Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spirit, Priesthood Power, Virtue and Accountability

This may be an over simplification, but it has been bothering me since I was first called as YW President, and it is still bothering me. Actually, it is bothering me more today than it has in the past. Mostly because of my own children. So, read this at your own risk.

Years ago when my husband and I had been dating for about a year, a coworker recommended I read the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. We were not having any major problems in our relationship, other than the typical petty stuff. We were happy, extremely happy. And then I started reading that book.
Within a week of beginning the book, we were fighting on a daily basis. It was ridiculous. The smallest things would set us to arguing. After about a week and a half of this, my (incredibly perceptive) sweetheart, said something along the lines of, "For crying out loud, why are we fighting so much." Then he looked on the coffee table and saw that book. He said, "That's why! This all started when you started reading that book." He was right. It was the book.

Now, I am sure the book was actually good for some couples. My sister swears by it, and bought every book related to it. But, after that week and a half of reading the book and fighting with my sweetheart, I realized something about the book. There was a formula in the book that went something like this:
  1. This is what a man does that bugs a woman.
  2. This is why it bugs a woman. (Also known as: this is how that makes a woman feel.)
  3. This is what a woman can do to fix the problem. (Also known as, this is how a woman can resolve her feelings and feel something else.)
Nowhere in the book did it encourage men to take responsibility. The problem with the book is that it put the responsibility for change on the woman. It put the responsibility of the direction of the relationship on the woman. Last time I checked, the responsibility for a healthy relationship falls on both parties involved.

Fast forward 20 years. I am a happily married mother of sons, who happens to have just been released as Young Women President. In serving in this calling, I realized something:  The church puts too much emphasis on how young women can lead men into temptation. It actually puts too much responsibility on the Young Women for the (potential) thoughts and actions of young men.

As a mother of sons, this bothers me. In a recent talk by the YW General President, she said that the action of young women (she was specifically talking about sexting) can "cause them (the young men) to lose the Spirit, their Priesthood Power and their virtue.” Again, this bothers me. My sons are in charge of their own relationship with the Spirit, their own Priesthood Power, and their own virtue. Why on earth would I ever let my sons believe that these things are in the power of a young woman?

Can a young woman cause impure thoughts in my son? Of course she can. Can a young woman tempt my son to do things that he shouldn't? Of course she can. But at the end of the day, who is in charge of his thoughts, his actions, and his agency? MY SON IS!

To shift it a little bit: Can a young woman help encourage my son to go on a mission? Of course she can. Can a young woman be virtuous and righteous and inspire my son to be the same? Of course she can. But in the end, who is in charge of my son's thoughts, actions, and agency? Once again, MY SON IS!

I am not saying that young women do not have a certain "power" over young men (and that they are not accountable for how they use that "power"), but what I am saying is that it is certainly not the fault of a young woman if any young man cannot control his own thoughts, impulses, and actions.

Regardless of whether a young woman is inspiring/encouraging good or bad, moral or immoral, the bottom line is that my son is in charge of his own agency.

Why should young women have to shoulder this burden of being guardians of virtue to the young men? In thinking of this talk, it reminded me of the book from 20 years ago, only with a different spin:
  1. This is a weakness in a man.
  2. This is what a woman can do to help the man overcome the weakness.(Also known as, this is what a woman needs to do to ensure that the man keeps his Spirit, his Priesthood Power, and his virtue.)
  3. This is what happens when a woman does not help a man overcome his weakness. (Also known as, if a women tempts a man, he will lose the Spirit, his Priesthood, and his virtue.)
The book basically told women that in order to be happy, they need to fix the men and adjust their own attitudes. The message to young women is that in order to raise righteous young men, we need to teach young women that it is their responsibility to keep men righteous. Really? That seems like we are putting an awful lot on the young women and not enough on the young men.

We each have our agency and, tempted or not, we are each responsible for our own actions. As a mother of sons, I teach my sons that they have their own virtue and that virtue must be protected. I also teach them that no one else can protect their virtue more than they can. Ultimately, my sons are responsible for their own relationship with the Spirit, their own Priesthood Power, and their own virtue. I teach them that no one can cause them to lose any of these without their own consent.

1 comment:

Catherine Agnes said...

Thank you for so clearly expressing the dangerous ideas this talk reinforces. I was extremely disappointed by it; this is not the message youth of either gender need to be getting. There's quite a heated discussion about it going on over at feministmormonhousewives and from there I started searching to find other reactions to it, which is how I came across your blog.