Valuing Women

By Suzann

Hello, I am a new blogger for ExponentII, but I am not new to the little  publication.  For years,  I was a loyal reader, sometime contributor, and attended various Exponent retreats.   My woman’s quilt decorated  the cover of the last paper issue of ExponentII,  along with an article describing my frustration with the lessons the Church publishes for women.    I am the mother of 4,  grandmother to 15, and wife of 1.  I have a degree from BYU in Sociology/Psychology, where I learned to analysis  group dynamics.  I am excited to represent the voice of  women of a “certain”   age,  on this blog.
Years ago, President Gordon B. Hinkley began a Conference talk with words similar to this, “Yes Virginia, Heavenly Father loves his daughters as much as his sons. ” Immediately, in my own front room, I began talking back to the television, “Oh darling President Hinkley, most women and girls know they are loved by their Heavenly Father; the problem lies with the valuing of men above women in all areas of the Church. Why is it necessary to remind women they are loved, even treasured, when men rarely require this kind of ego massage?

For me, the most troubling over-valuing of men is found in lesson manuals . We rarely find even a hint of a female hero, female voice, or stories about women in the history of the Church. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, we are faced with lessons about men. Male Prophets solve problems, are heroes, are spiritual, and overcome difficulties. This sets wonderful examples for us to follow, but falls frighteningly short of providing the psychological boost we all need to feel good about ourselves. Lessons about men can inspire women, but a lesson which values women heroes provides the driving force women must have to realize that they can (and must) be the heroes of their own lives. Classrooms of women and girls become abuzz with excitement and increased interest, when there is personal identification with the story.

Young women are often lost as they transition into Relief Society, but may find increased interest in Relief Society and the Church, if they recognize themselves in the lessons. Both men’s and women’s lesson materials would be profitably enriched with stories about women from the Ensign, and historical records of the church. It could be swift, costless, and easily accomplished with permission clearly granted from Church Authorities .

When reading the parables taught by Jesus Christ, we see that He carefully included examples of women right along with examples of men. Christ also included women at the very most important times of his life. I believe it is instructive that the most valued historical events in the history of the world: the birth, mission, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, were witnessed and attested to by women. Clearly, the precedent for including the history, examples, voices, and stories of women has been set.

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15 Responses

  1. jks says:

    The way people motivate men and women seems to be different. The military seems to get results by yelling and belittling men. Competition also seems to be used to motivate. Coaches of sports teams often use similar methods.
    I can only assume that this works on maybe 75%. I do not think it works on all men, but enough that the method has been used for a long time.
    I don’t think people use this method as much for women. To motivate women, support and reassurance and cooperation are often used. Do women respond better than men to this? Studies seem to support this.

  2. Caroline says:

    Amen, Suzann!

    I think an enormous problem we currently have is the very idea behind our RS manuals. When the series is called “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church” there is very little room for including in the manual female voices and females’ ideas about doctrine. And sadly, this series could go on for another twenty or thirty years before they run out of Presidents to do.

    I wrote the curriculum department about this problem a few years ago. I don’t know if it had any effect, but I did notice in our current JS manual a quote from Eliza Snow that they put in at the end of the chapter. At least that was something. Maybe we can hope for more quotes from RS presidents of old, alongside all the stuff from the Presidents.

    Seems sad that that’s the best I can hope for with these manuals.

    By the way, Suzann, I loved the way you articulated the importance of including female voices and female heroes. So true.

  3. Emily U says:

    Yes to everything you’ve said, Suzann. And it really doesn’t help that women are all but absent from the Book of Mormon. The D&C isn’t much better.

    If I am going to have to spend my entire existence on Earth reminding myself that the scriptures really do apply to me even though the are almost entirely about men, then the very least the Church could do is make women present in its MODERN publications like lesson manuals, the hymn book, and the ratio of women speakers in General Conference.

    Alas, this is not a goal for the current leadership of the church. I can forgive them because they are so very old, but I really hope by the time my son is an adult that things are different. I should write to the curriculum committee like you did, Caroline. I’ve never had a letter to Church HQ or a letter to the Ensign editor answered, though. They are above that.

    I’m sounding bitter, better stop…

  4. mb says:

    The current RS manuals do not bother me with their plethora of male voices. I am simply interested in discussing the words of a prophet. If his words are colored by his gender, so be it, my sisters and I can cut through that and get at the heart of the message just fine. If I want thoughtful voices of women on gospel topics I can find them right there in the room with me. They move me more than Eliza R. Snow, in spite of the respect I have for that good woman’s life and words.

    Now, granted, I live in a ward where I feel free to speak my mind. If I lived in one of those huge wards where people sit awkwardly and spout platitudes during church lessons I’d probably have to organize a study group to create a venue for those thoughtful voices, male or female, to make a start at creating classroom discussion but that’s doable.

    It may be that a lesson which values women heroes could provide the beginning of a vision that women must have to realize that they can (and must) be the heroes of their own lives, but the hero doesn’t have to be in the manual. A good teacher will find those heroic acts in the lives of women she knows in her own community. Skip the honorary first section that borders on hero worship in the manual, cut to the kernel of the message of the lesson and collaborate with your sisters to find personal applications and recognize the examples that they have around them. You are right that classrooms of women and girls become abuzz with excitement and increased interest when there is personal identification with the story but that story doesn’t need to come from the manual. For that matter, if it does, it may be perceived as so idyllic that it is just as likely to cause some women to compare their lives with the female in the manual, find themselves lacking and feel miserable.

    I really believe that if we fault the lesson manual for not having female voices we unconsciously propagate the misconception that the lives and voices of prominent or well-known women (dead or alive) are of greater worth and to us all than the lives and voices of our less-widely-known thoughtful, local sisters. And that is a falsehood that the world believes but that we should not.

  5. Caroline says:

    But mb, wouldn’t you say that the message implicit in our manuals IS that the voices of these old time leaders (Presidents of the Church) are more important than the voices of current average every day members?

    If that weren’t the case, why create whole manuals around that person and his teachings? Why not have purely topical lessons instead? And if that is the message, that these leaders know what they are talking about in some special way that we can learn from, then I think it IS important to give women leaders voices a place of prominence as well. I think it’s damaging to always be learning from the wise words of men leaders but never from women leaders. It may not make all women question their place and worth in the Church, but it will make some.

    By the way, I do like your ideas about the importance of the voices of the women sitting around us. I agree, but I think it must also be balanced by the voices of female leaders in manuals.

  6. mb says:

    Caroline,

    My perspective comes from my experience teaching seminary and youth Sunday school. The Doctrine and Covenants/Church History seminary curriculum focused mostly on doctrine with some good historical background materials, followed by a section on modern day prophets and their teachings. The 12/13 manual was all about modern day prophets and their teachings. It was the latter common subject matter that taught me what I wrote about in the above comment. I very quickly learned that teaching about the prophets was interesting but not inspiring to either the boys or the girls in my classes. When I taught about what they had been inspired to teach, the difference in the class was palpable. I quickly dropped the stories of the “heros” and just taught the doctrine they verbalized, pulling from the students the applications in their own lives and the lives of those around them. I am convinced that that’s where the vision comes from.

    I think there will be more effective teaching and vision creating not if we change the manuals, but if we help the teachers catch the vision of what they are teaching. And that is something each of us can do in each class where we are a participant.

  7. suzann says:

    MB, I wish I could attend your RS every Sunday because we seldom have a teacher venture past the manuals. In fact, we have rules here, with gate keepers, to make certain no outside materials enter. This is why I suggested that articles from the Ensign be approved for the enhancement our lessons. Some gifted teachers are able to make fantastic lessons from the manuals, but, unfortunately, gifted teachers are not usually teaching RS.

    Suzann

    Suzann

  8. D'Arcy says:

    Welcome Suzann! What a great first post. Long before I ever really had my eyes open to the fact that the church was seeped in patriarcy, I did ALWAYS wonder why us women needed this reassurance that God loved us. It made me feel like I was being patted on my head every time I heard a talk like that. I know many of my friends felt uplifted by such messages, but I always felt I had just been conned into ignoring bigger issues.
    Thank you for giving voice to these issues. I really believe that the church is on a the brink of a big change for women. We are opening up, coming into our own, and won’t be patted on the head any longer!

  9. Minerva says:

    Suzann,

    Where do you live?! I can’t believe that about the lesson-material gatekeepers! That’s downright creepy.

  10. mb says:

    Suzann,
    Oh, we like you have our nervous, inexperienced teachers who sweat out their lessons, knees knocking, and they all just teach out of the book on manual lesson days, but we’ve got some great, interesting, nurturing, cheerful, honest question askers and discussion addicts in the group who help take the burden off the shoulders of the teacher and get things going in good directions sometimes. It’s a pleasure to watch. And the teachers appreciate it.

    It’s the more experienced teachers who are in “major presentation with all the bells and whistles lecture” mode who are harder to help, I think. But my ward RS doesn’t have any of those at the moment.

  11. Alisa says:

    Minerva, I don’t know where Suzann lives, but I have been one of those unfortunate gatekeepers. As the education counselor in my RS, I was handed a section of the CHI that clearly defined lesson materials needed to be approved publications from Church Headquarters (as opposed to BYU, Deseret Book, or any other source). Then the president told me to enforce it with the teachers under my stewardship.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    Suzann,
    I’m so happy and proud to see this post up here! (It only took us 4 times to figure it out?)

    You make such excellent points about hearing the voice of women. I agree with mb that women can cut through the man’s perspective and find the message buried inside, but I don’t understand why we always must do this.
    It seems like it should go both ways in that aspect. Men should read teachings from women and find the meaning for themselves.
    I am the Sunday School teacher for the 13/14 year olds. I struggle with the manual, but I try to take the topic and find ways to make it applicable to the life experiences of the youth.

    On the topic of heroes and heroines, I just saw Monsters V Aliens at the theaters, and was surprised at what a feminist movie it is.
    If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind animation) I suggest you do.

  13. Kat says:

    Side note to Emily U –

    I’ve never had a letter to Church HQ or a letter to the Ensign editor answered, though. They are above that.

    I wrote to the editor of the Ensign several years ago trying to persuade him to adopt a policy of not publishing photographs of infants with pacifiers in their mouths.

    The editor wrote back to me, agreeing with my suggestion, and in addition, he said he would pass the suggestion on to the editors of the other Church magazines! I was stoked, and from that time on there has only been 1 photo of a baby with a pacifier (and that was a stock photo where you could barely even see the pacifier).

    Thinking back, though, I think I actually requested a response in the closing of the letter (a technique I learned from a “gentle feminist activism in the Church” essay by Carol Lynn Pearson).

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Suzann, what a pleasure to have you join the blog! This post does highlight an important issue with the current lessons. As a YW, I remember being annoyed that the only women/girls in the manuals were made-up case studies of behavior we should emulate.

    mb, thank you for continuing to share your experiences in this thread. I think you have good advice for teachers to make the lessons more inclusive. When I was a RS teacher, I felt like those lessons were a challenge to be tackled; I wonder if I went back to being in the class how I would feel (I’ve been in Primary for 2+ years now).

    I’ve been reading Women of Covenant, and it’s made me wonder why that book couldn’t be used to offer supplemental material to the RS/PH lessons. I love that it offers quotes from women beyond Eliza and Emma and has really helped me to see what life was like for RS women of various time periods. I’ve been marking good quotes for the next time I teach RS.

  15. Rachel says:

    Kat…

    do you have a copy of this essay?
    “gentle feminist activism in the Church” essay by Carol Lynn Pearson

    or does anyone?

    thanks

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