Friday, September 16, 2011

9/11 Versus The Sluts At BYU-Idaho

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: The wisdom of Brother and Sister Bednar

My dear friends in the Abbottsville Fourth Ward,

As we have just observed the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I thought it appropriate to remember how some "inspired leaders" at BYU-Idaho cared for their flock in the wake of this terrible event.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, students at BYU-I in Rexburg, Idaho, awoke to the news that terrorists had hijacked and flown planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, and into the Pentagon in Washington DC. Soon after that they learned that a fourth hijacked plane had crashed in a field near Shanksville, PA. Like most college-aged Americans, they reacted with a combination of shock, confusion, and grief. For many, this was their first experience living away from home. Fortunately, because it was Tuesday, their weekly religious devotional was on the schedule. Also, because it was the beginning of the school year, the speaker was to be the president of BYU-I, David Bednar. Students flocked to the meeting seeking comfort and guidance. Here's what they received:

President Bednar began with the following statement from the First Presidency:

In this hour of sorrow, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expresses profound sympathy to those whose loved ones, friends, and associates were lost or injured in today's senseless acts of violence. We offer our prayers in behalf of the innocent victims of these vicious attacks. We ask our Heavenly Father to guide President Bush and his advisors as they respond to these devastating incidents.

Bednar then announced that as of 12 PM MST all the missionaries in New York City and Washington DC had been accounted for, and that the Elders on grounded flights were also in safe hands. Having put everyone's mind to rest, he declared that class would go on as planned. After that, he and his wife, Susan, each presented a talk.

Sister Bednar's speech was a warm and fuzzy reminiscence about her Grandma's house that she hoped would ease the trauma the students faced during the difficult transition that was taking place as the school changed from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho.

President Bednar spoke on how to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost. He illustrated his points with a series of experiences that had occurred during the difficult transition that was taking place as the school changed from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho.

After that the students were excused to class with the admonition to go about their day as usual.

I have to admit, the Bednars were in a tough spot. BYU Devotionals are probably vetted by the Church Correlation Committee. And there was hardly time for that. Especially since the Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator somehow missed the Holy Ghost's promptings about the impending terror attack that would forever alter our society. (Probably because he was traumatized by the difficult transition that was taking place as Ricks College changed to BYU-Idaho.)

As the week progressed, the students saw images of injured and grief-stricken people searching lower Manhattan for their lost loved ones. They heard stories of incredible heroism and tragedy. They worried about their country's future, their own safety, and the safety of their family and friends in New York and Washington. They prayed and hoped for the best, and on Sunday, September 16, 2001, eagerly attended a BYU-Idaho Six-Stake Fireside.

The speaker was Sister Susan Bednar.

Sister Bednar began by admitting that as the mother of three sons, she had always secretly wished she had a daughter. Now as the wife of the president of BYU-I she felt thrilled to be the "mother" of thousands of daughters. She went on to claim that she had "sought inspiration for several months about the subject of tonight's fireside."

Here are some excerpts from the "inspired" talk she delivered. I've taken the liberty to add my own commentary.

Let me tell you of an embarrassing experience I had when I was your age and a student at Brigham Young University. I was wearing a tight turtle neck similar to most of the turtle necks and tight shirts I see you young women wearing. I'd gone into the 7-Eleven store to buy something to eat when I heard two sleazy boys make some extremely vulgar comments about me. The way we dress does send a message, and I sent a message I didn't intend to boys I didn't have any desire to date, much less associate with. I felt violated by their comments; I felt dirty and cheap. Inside I just wanted to say, "I'm not that kind of a girl." But the top I was wearing didn't reflect that. 

I admit, this happened to me too. I attended BYU not too many years after she did. I went to the 7-Eleven in shorts and a tank top and was ogled by a couple of guys I certainly did not want to date. That was because they were about 12 years old. The only reason "sleazy boys" hung out at that 7-Eleven was because they were locals who were too young to drive. In my experience, randy young men looking for a "good time" didn't stalk the perimeter of BYU on the slim hope of seeing a woman in a sweater that actually showed her shape. (Just my experience.)

Our family was sitting in the grandstands at the baseball field when a group of men who had been drinking came and sat in front of us. Not long after these men sat down, two pretty young girls with cute figures wearing tight tops and short shorts walked in front of the grandstands not far from where these men were sitting. I listened to these vulgar men verbally and visually undress these young women in their minds as these girls walked by. It was disgusting. These girls would have been so embarrassed if they had heard the way these men discussed their anatomy. Shortly after this incident, our family got up and left the game. 

. . . you (BYU-I coeds) need to know that when you leave the protected environment of this special place, you are asking for trouble if you don't dress modestly. You will "become the victim of those who pursue you, as the hare is of the hound" if you don't take a stand on modesty. 

--I have a problem with this story on several levels:

  1. As a feminist. I am disgusted that she would blame the women for the men's bad behavior.
  2. As a responsible citizen. If Sister Bednar and her family truly assumed that immodestly dressed women will become "the victims of those who pursue them," then her husband and three grown sons witnessed what was about to be sexual harassment (or worse) of some innocent women, and in response -- gentlemen that they are -- got up and left.
  3. As a writer.  I listened to these vulgar men verbally and visually undress these young women in their minds. OK, I know I'm being picky, but nobody can "listen" to a man "visually undress a young woman in his mind." That is, unless Sister Bednar was imagining a voice-over in a film. (Come to think of it, the scene she described could easily fit into the plot line of a Naked Gun movie.) 
  4. As an intelligent person. I don't believe any of this. Not a bleeding word. As far as I'm concerned this is just like one of Paul Dunn's stories. Only in Dunn's version, he would have first caught the game-winning ball, gallantly returned it to Derek Jeter, and knelt with him in prayer. Then he would have gone back into the stands and counseled the vulgar men in a manner so spiritual and humbling they'd end up begging Dunn to "tell the young women of America to stop showing off their cleavage." 

When I am choosing my wardrobe, this is what I try to do; maybe these guidelines can help you. I stand in front of a mirror and carefully scrutinize what I am wearing. I sit down in front of the mirror. I cross my legs in front of the mirror. I bend over; I lift my arms in front of the mirror. And you have the added luxury of asking your roommates what they can see if you choose to try this suggestion.

--I can only assume that Sister Bednar refers to the co-eds' "added luxury" of having roommates because she would never dream of performing this wildly erotic dance in front of her husband. (Lest he glimpse the hem of her temple garment and pass out from fright.)

Let me share a story of romance that I believe relates to modesty. I know of a returned missionary who was dating a special young woman. This young man cared for the young woman very much and was thinking about making his relationship with her a bit more serious; in the back of his mind he was thinking about marriage. It was during this time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters by reading a statement from the First Presidency asking the women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear. This young man waited patiently for several weeks for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she didn't take them out. Her message of noncompliance to a prophet's pleading was a valuable piece of information for this young man. He finally stopped dating the young woman because he was looking for a girl who had the courage to follow the prophet.

--If you would like my opinion of this excerpt, click here.

I talked with a father who is serving as a priesthood leader on campus. Recently when he went to pick up his daughter at her apartment complex, he was disappointed to find two girls with navel rings sunbathing in their bikinis. Young women, what kind of a message are we trying to send?

What harlots! To think they had the temerity to sunbathe by the pool at their own residence. Thank goodness for "inspired" priesthood leaders who investigate these matters. Because, god only knows what they must wear in their bathtubs ...

Ten years later, and I still have no idea why the President of BYU-I and his wife decided that in the days after 9/11 the best course of action was to gloss over the tragedy, send everyone back to class, and call out half of the student body for acting like sluts. But then what do I know? I'm just an uninspired ex-Mormon woman. On the other hand, President Bednar is now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. -- No doubt thanks to his ability to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

For some historical perspective on this speech in honor of its 10 year anniversary, check out Jennifer's post on her insightful and brilliantly written blog, The Cognitive Dissenter.


  1. "--I can only assume that Sister Bednar refers to the co-eds' "added luxury" of having roommates because she would never dream of performing this wildly erotic dance in front of her husband. (Lest he glimpse the hem of her temple garment and pass out from fright.)"

    Oh, Donna, you are the inspired one! Love this!

  2. (1) Talks about grandma's house and modest attire. ON SEPTEMBER FREAKIN' ELEVENTH, 2011. What on earth is with these people!?

    (2) The misogyny and self-hatred in this woman's talk was glaring. Women should not have to be responsible for stupid men's behavior.

    (3) Instead of leaving, the men should have told the oglers to shut up. Real chivalrous behavior there, guys.

  3. 2001, not 2011. Sorry about the typo.

  4. Simply elegant and nail on the head, Donna.

    And that freaky dance she does in front of her mirror? Hilarious, grotesque, frightening. Sounds like a plot line for White and Delightsome ... or maybe a new character ... hmmmm.

  5. @Zena, thanks, but you provide me with such inspiration yourself!

    @Ahab, indeed, on 9-Freakin'-11 of any year since, but especially 2001. I think folks like Bednar are so caught up in their "priesthood authority" that they have no sensitivity whatsoever.

  6. @CD yeah, Sister B. would fit right in on W&D. She could go-go dance alongside Eliza!

  7. Along with the earring part -- which teaches us that instead of actually talking to people about something that concerns us ("So, what do you think about the whole two earring thing?"), we should sit in silent, self-righteous judgment of them -- this was my "favorite" part of her talk:

    Last year my husband and I attended a fast and testimony meeting where a young woman stood to bear her testimony, profess her love for the Savior, and her desire for a temple marriage in a terribly immodest and inappropriate outfit. The skirt hung down around her hips; and the top she wore was not only tight, but short--it didn't meet the top of her skirt. Every time she moved, she revealed her bare back or her stomach. In my judgment, this is the height of hypocrisy.

    "The height of hypocrisy"? Seriously? Not "Despite her good intentions, she didn't really understand modesty" or something like that? Not even "She was a little off base"? No, she has to call that "the height of hypocrisy"? What a judgmental jerk. She and her husband deserve each other.

  8. What Kuri said. There was so much about her talk that was offensive, it's like swimming in a deep poo sea.

  9. Kuri and CD, you're both right. There is so much to object to in her talk. Thanks Kuri for adding that quote. Imagine how many LDS women may have thought she was referring to them (on top of dealing with 9/11!)

  10. First of all buddy, UR made of awesome and don't ever change a thing. Second, UR made of awesome. 3rd women can what ever they want (as you know) and it is the bro-dude that must evolve (that is why being a feminist is so important) and lastly, UR made of awesome. I'm not sure if i've been here before. Keep it up homie.


  11. @Kriss, that is high praise coming from such a sexy atheist. Thanks, and you keep it up too.

  12. Wow, great post Donna. It must have felt surreal and confusing for those students. I find it creepy that they would harp on female modesty right then. Maybe it was just bad timing due to insensitivity like you suggested. Complete insulation from reality? Weird place, weird leadership. ~Ali

  13. @Ali, yeah, I think they just went on with plans as usual without even realizing how insensitive it would seem. Thanks for the comment!

  14. My comment is many years late....I was just today researching online to find a talk I had heard while on campus at BYU-Idaho. It was Sister Bednar's talk about modesty and a link came up for your blog. I have to say, I was shocked to read it. I was at BYU-I at the time and can testify to you that her talk on modesty was inspired. I find it so sad that you chose to criticize, shame and shun those who are honestly trying to better themselves and choose good things over bad. Modesty and purity like many other standards, are important. Yes, that time during 9/11 was a terribly sad and I still think of it. Though looking back, the best thing we could do as college students was to pray for the peace/comfort/healing of those victims and their families. We were college kids for heaven's sake. Would it be better to focus on the bad, cruel, and negative things that had happened? I feel Pres. and Sis. Bednar helped to keep us calm and focus on good things. One of the great things about living in our day and age is freedom. The freedom to have our own opinions, make our own choices, have a blog if we like... You may even choose to not publish my comment. It is obvious you felt that these devotionals were not appropriate during a national tragedy like this, but does it really help to berate or belittle those honestly trying to help others? Pres. and Sister Bednar are wonderful examples. They truly helped encourage and support me and many others to do our best. Hopefully to be an influence for good. The world does need more good--the tragedy of Sept 11 testifies of that. People can do amazing things but it starts with caring for others and wanting to help. There are so so many amazing, good, kind, compassionate people--all of different faiths. What really matters is what we do in our life and how we treat others. Just wanted to use my freedom to voice my opinion on this.

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