Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Seek Learning (Especially if you're male?)

The New Era is the Mormon church's magazine for its youth. The September issue arrived in our home today and the First Presidency message for the month caught my eye: "Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning". The church has always stressed the importance of education and supports education through its church universities such as Brigham Young University. But its attitude about education for women has always been a mixed message so I was curious how that aspect of the message was treated in 2007. I guess I wasn't really surprised. Here are a few excerpts although you're welcome to read the entire article (it's linked on the title of this post). The fact that the counsel much be tailored for men and women should tell you something. Here are the relevant sections. I've highlighted and inserted my comments in italics.

Special Counsel for Girls

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. [This is code for the case in which she can't fulfill her divine calling as a wife and mother.]

The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it.7 I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, [The fact that he feels the need to point this out should tell you something. Apparently it's not clear otherwise or perhaps it speaks to common attitudes in the church. Still, it's nice that he's trying to counter it.] which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world (see D&C 84:46).8

You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.9 Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family [In other words, getting married and having kids is more important.], but also pursue educational programs which will lead to satisfying work and productive employment in case you do not marry [The prophet has already counseled that a wife and mother should stay home, not work.], or to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry [Again, if you get married you shouldn't pursue a career. In that case your education is a bauble or an insurance policy in case your marriage isn't successful.]. Education will increase your appreciation and refine your talent.

Special Counsel for Boys

No boy anxious to please his Heavenly Father would fail to take advantage of educational opportunities.11 But there is a troubling trend taking place. Young men are more likely to drop out of school than young women. Women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men.

It is plainly evident that young women are exceeding young men in pursuing educational programs. [The implication here is that this is clearly a bad thing. There's no question whether or not you'd find this comment in the previous section if the opposite were true.] And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own? [This is not the first time he has said this. He's also made the same comment in General Priesthood Meeting where it was met with laughter from the congregated men. Is it too much to ask what would be so bad about that?] We speak of being “equally yoked.” That applies, I think, to the matter of education. [In fact he's saying quite the opposite. He thinks that in education the man should strive to be superior in educational attainment to his wife.]

I knew a young couple that had recently graduated from college. The wife was very intelligent and had a masters in accounting while the husband wasn't nearly as smart or accomplished. She surrendered a likely successful career to stay at home and start a family because that is what the church teaches. While that's their choice, it would be refreshing if the church could consider that there might be equally acceptable alternatives such as another Mormon couple where the wife continued to pursue her successful engineering career while her husband sacrificed his job as a public school PE teacher to be a stay at home dad.


C. L. Hanson said...

That's really awful that in this day and age they would be so dismissive of girls' education, and worse that they would deliberately tell boys that they should feel ashamed at the possibility of having a lower level of education than their future wives...

Bull said...

I think the ironic thing is that many Mormons would consider this quite a progressive statement by their prophet. He's actually recognizing the fact that life doesn't always follow the Mormon ideal and that women need to be prepared for that.

However it falls far short of recognizing that some women want a career and have aspirations to be more than a wife and a mother. For example, would a future Madame Curie ever reach her potential if she were a faithful Mormon or would she faithfully sacrifice her aspirations in order to focus on what the church has defined as her highest priority.

Yes, it's awful, and it's even worse because their prophet seems blissfully unaware of the his anachronistic attitudes.

I didn't find it in the online version, but they had comments from youth that were pretty frightening in the attitudes that they portrayed.

MattMan said...

Things like this make me disgusted with myself that I ever not only followed, but supported such an organization. In my defense, however, I will say that I never supported positions like this -- but I still glossed over them and came up with contorted explanations that made them sound like something other than what they were. The demise of attitudes like this can't come fast enough for me (or my children).

Bull said...

A lot of religion is innocuous at worst, but it's things like this that are truly harmful in a very deep way.

Anonymous said...

I know you have a daughter. Are you teaching her that she should be gaining an education for employment, to support herself and her family, etc.?

Sister Mary Lisa said...

This kind of attitude promoted by the prophet really riles me. But what do we expect? The man came of age into adulthood before WWII, didn't he? Gawd.