Sunday, October 5, 2008

tie a yellow ribbon... Sister Dalton's talk

So, the open threads at conference used to be something I really enjoyed, but the one over at BCC really got off track when Sister Dalton started talking today. I guess they were dazzled by the shade of her hair or by counting the bows on her sweater, but they missed a really standout talk by being distracted by her appearance... ironically, part of her talk took straight aim at the propensity of both men and women to focus on women's appearances too much. I was so proud that she decided not to wait until next April before having a general YW broadcast, and the fact that it happened in the middle of Saturday morning session of General Conference seems to have thrown some folks in the bloggernacle a little off balance. Let's make sure that in our browser windows we're not mixing up the NBC replay of last night's SNL skit with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, with General Conference in which Sister Dalton gave a powerful and empowering talk, okay?

Okay, then.

She opened by talking about the first presidency meeting that she had with her counselors after they were called in April. They hiked Ensign peak (we got a photo of them on that hike, so they either have a secretary who doubles as a photo-documentarian, or someone from the Church Office Building's photo dept tagged along). Now, let me just pause here for a moment to celebrate. Let's review.

They had a presidency meeting out of doors, not in skirts, no floral centerpiece. They went and hiked together. I love this. No more whining that girls don't hike. I mean, I've never been up Ensign peak, but I like the example they're setting. Get out in nature, lace up your boots, be strong. "More fit for the kingdom," I believe was how she put it. She's not just talking the talk about fitness.

Part of why they chose that particular hike was that not long after arriving in the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young had climbed the same peak and planted a standard to the world, a yellow bandana on a walking stick. Dalton and her counselors did the same, unfurling a Peruvian yellow shawl on a walking stick as their banner to the world. We got a picture of that too, which I really liked - both as symbolic gesture and as an act a little off the beaten path, a little outside the box, so to speak.

The focus that this walk helped them identify was preparing every young woman for the temple. Notice this. Not preparing them for "marriage and family" but for "temple covenants." It's subtle, but the distinction is actually important.

The rest of her talk was a rousing call to virtue (Latin root, "strength"). Not letting vice "poison us by degrees." Getting out of the trap of an obsessive focus on the self and on women's appearance, which distracts from the potential of women to change the world. That, my friends, is a feminist message, even if she might not label it that way. Setting the example in going to the scriptures for a "marathon-level" training program. Again, she didn't hand out pre-packaged, canned spiritual food here. She had really gone to the scriptures and come up with a list of personal directives, phrases taken from the scriptures which speak to her personally. She went through them so fast I didn't catch them all, so they'll be in the print version, but I was really inspired by the model she's building here of HOW to get personal direction from the scriptures, for a calling, or just for life in general.

She ended by talking about her son blessing his new daughter, who was named for her grandmothers and specifically counseled in the blessing to draw strength from her mother, sister and grandmothers. Girl power surrounded and lifted up by priesthood power. "Never underestimate the power of your righteous influence," she told us. Don't sell yourself short as merely attractive, or let yourself or anyone else forget who you really are.

Finally she asked everyone to unfurl their own banner for virtue. My first stop after work on Monday is going to be someplace where I can get a roll of really nice yellow ribbon, and I'm going to give a small length of it to each of the girls in my class next Sunday and ask them to tie it someplace public... around the strap of their purse, or backpack, locker door, car rearview mirror, as a personal yellow fluttering banner of virtue to the world. I'd like to ask them to take a picture of their "banner" and then I'd like to post them here. I'll post a picture of mine, too. If you do this, send me a picture.


  1. I liked her talk, particularly the notion of "poison by degrees" and when she mentioned (I'm paraphrasing here) how we, the youth, must stop worrying about our looks, body shape & size, etc.
    Her talk had the potential of being a media theory lecture (on the light side) which is normally grounded in battling unintelligent, libidinally charged TV & film images, stories, etc.

    And as much as I love the temple and glad she mentioned it, I like that she didn't corner us Young Women prezzies that are married to wonderful, faithful, & supportive nonmember men because the LDS guys we knew just weren't mature or virtuous enough (and in that regard, I did not, would not settle for less than the best prayerfully).

    Her talk was back to the basics. I'll say more later.

  2. FMH is talking about it too, and Exponent II shouted us out.

    Thanks gals!

  3. That was great, I shared it with a couple people. I'm glad Exponent II linked to you.

  4. I liked it, too, but her Latin was wrong, which is a pity.

  5. An intentional fudging of the Latin, perhaps? I mean, if she would have said it was from the Latin for manly, I think it probably wouldn't have had the same effect...

  6. Loved the content of her talk and thought her presentation, while not exactly Sheri Dew-esqe, was definitely better than the too-frequently heard "primary lady" style.

  7. She's on pretty solid footing


    c.1225, "moral life and conduct, moral excellence," vertu, from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr. vertu, from L. virtutem (nom. virtus) "moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth," from vir "man" (see virile).

  8. Um, Deborah, not really--she said it meant strength without discussing the masculinity at the root of that notion of strength. That elides some very difficult questions about wherein feminine strength resides, and I think those questions are actually terribly important at this cultural moment. Naither the church's traditionalism nor the world's feminism has a good model of feminine strength.

    I don't mind talking about moral excellence; in fact, I think it's fantastic that she broadened the notion of "virtue" from the reductive sense of sexual purity in which we often use it. But there's a really significant bit of dissonance in using this word to talk about prescriptive strength for young *women*, especially in a church that has complicated problems around gender norms. I don't think the Latin was central to her thesis, and I wish she hadn't brought it up. It was a really good talk, and that was a distraction.

    It bothers me in part also because we so often in our culture act as though it doesn't matter to be smart as long as you are good, and I think "virtue" involves uprightness of the mind, not just the heart--if you're going to base part of a talk on etymology, it's important and *virtuous* to get it right.

    And, yeah, I'm a snob, and most people won't be bothered, and that's good.

  9. This post was a beautiful summation of the talk. Your young women are blessed to have your single-minded focus on following the guidance of our prophet and leaders, and helping them practically apply that guidance.


  10. Kristine: I liked the reference for this reason -- it nods toward expanding the notion of virtue beyond "purity." I hate how both "virtue" and "moral" are synonyms for "chaste" in our culture. I'm currently teaching an ethics course to high school girls (we are currently making our way through part of the Nicomachean Ethics) and I've enjoy "rescuing" virtue, even in this secular audience, from being something about Victorian ladies enjoying tea in corsets.

    Moral excellence is EXACTLY what we should be talking about . . . and if we start broadening our notion of virtue/moral beyond sex, well that's a at least step to a broader notion of feminine strength, no?

  11. I loved this talk. I am glad to see it resonated with others. I can't wait to read it. I usually catch more with a double take, especially if I can read it.


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