The last place you should look for advice

I don’t know about you, but I was an idiot as a teen. I was intelligent. I was knowledgeable. I was talented. However, looking back at the basic person I was, I can come to no other conclusion than that I was an idiot. Smarts and wisdom just aren’t the same thing.  And when you are looking for advice, you want wisdom.

Part of the reason why I feel like I can say this is because just about every American teen is remarkably silly.  The combination of entitlement, privilege, cluelessness, and relative wealth make for youth who are, generally, much less mature than they think they are and not nearly as smart.  Nor is this just a North American phenomenon.  The Bildungsroman has been around since at least Young Werther [note correction in comment #2 below] and the protagonists haven’t really changed all that much.  The burden of thinking you know more than you know and facing a public rather skeptical of that has been the burden of the relatively well-off young for centuries.

I’m bringing all this up now because of a phenomenon that I find objectionable in how some of our church’s Young Women are being taught about themselves.  Initially, I noticed it in the form of young, clean-cut boys lip-syncing dance numbers to tweeny pop songs. Here is a link to one of the relevant videos.  German law prevents me from embedding it (this is not a joke).

Silly, but I let it go without public comment because my cup of irritation was not yet full.  But it has been filled to the brim. Yea verily, and now we’ll drink it down to the dregs.

Here is the thing.  When you are trying to tell Young Women what kind of qualities they should have, you shouldn’t hold up teenage boys as the folks whose ideals they should aspire to.  At best, any given teenage boy is mildly (occasionally) sociopathic.  I don’t believe that LDS boys are any exception to this.  The kids in these videos aren’t evil or conniving (at least not moreso than normal).  They’re just boys. They (like all youth) have great potential for good and ill, but I’m skeptical that they are that different than I was and I was a mess. Heck, I’m still a mess, but I’m at least aware that I can’t sit here and opine on the motives behind clothing choices.

Let’s be clear.  Most of the boys who participated in this video have seen naked women.  They know enough to express appreciation for the Madonna half of the complex, but they are familiar with the other half as well. They know what they are supposed to say in this video. And they say it, because they care what the Young Women think of them.  This, like the videos before it, is more about trying to make Young Men appealing to Young Women  than about teaching Young Women how to better appeal to Young Men.

And, the thing is, Young Women want to believe this stuff.  They want to believe that the Young Men are actually like the guys they see and hear in the videos.  Frankly, Young Women care an awful lot about what Young Men think (as do the Young Men the Young Women). I have a hard time fathoming why it is an improvement to have a young girl determining the length of her skirt by calibrating it to the desires of the Young Men around her, whether or not I think the length achieved is appropriate.  So, giving the Young Men the opportunity to talk at length about their ideal hottest/modest and pure girl isn’t that different from what the World tells us should be desirable.  The stuff about hot girls being for fun and sweet girls for marrying is just as present, even if we aren’t actively encouraging fun with the hot girl.

Not that I think the Young Women should listen to me or anyone else regarding how they dress.  Because we’re all like the boys in the video.  There is no commodity as precious to the World as a virginal girl and everyone is ready and willing to tell that girl how to maintain her value. At best, what we can do is tell her to Look to God and Live.  It is possible that maybe she’ll work out her worth before God and men without our influence after all.


  1. Shudder, shudder, shudder, I find this yucky and inappropriate. I’m sure that they didn’t mean it to but it is. I’m glad I don’t have the expertise to translate all of my crazy ideas into well put together Internet videos. They would be different ideas, but they have the potential for ideas run amok, how full of gratitude every time I see something like this that I have neither the skills, equipment or software for this kind of thing.

  2. Truly one of the creepier things to come out in awhile . . . Objectifying.

  3. Yes, what horrible young men.

  4. Jonathan Green says:

    Werther isn’t a Bildungsroman. Seriously, the whole things takes place over a matter of months, the dude obsesses over some other guy’s fiance, and then he shoots himself, which pretty much contradicts the whole point of Bildung. Briefroman, yes. Bildungsroman, no. You’re probably thinking of Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

  5. I went through young women’s with countless of activities and lessons which offered very similar perspectives from the young men or from the leaders’ husbands. One husband in particular shared with my beehive class that he was so happy to have married someone who had never in her life worn a two-piece swimsuit. (Mildly creepy, no?)

    What I want to know is why young men never seem to be subjated to such spiels, beyond “young women want to marry an RM.” No one has, or likely ever will, ask me what young women look for in a young man. I’d be interested to see what that would sound like and look like.

  6. Mike,
    I want to emphasize that the young men in the video aren’t evil or horrible. They are just young men. They are, in this case, misguided in a literal sense. It is the leaders whom I blame for this video because they should have known what was coming and why. But they are probably blameless to, because they don’t see anything wrong with it. Where there is no law, and so forth. The young men in the video are just behaving like young men; arguably they are behaving better than most of their contemporaries. It’s the culture that they grew up in that is promoting this outlook; I don’t blame them for being human or having been raised in it.

    I’ll defer to your superior knowledge and wisdom. I tend to think of Young Werther as the direction all bildungsromans would go if benevolent authors didn’t intervene, but that’s clearly an idiosyncratic approach.

  7. Q: What makes girls attractive? A: “I think, you know, when they’re willing to go outside of their comfort zone to, you know, try new things, like on dates, if they’re not just like, kind of, sit on the side or whatever, but really get into it and have fun or whatever.”

    I’m sorry. WHAT? I think I know what he meant (i think), but … sounds a bit too PG-13 for this kid.

  8. Rachel,
    At least part of my argument is that people think that the video demonstrates the qualities that the Young Women look should look for in a man. So, there’s that.

  9. brad,
    I’m assuming he means elaborate dates with balloon invitations and surprises at mini-golf courses. What do you think he means?

  10. I’ve been seeing this everywhere and finally broke down to watch it, prepared to be furious. Instead that poor silly boy at the beginning saying “sunlight” is what makes a girl shine made me laugh so hard I missed most of what I should have been angry at, and now I mostly feel sorry for the boys that this was documented and shared on the internet; at least I have plausible deniability about what a giant doofus I was as a teenager.

    That doesn’t let the leaders off the hook, though.

  11. I liked blondes when I was a teenager. I needed a blonde to go with my whole surfer dude schtick. Later on I really developed an attraction to Mexican girls … I think as compensation for the experience of having my news paper route money extorted from me by Mexicans in junior high.

  12. John,
    all of that, followed by some aggressive and heavy hand holding.

  13. You know, the urge bag on just about any young American male as something like a tiny step above mentally deficient is getting a little old.

    Aren’t we going to eventually have to pay the price for this society-wide contempt of young males?

    I wonder if anyone would care if young men were being urged to consider what a young woman wants from them.

    I suppose not. After all, women are more spiritual than men – right? They’ve got their stuff together.

  14. Petra gave me the courage to click. The shine leitmotif at the outset puts me in mind of a skin-care commercial. This whole thing is terribly, enragingly, problematic, but oh those poor sweet boys. Someone help them.

  15. Also one dude’s hair isn’t very modestly missionary. I don’t think he respects himself or is confident in himself, looking for inappropriate attention with his hair like that. I so want to focus on who he is and have fun with him but I just keep seeing this wild hair that makes me really uncomfortable.

  16. I’ve said for a while that if the purpose of conservative dress norms is to allay sexualization and objectification of women, saying that “modest is hottest” is self-contradictory.

  17. MDearest says:

    I couldn’t watch it all the way through. It wasn’t that bad, more like watching a video of puppies. Cute, charming/annoying, and boring after a while. It says something distressing about our society that this would be published as something for young women to take seriously. We really do have a problem conflating all things male with veracity, don’t we?

  18. ZD Eve #14 FTW.

  19. Dang it. #15.

  20. Seth,
    I agree that society bags on men (young and old) quite a bit. Of course, society bags on women as well. And, frankly, since society has been structured by and for men (mostly), I’d like to think that they could handle some good-natured ribbing (or even ill-natured accusation). As I’ve said, I’m not blaming the boys for this. They are young and silly. I’m sure that a similar video with young women speaking to boys would say similarly vapid and creepy-feeling-inducing things. And, I’m equally sure, this video was intended initially to not be taken very seriously. But the promoting of it that I’ve seen has taken it out of its original context (shown at a girl’s camp in Utah County) and it is now being used to tell girls how to dress/act/behave. That isn’t the fault of the people who produced it (probably), but so what? It is still being misused to make a terrible point. Not that I have a better one, necessarily. It is not like I want young women to listen to me regarding how to behave (except for my daughter, natch). I’d just like to think that we spent more time encouraging our young folk (boys and girls) to work out their salvation with fear and trembling before God, rather than before a jury of their peers.

  21. John, I think that any message tailored to teens that doesn’t take into account how they are perceived by their peers is going to likely come off as fake.

    You can tell teens that what their peers think doesn’t matter till you’re blue in the face. The teens won’t believe you. Because it isn’t true – and the teens know it. What your peers think matters an awful lot.

  22. I agree, Seth. But we also want them to grow up and growing up, in part, requires caring about general approval just a little less. Whether or not they will listen, we shouldn’t be encouraging them to play to the lowest common denominator.

  23. Seth, you don’t think this comes off as fake?

  24. My teenage daughters showed this to me and were laughing the whole time, because they thought it was supposed to be a parody. I laughed along with my daughters when they showed it to me, assuming that they knew better than I about it’s intent.

  25. DisgruntledActiveSingleMormon says:

    #24 – So its not a parody??

  26. Here’s my personal view of where this thing went wrong:

    Good principle:
    Don’t lower your standards in order to appeal to others. This is taught to kids in primary, school, Saturday morning cartoons, etc (i.e. Don’t give in to peer pressure.)

    Application gets iffy:
    But don’t worry. If you are righteous, you will not be alone. There are others out there that share your values, and you can band together. This is problematic because (1) there is no such guarantee, and (2) it might drive insularity and exclusion of others.

    Conceivably well-intended method of teaching an iffy application of a good principle:
    Ok, primary kids, let’s watch this video of kids your age saying that they like to have friends who try to be righteous. Then you will know that you don’t have to be bad in order for people to like you.

    Comments that even those teachers would likely edit out:
    “I like kids who keep the Sabbath Day holy. When I’m around kids that don’t go to church, or who like to play video games no Sunday, or go to the park, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I just want to get away from them.”

    Resulting perversion of good principle:
    Demonstrate high standards so that others with high standards will value you.

    Good principle extended to teens:
    Don’t lower your standards in order to appeal to the opposite sex.
    I’m also ok with the practical advice: Work to develop within yourself traits you value in others.

    Perversion of the good principle:
    Be a certain kind of person so that you will be appealing to the opposite sex.

    What’s so problematic about the video?
    1. From wrong: The general approach, even independent of the gender aspects, uses the logic of the perverted message.
    2. To offensive: Symmetry breaking makes it so much worse. Unlike the primary example, where the kids are looking for others with shared behaviors, these boys are espousing indications of righteousness that do not apply directly to themselves.
    3. To repulsive: With the backdrop and history of a male-dominated church within a male-dominated society, it can easily reinforce the ideas of (1) a girl’s virtue being the first key measure of her worth, with her appeal to boys and men a close second, and (2) girls sharing responsibility for the thoughts and actions of boys. Not surprisingly, this revulsion is most acute for those women who feel that’s what they’ve been told all along.

  27. Dave K. says:

    Did anyone else click on this post thinking it was a discussion of the maturity level of missionaries, particularly in light of the new age requirements? The whole time I was reading this (and the comments) I was thinking, “yeah, and in a few years these kids will be teaching strangers, as ones having aughority, about the plan of salvation.”

  28. Norbert says:

    ‘at least I have plausible deniability about what a giant doofus I was as a teenager.’

    Seriously. Teenage-me wants to hand out some noogies.

  29. When I saw this video yesterday, it reminded me of a YW in Excellence night our ward had a few years ago, before my daughter & I were both attending YW. A recently returned missionary was asked to speak to the girls about what he was looking for in a wife. From what I heard about the evening, it was awkward for both the YW and the RM. The premise of that evening and this video bother me for a couple of reasons.

    First, I find it problematic when an event is specifically targeted to the YW, but the message of that event is focused on what the YM or adult men think the YW should be/do. The Deseret News article about this video quoted one of the stake YW leaders as saying that the main focus of their girls’ camp was on qualities that would make the YW attractive (presumably to YM, in light of the video in question). She stated: “All of our activities had to do with modesty, virtue, being kind and happy, all the things that make you attractive,”. I find it sad that all the activities at girls’ camp would be focused on how the YW could portray themselves in order to please others, rather than on self-discovery and developing self-reliance. And developing a personal testimony of Christ, not a personal testimony of how long one’s skirt should be. I was bothered by the YW in Excellence night being about what qualities a RM was looking for in a spouse, rather than being a celebration of what the YW had accomplished throughout the year in terms of their personal development (the church handbook’s reason for holding YW in Excellence, btw).

    My second objection is a little more pertinent to the OP, in that asking YM about what they are looking for in a future wife may not be the best way to help YW develop in the gospel or have strong marriages in the future. I don’t feel like YM who are just barely old enough to date and newly returned missionaries are going to be the best resources we can give the YW when teaching them about mate selection. Choosing a spouse is an incredibly important decision for both women and men, so why are we asking advice from people who have zero practical experience? I think that if we are serious about preparing our youth to have strong marriages and families in the future, we should start showing them some strong positive role models of people who have done it well. Maybe invite a couple who have been through a variety of life experiences and have a strong marriage to come and talk about what they were looking for in a potential spouse when they got married. And then let them speak from experience about which qualities actually mattered the most when life got difficult. Because looking to marry someone who is “sweet” and wants to have lots of babies is not a very good predictor of marital success.

    Also, please target these discussions to the youth who are ready for them. My 12 year old just needs to learn how to interact with her peers in a healthy, non-romantic way. And maybe turn her homework in on time.

  30. Seth R. says:

    I think the idiocy of teens is a little overstated. Most of the teens in our ward are pretty level-headed. The more flamboyant and foolhardy aspects of teenagers tend to get talked up a lot in the media – so we all feel like we’re supposed to regard teens as foolish. But most of them really are mini-adults, and not really that unstable compared to the adults.

  31. Seth,
    I agree that I laid it on a bit thick here. That said, I’ve no qualms that I was often a big ol’ fool growing up and I doubt I’m that far outside the norm. But hopefully your notion of teens is more accurate than mine.

  32. It’s fine.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I usually can’t stomach Church films. In fact, I usually leave the room for a restroom break whenever a teacher whips out the TV stand. I’ve even skipped Gospel Doctrine class or gone to an alternative when I saw the TV stand set up in the room.

    But at the same time, I’ve kind of gotten tired of bagging on my fellow Mormons who aren’t really guilty of anything more serious than trying their best (cheesy as it may be).

  33. Most of the active youth in the wards I’ve attended have been more stable than many of the adults with whom I’ve worked over the years.

  34. This really goes to show the crazy-making mixed messages that youth in the church (and, to be fair, society at large) are subjected to. Here, watch a video in which young men will tell you how to be attractive, because what they think should really matter to you! Except that you shouldn’t care what people think! Be yourself, as long as your self is cheerful and outgoing and shiny (?) and willing to try new things all the time! Dress so that men will find you attractive, but for heaven’s sakes not TOO attractive, or you’ll actually become pornography to some of them!

    It reminds me of the time my roommate at BYU jokingly suggested to me (right before I left on a date), “Just be yourself. But not TOO much.”

  35. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Also one dude’s hair isn’t very modestly missionary. ”

    I noticed this, too. The look in this kids eyes as he gives his answers is heartbreaking. I place the chances of this poor kid following the mormonistic pattern at about 1%. He’ll be mourned over by his “leaders.” But, I can hardly wait for him to make his escape. One hopes that at some point he encounters the liberating power of the gospel – and that when he does the pain of what he has been put through can be articulated to him in a way that he can recognize his home.

  36. Thomas, that’s some pretty impressive gleaning from just a couple minutes observing a pair of eyes and a pile of hair…

  37. Yeah. But I’m right. People, unlike God, are not that surprising.

  38. Go stop the bit at 11:14. That’s a great kid. That kind of treatment they are getting makes rebels or robots, and that kid will choose rebel. Actually, he won’t have much of a choice.

  39. Yep, he does seem like a really good kid, probably going about his everyday teenager life, perhaps still unaware that his hair has become a symbol for people’s distaste for cultural pressures in the church, and his eyes qualify as a screen on which you can project your worldview. And with great certainty, which can be easiest to have when the likelihood of ever finding out how close you’ve come is extremely remote. I agree this could be a person that lies awake at night feeling crushed by the burden of external forces that would dictate his every thought and action, but he could also be a kid who was presented with some questions about what he looks for in a girl, and he just tried to answer them.

  40. …and now he’s playing Halo.

  41. I realize this will immediately take away from my (self-proclaimed) intelligent “street cred” by opening my comment by saying this, but I shall anyway: BARF.

    I couldn’t even make it through the whole thing. Does that make my opinion less quality-based?

    For the record, I find this retarded (for lack of a better term) at best and offensive at worst. I’d also find it the same if it was young women speaking of what they want out of young men.

    Anyone notice how kid #2 had some serious darting eyes? Perhaps he was as uncomfortable with his answers as the rest of us were. Also, lovely placement of a hymnal in the background and soft, piano music playing just so sweetly. Was it, “I Hope They Call Me on A Mission”? Perhaps, “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure”?

  42. Stephanie says:

    So where’s the video to tell us what the young women are looking for in young men?

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