• Uncategorized
  • 21

Uchtdorf's Ensign Cover Article Vs. Beck's Mothers Who Know

by Caroline 

I rather like Uchtdorf. Since I know very little about him, I don’t know why I’m positively disposed towards him.  Maybe it’s the fact he’s European. Maybe it’s the fact that I laugh when I see pictures of his face pasted onto the bodies of young studly men. I don’t know, but I’m disposed to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So I read his lead cover article , entitled ‘The Influence of Righteous Women’ in this month’s Ensign with interest. When I initially read it, I couldn’t help but compare it in my mind to Beck’s famous ‘Mothers Who Know’ talk. Not surprisingly, I found several similarities, most of which I don’t mention. But I also found some interesting differences.

 *Caveat* this is not exhaustive – these are just some things that jumped out at me.

 Similarities:

1. ) Appearance: Like Beck’s talk, Uchtdorf mentions the importance of physical appearance. While Beck praises moms who give their kids starched dresses and missionary haircuts , Uchtdorf talks about the appearance of women themselves, saying that, “The way you dress and groom yourselves…will make a big difference [in the lives of young people].” He goes on and mentions the importance of women adapting their wardrobe to the temple garment and not the other way around. 

Personally, the mentioning of appearance doesn’t resonate with me in either talk. I happen to be the type who thinks that being a disciple of Christ shouldn’t really have all that much to do with appearance. Though I do think Uchtdorf’s more general words are less troubling than the detailed examples that Beck gives. Probably because his words leave more room for individual women to decide what constitutes an appropriate appearance.

 Differences

1)   Scope: Unlike Beck, Uchtdorf acknowledges various roles outside of motherhood that women play. Though his talk is clearly geared towards the influence of women on children, he does mention the various life circumstances women may find themselves in. He also mentions women getting education and training that will qualify women for both homemaking and for work outside the home.

Beck doesn’t mention education or training that will prepare women/mothers for earning a living. Rather, she says that education will avail them nothing if they don’t know how to make their homes spiritually conducive. (I must say, I disagree with her on that last statement – if a single mom is trained as an accountant and can thus put food on her children’s table, I think that’s availing her and her family something important indeed – even if her home isn’t all that picked up or spiritually conducive.)

2)  Breadth of Women’s Influence (also related to scope): Uchtdorf does a nice job of mentioning women’s spiritual power – apart from the business of influencing children. He says, “The lives of women in the Church are a powerful witness that spiritual gifts, promises, and blessings of the Lord are given to all those who qualify, ‘that all may be benefitted.’” 

I liked that line because it implies that women can use their spiritual gifts to bless the lives of everyone around them – not just children. In contrast, any mention that Beck gives to the spiritual power of women is in regards to their influence over children. (But that’s to be expected given the premise of her talk.)

3. “Women are Essential” speak: Ucktdorf falls into typical GA speak when he assures women that ‘you are an essential part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for eternal happiness.’ He asserts this twice.

I’m always a bit annoyed when I hear this, because it should be so obvious it’s unnecessary to say. It’s like a husband assuring his wife she’s an essential part of the marriage. Um…yeah.  And can you imagine a woman getting up at GC and assuring the men that they are an essential part of the Lord’s plan? Comes across as a bit patronizing to me, though I know it’s meant well. Anyway, if he does feel like he has to say it, it makes me think that something is indeed off kilter. Beck doesn’t get into this rhetoric at all. (Good for her.)

 4. Guilt inducing rhetoric. Uchtdorf says, “May I invite you to rise to the great potential within you. But don’t reach beyond your capacity.. Don’t feel guilty or dwell on thoughts of failure. Don’t compare yourselves with others. Do the best you can…” I thought this was nicely balanced. On the one hand, he encourages us to achieve, but on the other says just do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Beck, on the other hand, implicitly instructs women to compare themselves to others by telling her audience that “Latter Day Saint Women should be the best homemakers in the world.” She probably didn’t mean it like this, but I think such verbage does invite a spirit of competition between LDS and non LDS women. It also potentially leaves women who are not great at homemaking feeling a bit guilty.

Conclusion: As a feminist, I have to say that I do prefer Uchtdorf’s talk to Beck’s. (Though I do give Beck kudos for emphasizing the idea of ‘equal partnership’ in the home and the idea of women as leaders in the home.) Having chewed upon these talks for a couple of hours now, I think I’m starting to understand some fundamentals of why I prefer Uchtdorf’s.

1) A huge part of it has to do with scope. Uchtdorf addresses all women, Beck is only addressing mothers. So just by that very fact alone, his comes off as more inclusive and progressive to me.

2.) Another reason is tone. I happen to prefer a more personal voice. Uchtdorf is very personal, telling stories from his family and using the first person throughout. Beck on the other hand comes off as more dogmatic to me because of her rhetorical ‘mothers who know do this’ style. There’s less wiggle room in interpretation when someone speaks with such finality.

(That said, there are a number of things in Uchtdorf’s talk I found puzzling. For example, what is this unique feminine identity he’s talking about? Also puzzling is this quote: “you [women] are the real builders of nations… because strong homes of love and peace will bring security to any nation.” Makes me wonder where the men are in this statement – should they also not be included as the real builders of nations building strong homes? Also, I wonder how factually true his statement is about strong homes bringing security to nations.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Uchtdorf’s talk or any of the similarities/differences I’ve highlighted.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

You may also like...

21 Responses

  1. Janna says:

    Uchtdorf’s comment, “you [women] are the real builders of nations… because strong homes of love and peace will bring security to any nation” reminds me of the work of Greg Mortenson (aka, “Three Cups of Tea”) in which he focuses his school-building on education for girls for the same reasons. Also, elements of a recent article, “The Women’s Crusade,” in the NYT is reminiscent of this idea.

    The primary difference, however, is that it’s educated women in the home that make the difference in securing the stability and peace of a nation.

  2. Mindy says:

    Our home teacher came and shared Uchtdorf’s article on Sunday. He went on about how the first presidency thinks I’m important and I didn’t really know how to respond. I’m sure the HT had the best of intentions, but the message seemed a little condescending. Like you said, you would never hear this message given to men. It reminded me of how men try and tell me that being a mother is equal to having the priesthood, right after talking about the unique blessings and knowledge that can only come through having the priesthood.

  3. the narrator says:

    All I can say is that I have a total mancrush on Uchdorf. His chiselled features, hair, accent, hair, tan, hair, and fit appearance. Wow.

  4. Carol says:

    He writes: “President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) said, ‘Without the devotion and absolute testimony of the living God in the hearts of our mothers, this Church would die.’And the writer of Proverbs said, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6).

    This confuses me, since Adam and Eve, Lehi and Sariah, and countless other couples trained their children well, yet their children chose to live in opposition to their parents’ teachings. This counsel seems to place a extraordinary burden on mothers, for Elder Uchtdorf infers that if our children have been trained up properly, they will not depart from correct principles when they are old.

    I believe this talk places heavy burdens on women to be perfect in their appearance, teaching of children, and spirituality. I wish he would also say that women should not be blamed for the choices of their children. With that said, I enjoy his talks, his kindness, and his wisdom. I do wish leaders could realize that not everyone has a perfect family/income/job/life/testimony and that we need more encouragement and less criticism.

  5. kaylana says:

    I’m so glad you brought up this article. When I received the Ensign and read the title I kind of rolled my eyes. And when my HT came by and pretty much gave me and not my DH a sermon on it, it really lost its appeal for me. So I’m glad someone put up some highlights to discuss. So I’ll probably take a look at it now and get back with y’all! Thanks!

  6. Lori says:

    Ok, I’ll have to go back and read the article. I usually love Elder Uchtdorf’s stuff because he seems so much more inclusive in his language, but I got stuck on the “sisters you are valuable” language and couldn’t continue.

    It sounded much too much like what we always seem to hear from church leaders. I don’t need to be told I’m valuable. I know I am. Show me that you value me.

  7. me says:

    his talk did nothing for me. maybe it was the mood i was in when i read it. i just get sick of leaders trying to be inclusive by saying—mothers, sisters, aunts— your role as a mother, wife, a single sister….blah blah blah….we get it. just say WOMEN!! we know who we are.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    There are pictures of Uchtdorf posted on top of young studly men?

    I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me as I remember some of the older sisters on my temple shift staring at the Ensign cover on a break, essentially drooling “isn’t he so handsome?”

    Caroline, Thank you for your perspective. I will read the article and comment later. From your points, it does sound like his talk is better than Beck’s but still makes me nervous in principle.

  9. Tiffany says:

    Love the post!
    About your last statement: You women are the real builders….. I think that the whole article was to the women of the church. He was stating his conviction that we are the this “the builder of nations.” Not that the men are not only this article was to the women. And how do we do this? By “building strong homes of love and peace.”

    I can tell you I am dealing with a situation at home right now that I can feel the truth to this statement. I am a PTO president in Ohio. Our school is very mixed with diverse economic and social groups. I see first hand how the children grown and learn from different environments.

  10. Margaret says:

    Just as a note on your question about strong homes and national security, there is evidence that societies in which fathers play with their children and have a strong presence in the home are less likely to have high levels of domestic violence and are less likely to go to war. So one could argue that strong homes do equal national security, but that it’s actually the responsibility of men.

  11. EmilyCC says:

    I admire any GA who’s going to try and tackle this topic, though I’m with Kaylana–I did an eye roll when I first read the title.

    While I do feel like it’s condescending to keep giving a “rah, rah, Sisters, you really are valuable” talk, I thought this one was pretty good. I liked the example he gave of his mother-in-law, a widowed convert, and I LOVE the quote from Pres. Hinckley at the beginning.

    I would love to see a talk like this for men. I wonder how men would feel. Do they need to know these things, too, or is it implied because of the patriarchal system of the Church?

  12. Jana says:

    This is a bit off-topic…
    But when I hear LDS women swoon over Uchtdorf, it helps me to understand why women would’ve chosen to be polygamous wives to early church leaders. Because if he’s hot & powerful he will have a lot of appeal, even to those potential wives who will only get a small fraction of his time and attention.

  13. Caroline says:

    Janna, Thanks for bringing up that point about 3 cups of Tea. I read that a while ago and was also impressed by the idea that educated women make such a huge difference in the communities.

    Mindy, yes, I always wonder how many women feel the disconnect when they hear those statements about what a unique power and privilege it is to hold the priesthood.

    Carol, great point about how women shouldn’t be blamed for the choices of their children.

    Lori, absolutely. Show me I’m valuable, don’t just say it. That’s how I feel too.

    me, 🙂 I understand the frustration. It does get a bit repetitive. I think I must be a bit of a sucker, though, because I still appreciate when leaders acknowledge different roles of women. Too bad they don’t mention roles like friend, teacher, student, professional, community member, etc. more often though.

    Kelly Ann,
    Yes, there are those pictures out there. 🙂 They are pretty funny.

    Tiffiny, thanks for your input. Like you, I definitely do see strong homes helping individual communities. I wasn’t sure, however, that they protect nations from being invaded or attacked, which is what his statement brought to my mind. It’s good to see how different people read this statement.

  14. Caroline says:

    Margaret, very interesting about the importance of men in the home to strong communities. I absolutely believe that.

    Emily, I too loved the Hinckley quote. I think that was the best part of the whole talk. And just the fact he quoted a woman for an extended length is pretty cool. As for the men getting talks like this – I don’t see it happening. I think the structure of the church automatically reinforces in young men and men their absolute necessity and importance to the Church. I think it’s a different story for women, though, which is why we must get talks like this, I guess.

    Jana,
    I hadn’t thought of it like that… I guess looks and power do have a strong pull on some women.

  15. Jalina says:

    Men get these talks, too. Read McKonkie’s “Only an Elder” pamphlet or any priesthood session talk directed to Aaronic priesthood, returned missionaries, or some of those conference talks to “older” members of the church. It seems a no-brainer to say “duh, we need the over 65 set to not roll up in balls in a corner,” but there the talk is anyway. Church leadership training meetings to bishops and EQ members saying “You are important” “you are the key to…” this that and the other. Well, no duh, but there the are.

    I guess ANYTHING in the gospel is a “No duh” sort of thing. Have faith, repent, be baptized, get the holy ghost, endure to the end, treat people as Christ would. All no duh ideas. And yet there they are again and again. Remember, those obnoxious home and visiting teachers are in your house to start with because every month somebody tells them they are important to the kingdom. I guess it doesn’t bug me because I guess we all get told that. Can you imagine the complaints if we never got told we were important?

    Anyway, I thought the talk was OK. Not his best (compared to last two conferences) and no Elder Maxwell or Scott, but it was OK.

  16. Debby says:

    I just read the comments about President Uchtdorf’s article in the Ensign. It’s my first time on this page and I was surprised at the amount of negativity.
    A little more respect would be appropriate.

    How many of us could do all Elder Uchtdorf (and the other apostles for that matter) does willing for the good of the Lord’s true church and it’s members (male & female)… and still prepare talks over and over again?

    I’m glad it’s not his job to please the sisters of the church (is that possible?), only to do his best to support, encourage, and relate his honest feelings.

  17. Janna says:

    Hi Debby – It might be helpful for you to click on the Exponent II link on the left and read a little bit about the mission and history of Exponent II to understand the predominant context and perspectives of most readers of this blog and the magazine itself.

  18. Janna says:

    Oops, I mean the Exponent II link on the right.

  19. Alisa says:

    Debby, welcome to Exponent. Thank you for your response, as I’m sure it’s one that many women in the Church hold.

    However, I question that all Pres. Uchdorf was trying to do was “only to do his best to support, encourage, and relate his honest feelings.” I think he was using his postition as a leader to instruct members of the Church. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he’s not writing merely a reflective piece with himself as the primary audience. That doesn’t match the rhetorical situation.

    As a person in the place of the listener, learner, hearer, and disciple, it is my spiritual obligation to study out the message. To weigh it against other prophetic teachings, scriptures, my conscience, and to even discuss it with my family and friends. This blog is a place where we want to be respectful of each individual’s process, regardless of how much authority the institution is willing to grant to him/her to allow for these discussions, and we need to keep in mind that readers and commenters on this blog are in all different places on their journies.

  20. mb says:

    I recall reading comments by Sheri Dew about how distressing it was to give a speech and then have people who listened to or read it ascribe motives to her that were not anywhere near what her motives really were. I know it really annoys me when I say something in good faith and a listener assumes my motives are something entirely different than what they were.

    So I think the kind thing to do is to agree or disagree with the speech, however you wish, but to assume, unless you have indisputable personal knowledge otherwise, that the speaker is doing the best he or she can and is motivated by charity. Whether that speaker is the thirteen year old girl who, head buried in the talk her mother wrote for her, is struggling through her first sacrament meeting talk or the speaker at a church conference who has managed to put together his or her 279th talk that year, it is good to assume their motives are worthy ones and to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    We all bring our own fears, causes, concerns, and biases, to a talk when we listen to it or read it. That will always color our response to the talk. We need to recognize that and make sure we do not allow it to cause us to slip over the line of charity in our response to the speaker.

    And I think most of the readers of this web site understand that.

  21. Dave says:

    I know this conversation in more than 2 years old, but having just discovered it, I had to chime in. I am a man, so my comments may not be as well received.

    To be totally honest, both my wife and I were shocked when we heard about “backlash” to Sister Beck’s talk. I rewatched it and reread it and could not understand it. Only when reading specific comments did I start to see what the complaints were about, although my wife and I honestly do not have the same complaints, we now atleast understand their nature.

    On the “Sisters, you are important…” That is not unique to sisters. We get that in Priesthood session, too. The Young Men get it the most, but we all get that same type of talk.

    I think the heart of the issue really centers around a fundamental difference between men and women that I cannot eloquently put into words, but to which I told a story in a mother’s day talk once that illustrates it. I told the story how my mom told me once she wasn’t too fond of mother’s day because it just made her feel guilty, being reminded of all the things she doesn’t do. I contrasted that with fathers, who on father’s day, love ever talk and compliment, taking credit for all the good ever said about any father, regardless of how well they match up to the ideal described. It’s sort of humorous that men are that way and really sad that women are so hard on themselves. I have home taught many single sisters over the years (as well as single men) and I see how often (especially the single moms) these good sisters are too hard on themselves. Women often focus on what they are not doing, rather than what they are doing. Men, on the other hand, are too quick to believe anything nice said about them, even if it’s not true. 🙂 One single mom I home taught I regularly tried to help her see all the good she WAS doing and tried to help her not worry about what she was NOT doing.

    Sister Beck’s talk was very idealistic, but I don’t find fault in that. Elder Holland addressed the church’s focus on “the ideal” in the February 2008 World-Wide Leadership training. He said:

    “Furthermore, we know that others in our audience and in the Church are not now married, nor do some have an intact family fitting the ideal we regularly refer to in the Church. Please be assured we are fully aware of the many different circumstances that exist among our members. We love every one of you. We also realize that as more and more families are in disarray and as many cultural forces devalue marriage, children, and traditional family life, the General Authorities and general officers of the Church feel increased urgency to speak of ideals and gospel-centered principles. Otherwise, the moral drift which the world inevitably experiences could take us to a point where earnest people in and out of the Church are truly at sea when it comes to divine expectations in marriage and eternal family standards.”

    I think we often misunderstand the teachings of ideals we should strive for and comparing ourselves to where we are at. We shouldn’t feel endless guilty for the gap that exists for all of us, but find fulfillment in how far we’ve come and continue to strive to become even better. Either extreme is wrong: to be to hard on ourselves and guilt-driven, as well as to have too much the attitude that everything is well and ok and I need not change.

    Men tend to more often err in the latter and women in prior, but we can all do better.

Leave a Reply