Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Where has everybody gone?

March 16, 2008

Well, I guess this group blog has gone the way of the other group blog that I participated in when I was on Blogger.  This was a lot of fun.  Until anyone else decides to post, I am going to put some things up here from time to time in the hopes that we can get things going again.  It looks like Mormon Matters is doing well, and I have enjoyed some of the posts.  Hopefully we can get things going again here.

Chris

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Sex and violence: Which is “worse”?

January 25, 2008

From a 2006 blog post:

Hearts ripped out of chests and held aloft in all their pulsating, graphic glory as thousands of people cheer in delirious approval. Heads decapitated and tossed as gifts to the crowd, people rushing to catch them with the same fervor and delight as a child catching a foul ball in their mitt at a baseball game.

Just two of many such violent, over-the-top, gut-wrenching, stomach-turning scenes in Mel Gibson’s masterful piece of moviemaking, the R-rated “Apocalypto,” which opened at No. 1 at the box office.

Now imagine a movie featuring a man and a woman madly in love — so much in love they can’t keep their hands off each other. In this movie, which tells a compelling story that is also masterful, they repeatedly make love to each other and we see them naked (as we see the Mayan tribesmen and women in “Apocalypto”). The scenes are as sexually explicit as “Apocalypto” is violently explicit and nothing is left to the imagination.

How would that movie be rated? R or NC-17?

When it comes to media, squeamishness with respect to sex and nudity coupled with comparative tolerance for violence is probably more correctly described as an American phenomenon, rather than one specific to Mormondom. Recall the Janet Jackson Super Bowl XXXVIII controversy (“Nipplegate”)–Mormons certainly weren’t alone in their outrage.

That controversy is emblematic of this idiosyncrasy. The big television companies take comparatively little heat for profuse amounts of violence featured in their shows, but the instant a bare breast shows up, controversy ensues, and the FCC decides it’s time to “crack down.” While we’re willing to tolerate incessant beatings and killings in prime time dramas, a bare nipple (something that every human being has) on a female breast (something that roughly half the human population has) is “obscene.”

The MPAA apparently embraces a similar philosophy. While a movie may feature a liberal amount of violent content and still sneak in under the PG-13 rating (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Smith or any James Bond film), an exposed breast is almost a guaranteed R. Too much sex, and you’ve got an NC-17 on your hands (e.g., Ang Lee’s recent Lust, Caution). I’m really not sure how much violence would be required to merit an NC-17 rating, but as the blog post quoted above hints at, apparently it’s not a particularly stringent standard.

Why is this? This perplexing approach seems totally arbitrary. When you get down to it, nudity is unspectacular (even though, in a strange alliance, both pornographers and social conservatives have tried to convince us that nudity is inherently sexual); all of us have nipples and genitals. Sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, and common of human behaviors. The desire for such intimacy is something that virtually every human being, from adolescence onward, can relate to. Violence, on the other hand, is one of the most disturbing of human tendencies. If sex represents a high point in human relations, intentionally killing or inflicting physical pain on another person certainly marks a low point.

Yet we love it when Tom Cruise shoots another nameless bad guy in the forehead and when Matt Damon kills with his bare hands.

Levi Peterson writes, “I consider the depiction of violence unrelated to sex far more pornographic than the non-violent depiction of sexual parts and acts. Ironically, millions of readers and TV watchers who pride themselves upon their militancy against sexual display calmly ingest graphic shootings, stabbings, decapitations, and disembowelments.” Such people, he continues, “do not commit a sin of lust, [but] they commit an obverse sin of prudery. Prudery forces the sexual impulse underground, banishes it to the territory of the abnormal and forbidden. Ironically, prudery reinforces pornography.”

Before I conclude, I would like to clarify that I am neither condemning all violence in media nor advocating the graphic or gratuitous depiction of sex. I believe that violent imagery may be used to reinforce a non-violent message. I also believe that sex should not be exploited, but should be treated in a tactful, mature manner. (Note that, as just implied, I feel it should be treated, rather than neglected, in our media.)

If we are more comfortable seeing one person blow another’s head off than we are two people in passionate embrace, I have to wonder: What is wrong with us?

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My Thoughts on Women and Education

January 25, 2008

I am a week behind, and I hope it’s ok to do last week’s topic. BTW, I deliberately did not comment on the other posts (and even didn’t read them all) so I could share my thoughts without being reactive to others’.

This week, I watched a movie about the history of BYU. I was moved by the sacrifices that were made to make that institution what it is today. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to get an education, and felt the urgency to urge my children to do all they could to get all the education they can. The Spirit is strong when I consider the importance of education. It’s something I have given presentations on to both teenage and college-age young women.

I’m also deeply passionate about the roles of women as repeatedly addressed by our prophets and as outlined in the Proclamation on the family. While I know that some women don’t have the chance to fulfill all of these roles in this life,  I believe for those who do, there is simply nothing more important than being a good wife and mother. (And I believe that is a process, not something we all will just necessarily come ready to do. More thoughts on that follow.)

I also know that navigating these important goals and roles can be tricky, and that the Lord can guide us each a different way. In addition, there is great variation in how life unfolds for each of us. (I thought I would be married before age 21. I wasn’t. I ended up serving a mission, getting a graduate degree, and building a career before I married and had children.) There is no one-size-fits-all answer on the “how” or “when” of all of this.

But we know the “what”s. And yet, I have talked to many who are either personally conflicted or confused about it all, or who have looked at the Church’s counsel to be a wife and mother (home with children whenever possible) and to get all the education you can somehow incompatible.  I have also seen those who want to suggest that somehow now things are drastically different than before somehow, because President Hinckley has talked about education and making contributions to society. I do not believe things are so different, nor that these concepts are incompatible. I will try below to share some of my thoughts and beliefs in more detail.

1. Education is a means, not an end. If we make educational and career goals our primary focus, it is very possible that we will miss the mark. Education is a facilitator. If we are educated, we can better serve the Lord, our families, our communities. We will be more prepared for whatever life may throw at us. Education can help us in our roles. We will be more likely to sort through all the many sorts of information out there with more discernment, and be able to make wiser decisions (in theory, anyway, right?).  We will be able to teach others (particularly our children) the importance of education, and do so by word and example. And yes, we can find personal joy and fulfillment, but that should not be the primary focus. Even our own fulfillment and success should be about glorifying Him and being closer to Him and following His plan (all of it!). It’s too easy to fall into traps of ego and success, and I think it’s possible the single most difficult challenge with being educated and capable of success – to keep priorities in place. (Were this not so, we wouldn’t hear so much about the importances of priorities. Think Elder Oaks, for example.)

Which leads to point #2.

2. Education should be attained with wisdom and order. I don’t mean this only in terms of time and energy, but also in terms of focus and priorities. Education is an important priority, but it’s not THE most important priority. (I’m not advocating foolish choices, and each person (couple) will have to decide what wisdom and order means. But I still think that we need to keep education in proper perspective, and, again, remember it’s a means, not an end.)

For those of us who are women, I liked what Sister Beck said in her Conference talk. “[A]ll the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth.” She makes it clear what should be most important in our lives. Elder Oaks does, too — faith and family are our first priorities.

This counsel is not new. We are reminded time and time again, both by ancient and latter-day prophets that we need to put the kingdom of God first, and put trust in Him before trust in the arm of flesh.

To me, this also applies to how we approach the acquisition of knowledge. As we gain knowledge, we need to keep it all in perspective and make sure that we learn through the lens of the gospel, not try to change the gospel to fit with worldly philosophies. (Often, truths we learn ‘in the world’ and in the gospel proper are not incompatible. But sometimes they are. When they are, I believe we should put the gospel first and let those things that seem not to fit either sit on the back burner, or fall off the stove completely.)

And, yes, wisdom and order also means being wise about time and energy. Sometimes life situations mean that we won’t be able to get it all done, right now. That’s okay. The Lord can guide and open doors. Sometimes this is all a process. I saw a sister have four children in six years and take a class at a time and graduate with two degrees at the age of 27. Other women go back to school when children get into school, or later. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting an education. I think the key is keeping that goal present, remembering the counsel to ‘get all we can’ (which will be different for all of us) and seeking the Lord’s guidance on how and when to fulfill that goal.

I think that kind of variation and flexibility and sometimes more-spread-out-than-we-would-like-it-to-be process will tend to be more true for women than for men. I am one who believes that in a marriage, a man’s career and education should take priority in almost all cases, simply because I believe there is divine purpose in the roles we have been given. I know there will be exceptions to this, but I am not a fan of making the exception the rule on this point. Flame me if you will, but I feel strongly about that.

That said, I also believe a supportive husband can help his wife find ways to fulfill the goal of getting an education and keeping practical and use-able skills current as appropriate along the way. The Lord can help make this happen, if we are patient and obedient to His guidance and counsel. I know that because I have experienced it, and I have been a SAHM the whole time we have had kids, but my résumé is anything but empty or filled with large gaps.

3. Education goes far beyond just a degree or diploma. Education is a life-long pursuit, and this pursuit can be both formal and informal. I sometimes hear people say that the only way to keep a résumé current is to work. This is simply not true. With or without formal education, and within and without one’s field, there will be myriad ways to keep one’s saw sharp (to borrow a Covey phrase). I have not taken a formal class for nearly a decade and a half. But I keep reading, learning, networking, talking to people in and out of my field, volunteering…. One can take a class at a time, or get practical experience an hour a week, or volunteer a day a month or work here and there, or…. Sometimes finding ways to serve and develop ourselves takes taking a step back from typical approaches, and being creative (and willing to let go of Our Way). This is possible and I think in order to fulfill our responsibilities with faith and family, that kind of creativity is more often than not a necessity, particularly for women.

Also, while life experience is harder to record on a résumé, there is much to be learned from the day-to-day stuff of life, particularly when we have an eternal perspective and understand that there is nothing mundane or ordinary in what we do. Life is an education, and we should not forget that along the way.

4. Tied to #3 is the idea that I think we should avoid thinking in binary terms. I have seen too many women think in terms of either working or being at home. There are SO MANY ways to use our time and to be of good when and if we have some time and energy to spare. We can volunteer in a million different great causes, or do family history work, or work at the temple, or help sisters in the neighborhood (I will forever be indebted to my stay-at-home sisters who could be working but instead are available to help mommies like me), or take night classes, or teach community classes, or or or…. Again, a résumé is not only built or kept current by for-pay work. And again, what we do should be about God’s will and work, not our own.

5. The Lord cares about all of this, and He will help us achieve goals in the way that will best suit us and our families and His work and plan — if we involve Him in our decision-making and are willing to seek His will and find His plan for us. I have experienced this miracle time and time again. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach, I believe we must seek His help. The consequences of our decisions on these eternally-important issues are too significant to go it alone.

This means, however, that we might have to adjust or forgo some of our plans along the way. I will encourage my girls to vigorously pursue their goals, but always, always, to keep the need for family foremost in their minds, and always let the Lord guide, all along the way (not just in the initial decisions). I will encourage them to thus consider carefully their career choices, to leave room for options that can allow for flexibility, for entering and leaving the workforce with some ease through different stages of life. I would hate to see them choose a career that leaves them bound to professional obsoleteness if they choose to stay home full time. In my view, there are just too many choices out there that will allow for some flexibility and creativity to bind one’s self to such a rigorous career path, given what our leaders have said about our primary roles. (This is not to say that the Lord couldn’t lead one to such a rigorous choice. But I, for one, would only want to choose such a thing if I knew that was what the Lord wanted, no question. Again, I think involving the Lord is essential.)

One aside: I have heard of women who are a force for change to make that kind of flexibility more acceptable in their fields or companies. Let’s not assume that what is is what needs to be.

6. We may not always be guided to what is natural. My husband bluntly told me recently that I am much more suited to the boardroom than to motherhood. My ‘natural’ abilities are not in dealing and playing with small children. I’m not good with bodily fluids, which is a constant feature of motherhood, particularly of young children. I am not the most patient person in the world. Nevermind the fact that I LOVED my career.

But I believe in the importance of this role, and I knew that being home was what the Lord wanted me to do. And nearly a decade into it all, I can tell you that He is adding to my list of what is ‘natural’ to me. My capacity has been increased, and I believe that has come from following what I knew He wanted me to do, even when it was harder than anything I had ever done. So I plead with women to not just make decisions based on what they think they are best suited for alone, but to also discover how the Lord can magnify them, be that in the personal realm or in the professional realm. (Another story for another day is that I was led to a graduate program in something I had ruled out completely as an undergrad degree, for sheer and total lack of interest. Go figure.)

In summary, I think we cannot overlook the fact that education is important, for men and women. But I think that, generally speaking, we cannot overlook the fact that education for women is not always going to unfold in the same way or for the same reasons as it will for men, by reason of the fact that we are given different roles to fulfill. Education and career pursuits for women may take more creativity and flexibility, particularly for women who are (or will be) married and have children.

Still, these goals are important, and I believe they should be on every woman’s mind, regardless of age or stage of life. As that seed is planted, the Lord can help it grow as it should, when it should. As we put the things of the Lord first, I believe He will bless and guide and magnify and open doors. In my case, He led me to dreams I never knew I had, résumé bullets I could not have anticipated, and personal growth and change and becoming that I never would have found with my dreams alone.

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TV–Choice or Necessity?

January 22, 2008

by BiV

A number of years ago, when DH and I were setting up our household, a big question for young parents was whether or not they would have a TV in their home.  Technology had progressed to the point that almost every family could afford a television, but whether or not we wanted its influence in our home was still a big question.  This, along with the related question, “Should we get cable?” has been hotly contested between my spouse and myself for 25 years.  In the early days of our marriage, and for a few years after a move, we were TV-less.  But for many of those 25 years it has occupied pride-of-place in our living room.  What advantages and disadvantages does a television hold specifically for Latter-day Saints?

Family Life

I believe TV has a huge effect on family life.  During the years we did not have a TV, our family played games together.  The kids went outside and played, and we went with them.  We went to parks, we went swimming together, we visited friends.  The family ate dinner together more often, and we talked more.  With TV, many of our family home evenings became watching TV together (the same thing we did every other night.)  Once a television enters our home, we find it difficult to control.  We will start with rules like: No TV except on weekends.  This becomes: No TV until homework is done.  Later, we wake up one day to find that all rules have vanished. 

Consumerism

When my children were growing up with no television, they were happy with whatever cereal I brought home.  They asked for one or two things for Christmas, often toys they could play with outside, like a football, or a baseball glove.  I felt that this had the effect on my LDS family of making us more sensitive to how we could help others with our resources, instead of having so many things that we “needed” placed inside our heads by TV commercials.

Time

We don’t realize just how much time the TV sucks out of us until we live for a while without one.  With the Mormons and all we have to do, time is at a premium.  Suddenly we find ourselves doing our home and visiting teaching more often.  We read scriptures every evening before bed.  We have time to do homework and review the times tables with our kids.  There is time to read together as a family, and everyone gets hooked on books.  We spend more time on our callings. 

Being Informed

This is one area in which there are advantages and disadvantages to having a TV.  On the one hand, with a TV you are kept up-to-the-minute on what is happening in the world.  Programs on the History channel and other cable offerings have much to teach that is not available in any other way.  And what about sports???  On the other hand, you are more swayed by politically correct opinions than if you search out your news from a variety of sources, including internet, newsmagazines, newspapers, NPR, etc.  With a TV everyone in the home is bombarded with secular points of view and specifically Mormon teachings we are trying to instill can easily be eclipsed.  DH always campaigned for a TV by citing how convenient it was to watch Conference at home.  But now we can do this online — no TV needed.

I still don’t spend much time in front of the television (guess where I am while the rest of the family is watching “So you think you can dance?”).  But I still wonder how important this media choice is to Latter-day Saints today.  What do you think?  Does television make a difference in the quality of your life?  Do people still make a conscious decision, “will we or will we not have a TV?”  Or is it simply a given that when you set up house you will get a toaster, shower curtain, and TV? 

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Thou Shall Not Watch Rated-R Movies

January 21, 2008

by the narrator

I grew up believing that all rated-R movies were pornographic. I don’t recall ever actually being taught this, but the rhetoric and taboo from my family and through church implied and ingrained this into my mind. It wasn’t until I was twelve or thirteen that I saw my first R movie. I remember it well. I was at my best friend JR’s house for a sleepover where we stayed up late and watched Terminator 2.

Now it has been a long time since I had last seen that movie, but from what I remember, the movie was awesome (at least from the perspective of an adolescent) and there wasn’t anything offensive. I don’t recall any gratuitous violence, sex, nudity, or vulgarity. What exactly was it that I had been sheltered from for all this time? It was certainly not pornographic (as a teenage boy, I would have certainly remembered that). There wasn’t any gore. This wasn’t snuff. I’ll admit that it wasn’t necessarily the most morally uplifting film, but on the other hand, it wasn’t the opposite either. The movie didn’t preach or support immorality (unless helping a bio-cast cyborg from the future to protect the future leader and savior of mankind from a mimetic polyally android is immoral).

Since this introduction to the world of rated-R movies, I would not be surprised if I have seen more R movies than any other rating. In fact my current DVD collection probably has a 2:1 ratio of R to non-R movies. While some rated R movies certainly could be called pornographic, so are many PG-13 movies. In fact, I would say I have probably seen more PG-13 movies that I have found offensive or immoral than R movies.

So with that brief introduction to my relationship to the R. Here are some thoughts on Mormonism and R-rated media.

1. There is no Mormon commandment or standard against rated-R movies. A few days ago, two of my aunts left comments on my family’s website celebrating a recent Mormon American Idol contestant who apparently boasted that she had never seen an rated-R movies. “She told them that she was raised differently–had never seen an r-rated movie, etc. She told them that they couldn’t bring her over to the “dark side.” Bet you couldn’t guess what religion she is!” “The judges thought it was pretty weird for a married young couple not to have seen R-rated movies. Well, there are many of us in this country who have the same standards.” It seems wherever I go in Mormondom, there is the omnipresent appeal to this Mormon prohibition of the R. Where did this come from?

In an April 1986 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson speaking directly to the youth of the church encouraged them to avoid lewd media. Rated-R movies were among the list of things he encouraged the youth to refrain from. Since that address, any sort of call to avoid the R has been limited to 2 or 3 lines from seventies who usually just quote President Benson – the last of these occurring in 1993. The general membership of the church has never been instructed to avoid the R, and contrary to most myths, the Church’s Strength of the Youth pamphlet/booklet has never contained instructions prohibiting the youth from watching rated-R movies.

But President Benson said so! First of all, this talk was directly given to the Aaronic priesthood youth, so to turn it into a general claim is going beyond the scope of his talk. Furthermore (and this is part of a much bigger issue which I’ll leave out), the statements made by a President of the Church – even in general conference – are hardly grounds for determining LDS doctrine or commandment. There is a long list of statements made by Church Presidents in general conferences that have never become become Church commandment or doctrine. For example, Brigham Young’s Adam-God Doctrine or Spencer W. Kimball’s October 1978 conference talk against hunting.

2. The myth of the prohibition of the R prevents Mormons from seeing some very good movies. In his unsatisfactory book, What Is Mormonism All About?: Answers to the 150 Most Commonly Asked Questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, author W. F. Walker. Johanson begins his answer to the question of why Mormons don’t watch rated-R movies with the rhetorical question “Why would anybody even want to watch a rated-R movie?” He then continues to provide a caricature of the R nothing more than violent and pornographic trash. It became quickly clear that he was simply an ignoramus who has never seen a rated-R movie, nor is willing to recognize that an R movie can have some value.

Not only are all R movies not simply trash, but some of the movies that have most impacted my life in a positive way have been rated R. One of the first movies I saw after my mission was the beautiful and powerful theatrical translation of Stephen King’ The Green Mile which deeply moved me and gave me a whole new perspective of the immorality of the death penalty and our prison system (King’s The Shawshank Redemption did much of the same). War movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Glory, and the recent and amazing Letters from Iwo Jima are must-sees in this age of wars and rumors of wars. Historical depictions such as Schindler’s List or Munich help us learn from the mistakes from our past so as not to repeat them. Not only are many R-movies morally uplifting, but many (though perhaps not having a moral message) are just powerful works of art. Children of Men, Sweeney Todd, No Country for Old Men, Gone Baby Gone, Kill Bill, and The Passion are just a few recent R’s off the top of my head that excel in their artistic story-telling – whether or not the R rating was warranted.

3. The myth of a Mormon prohibition of the R leads too often to self-righteous holier-than-thou judging. Back to W.F. Walker Johanson’s lacking book. “Why would anybody even want to watch a rated-R movie?” When you create a false commandment, you create a false sense of righteousness resulting in false and ignorant judgments of others. Growing up, I thought people who watched rated R movies were sinning.

4. The R prohibition is no standard to judge the contents of a movie. While growing, the R was strictly prohibited in our home. If we were watching a PG-13 movie, my dad would have the vcr in hand, ever ready to depress the fast-forward button in case something were to show up on the television screen. It was embarrassing in front of friends.

The prohibition of the R is very much akin to the modern revision of the Word of Wisdom, the biggest difference being that the latter has an actual official position. With the modern Word of Wisdom we find all too many Mormons who won’t touch a Coke because of the unhealthiness of caffeine, but continue to stuff already obese bodies with fats, sugars, and cholesterol. They spare on meats about as much as Mitt Romney spares on lacking integrity. Similarly, I see many Mormons who frown on any rated-R movie (while even recognizing that there may be nothing wrong with the movie besides its rating), but have an an anything-goes policy with offensive hyper-sexualized PG-13 movies simply because it does not have the scarlet R. Like the Pharisees of old, they have placed a false fence as a standard of righteousness and have failed to recognize what was that that fence surrounded.

Now I don’t think that all R movies are for everybody. I don’t think any movie is for everybody. (I also think that most LDS-films are for nobody. Nor do I believe that ratings should be simply ignored. More than not, the MPAA ratings (which are very problematic) give a somewhat appropriate guide to helping us make a decision. However, that rating should not be the sole guide, but rather a sign by which we should then proceed to make further inquiries. If we see a PG-13 or R rating, we should find out why such is the case, and then determine if those things can appropriately fit within our own personal guidelines, sensibilities, and gospel understanding.

* On a side note, Richard Dutcher’s new movie Falling, billboarded as the first rated-R Mormon-film is crap. Seriously. Don’t see it.

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Women’s Education is Not A Safety Net

January 20, 2008

by Guest Poster fmhJanet

In a 2001 address, President Hinckley counseled girls to:

Choose the things you would like to do, and educate yourselves to be effective in their pursuit. For most it is very difficult to settle on a vocation. You are hopeful that you will marry and that all will be taken care of. In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary to do so.[1]


The prophet’s chosen title and his subsequent remarks heavily imply that he does not view schooling solely as a safety net for women to fall back upon should tragedy befall them. But his remarks strike a familiar refrain. Most LDS commentary of women and education falls upon its own rhetorical safety net, insisting that girls need education “in case something happens.” Surely our leaders must tire of adding this caveat. I know I tire of hearing it. Maybe my interstitial line-reading has gone awry, but I sense a note of tiredness in the prophet’s observation that girls want to “be taken care of.” Instead, he goes onto say, they should fully develop their talents and be “qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world” regardless of marital status.

So why the consistent qualifier? Surely it has potential weight, considering that many women never marry, that between 13 and 24% of LDS marriages end in divorce, and that 1/3 of widows become such before their 50th birthday.[2] In my own decade of marriage, I’ve watched as 6 friends have been catapulted into the confusing world of widowhood, often without the boon of life insurance or an education. The last friend lost her husband only a week ago, and I’ve wondered how she will support four children with a dearth of marketable skills. Cast into her lot, I’d fare rather poorly—I have an unfinished PhD in a market with 7 applicants for every job. I’d have to trust the marketability of my ability to type 70 words a minute or suddenly compose a Harry Potter-esque hotcake of a novel.  Despite my own paltry safety net, I still feel as though I’ve followed the prophet’s dictum to educate myself, because the contributions that education offers me, and which I can thus offer, far outweigh my earning potential (thank goodness).

So exactly what “significant contributions” might outweigh the panic room existence of education? Are our leaders trying to scare girls who would otherwise wheedle away their time trying on wedding dresses and dreaming of a domestic bliss composed of sponging off a hubby without offering substantial contributions of their own? Let’s be clear: the contributions I see, and which I believe our leaders see, aren’t just greenbacks paying the rent or paving the way to a be-curtained Wizard of Oz where worldly stuff is unveiled as just…stuff. Monetary contributions don’t compose the brunt of education’s utility. Nor does the inarguable fact and oft-repeated mantra that an educated woman has a few extra tools for teaching any kiddos who might pinwheel into the picture, demanding why the sky is not purple and too pigheaded to settle for “God likes it like that.” The contributions education offers an LDS woman, and which an educated woman offers the world, are far bigger than a fat wallet or the embodiment of Baby Einstein.

An educated woman contributes a better self. To herself, for herself. To others, for others. To God, for God. While the “safety net” might be our most common metaphor for education, I like the idea that it is the air, the tightrope, the net, the woman walking the wire. An educated person becomes the embodiment of her learning—education is not just something you “get” or consume the way you buy a new handbag. It is who you are. It frames the way you see the world, offers the ability to distinguish between a disagreement and a fight, to make connections which unify the different components of God’s world. Education makes you independent at the same time it teaches you how utterly dependent you remain upon others within your immediate and extended circles of influence. Grasping such a healthy paradox helps us parse the balancing of responsibilities to self and community, of individual spirituality mitigated by the needs of a Zion-aimed group. It gives you much more than the ability to procure employment, for as Dallin H. Oaks says,

Education is more than vocational. Education should improve our minds, strengthen our bodies, heighten our cultural awareness, and increase our spirituality. It should prepare us for greater service to the human family.[3]

Oh sure, we’ve all encountered (or been) the girl who just “wants to be taken care of.” But despite that, or the outside world’s alarming tendency to envision LDS women as uneducated drones,[4]  things aren’t as dire as we may sometimes think. Yes, educational inequity remains along gender lines: far more Mormon men finish degrees than do Mormon women. Still, that gap narrows when taking into account graduate education,[5] and would narrow further still if sociological research reflected the extra-collegiate education women gain in learning the practical necessities of running a household or caring for kids (and they should count, thank you).[6] And while LDS women do cite the “safety net” and “better mom” arguments for pursuing education, they also identify mind-enriching pursuits as inherently useful for self-edification, a step-up from ages past. [7] And here’s a honey of a tidbit: research reveals not only that LDS women are more likely to seek post-secondary education than are women from other religions which emphasize the primacy of women’s maternal role, but that the education itself may serve as a predictor of continued spiritual growth and activity in the church.[8] Makes sense. We embrace John’s counsel that those who follow God’s laws internalize His doctrine, and LDS doctrine holds that God’s glory lies in intelligence.[9] Learn more, become more, become like God.

Does an LDS young woman need to build herself a safety net? Sure she does. But more than that she needs to embrace the notion that “our sacred regard for each human intellect, [requires that] we consider the obtaining of an education to be a religious responsibility. … Our Creator expects His children everywhere to educate themselves.”[10] She needs to know that education bolsters rather than impairs spirituality. (I’m betting Laurels and Mia Maids are not deaf to the implications of the phrase “so-called intellectual” or to some of the cultural scuttlebutt that paints educated women as snobs who do not love their children.) She needs to know that God’s command to fulfill the measure of her creation includes more than maximizing her reproductive capacity. She needs to know that the more education a woman accrues, the more she has to offer her community, her family, and herself. But especially, she needs to know that refusing to approach the world expecting or desiring “to be taken care of” means that when she gives all she has as an offering to God, she will offer a more substantial self.

So here are my questions: do we need to drop the “safety net” rhetoric in order to get our YW to focus on the weightier stuff of education? Or does the potential apathy of YW require the refrain’s emphasis? Will our YW respond to inspiration rather than fear?


[1] “How Can I Become the Woman of Whom I Dream,” Ensign May 2001, 93.
[2] “Divorce and the LDS Church.” http://www.religioustolerance.org/lds_divo.htm; Holden, Karen: Tabulations from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), 1984-1997. University of Wisconsin, 2002.

[3] Women and Education,” Ensign, March 1975, 57.

[4] At the close of their article “Higher Education and the Negotiated Process of Hegemony: Embedded Resistance among Mormon Women,” John Mihelich and Debbie Storrs admit their own preconceived biases and, in light of their findings, suggest other sociologists view LDS women as more than “mere dupes.” (Gender & Sociology 17.3: 404-422)

[5] Stephen J. Bahr. “Mormon Statistics.” http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/daily/social_eom.htm

[6] Please note that this post does not refer only about formal education. The gospel preaches unification of body and spirit, so while conversance in Sarte and DeCarte (or Derrida and Boethius) it isn’t the whole of education. You need to know how to care for the other half of the soul. Which means you need to know how to cook more than refried beans from a can.

[7] Mihelich and Storrs, 416. 

[8] Keysar, Ariela and Barry A. Kosmin. “The Impact of Religious Identification on Differences in Educational Attainment among American Women in 1990.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34.1: 49-62.

[9] John 7:17

[10] Ensign, Nov. 1992, 6.

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Do we really believe that education is just as important for women as it is for men?

January 18, 2008

By Steve M.

Education plays dual roles in Mormondom.

On the one hand, its pursuit is an act of devotion that makes men and women more godly. President Hinckley has instructed members, “You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands” (Cite). The Doctrine & Covenants includes an injunction to “[s]eek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), and states that “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life . . . he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19). Indeed, mortal life is an educative experience, and we often speak of eternity in terms of “learning” and “progression.” The sanctity of education is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the doctrine Joseph Smith enumerated in the King Follet Sermon: “you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves,” he instructed the Saints (emphasis added). From this perspective, it would seem that education is equally vital to both men and women.

On the other hand, the importance of education is often grounded in practical, rather than spiritual, concerns. We don’t talk a whole lot about the intrinsic value of an education, but its practical benefits are always at the forefront of our discourse. As one General Authority said to an audience of BYU students, “It is important that you do something that allows you to earn a good living, because you have to provide for a family; and that is what education is all about, in my opinion” (Cite). Similarly, in encouraging church members to “get all of the education that you possibly can,” President Hinckley reasons that “[l]ife has become so complex and competitive. . . . [The] world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field” (Cite). In light of quasi-scriptural proclamations that “[b]y divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families . . . [and m]others are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” (Cite), one logical conclusion may be that education, the stuff of which lucrative careers are made, is more central to men’s familial role than to women’s.

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