teaching young women

A bit ago, I was asked to help out with a YW class. I didn't end up doing it (out of town), but it got me looking at the teaching manual and I wanted to share some thoughts.

Looking through the list of lessons, the section on "Fulfilling Women’s Divine Roles" seems like it has the most questionable material, though it has a lot of good stuff too. The idea of having "divine potential" in a spiritual sense instead of a gender-roles-sense is great, but they can't help but sneak gender roles.  Also, requiring priesthood approval to have a guest teacher is silly:
"Invite an exemplary sister (preferably one who has married in the temple and has a family), who has been approved by priesthood advisers, to speak to the young women about the joy of being a woman."
"Finding Joy Now" is a wonderful lesson--life doesn't start at marriage or motherhood. The lesson entitled "Homemaking" seems an odd fit for this section, since I typically associate homemaking with housekeeping++. They've apparently co-opted the term "homemaking" and tried to put a spiritual spin on it:
Explain that homemaking involves a wide variety of activities, all of them important. Of great importance, of course, is keeping a house clean and taking care of the physical needs of the family members. However, there is another important side to homemaking, as Sister Belle S. Spafford, a former general president of the Relief Society, points out:

“Homemaking, as I view it, falls into two major divisions: homemaking and housekeeping. Homemaking takes into account the spiritual values: love, peace, tranquility, harmony among family members, security. It makes of a place of residence a spot to which family members can retire from a confused and troubled world and find understanding and rejuvenation. Its character is quietness; it evidences good taste, culture, and refinement. Men, women, and children alike have their individual contributions to make to good home and family life, and each shares in its benefits.

“Housekeeping involves the work of keeping a house clean, orderly, and well managed. This includes financial management, failure in which often becomes a source of family friction.”
I won't go into how silly it is to divide something into two things: itself and something else.  I also think that putting this in the series "Fulfilling Women’s Divine Roles" just begs a few questions: Do men have no divine responsibility to keep their house clean?  How about to bring spiritual values into the home?  Why do we keep bringing gender into these things?

Lesson 8, "Attitudes about Our Divine Roles" is interesting.  The objective is that "Each young woman will develop a positive attitude about her divine roles of wife and mother."  After all that beating around the bush, they finally let the cat out of the bag: wife and mother are the divine roles, the potential we want them to reach.   For starters, I think have issue with the idea of having a spiritual role defined by my gender, no matter what it is.  I think being married is a blast, and I look forward to being a mother, and I think that it's good for teenagers to seriously consider these possibilities.  But.

But three things: 1) emphasizing marriage and children too much in a culture can lead to social and emotional hardship when folks don't "fulfill their potential," 2) the way marriage/mothering is taught tends to be to the exclusion of other wonderful things for women (I'm not saying that that's how the manual is written, but often times that's the lesson the girls end up learning), and 3) there is not nearly as much analogous discussion of marriage and fathering for boys.  As an example of numero dos:
Point out that the worldly view of women’s roles is false partly because it is selfcentered. It focuses so much on a woman’s rights to receive that it almost ignores her opportunities to give.
I agree that it's good not to be self-centered and that it's better to focus on giving, but just to clarify, what are the worldly views of women's roles?  Last I check, most of the world agreed with the idea that women should be primarily wives and mothers.  An increasingly large portion is equalist, saying that men and women should have just as much opportunity to work, stay at home, become educated, and have families.  (Yay!)  And a very, very small sliver is women's-rights-greedy to the degradation of men.  Tossing out this last category, how is the "worldly view" bad?  Because more people are starting to think that there aren't women's roles?  That it emphasizes that women are people?  (Also wik: stop with the true/false binary.)

I can also pick apart the lesson on the value of education:
“There are impelling reasons for our sisters to plan toward employment. … We want them to obtain all the education and vocational training possible before marriage. If they become widowed or divorced and need to work, we want them to have dignified and rewarding employment. If a sister does not marry, she has every right to engage in a profession that allows her to magnify her talents and gifts.”
Three things: 1) not so much with education and training after marriage?  2) Why is education either a contingency plan or a boon in teaching your own kids?  3) I don't have the right to engage in a profession if I marry?  Or do I just have to pick one that doesn't magnify my gifts and talents?

But.  But.  But.  There are lots of great things in many of these lessons.  I've just highlighted a few of the increasingly infrequent things that rub me the wrong way.  And they aren't less frequent because I'm getting softer.  I think there's been huge progress for women, both globally and within the Mormon context.  I think it's important to make note of the things that still need to be fixed, but it's equally import to acknowledge the great things about where we are now.  I didn't do the latter in this post because it's both easier and more interesting to discuss areas that require improvement.

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