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