“It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith.” 
Encouraging women to get an education is something our leaders do with frequency. It’s easy to find quotes from Presidents Hinckley, Monson and Benson, and from a myriad of apostles, and frankly, I believe them in their sincerity with this counsel. When you hit up the church websites, women are well represented in the text and in the photographs.
Why then does there seem to be such a disconnect between the counsel of our leaders, whom as Latter-day Saints we tend to take quite seriously, and with women actually finishing their degrees and having a workable plan with using their education after receiving (if they do) their degree? We have men we sustain as apostles telling us to go and do, and get that education. But then we have what I tend to see as part of the famous (infamous?) “unwritten order of things” 
There are the running jokes about women at BYU leaving with not a BA or BS, but with the coveted and desirable MRS, and nearly lamentable cultural idea that if you graduate from college without the MRS, a woman is nearly doomed to spinsterhood. There is frequent counsel to get married early and to not delay having children. There is the recent counsel that a woman who knows her true value and place will not feel the need to lobby for rights- do those rights include things like equal pay, or maternity leave?
The truth is, Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduates, more than double the next gap, and more than four time the national average.  Also of note is that Utah is very near the national average for divorce, which doesn’t take a statistician (absolutely not me) to see the perfect storm there: undereducated women with young children finding themselves divorced and with no career avenues or even a workable plan. When your whole directive has been to get married young and start having babies, what do you do when that falls through?
Of course, this is something with which I am intimately acquainted. The cognitive dissonance between what we are encouraged to do as Latter-day Saint women and what is culturally reinforced is incredibly powerful. Yes, we are to be educated- but not too educated. Yes, we are to be educated, but we also simply must get married young and have babies quickly. And the pressure a woman is under to stay home with those babies is incredible and unrelenting- as any working (at home or outside the home) Latter-day Saint woman knows.
To be quire fair, when I went back to school as a newly divorced woman to finish my long-neglected college degree, I was lauded, and there was powerful support in my community- I can state that without reservation, both online and in my physical ward. It was clear to everyone, including me, that this was the only wise path.
At the same time (and anecdotal to be sure), as I neared completion of my undergrad and started looking at grad schools, I began to experience subtle shifts in conversation and comments, in particular, from women. It was suggested by a friend that I would have a harder time finding a husband if I went to grad-school, and wouldn’t I just be happy getting a job as an elementary teacher? Another well-meaning (I presume) person thought aloud if I might be taking a spot in grad school from a man who had a family to support. I nearly choked, and pointed out that I, too, had a family to support. (Though the underlying presumption was that if I would just get married, then I wouldn’t have to support my children- I guess.) Here on this very blog, a commenter felt comfortable asking if I had thought out who I might be inconveniencing in accepting a spot in grad school across the country, or if I just expected others to take care of things for me. There is a more-than-subtle vein of misogyny in these types of comments, and the safety another Saint feels in asking them.
I’m reflecting on this today because I crossed a personal milestone yesterday: For the first time since before I was married, lo back in 1999, when I gave up my career and began staying home full-time, I received a paycheck. It was a paycheck I earned, and I was able to pay my bills- rent, utilities, insurance and my first student loan payment. Aside from the deeply personal satisfaction of being able to take care of temporal needs, this fact has other, even deeper spiritual ripples…
Accompanying the feeling of pride and gratitude for my ability to finally support, to some real degree, myself and my children, there is also something I neither expected nor anticipated- there was a feeling of freedom. Up until now, the entire time I have been a mother I have been dependent of someone or something else. Even when that arrangement is entered into freely and jointly, there is an imbalance inherent in one person bringing in all of the financial means of support. I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back because someone else was providing them to me- even when done so freely and with all the grace in the world, it creates an imbalance. It was an imbalance I wasn’t even aware of until yesterday.
What having a living salary does is moves me from a position of being in need, to a position of being someone who chooses. It’s very subtle, but very, very powerful. Having an income, the means to support myself and my kids, is a game-changer. In all the areas of my life, I do not have to be looking for who will accept me and my three children and be grateful- I can instead look for people and situations in which I choose to be. Instead of being the girl waiting to be asked to dance, I can decide I don’t want to dance at all, or that I want to go to Paris, or that I want to… gasp… go to grad school!
I believe this is what the Lord wants for his daughters, and what our leaders, when they encourage women to get educated, are talking about. A woman who has the means and education to support her family becomes an entirely different woman. This applies as much to women in third world countries as it does to women along the Wasatch Front, and if we can wrap our minds around that counsel from prophets as our prime drive, I cannot see how the world will not change with us.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, June 1999
 The Unwritten Order of Things- Boyd K. Packer, BYU Devotional Address, October 15, 1996
 Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, US Census Issues February, 2012