

    Jessawhy, hmmm, a possible post topic. Since joining Primary, I have wondered about having a man in the Primary presidency. We have some in our ward who would be excellent. And, so many of our kids don’t have PHers (or fathers) in their homes; I’d love to have them see a. that men can nurture and teach kids and b. positive male role models. P.S. we had fun, too. 🙂

  14. Zenaida says:

    I think it is a fabulous idea to present women figures in context with prophets and other important figures. I remember a point in my life when I realized that I didn’t have any women role models in the church that I looked up to. I identified with male figures, and still sometimes have the hardest time seeing my gender as an asset or a way that I define myself. Often (and I admit this is largely from worldly vantage points, though not exclusively) I cannot identify with the things that supposedly make me a woman.

    How I wish I had a primary teacher like you, janna, when I was young to encourage open-mindedness and acceptance.

  15. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Why not get them to sing “The wise one and the foolish one?” It scans the same and is gender-neutral. Girls accept “boy” things more easily that boys accept “girl” things; alienating either gender at the expense of the other won’t bring much progress.

  16. D'Arcy says:

    It’s from a young adult book called “Habibi” (which means “dear one” in Arabic). I am teaching it to my English students right now, we are really having great discussions about this topic of real change for anything to happen. It’s not enough just to believe in something without realizing what action to take!

    I was a little on the fence at the beginning of these entries about what actions you should take, but the more I think about it, the more simple it seems. Sing the girl version, sing songs in Spanish, the kids will get it. I remember my calling when I first moved to Paris at 19 was the primary chorister. I had half French and half English speaking kids. I decided that I would lose half the kids if we didn’t do English songs as well. The French women were like “What are you doing! You live in France now!” but the French kids were begging to sing “Do as I’m Doing” again and again in English because they loved it! The kids really won’t think anything of it. They naturally embrace differences without really realizing they are differences until they turn about 6 or 7. So, this is the perfect time to start.

    I love the ideas about the art as well!

  17. Allen says:

    Hmmm… I think it unwise to sing in classes different words to church songs. I’d say, sing the songs as published and use pictures and stories to broaden the viewpoints of the kids.

  18. z says:

    m&m, thanks for the response. It does make sense to me that you’re interested, and care, and wish to represent yourself. But my point is that you *are* minimizing the issues. You say you don’t want to, but every time you comment that it’s not very important, or that it’s futile, that’s minimizing, and you clearly *do* mean to do it. Sometimes you fall back on the inadequacy of language to explain your feelings, but that’s a red herring– your view, substantively, is that the concern is not important enough to do anything about, and those who are concerned are substantively wrong. You’re entitled to state your views, and I’m sure you wish there were a way to do so without hurting anyone’s feelings, but there just isn’t, so let’s call it what it is: minimization, denial, and dismissal. I’m not so much troubled by your non-feminism as by your attempt to have it both ways on the question of minimization.

    And instead of asking me for reasons, why don’t you back up your own contentions: that language can’t change (as if we’re not all “blogging”– we don’t still speak Middle English, now, do we?), and that it’s unreasonable to expect of boys the same interpretive leap that we routinely require of girls. You’re just privileging the male experience because you can’t shake off the past, sexist, convention, I think.

  19. Janna says:

    We have a long tradition at the Exp II Retreat of singing beloved Mormon hymns with the gender-switch (i.e., “I will be my sister’s keeper…”). The first time I sang these songs with this change, my heart wept. I hadn’t realized how disconnected/invalidated I felt until I heard the change.

    It’s hard to make one group feel included without making another feel excluded, though. But, I think that women examples have been excluded for so long in gospel discussions, examples, and songs that these changes may help the pendulum swing to the other side ever so slightly.

  20. D'Arcy says:

    I agree. Like I said before, if we keep doing things as we have always done them, we will continue to get the same unsatisfying results. Wanting change does not equate apostacy or any other fear that may be lurking in the recesses of the mind. God is a big God. He’s bigger than most of us realize, he completely understands all of these situations, so if we are being guided by the spirit, then these changes can take place in the right way.

    If the actions of people in the church never changed we would still practice polygamy and we would still only ordain white males and we would still teach young women that their only goal in life is a temple marriage (oh, wait, we still do that…..but hopefully not for long)

  21. Ana says:

    Try this:
    http://www.sheridoty.com/
    Click “illustration” and you will see the Abish picture in the gallery.

    I am going to have to see if I have that other Abish painting on my home PC. It was really the most stunning of all.

  22. m&m says:

    So I think boys can and should be made to go through the mental gymnastics required to take stories and songs about women and apply them to themselves.

    Interesting thought. Thanks for your pov, Starfoxy. I still wouldn’t really like this approach, but I can see what you are driving at, and I think I can understand why you would want this to happen. You can see below for more of my thoughts on this.

    Emily, thanks for your kind response, and letting me be part of the conversation.

    z, I’m sorry that you feel the way you do about what I say. If you think I minimize the issues by not agreeing with them, then I suppose that is where we are.

    Don’t know if this will only entrench your view of me even further, but Here is a post that explains more of my approach with things like this. I just don’t think that the battle is best fought at the level of words. Not that words don’t matter — of course they do. Not that there aren’t efforts that can be made in that regard (I think we all seek to be more gender inclusive in general than generations before us). But in the end, I think sometimes the focus on semantics can distract from the doctrines. I see semantics are more branches in the battle. To me, the roots are the doctrines and the Spirit. I believe the more we focus on and believe in the doctrines, the less we will need to battle with semantics. I also realize this can be a lot easier said than done.

    So, this is my point with this particular situation. I would rather see doctrines taught in Primary. I don’t see value in making boys struggle like some girls do, or changing words to somehow seek to prove that girls really are as important. Rather, I would like the children (and adults for that matter) to get PAST the struggle and helping us all to really understand and believe the doctrine of equality in God’s eyes (or whatever doctrine may be at the core of the issue).

    To me, this approach (repeated and repeated and repeated again, then practiced over and over) can enable individuals to see beyond the words and not have them be such barriers…because we run into barriers like this constantly — in the Church, in our relationships, in politics…in every facet of our lives. Words can get in the way if we focus on them too much, as important as they are. There is more to true understanding than just words.

    And, FWIW, this is something I have to do with myself on other issues…less on gendered issues (although I have worked through some of those myself, too), but on heart-rending issues nonetheless. (Had a long, emotional conversation with my husband last night as he helped me get past words that were stopping me (about all I Should Be Doing) and causing pain because I wasn’t really believing the doctrines of the Atonement and God’s love in my heart.) We all have filters that hear words without really holding fast to the doctrines, or that hear words that sometimes feel to collide with the doctrines. We also too quickly will judge others based on their words, rather than seeking to understand their hearts. I think it’s supremely important to judge the words by the doctrines, not the other way around, and seek to understand people’s hearts, not just their words.

  23. Dora says:

    On the importance of words …

    A few years ago, a group of people were getting together at my apartment to go out on a weekend. Among the crowd was a guy visiting California from Utah. He’d been down in San Diego, visited Tiajuana, and was in LA before returning to Utah.

    He was bragging about his excellent bargaining skills down in the TJ markets, when our collective jaw dropped and we turned to him stupefied.

    Him: What?

    Us: What did you just say?

    Him: Oh, that I jewed the guy down to a quarter of the price. What’s the big deal?

    We all then had a little chat about how awful that particular phrase was. It was his turn to be stupefied. Apparently he was just repeating a phrase common to his family, if not his neighborhood. He was not mean-spirited, just an ignorant little kid who hopefully learned something that night.

    Words matter. Ignoring them because “We all understand what they really mean” is tantamount to making ignorance a virtue. Plus, it makes the gospel that much more inaccessible to converts. There are very few things in the church that have not undergone a little revision and refining. I’m not saying that we can force a change this moment, but I’m heartened by how EmilyCC and others are doing what is in their means to effect positive change and growth.

  24. z says:

    Sigh. m&m, I give up for now. I just don’t see what’s so bad about switching to inclusive language. Do you really think it’s too hard for the boys to empathize with a female narrator? It’s an ability they sorely need to learn, since they will probably be presiding over women, isn’t it?

    Words *are* how we treat each other. Maybe you can pretend that exclusive language doesn’t matter, but I will never be able to. How could doctrines and spirit that are fair tolerate such unfair use of language? Equality in God’s eyes should mean we treat each other fairly, not that we trivialize unfairness to women and acquiesce in the norm of masculinity. Language *is* how we treat each other, and disrespectful or exclusive language *is* disrespect and exclusion, even if it’s unintentional. It’s not just “semantics,” not that it’s particularly clear what you mean when you use that term. Why can’t we understand the doctrine of equality *and* have equality in our present culture? They’re not mutually exclusive, and I don’t know why you think we have to choose, at least in principle.

    You claim to acknowledge that words matter, but whenever anyone tries to do anything about those words, you criticize and trivialize their efforts. So in what sense do you really think that words matter?

    But whatever, I give up. When you go off into semantics-land, I just can’t figure out what you are trying to say. My suggestion to you, m&m, is to learn more about feminism, if you want to understand these women about whom you say you are concerned. I don’t know what background you already have, but if you could get your head around concepts such as the norm of masculinity, the male gaze, etc., we might be able to engage in a more productive discussion than you just stating, over and over, that everything’s always fine, or else doesn’t matter. Conveniently, your current position means you never have to address any feminist arguments.

  25. m&m says:

    Dora,
    I agree with you that words matter. FWIW, I never said otherwise. The question is to what extent, how much change? I think it is on these types of questions that we will likely find different opinions.

    I also think that we must make room for the Spirit in all of this. Again, not that there isn’t room for change with words here and there, but obviously the barrier isn’t as great as you make it out to be, because converts DO keep responding to the message of the gospel, to the Spirit. The Spirit can get us past some of the weakness of language that will always be there. The Spirit matters, too. A lot.

    When Moroni lamented the weakness of his words, the Lord comforted him, reminding him that His grace would help those who were receptive to it. We can’t put the whole burden on words. We need to also put some burden on ourselves and how we receive them.

  26. m&m says:

    z, I’m sorry you are frustrated talking with me. If you ever feel like having more dialogue, feel free to email me at mulling_and_musing …found at hotmail. I think that the back and forth here might be getting to an impasse, though.

    And yes, words matter enough that it is hard for me to interact with you here because I feel you use words to attack and undermine rather than truly understand and discuss. I’m sorry if you feel my words do the same. If that is the fruit of our interaction, then perhaps we should stop, eh?…or at least take it off line so as not to take away from other discussion?

    Our worldviews are clearly different. I can respect and understand that the gendered language will always matter to you. But can you respect and understand that there are reasons why it doesn’t matter to me — at least not in the same way or to the same degree? Does it matter to me at some level? Yes. Can I explain my point of view to you well? Apparently not.

    To me, our interaction is proof enough that there is more to communication than just words, because I am not sure that we will ever be able to fully understand each other with just words.

    This medium itself (words only) underscores time and time again to me that words are not it, not all.

  27. z says:

    Sigh. I just don’t know what to say, m&m. I appreciate your continued willingness to talk, but I’m starting to think that you’ll never be willing to address any feminism-related issue on the merits. Every time I pose a question, you brush it off. Do you see why I’m so frustrated? I feel like you’re hiding behind your “semantics” argument, and the inadequacy of language, because you don’t have a substantive rebuttal.

    When you suggest that words are “not it, not all,” you’re erecting a strawfeminist. Nobody is alleging that words are everything. Rather, people are suggesting that words, among other things, matter, and you are claiming to agree, but your claim is not credible because of your continued unwillingness to discuss specific words or admit that any specific words are problematic. It seems like in real life, words don’t matter to you. I know that seems harsh, but do you have even one specific example of a time you thought some words mattered enough to discuss, or at least for you to tolerate discussion by others without jumping in to say how unimportant the unfairness is? It just bothers me when you try to have it both ways, claiming that words matter but never actually finding any such words in real life.

    Have a nice night (I really mean it).

  28. berzerkcarrottop says:

    About 7-8 years ago, there was a male Primary chorister in my ward (I’m still in the same ward) who sang different words for “I’m so glad when Daddy comes home.” He had the kids sing the original words first, then had them sing it again replacing “Daddy” with “Mommy.” Then he had the kids sing it again with “Grandpa/Grandma.” The kids loved it.

    Then again, this is Berkeley, CA, and we’re a bunch of crazy, freakin’ liberals! 🙂

  29. Caroline says:

    Regarding gendered language… I think it matters tremendously. I l like the idea of making the language in our songs gender inclusive (“The wise one and the foolish one”), but I only think that really works if it is done ALL the time. If we only do it some of the time, and use ‘men’ and ‘brothers’ the rest of the time, we are requiring our females to do mental work that we are not requiring our males to do (as starfoxy mentioned.)

    I think that we should make a huge effort to use the female pronouns and words when teaching children. Because goodness knows these kids are already getting their fill of words like “men” and “brotherhood” in their scripture study and in Sacrament hymns. Teaching kids from the beginning to relate to people of the opposite sex in the texts they read and in the the songs they sing is doing them a huge favor.

    Janna, I had a similar experience when I went to the United Church of Christ for the first time. We were singing hymns that mentioned both men and women, and I was struck to the core. I think I even had tears running down my cheeks, it meant so much to me.

  30. m&m says:

    I know that seems harsh, but do you have even one specific example of a time you thought some words mattered enough to discuss, or at least for you to tolerate discussion by others without jumping in to say how unimportant the unfairness is? It just bothers me when you try to have it both ways, claiming that words matter but never actually finding any such words in real life.

    z, ouch.

    FWIW, I have spent hours and hours and hours studying, researching, discussing (in blogs and one-on-one email and in real life), and writing about words, ideas, and issues that are regularly discussed on feminist blogs — equality, priesthood, partnership, presiding, and many others. I have pondered them much in my heart and mind. I have wrestled with the questions that people pose and have taken that wrestle seriously. You. Just. Don’t. Know.

    That said, I think I can understand why you think that this is not the case, because I do often come into a conversation with the end result of all of my hours and thought and wrestle and study and pondering and writing and discussion. Maybe I could find ways to communicate better what kind of time and effort has gone into my coming to such conclusions, but it would help if you could start by giving me some benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming you understand my motives, my thought processes (or anything else about me, for that matter). It *is* possible for someone to think carefully about these issues and not come to the same conclusion as you do, ya know? 🙂 …about what is “fair,” about what should change, about lots of things.

    All of that said, I am still sorry you are frustrated. I do think that maybe if you didn’t assume so much about me, you might not be so frustrated. Just maybe. I do hope someday that can change, that I won’t frustrate you so, and so automatically. But much of that will probably have to come from your end. I can only do so much to try to convince you that I’m not as bad as it feels like you want to make me out to be. 🙂

    But I’m ok if you want to call it quits for now. Take care. You know how to contact me if you want to have an email conversation.

  31. m&m says:

    Teaching kids from the beginning to relate to people of the opposite sex in the texts they read and in the the songs they sing is doing them a huge favor

    FWIW, I just wanted to point out that I agree with this, and addressed this in my first comment. I don’t advocate ignoring this language, pretending it isn’t there. I think it’s good to address it and explain it and help them understand it. This kind of teaching is something I do with my kids. I just think we can do this teaching without having to change things individually (like a song) that isn’t changed institutionally (which as Caroline said can create problems of its own).

  32. Caroline says:

    M&M,
    Let me clarify 🙂 I absolutely advocate changing the texts of songs in primary to include females. I think doing this is perhaps the most powerful way to teach our children to identify with the opposite sex.

    I can see where you are coming from M&M – I have no doubt that the vast majority of church members would agree with you – but I fervently believe that individuals, led by the spirit in their callings, should make adjustments as they see fit. The Church is behind the times when it comes to inclusive language. I think it has been changing, and will continue to change for the better, but in the meantime, I fully support inspired leaders like Emily who step outside the manual and teach loving inclusiveness in new ways.

  33. Allen says:

    “I absolutely advocate changing the texts of songs in primary to include females. I think doing this is perhaps the most powerful way to teach our children to identify with the opposite sex.”

    The Church is a private organization and has the right to structure its classes and teaching materials according to its goals. By accepting callings to teach (whether lessons or songs), we are agreeing to teach according to the goals of the church, not according to our own agendas. By changing the text of songs sung in Primary, Mutual, etc. we are, in effect, teaching according to our agendas. I believe that the use of stories and pictures to include male and female is a better way to teach the children about the opposite sex. I believe the Church will eventually change the songs, and I look forward to that time, but I think it unwise in the meantime to accept callings to teach the lessons as proscribed by the Church and then switch and teach the lessons according to our agendas. I’m referring to the actual words of the songs and scriptures used in the classes. I think it is appropriate for the teacher or class members in their own comments to use references to females.

  34. Caroline says:

    Allen, I have a different take on this. I think we are often called to the positions we are called to because we can bring something special, something insightful, something innovative to them.

    The best leaders and teachers I know are ones who are willing (led by the spirit) to step outside the manual and add that special something. I think that using gender inclusive language in primary is not at all contrary to the gospel’s agenda. I think it’s taking Christ’s message to a new level that God himself would be pleased with.

  35. Allen says:

    Caroline,

    I agree completely that we need to bring special, insightful, and innovative approaches to our classes and music, as long as we meet the primary goal of the lesson. As I’ve mentioned, I think stories, pictures, and personal comments are appropriate ways of doing that. One thing I do have to say is that if a person changes the text of scriptures or music, and the Bishop doesn’t object, then it is fine. The Bishop is the one charged to see that his teachers and leaders follow the programs of the Church.

  36. z says:

    So m&m, I guess you don’t have an example of a time you thought words mattered in real life enough to do something about? Could you create a fictional example? If it really is true that you’ve thought about these issues, it should be easy for you to provide an example. Unless, as I’m beginning to suspect, this is a way for you to feel as if you are concerned about women, without ever having to admit that a problem exists anywhere in your church.

    I’m not disputing that you think about this, but why, why, why can’t you ever actually talk about feminism on the merits? It’s always the same schtick: tell women they’re wrong to be concerned or aggrieved. Refuse to provide reasons for your views or engage the feminist arguments. Hide behind “semantics” and the inadequacy of language. Call for the Spirit or for others to have more faith. But never, ever, ever defend your non-feminism on the merits. And this, you say, is because you care? It’s a funny kind of caring. If you’ve wrestled so seriously with it, how come you don’t have any reasons for your views? I ask over and over, and never get anything.

    Anyway, I am tired of asking you for examples and arguments that you will obviously never provide. This will be it from me because I’m leaving on a trip now. Have a nice week, everyone.

  37. Allen says:

    berzerkcarrottop gave an example of a male Primary chorister who had the kids sing about Daddy coming home, Mommy coming home, Grandpa coming home, and Grandma coming home. I really like that example and would enthusiastically sing it that way if I were in the group. Yet, there are other songs that refer to males in a general way, and I would cringe if those were sung as referring to females. My inconsistency in my attitude about this bothers me, and I’ve been trying to sort it out. There is nothing new in what I’ll say next. I’m just passing on the thoughts of an old man who is struggling to understand and adapt to his changing world.

    It’s obvious (to me, at least) that when we sing about Daddy coming home, we’re referring to a specific male person. I like the idea of also singing about specific female persons who come home. However, in many songs, the word “man” or “mankind” isn’t referring to specific people but to all people in general, and I do cringe when I hear about people changing those words to be gender neutral. I cringe, not because I disagree with gender-neutrality, but because the composer had a different view of language, and I don’t think I should change the words. I think much of my problem is due to the proverbial “generation gap”. I grew up with the use of male words to refer to everyone, and I don’t have a problem with it. I just know instinctively that the words are referring to everyone. I also just know instinctively that when Daddy comes home, the song is referring to a man. I’m realizing that while I, and the composer of the song, may know instinctively that the words refer to all people, many people, especially kids, may not have that insight or interpretation to the words. We are living in a changing world, and we need to change with it. The younger folks today are interpreting words differently than they did when I was their age, and I need to change with the world.

    I look forward to the time when authors and composers will write in gender-neutral ways. But, in the meantime I think we need to be careful in trying to “speed up” the changes, because we can cause a backlash if we push the changes too hard or too fast. I think such a backlash is occurring with the word “feminist”. There are many in the church who think feminists are liberal whackos who are apostatizing from the church in their rebellion against established authority. The cause of feminism (if I may call it that) would, I think, be better served if people were to take an indirect approach to this issue rather than a direct confrontation with authority. What we do, in this regard, depends on where we live and who we’re dealing with. Members in Berkeley can probably move faster in the direction of equal treatment for both genders than people in Orem or Provo, for example.

  38. m&m says:

    I ask over and over, and never get anything.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I know what you are looking for.

    I told you just last week I make a suggestion to my bishopric that was directly related to feminist concerns.

    Whenever I speak in church or even in conversation, I try to use gender-inclusive language. I don’t like it when people don’t in their talks when it would be easy to do so. (There, something directly related to words!)

    I work on a committee at a university and focus on women’s issues in my field. I talk personally with college women about the importance of education. We as a committee seek to address issues that can arise specifically for women in our field.

    When I read scriptures to my kids, I try to help them navigate the language and help them see how and where it’s inclusive. I don’t ignore the reality that they do bring up questions. In fact, I answer my daughter’s feministy questions (yes, she’s six, and she has helped me see that some people really can come with these kinds of concerns and perspectives) clearly and directly. But I don’t feed those concerns by somehow making her think that because of some language, women must be second class. I teach her the doctrine so that she can navigate these things herself, even as the language isn’t always inclusive, and may never be.

    Whenever I get the chance, I talk about the importance of education for women even as I am a fierce champion of stay-at-home motherhood.

    In my role on the university committee, I am very sensitive about people not just talking to or about men. I get frustrated in situations where I’m asked to do certain things because I am female (like take notes or whatever) or I see other women facing that.

    I have plans to talk to university leaders about other issues relevant to women and supporting them better in the colleges across campus.

    How’s that for some specifics about how I’m not as much of a non-feminist as you think I am?

    Seriously, z, you think you have me all figured out, but you don’t. You just don’t get me. I get that. But can you please stop painting a picture of me that is incorrect and unfair?

    As to your question about why I take the approach I do with feminism, I don’t like feminism to the extreme that I see it often portrayed as it relates to the church because I think too often like Allen said, people try to ‘speed up’ the process of change and/or think they know better than the prophets on how things “should be.” I don’t think things are nearly as bad as is often portrayed on feminist blogs. What some think is unfair I think is actually divine. I think there is divine purpose in different gender roles, in male priesthood ordination, in presiding, in things that are unique to the gospel. Do I understand all the whys? Of course not. But I don’t feel that all of these things need to be ‘leveled out’ and changed or watered down in order to make the Church more or better. And I like to study and ponder and consider why things are as they are rather than assume that feminism can inform the church how things “really should be.” And I find answers as I approach things in this way.

    I have never been comfortable with the feminist paradigm being used as the lens and standard by which to judge the gospel. I inform my feminist views by the gospel, and if there is ever a fundamental contradiction, I choose the latter. That goes for all of the hot-button topics that show up on the ‘nacle — presiding, priesthood, temple, leadership, prophets, gender roles, etc. etc. etc. The gospel came before feminism and I see our job as figuring out what parts of feminism fit into the gospel. I’m willing to let go of the rest. But that doesn’t mean I ignore those issues. I just don’t agree with a lot of the approach of ‘let’s change things in the Church’ feminism. NOT that some changes haven’t been and couldn’t be good. I’m all for gender-inclusiveness in talks and such. I think sometimes other changes go too far, and at some point, there will be some things that I don’t think will or should change, so at some point, we still have to deal with those issues (like presiding or patriarchal order or priesthood). I’m fine explaining songs or scriptures that aren’t gender-inclusive. I’d be fine if the leaders someday decided to change them all. I don’t think we should get ahead of them in such a process, though.

    The other reason I feel the way I do? My experience as a woman in the Church has been wonderfully positive overall. I feel heard, valued, included, important, involved, and of equal worth to my husband and the men around me, because I know God’s plan includes different roles and responsibilities for men for a reason. If I fundamentally, in my core, believe that these things are divinely ordained, why on earth would I want them to change? THAT is why I don’t buy into it all hook, line and sinker.

    Again, I have spoken up more than once when I had a concern at the local level about how decisions and actions could be interpreted by women who are sensitive about issues like this. I’m not a non-feminist. But I’m not a feminist who thinks the church needs to change in a fundamental way.

  39. m&m says:

    To be honest, I’m not sure I know what you are looking for.

    Is what you are looking for to have me engage the words more directly? Help me understand what you are looking for from me. I feel like the only way you will be satisfied is if somehow I agree with your viewpoint or validate it. If that isn’t the case, maybe you can help me understand what you want from me.

    Have a nice vacation, btw.

  40. EmilyCC says:

    Yay! Lots of discussion–this is what I get for not checking in yesterday, so I’ll probably break up my responses to others.

    z and m&m, love reading your discussion. This is one of my favorite things that can happen on blogs. Thanks for being willing to keep talking and trying to understand each other. It’s a good model for me to see.

    Starfoxy, excellent point about masculine terms in the scriptures–they aren’t always synonmous with humankind, so we do have to filter.

    PDOE, “one” is always a good way to take out the gender issue. I think in this “Wise One” case, I prefer it because I’m not a fan of “girl” in place of “man.”

    D’arcy, great point about kids and their flexibility. I love the French example.

    Allen, nice of you to join us. Maybe using pictures and stories as we learn the songs would be less pushy. It’s helpful to hear your take on this. I feel like it’s a baby step and maybe less than I want to do, but that’s why I wanted other opinions. It’s hard for me to rationally say, “Am I helping with this, or is this just my own issue I should deal with?”

    Ana, love the Abish painting! In fact, there are some other excellent pictures that fit in with this discussion of more inclusive visual aids for those who are interested.

  41. EmilyCC says:

    Ok, I’m sure I’m missing a few–forgive me…

    Dora, so true! I’m embarrassed that someone had to point out to me what “gypped” means. I had no idea it referred to the outdated problematic stereotype of gypsies (wait, I don’t think we call them that anymore–Sarah and Deborah, help!).

    Berzerkcarrottop, I didn’t know there were male choristers. How neat!

    Allen #3 comment, thanks for sticking with us! I think you make great points here. Usually, I like to switch up the gender pronouns, but there are some songs that I don’t like when the words change–maybe the meter or rhyme feels off, maybe I just got too used to the old version.

    One of my primary concerns as a feminist who has chosen to stay in the Church is that I could push too hard. I can’t do much, though, if I’ve alienated my fellow ward members. Then, they can write me off by saying, “There goes crazy EmilyCC again–always pushin’ her liberal agenda.”

  42. berzerkcarrottop says:

    OK – I think my ward loses half it’s progressive points. I just looked up the song I previously mentioned in my Primary song book and at the bottom there is a note that says “Alternate words: Mother, Grandpa, Grandma.”

    I guess we can keep our other progressive points for having a male Primary chorister.

  43. m&m says:

    I guess we can keep our other progressive points for having a male Primary chorister.

    I guess our heart-of-Mormonville Utah ward is progressive as well, then. 🙂

  44. Zenaida says:

    Is there as much or less of a problem with gender inclusiveness in other languages?

  45. Zenaida says:

    …and, do you think that part of the feminine tendency to have empathy and the feminine intuition might come partly from the need to fit themselves into the masculine vocabulary and construct?

  46. Dora says:

    … the need to fit themselves into the masculine vocabulary and construct?

    This has been on my mind as I listen to French language cd’s to prep for my trip to Paris. English does not have gendered articles, but everything in French, Spanish and Italian (I’m also guessing Portuguese) is either feminine or masculine.

    Furthermore, when it comes to groups of people, all male groups are, of course, masculine. All female groups are feminine. However, if it’s a mixed gender group, the masculine pronoun is used.

    Example (Spanish):
    They (men) = Ellos
    They (women) = Ellas
    They (men and women) = Ellos

    Meaning that even if the mixed group has one man among a thousand women, the masculine pronoun is still used.

    So yes, it’s a problem that is deeply rooted in language. And yet, as Bezzerk pointed out, I’m glad there are those little nuggets that show at least the faintest inkling the church leadership is aware of the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality of contemporary family life.

  47. Southern girl says:

    m%m
    You said “My experience as a woman in the church has been wonderfully positive overall.”
    I’m glad for you, not everybody can say that.I had a good experience too but not in Utah, in other country, in my small hometown where as a member with three callings and being RM I was well respected by my men leaders and members in general. I can’t say the same regarding my relationship with my father (inactive member)and brother ( member of the High council at that time).
    I assumed all my life that women should be treated as nice as any man, so, never had to think in feminism, or be a feminist until I
    learn about some women’s experiences with polygamy long ago in the plains and then I read for first time the entire seccion 132 in D&C, wich I never was totally explained or encouraged nor curious to read.
    So, after I read that women don’t have a word about the husband’s decision in taking a second wife or more I started to think I was feminist, if that is the name of my position I should take it right?
    Well, how do you deal with this topic? let me ask you, any of you women?
    I’ve being trying to do my best all my years I’ve being a member of the church but now I feel my faith is desapearing. How do you deal with it gals?
    I’m also somebody that can’t stop thinking about the entire world as a community, and I see day by day in the news how mistreated are women all around the world. I thought our church and gospel was far away from any of those mistreatings. Now, the refuge I thought the gospel was for women is not anymore. I know you’ll say may be, that, polygamy is something in the past but any women’s sufferings even in the past concern me. Also because it could be repeated in the future.
    Well, I suppose is not the only issue, it was the one that opened my eyes, but I just can’t deal with it.

  48. m&m says:

    southern girl,
    I doubt there is are many people who don’t struggle with the polygamy thing. For me, I’m willing to let some things go. I heard this recently, from Pres. Monson:

    Remember that faith and doubt [and I would add fear] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.

    Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: “I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith.

    Sometimes we have to choose to keep our faith and push doubt out. That is my approach. It’s not that doubt never comes, because it does. I think it does for almost everyone. To me, this is where the rubber really hits the road as it were with faith. It’s exercise, it’s work, it takes agency to decide which we will feed.

    I went through a period of time, for about a year, where doubt came often. It was real work to recognize those thoughts and cast them out. But gradually, the doubts started to lessen. That would be my advice — choose not to give place for those thoughts in your mind and heart and spirit. Choose faith.

  49. Zenaida says:

    southerngirl, I’ve also come to think that believing is a choice in the face of doubt, and often I still wonder what to do with doubt. It’s very hard to simply put it on the shelf. I did that for a while, and it really back-fired on me, so I am trying to face and deal with it. I understand your feelings on polygamy. I had a similar experience with rereading D&C 132. I don’t know how to deal with it either. : )

  50. m&m says:

    I understand your feelings on polygamy.

    FWIW, I haven’t met many people who don’t have questions about polygamy. A church leader I love and trust once said that we SHOULD be a bit uncomfortable with it because we aren’t supposed to live it now!

    But I also don’t think we can really understand it all looking back. We weren’t there, we don’t know what it was like to get that counsel. We also have stories of women who defended it, so even historical reports are mixed. It’s not really wise to try to analyze something that happened over a century ago with our 21st century perspective.

    Good luck in your journey.

  51. Zenaida says:

    “It’s not really wise to try to analyze something that happened over a century ago with our 21st century perspective.”

    I don’t know how else to learn from the past but to analyze it. Shouldn’t we be trying to understand how and why things happen? I understand that God has much greater perspective than we do, and so it is unlikely that we’ll come to the ‘correct’ conclusions, but some part of me won’t let go of the need to try and understand anyway. Now, I can hear you saying, ‘As long as you let your faith guide you.’ Well, I’m doing my best, which is all I could ask of anyone.

  52. m&m says:

    some part of me won’t let go of the need to try and understand anyway.

    Of course. This is human nature, I think. For me, the key is not to recognize, as you said, that our understanding is limited. That was my point.

    I’m inquisitive myself. In my mind, it’s one thing to want to understand and to think and analyze. It’s another thing to bank our decisions and faith on our limited understanding of something that may bother us and to let our questions take over our faith. I have seen people do this, and I think it’s sad. But I hope not to ever be misunderstood to be one who thinks that questions in and of themselves are bad. I think it’s all about how and why we approach questions and how much we let our questions dominate faith. Faith won’t remove questions, but I think it can increase the chance that we can either find answers or discern when and how to let some things go.

    “I know God loveth His children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.” That has become an anchor scripture for me, to remind myself that even prophets sometimes don’t understand the meaning of all things. And that’s part of faith.

  53. Kiri Close says:

    Primary is EXACTLY where feminism should begin. And if earlier in Nursery A is possible, then do so ;o)

    You’ll find a creative way to do it, and at times sharpness must suffice.

  54. Rachel says:

    It’s so valuable to share those stories. Thank you for thinking so hard about it, so long ago.

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