Monday, November 26, 2007

Julie Beck and Women Who Know

I just re-read sister Beck's talk, after reading a post at Red State Blues. I remember when I listened to it the first time thinking that people were going to be upset over it, but reading it just now, I don't think there's really anything to be upset about. Church leaders have said repeatedly that individual circumstances require people to do what works for them. Sister Beck is just highlighting what our priorities ought to be if we are in a circumstance that allows it.

Have children if you can. Only an individual (Or couple) can determine what "can" means to them in the context of what our church leaders have said.

Make sure that those children know that you love the gospel (she's not saying we have to have perfectly dressed children, that was just an example of how some women in poor countries were showing their children that sacrament meeting is important to them).

Take care of your children and your homes. She's not saying that men have no part in those things. She's just saying it's important.

Be strong, and lead by example.

Don't miss out on opportunities of teaching your children the things that you value.

Don't get so busy doing good things that you miss out on essential things.

Be strong, and do the best we can. When Sister Beck says that we should be "the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families" she means because we have been given so much knowledge about how to do those things, we have been well prepared. Where much is given, much is required. She's not saying that we should do more than is possible or feel like failures because we are not perfect.

It's interesting to me that the only times I have felt discouraged about my ability as a mother has come from other women. Women in general put a lot of pressure on each other to look good, and have well behaved children, perfectly decorated homes, etc... I have never felt that coming from the church, so I think we need to be less up in arms about the words Sister Beck spoke and listen to the spirit of what she was saying. It's easy to grasp onto one sentence that we don't like on turn off our ears to what is really being taught.

I think if women in Utah really listened and embraced what Sister Beck said, there would be far less need for antidepressants. We don't have to do it all, we don't have to be perfect. What we can do as mothers to really make a difference in the lives of our children is simple, and doesn't involve perfect hair, expensive clothes, perfectly decorated homes, children who always have their hair combed and their clothes ironed. It involves simply loving, teaching, and not giving up.

19 comments:

M.A. said...

Personally, I find it offensive when someone says, "you shouldn't feel...". I think the women and men who expressed concern and dissent about Ms. Beck's talk have valid points and concerns, points and concerns that do not invalidate Ms. Beck's message. This isn't science here, no one is refuting theory. This is a discussion of subjective beliefs, which are, well, subjective. If I were an LDS woman, I think I would have been annoyed by some of her speech, but as it has little pertinence to my life my only gripe here is that it has been suggested that those who dissent have no cause to dissent.

Allie said...

I can see how someone reading the speech in a vacuum, not taking into account anything else that church leaders have said would find the talk offensive.

But for ME PERSONALLY I see no reason for offense.

The whatwomenknow.org site has some valid points, but I think the church has addressed most if not all of them at various times, and people are reading Sister Beck's without considering anything else the church has said on motherhood and family relationships.

Salt H2O said...

You highlight an issue which women rarely discuss- women feel bad about themselves due to other women.

Despite what professional sports may say, women are FAR more competitve with each other than men are- females live in a world of comparables. Only those that are truely secure with themselves don't feel the need to be better than their neighbor.

What it comes down to is each of us has our own path in life- and it's up to us to find it. Just because our mothers did one thing, or women in our church did another doesn't make it the only route. As soon as women accept our individualtiy, and that there is no "Right" way to live life- we will be happier people.

Charlotte said...

Wow, I miss all the good stuff by not living in Utah!! I had no idea that people were up in arms over sis. Beck's talk. Although I must admit that I cried when I listened to it (and when I re-read it. Three times.) I wasn't crying from happiness either. It made me really depressed. But I decided, sort of like you said Al, to just focus on the overarching themes that church leaders have said in the past and try not to be offended by her one talk. I have enjoyed other talks by her in the past. Although I will say it's taken some significant effort for me to get over my bad feelings about this one. Thanks for your insight into this. I had no idea other women felt hurt by her talk too! Huh.

WP said...

I spoke with a bishop this morning who presides in a ward in the old stake we left in Centerville. I trust his views and find him to be honest and open. To my inquiry about Julie Beck's speech he indicated there had been some discussion. He also said our former Stake President had felt it to be so important that he had all of the Stake Auxiliary Presidents speak on the very same talk recently in all the wards. I intend to inquire of the Stake Relief Society President, she works full-time, and inquire of her what her perspectives are both on the record and off.

The value, if there is one for me in this, is the thoughtful dialogue that should arise from the discussion. Through this dialogue we can ponder and try to understand what it is that is appropriate and of value to each of us. If I were a philosophy student, and remembering vaguely Philosophy 151, I would suggest this might be an example of Hegelian thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Allie said...

My family has been having a discussion about this over email, and since he hasn't reposted here, I'm pasting my brother's comments (hope it's okay Adam- it was a good comment):

Good points. In addition I kind of see all the
reaction to the talk as a kind of ego defense--against the superego of perfection or the id of
selfishness/laziness. We all interpret what authority figures (professors, teachers, church leaders, etc) say to us in a way that we can regulate it. I know I do. I don't know if that makes sense but it does to me. : ) And I'm throwing down some Freudian terms because after one semester of Theories, I'm a flippin' genius! Gosh!

A classmate of mine once complained that we were being taught "posture" for counseling (e.g. leaning foward, sitting open) because "How on earth could you sit like that the whole time!?" I don't think [our professors] meant that we need to always sit like that, per se. Not everything a teacher says applies in every case to everyone all the time.

Similar to Sister Beck's talk, I don't think (but
could be wrong) that she meant ALL women need to ALWAYS do these things. However, to the understanding of those who were offended, she did emphasize repeatedly the words "Mothers who know," implying that those who do not exactly do these things "do not know." I think a bigger issue for why so many were offended is the process/structure of the talk, not the content so much. But that often seems to be the case.

Whether it is politics, vouchers, so much time is wasted on the words and not enough on the meaning.

Allie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allie said...

The more I talk to people the more I hear about smart, capable women who were hurt by this talk.

Sister Beck could have gotten her message across much better if she had been less narrow (hi dad!) in her directed audience and allowed for all women to find something to take from her speech instead of leaving those who didn't fit the mold feeling like failures.

adam said...

No that's ok. I was writing for an "email" audience, however, and posting it on the blog might reveal my true neanderthalism. But I suppose I already did that with my Clinton post. : )

As for not "re"posting it, for some reason it seemed amoral to personally repost something that I had already written. Kind of a self-plagiarism. I know one time I got all excited when somebody new commented on my blog, and then I found out later they had just cut and pasted from one of their own posts... Suddenly I felt not quite as cool.

Either way, thanks for including my thoughts.

And I do agree with almost everything that has been said about the talk, as the most important thing to me is the discussion, as wp said.

The problem with talks in General Conference is so many (I would suppose the majority) of LDS faithful view whatever is said there as Doctrine. What I really want to know from those types of people is, if whatever is said there is Doctrine, how do you explain differences between talks? I have my own answers/opinions on this, I was just wondering what more conservative types think. Maybe I need to hit up the BWHY?U message boards for an answer.

But that's a whole different issue--sorry if this was a threadjack. Carry on. : )

crazy4danes said...

This is my first visit to your blog, and I enjoyed it! Might I say the thing that stood out the most in Beck's talk was "women who know desire to have children..." I was raised in a large family by a wonderful mother who had everything going on that Beck talked about...however, I never...even as a young women "desired" to have children. It's just how I am...I have a 5 year old son now and he will be our only child. A lot of decission and thought went into that and I am comfortable feeling I still am a woman who "knows" even though I do not "desire" to have children. I can see how her talk would have made women feel bad, however, if you feel that you are doing the best you can and doing right by your children, and having a peaceful loving home environment, you're doing great...reguardless of how perfect it seems we should be.

q said...

As an individual with a Y-chromosone, my opinion is that the speech would have been less controversial (and subsequently have a greater positive social impact), if a speech with the same message had also been given by a male directed towards a male audience. I came away from the speech with an affirmation that the LDS Church idolizes the 'woman barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen' philosophy, with a little Martha Stewart thrown into the mix.

If many within the church are confused about a doctrine versus the opinion of an individual, then I think the church leaders have failed to make the distinction clear to its members. I have heard from a few people the argument that this speech (and all in general) need to be 'taken in context with past speeches', but in my opinion that is a rather disingenuous way to explain away an issue. It irks me in the same way that agency is used to explain away the misgivings of LDS prophets or earlier doctrine; that which was once considered a revelation is over time demoted to that of personal opinion or misunderstanding.

In the end, while I do find these discussions fascinating, I am an Outsider and do not lose sleep over these controversies. :)

Allie said...

I truly don't believe that the church purposely places such a heavy burden on women, but for whatever reason (maybe partly the utah mormon culture is more to blame) it's there.

My dad commented to me that there has never been a talk in general conference directed at men that has reduced him to tears (in a bad way). I'm not saying that conference speakers ought to be an equal opportunity tear inducer, but maybe there needs to be more love, understanding and compassion shown for women who are doing the best they can.

I hope that we hear something like that next April.

Allie said...

And Q, I think the church works on a very individual basis, which much (not all) up for individual interpretation.

I also think that there are many things which are meant to be taken "in context" with past writings. Nothing about the church exists in a vacuum.

You wouldn't expect a child to understand algebra without first learning addition, subtraction, etc... Each concept is used together to understand the next concept.

I've never felt like my church required me to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen with a little martha stewart (minus the jail time) thrown in. I think that being a daughter of God automatically makes me much more capable, and more worthwhile than that.

It's just unfortunate that the pressure is there to make women think they somehow have to be perfect. None of us have to be perfect, we just have to do our best (and doing our best doesn't have to leave us depressed and feeling like failures.

I am sad for any woman who feels that way, and hope that we as society, and women especially can be a little kinder and gentler on each other.

I had an experience awhile back where a friend called and said something to me that made me feel a little angry, but instead of lashing out, I said to myself, we're all doing the best we can. Things worked out just fine, and our friendship was preserved, and I did not add difficulty to her life.

We make things so much harder than they have to be.

q said...

I do agree that nothing exists in a vacuum, but I also think that people tend to remember, and subsequently act on, that which was last mentioned to them. And really, I think that is the safest thing to do, because church opinions and doctrine *do* change; the Church is dynamic (e.g., polygamy, priesthood for black folk).

My opinion is that it is the responsibility of the speaker to make those connections to past writings/speeches clear so that the context is painfully obvious to the readers/listeners. Otherwise, things *are* left up to personal interpretation and we then have people saying "the Leaders say this..", and others saying "the Leaders say that..." .

Personally, I want to know what are the rules, what is expected of me, and what my leaders are *really* saying. If I am going to align myself to another person's philosophy or doctrine, I do not want to leave things up to [mis]interpretation. Dear Leader, explain things to me in a such a way that I know which way you believe is up and which way you believe is down.^


^Of course ambiguity can be quite beneficial to any church, because it will help maintain a membership that may otherwise leave 'if only they really knew'.

Rachel said...

I am a Latter-day Saint sophomore at Harvard College aspiring to a career in academia and government. I feel that is part of God's mission for me, but I did not feel threatened or diminished in any way when I heard Sister Beck's talk. Rather, I loved the talk; it was one of my very favorite, for so many reasons. For although I believe part of my personal mission involves a livelihood, I also know that the ultimate and most beautiful way a woman can serve the Lord and find true happiness is through motherhood.

Moreover, living in Boston, going to Harvard, I am immersed in the worldly ideology that motherhood, especially at any even somewhat early age, with multiple children, and when one's "identity" is sacrificed for the family--is demeaning, restrictive, and miserable.

Nothing could be further from the truth. That is the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. (For more on this subject, see one of my most favorite General Conference addresses ever, "Zion in the Midst of Babylon" from Elder David R. Stone in April 2006, http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-602-29,00.html.)

That zeitgeist is what Sister Beck was speaking against, and it's a formidable foe--sinister, secretive, and stealthy. She received the inspiration to not only confront it, but to confront it in the manner she did. The message would not have carried such power had she not done so. She didn't just accidentally deliver her speech with the process and language she did. She received inspiration to do so. And I am grateful she had the courage (for she must have known the reaction her speech would elicit, and thus was unimaginably brave in delivering it) to do so.

Rachel said...

But the primary reason why I loved this talk was the incredible Spirit and love I felt when listening to it. I too cried, but with tears of joy. And it makes me want to cry with tears of sadness to hear that others were hurt by this talk. Because I know that was the last thing Sister Beck ever wanted to do. While imperfect and infallible, she nonetheless understands the women of this Church better than most, if not all, of us; this is her calling! She is the President of the Relief Society of this Church. This is the mantle the Lord has placed on her. She knows that every specific in her talk doesn't literally and directly apply to every sister in the Church, but she also knows that the principles do apply to all of us, and there are no more important principles for Latter-day Saint women to understand.

And more than just understanding us -- she loves us. I felt the Spirit so strongly during her talk, and I felt her love for me, as an individual sister in the Relief Society.

For a more personal background: her talk came the day after I called off an engagement. I could have been threatened then, wondering how dare she judge me for choosing not to get married yet... but I didn't, because I knew I had made the right decision, guided by personal revelation, and my underlying desires for marriage and family were unchanged... it just wasn't the right guy or the right time. For this season in my life, the Lord has other things in mind for me (a mission, educational experiences, travel opportunities, etc.). But I still "believe in getting married" and I still "believe in having children" (these are quotes from Sister Beck's talk at the General Relief Society Broadcast a week prior to the October 2007 General Conference). And when I heard Sister Beck speak, I received an incredible manifestation of comfort and love that sustained me through that trial, confirming me in my decision.

Rachel said...

Finally, I must ask: what is so threatening about a woman barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? If you ask me, shoes are stifling :-P and cooking can be a manifestation of love and creative energy (although I must admit it's not my strength...). And pregnancy? The paragon of all miracles! We read of Eve's rejoicing in Moses 5: "And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed..." This is truly the power of godhood! What is more ennobling and inspiring and joyful?

We must assert a “new feminism.” Let us no longer permit the zeitgeist of our culture tell us what are and are not the “roles” or “rights” of women. Rather, let us look to the word of God to determine what those roles and rights are. And as we do so, "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ," we will find more ennobling roles and more liberal rights as women within the LDS Church than anywhere else on this earth.

Lisa said...

The reason I looked up this blog now is that I just watched the 2008 Relief Society General Meeting and then read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled: What a difference a year makes. This is all so interesting to me how women percieved Sister Beck's talk in '07. I had heard about it but not really looked into it. I am 46 and my kids are mostly raised and I know about depression and trying to aspire to the 'perfect' mommy syndrome. Here is WHAT I KNOW... (are you ready for this?) ... if you choose to compare yourself with others and the voice in your mind (your thoughts)criticises and berates you constantly, you will be miserable. You can choose to change that this second. Be kind to yourself and then you will find the peace you are looking for and you will not be offended by this or any other talk. God loves you and if you go to him in humility, he will guide your life and whatever your circumstances, it will be the life you were meant to live. We ARE all different, but eternal truth does not change, unlike popular opinion. Pray about you path in life and you will find it! I am an aspiring artist (among other things) but I realized long ago that no accomplishment would ever be as important as RELATIONSHIPS... how we treat others is paramount. So I will continue to create and not worry too much about the outcome. I am doing my best and that is enough. By the way did anybody listen to Brother Uchdorf's talk last night? I wept. Happy tears.

Lisa said...

The reason I looked up this blog now is that I just watched the 2008 Relief Society General Meeting and then read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled: What a difference a year makes. This is all so interesting to me how women percieved Sister Beck's talk in '07. I had heard about it but not really looked into it. I am 46 and my kids are mostly raised and I know about depression and trying to aspire to the 'perfect' mommy syndrome. Here is WHAT I KNOW... (are you ready for this?) ... if you choose to compare yourself with others and the voice in your mind (your thoughts)criticises and berates you constantly, you will be miserable. You can choose to change that this second. Be kind to yourself and then you will find the peace you are looking for and you will not be offended by this or any other talk. God loves you and if you go to him in humility, he will guide your life and whatever your circumstances, it will be the life you were meant to live. We ARE all different, but eternal truth does not change, unlike popular opinion. Pray about you path in life and you will find it! I am an aspiring artist (among other things) but I realized long ago that no accomplishment would ever be as important as RELATIONSHIPS... how we treat others is paramount. So I will continue to create and not worry too much about the outcome. I am doing my best and that is enough. By the way did anybody listen to Brother Uchdorf's talk last night? I wept. Happy tears.