Solved: The Mystery of the “Divine Potential” of LDS Young Women.

Poor Wayfaring Man

In the previous post, I focused on the fact that 12 year-old young women in the Church are taught, in YW Lesson Manual 1, Lesson 5, to find joy in their mysterious “divine potential”.  It is mysterious because Lesson 5, despite using the term repeatedly,  never reveals exactly what that “divine potential” is.  The mystery is rendered non-mysterious and solved, however, by reading through the group of lessons in the manual that follow Lesson 5.  Lessons 6 – 8 seem to flesh out the concept that Lesson 5 merely hints about.  Here is the whole group of lessons, in summary form:

Lesson 5

Title:  Finding Joy In Our Divine Potential

Objective: Each young woman will understand her divine potential and learn how to find joy in it.

Key Point: “The gospel guides and blesses our lives by helping us understand our divine roles and potential as women.”

Lesson 6

Title:  Finding Joy Now

Objective: Each class member will feel the joy of being a Latter-day Saint young woman.

Key Point: “Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you but on what happens inside of you.” (Why such an ominous quote from Church President Harold B. Lee?)

Lesson 7

Title: Homemaking

Objective: Each young woman will better appreciate the joys that can come from homemaking. (This is easily the most scripted lesson of the group.)

Key Point: “Homemaking is one of the responsibilities we have been given. Heavenly Father wants all men and women to give their greatest priority to their homes, their spouses, and their families. Our families are part of our divine mission.” (Now we are starting to get the point of Lesson 6, right?)

Lesson 8

Title:  Attitudes About our Divine Roles

Objective: Each young woman will develop a positive attitude about her divine roles of wife and mother.

Key Point(s):

“Do not … make the mistake of being drawn off into secondary tasks which will cause the neglect of your eternal assignments such as giving birth to and rearing the spirit children of our Father in Heaven” (This is a warning from President Spencer W. Kimball.)

“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.”

“By cheerfully and enthusiastically supporting our husbands and by bearing, nurturing, and teaching righteous spirits, we can experience the greatest fulfillment.”

“A woman should never minimize the tremendous power of being a comfort and help to her husband. He may have need to be comforted and encouraged to perform his roles as husband, provider, leader, or teacher.”

“Young women should plan and prepare for marriage and the bearing and rearing of children. It is your divine right and the avenue to the greatest and most supreme happiness” (Another admonition of President Spencer W. Kimball.)

I think we find, in Lesson 8, the “divine potential” of young women in the LDS Church: “wife and mother“.  All of the lessons leading up to Lesson 8 are carefully crafted to prepare the young women to hear the difficult truth about their destiny within the Church, which is limited to finding and serving a husband, bearing children, and managing a household.

I don’t have a problem with a woman getting married, having children, and choosing to be a homemaker (from among a whole world of options).  I have a big problem with the tripartite “wife/mother/homemaker” option being the only valid one for a woman to choose.  Men in the LDS Church are not limited in this way–sure, they are expected to be husbands and fathers, but they are also allowed to freely choose a career outside the home, and their identity and purpose aren’t bound up in their biological functions.  As a result, young men in the Church do not need a group of manipulative lessons like the young women receive, prodding them into compliance with the Church’s expectations.

These expectations were recently illustrated very efficiently in a disturbing little story told in an April 2011 General Conference talk by Elder Quentin L. Cook (who apparently thinks it’s cute for a group of people to dig through and comment on the contents of somebody’s lost purse).  I will close out this post with his (incredibly condescending!) words:

When I was recently assigned to a conference in the Mission Viejo California Stake, I was touched by an account of their four-stake New Year’s Eve youth dance. Following the dance, a purse was found with no outside identification. I share with you part of what Sister Monica Sedgwick, the Young Women president in the Laguna Niguel stake, recorded: “We didn’t want to pry; this was someone’s personal stuff! So we gingerly opened it and grabbed the first thing that was on top—hopefully, it would identify her. It did, but in another way—it was a For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Wow! This told us something about her. Then we reached in for the next item, a little notebook. Surely this would give us answers, but not the kind we were expecting. The first page was a list of favorite scriptures. There were five more pages of carefully written scriptures and personal notes.”

The sisters immediately wanted to meet this stalwart young woman. They returned to that purse to identify its owner. They pulled out some breath mints, soap, lotion, and a brush. I loved their comments: “Oh, good things come out of her mouth; she has clean and soft hands; and she takes care of herself.”

They eagerly awaited the next treasure. Out came a clever little homemade coin purse made from a cardboard juice carton, and there was some money in a zippered pocket. They exclaimed, “Ahh, she’s creative and prepared!” They felt like little children on Christmas morning. What they pulled out next surprised them even more: a recipe for Black Forest chocolate cake and a note to make the cake for a friend’s birthday. They almost screamed, “She’s a HOMEMAKER! Thoughtful and service minded.” Then, yes, finally some identification. The youth leaders said they felt greatly blessed “to observe the quiet example of a young lady living the gospel.”

This account illustrates the commitment of our young women to Church standards. It is also an example of caring, interested, dedicated Young Women leaders all over the world. They are incredible!

Quentin L. Cook, LDS Women are Incredible!, April 2011 General Conference


4 Responses to “Solved: The Mystery of the “Divine Potential” of LDS Young Women.”

  • Peter Harbon Says:

    The story from the General Conference should be taken as it was intended. ‘Incredibly condescending’? That is a bit of an exaggeration, read it again but maybe with a sense of humour. Still, I realise that this is a complex issue and the roles of women (young and old) has been a changing dynamic in the history of the Church. I refer you to this article by Claudia Bushman, who it is fair to say is a good example of an educated Mormon woman, she writes without sentimentality and says how it is. Good and bad. I am glad to have a wife who is both an excellent mother and also very educated, I would not want it any other way. She’s not my equal, but in many ways my superior!

  • Poor Wayfaring Man Says:

    Yes, “incredibly condescending!” is a bit of an exaggeration. It is, however, an ironic joke mirroring the title of Cook’s talk, and the punchline of his story.

    I will destroy the joke by explaining. The hyperbole inherent in his use of the word “incredible”, and the generality of his application of that label (i.e., “women” as a group, representing roughly 50% of humanity), both connote a patronizing attitude. His exclamation point is an attempt to emphasize his sincerity, but it also highlights the suspect word choice. By mirroring his hyperbole and punctuation, I was drawing attention to that issue.

    The similar thing can be said for the last sentence in your comment, above. Why is the exclamation point there?


  • Wife Mother Artist Woman Says:

    I am so grateful for the LDS church’s message to women to value their “divine” roles of wife, homemaker and mother. We get plenty of bombardment from the world that diminishes the importance of those roles and makes us feel inferior to “working” women if we choose to make our first priority our homes and our children. I’m grateful for a church who stands up in the face of criticism to tell it how it is. There is nothing more important and fulfilling, nothing that could effect the future of individuals and society more than raising children correctly in a good home, in a loving marriage relationship. I testify of this from experience. Nothing has ever brought me more happiness than getting married and raising my child. I am also a talented artist. I consider it a gift from God and a divine calling that I, also, must fulfill. It won’t get in the way of my family. There are seasons for all things. But I’m a woman, I can do both, that’s what makes me great. The church’s teachings do not contradict this, they support it. The world would have us believe that unless we use our talents in a way that brings in income and worldly recognition they are being wasted. I know that the most rewarding and influential ways we can use our talents are first in the home, then in our communities. Worldly recognition is no measure of the value of work. The LDS church teaches me this, and its truth has been confirmed through my own experiences. I’m eternally grateful for its message to LDS women.

  • Eszter Says:

    Have you ever heard a mother being on her deathbed and saying: I wish I spent more time at the office developing my career?
    I am yet to find someone who has.
    What is wrong with encouraging women to take care of their families and nurture their children? The biggest cause of of the breakdown of society is the breakdown of families and the preassure on women to get out and make more money so they can buy more stuff. We have to have a nice car and botox and wxpensive clothes. getting by is just not enough any more for lots of people.
    If there are women in the Church who have a career nobody looks down on the,, nobody judges them, it is their and only their choice and good for them for achieving it. I would be proud of my own if she made it to the top. But please stop critisising the Church for teaching girls what the realy important things in life are since no goverment nor educational system semms to be doing it.
    (apologies for bad spelling, English is not my first language)

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