Just kidding. Sister Dalton’s talk was actually titled “We Are Daughters of Our Heavenly Father.” Let’s leap in. Sis. Dalton starts off by talking about the Young Women theme.
It is not only an affirmation of our identity–who we are–but also an acknowledgement of whose we are. We are daughters of an exalted Being!
Her use of the singular form is either a wasted opportunity to refer to Heavenly Parents (there were many such missed opportunities in General Conference), or the church may be ready to change the nature of how eternal procreation happens to not requiring any female involvement. I suspect it was a simple oversight, but you never know. Moving on.
This talk is Sister Dalton’s swan song, having been released as YW president. In light of that, it is somewhat fitting that she chooses the opportunity to honor her parents.
We all fill roles in our lives: daughter, mother, employee, boss, customer, friend. But these roles are not our identity. This is why people often undergo an identity crisis later in life: role changes (e.g. children leave the nest, person loses job, etc.), identity gone! Because she is talking about being the offspring of an exalted being, I’ll let that reference slide because it implies that our identity is that of someone with potential to become an exalted being, something that should be deeply enmeshed in our identity. Let’s assume that was the intention.
Sister Dalton then shares a personal tragedy that she had in her youth, losing her father. She shares an anecdote of seeing the following phrase on a stone at the Scotland mission home: ”Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.”
At that moment, those words went deeply into my heart and I felt the powers of heaven reach out and give me a message. I knew I was known by a loving Heavenly Father. I felt I was not alone . . . That simple statement renewed my vision that Heavenly Father knew me and had a plan for my life and the spirit I felt helped me understand that my part mattered.
This is Sis. Dalton’s lived experience, and props to her for sharing her own path with us in this public way. In the story, she is also missing her earthly father and connecting with her Heavenly Father in her moments of feeling alone, a very human response. I’m sure we can all identify with feelings of loneliness.
Part of growing up is figuring out our own individual dreams and purposes in life, not just filling a prescribed role or our parents’ expectations. In this example, the role is comforting to her because she is lonely. But maybe she is referring to our individual purpose in life, not just a cookie cutter role for women of mother, domestic helper, diaper-changer, etc. Let’s hope so.
Our daily contributions of nurturing, teaching, and caring for others may seem mundane, diminished, difficult, and demeaning at times . . .
Nope, sorry again. Looks like we’re only talking about a narrowly prescribed stereotyped role for women here. Again, this could be Sis. Dalton’s lived experience, but this sort of talk reinforces limitations for our young women that can be very harmful for those whose dreams conflict or who feel they have an individual mission in life. I couldn’t help but think of this heartbreaking post by a young Laurel on another forum:
One day in YW’s we were having a lesson on motherhood. My YW leader . . . launched into a rant on how a woman’s job is to have children and it is highly discouraged by the church for a woman with children to have a career, and it is highly discouraged for a woman to not have children . . . . I left church that day in tears. Half of them angry tears, half of them tears of humiliation, shame, and disappointment. Back then I thought God was angry at me for not wanting to have children, and for wanting a career.
If we want these girls to ultimately leave the church, feeling they can either be true to themselves or pretend to be what they are not, we’re heading down the right track.
Sister Dalton’s Mother
Next, Sis. Dalton shares another moving tribute to a beloved parent: her mother. She shares that her widowed mother financially supported the family by teaching school and piano. Although the paid work her mother did is still within the realm of what is traditionally acceptable for women, it is a touching story of a woman supporting her family in the wake of personal loss. Sis. Dalton’s mother also made sure all her children (even the girls) received a college education, another noble aim, so that they could be “contributors.” I assume this means contributors to society or maybe even financial contributors to the home as she had to be. Sis. Dalton doesn’t specify. She says her mother was faithful and focused on covenants.
She was never recognized by the world. She didn’t want that. She understood who she was and whose she was–a daughter of God.
I question the implication that anonymity is inherently virtuous. Is this intended to keep women in their place, behind the scenes, playing a part as defined by relationships to others? Perhaps so, because she next goes on to extol the virtues of motherhood as the hand that rocks the cradle. Mothers are influential, but only by mothering those who influence and staying out of the picture. The role of women is further clarified, entirely in relation to men:
How you love and honor her father, his priesthood, and his divine role, will be reflected and perhaps amplified in your daughter’s attitudes and behavior.
Next she quotes the Proclamation on the Family to clarify the part we women must “act well.” I know many women feel that these heavily prescribed roles require a good deal of pretense to fulfill as written, so again, the analogy works in ways not intended.
Talking about Virtue Isn’t Always a Virtue
The talk pivots as she renews a call for virtue, “a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.” She decries pornography and the objectification of women. However, she is not clear how this is a message for the women who are being mistreated or objectified. How do the virtuous thought patterns of LDS women eliminate pornography or halt the objectification of women? Certainly she doesn’t think virtuous women are participating in pornography. Is this victim blaming or did she simply not finish her thought? I certainly agree that we all, men and women, should take a stand against harmful sexual objectification.
She cites the example of the women in the Book of Mormon who were brutally raped and murdered, connecting this (as does the scripture, erroneously) to them having lost their “virtue.” In this context, virtue means virginity. They were robbed of “maidenhead” and lost their dignity and their innocence, as well as their lives. It is not doctrine to say they lost their “virtue” (they were blameless, after all), and it is a very harmful message to women who have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, many of whom already struggle with suicidal feelings.
I’m positive this was not intentional and that Sis. Dalton would mourn with those who mourn, but as a church with an unprofessional clergy, we seem particularly tone deaf to how the abused internalize our messages.
Vacuuming Carpet, Standing on It
Following that, she shares a story about the construction of the Conference Center. Her husband was installing the carpet, and her “part” was to vacuum it. After the carpet was in, he asked her opinion on what scripture should be written on the back of the carpet. I know much ado has been made about the fact that one of the few female speakers in General Conference just shared a story about vacuuming. Men vacuum as well as women, and she was just doing her “part” to build the conference (doing it well by her reckoning, having burned through a vacuum cleaner. I’m pretty sure I’ve never done that, although the dust bag did once get full and require emptying).
As a non-Utah native, I sometimes wonder when I hear stories like this. It seems quite a coincidence that someone involved in the construction of the Conference Center is now speaking in it. There are quite a few stories like this told at General Conference. When I first went to Utah, I imagined that it must be so small that I’d be running into GAs and apostles at the movies or grocery store all the time, but I never did. Weird.
The vacuuming story at least gives her a clever ending to the talk–that she’s gone from vacuuming the carpet to standing on it, revealing the secret scripture scrawled underfoot, Mosiah 18:9: ”Stand as [a] witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” Religious punsters! Gotta love ‘em!
Now, for our readers: What quotation would you write under the carpet you stand on?
I’m going to go with “If found, please return to [my address]. Will accept cash in lieu of carpet.” Have you seen those carpets the church buys? Holy thread count, batman!