Around Our Kitchen Table: A Conversation About Roles

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Recently, BCC received an impassioned response from a frequent reader on the feelings and topics arising from Mike Austin’s post on the gender imbalance at BYU’s Universities. The following is part of a dialogue between some of the women of BCC about how we handle and respond to the rhetoric and pressure of being a Mormon woman

Ms. Blue: The comments on Mike’s post about faculty gender balance at the BYUs have me overall feeling sort of crummy about myself. I was wondering how other women like yourselves are handling the comments, regardless of whether you work, stay at home, are married, are single, etc.

It’s hard to be a scholar. It’s hard to be a patient and wise mother. It’s hard to keep a clean house and prepare nutritious foods that everyone eats. It’s hard to help 100+ students learn to write and think critically. And even though last week I felt like I was at least up to snuff on all these tasks, improving over time and confident in these various roles, today I feel like I am probably just a cruddy scholar, a cruddy mother, a cruddy wife, and a cruddy teacher because I am trying to “have it all.”

Usually at this point I would just channel my inner Lily Tomlin and smile big with squinched up eyes, throwing my head back in that way of hers, and pretend like I’m having tea with Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda (9 to 5 is one of my inner happy places).

But I can’t do it so easily this time. I’m still working on my dissertation (I started my PhD in 2010). My daughter has perpetual snarls in her hair and my newly 3-year-old son is far from potty-trained. I don’t have any publications yet. I work in a place where female voices aren’t always heard or valued.

Is there hope for me in academia? Will my children really be damaged because I’m not at home 24/7? Is this really God’s plan for me, or did I misread answers to earlier prayers? Is my marriage not as wonderful as I think it is? Will my husband eventually resent me for having the tenure-track job first? For sweeping the kitchen floor while I take a break to rant in this conversation thread?

Why does gender have to be SO INTRINSIC to every small thing any Mormon does in life? Why can’t instead of saying, “I got this job because I’M A FEMINIST” or “I stay at home because I’M AN OBEDIENT WOMAN” it was just, “This is what my life is like because this is who I am”?

Ms. Orange: Blue, this tenure-track professor from the rainy midwest is sending you the biggest e-hug in the world. I can’t wait to give you a real one.

Do you want to know one of my biggest secrets? One of the reasons that my life changed? Why I was no longer perpetually uncomfortable in my own skin—always holding myself back from what I wanted? I found female mentors. I finally found strong, capable women doing what I wanted to do professionally. Doing it well, doing it kindly, and being lovely women in addition to professionals. Some were moms, some weren’t. Some were lawyers, some weren’t. But they were all competent, professional, working women. It changed my life.

Your babies get that from you from the first breath that they take. They will never ask the questions you’re asking yourself right now, because a competent professional woman defines their their reality and existence. You made their world bigger just by being you.

And it doesn’t stop there—because you are what I needed 20 years ago. I wish I had a Ms. Blue in my life then—maybe it would have saved me a lot of heartache and pain. I absolutely know that there are women who need you to be you. Not a constrained and gray version of yourself. You’re not going to fix everything, but you are an embodied possibility for them.

You certainly know better than all the internet trolls and haters. I read those comments and just feel sorry for their wives and daughters. But I never question you and the choices you’ve made.

All the love, sister.

Ms. Pink: Listen to Orange. Every inspired word.

Ms. Blue: Orange, bless you, thank you. I’m looking forward to that hug. That was even better than what fake Lily Tomlin usually says to me in my head. Really.

Ms. Yellow: None of my kids was potty trained before the age of four (the four year old was a prodigy), my own hair has perpetual snarls, and I haven’t had a job since 1998. Just saying you can totally screw up without trying to have it all, too. But if I were you, I’d listen to Orange instead of me.

Ms. Pink: Yeah—more than one of my children was still having accidents through kindergarten. Don’t even sweat that stuff.

Hair snarls, accidents, and messy kitchen floors are just products of living life. Raising kids is a process, not a product. In our very “lifestyle” focused modern world, there is a ton of emphasis on your family being a product. Jettison that pressure. Screw it. It’s useless drivel. When I was divorced and juggling full time school with small kids (I still have an unfinished Masters) I realized none of that crap mattered. Were my kids happy? Was there good laughter in our home? Did they trust me? Were there other people who loved them and nurtured them? Did they have role models who were different than me? All good. Let the rest go.

Ms. Red: Blue, I’m a little older than you and further down this path. Victor Frankl used to say to imagine your 80 year-old self as your mentor, which I sometimes do. Your 80 year-old self is going to see this nonsense for what it is. It’s just noise, and it has nothing to do with you. You cannot live your life caring what others who aren’t in your life think. I have a few mantras I have taught myself over time.

If church leaders or others have an opinion about my work life, that’s all that is: an opinion. Our finances are up to us as a couple. Mantra: The person making the money says how the money is made.

Nobody who is questioning my decisions is writing me checks to stay at home. They aren’t picking up the laundry next to me and helping me fold it. Mantra: The person doing the work decides how the work is done.

Financial independence has never been optional for me. My best friend’s mom really struggled as a divorced woman. People weren’t supportive either, not in the church, not at that time. Mantra: Every human being has to have the means to support him or herself independently.

While money isn’t the most important thing in life, lack of money destroys your life like nothing else can. But kooks who say “follow your bliss” without regard to money ignore the realistic fact that you have to retire and live on something, you have to pay rent or mortgage, buy clothes, etc. Mantra: Make as much money as you can doing something you don’t hate. That’s the only balance to find.

Kids are a great part of life and teach us a lot and these relationships enrich our lives, but they aren’t our lives. We are creating people, and those people, just like us, have their own lives. They are mostly taking our focus during the 18-20 years they live at home. And they are expensive. Mantra: You can’t base every life decision in an 80-90 year life on the 20-35 years your kids are in your house. If that’s all you are, you will have nothing to look forward to in retirement. You will be all used up.

Anyway, I have a lot of little mantras like that, life lessons I’ve learned, and I think of them when different things come up. The first thing is to give yourself permission to matter. Just you, as an individual. What you want matters. People who tell you otherwise simply don’t have your best interests at heart, whether that’s church leaders who don’t have to live your life as it looks when you implement their advice or whether it’s your husband or kids who may take your sacrifices for granted. Sacrifices that are taken for granted aren’t the kind I like to make. Judge yourself by what will get you through your 80-90 years intact and enjoying life. The first thing to let go of is what others think of you.

You have to own every choice you make, and if you can’t own it, then it wasn’t your choice. I don’t do things that aren’t my choice. When I’m doing something I don’t want to do, I think about it until I can either choose to do it or choose not to do it.

Ms. Yellow: A lot of women worry about making the “right” choice, but sometimes there is no “right” choice. There’s only the choices you can live with. Everything has a cost. As Red said, you matter. Your children will learn from you and the choices you make. If every choice you make is at your own expense, they will learn that women exist to take care of other people, to facilitate other people’s lives rather than having lives of their own to live.

Also, no one toilet trains in a day. They either wait until the kid is old enough to decide to take matters into their own hands (or can be threatened/blackmailed into doing so), or they randomly pick a day to stop changing diapers and start dealing with accidents.

Ms. Red: Another mantra I’ve thought a lot in my life is that no matter what I do, I am a mother. I am to my kids what a “mother” is. As someone once said, there’s no way to be a perfect mother but a million ways to be a great one. And here’s a dirty little secret, I’m a better mother than any of the Q12. Why would I take their advice on how to be one over my own instincts?

Ms. Yellow: Yesterday’s post and the comments got me started on writing a post about how I hope my daughters make different choices than the ones I did re: education, work, and motherhood. But then my 10yo came home from school and wanted to sit on my lap and I had to make dinner and then my husband asked me to make a potato salad for a party we’re going to tonight and before I knew it, it was midnight and the rest is more info than you need.

Ms. Pink: One of my mantras is: Many people can mother my children. When I was solo parenting I realized the hard truth that not only could I not fulfill everything for my kids, but the gentler truth that I didn’t have to. Many people can and do love them- and they learn different ways of doing things, different ways of approaching the world, and different ways of being heard through those relationships. There is no such thing as too many people loving my kids. They have a deep bench of people who support them, and those relationships are largely independent from me.

This allowed (and continues to allow) me to be a human being with strengths and challenges, and to still be a good enough mom. My kids know I’m a person, besides being mom. There is no illusion of perfection- for them or for me- and I think it’s deepened our relationships.

Ms. Yellow: The best thing that ever happened to our family was that I was forced to hire a woman from our ward to babysit my kids for a few hours every week because I had so many therapy sessions and IEP meetings and whatnot for one kid or another. She taught my sons how to ride their bikes. She got my kids to do stuff they’d never do for me. Sometimes kids need their mom, and sometimes they need someone else.

Ms. Red: My SIL potty-trained all our kids. My husband taught them how to read. Basically, I’ve given them career and school advice more than any of the “traditional” mother stuff. Nearly every decision about how to approach our kids or how to deal with a problem is something my husband & I talk about to figure out before we take action. We are usually on the same page. I was completely flummoxed by the church video of the woman who never talked to her husband throughout the day while she parented solo. I’ve never done that nor really thought anyone did. I found that completely shocking. I thought marriage was supposed to be a partnership, but she had no support, nobody she could talk to, nobody to help her despite everyone using her time for their own needs. That was bleak.

When church leaders give advice, I give it the extra weight and open-mindedness I try to give any foreign idea. If, after extra consideration, prayerful or personal revelation, I feel it’s something good, then I choose to do it. If not, then I assume it’s not for me and I don’t. That’s what we are told to do, to seek personal revelation.

One more thought I’ve had that flipped a switch for me. Nobody asks men how they balance work and family. Literally no one asks them. But when I realized that my husband didn’t ask himself (which he pointed out to me), that’s when I quit asking myself that incredibly dumb question and just decided to live my life.

Honestly, kids are fine. They only know what they know. They don’t come pre-wired with some “ideal” that they judge you against. That’s other people, who in fact have nothing to do with you or your life. My kids interpret the gospel through the lens of a working mother. They don’t see it as incompatible in any way. They see the person I am and the ways I live the gospel.

George Bush once pointed out that when his girls balked at him being the president and putting their lives in the limelight he said “We weren’t thinking about that. Laura and I were just living our lives and making our own choices about what we wanted to do.” Our child-centric chatter in the church isn’t all bad, but it’s mostly bad for women. Child-centric decision making usually means “What should we take away from the mother?”

Ms. Plum: Right. When Mormon men tell women they “can’t have it all,” they are almost always saying “you can’t have what I assume as my birthright.”

Ms. Blue: I’ve noticed a lot of my friends who are SAHMs walked away from the discussions of Mike’s post with similar feelings of frustration, guilt, or deflation because these same conversations have a tendency to spurn women who sacrifice careers to be at home. And as many friends have pointed, single women aren’t given much spotlight or voice in discussions of working Mormon women.

Much of this excellent advice would apply to many of these situations, though, especially the advice to stop caring about what others think, to make choices and choose the things you do, to be confident and at the same time allow yourself to receive support from others.

Ms. Orange: I’m also conscious that this discussion could be hard for stay at home moms. It’s hard to know how to talk about these things in a way that are empowering and don’t get reduced to playing women against each other.

Ms. Red: It is hard for stay at home moms to hear this stuff, but I can’t really do much about that unfortunately. When I raised my hand in my RS to say I felt I had personal revelation that for me working in a career was the right thing for me, and so did two other women that day, another sister who was the bishop’s wife said “I didn’t know we were allowed to question that.” I remember two reactions 1) my heartstrings tugging a bit like they did when I saw Oprah Winfrey get beaten by her husband in the Color Purple, and 2) anger that anyone was ever in a position to feel that their own wishes couldn’t be considered in making their life choices.

For stay at home moms who in fact chose it and would choose it, and who are in agreement with a spouse about it, hey, more power to them. Although for me, I feel that’s too risky a position since you are basically stuck to low paying jobs if things fall through, it’s not my life, and everyone should make and own their own choices. It has nothing to do with me. But for a woman to feel she literally has no choice in her life or she’s a bad person, that’s spiritual blackmail and it is a lie she’s been told and bought, to her own detriment. But sometimes it’s a delicious lie to be told that you don’t have to try so hard or you can just give up. Achieving things is hard work.

Ms. Green: I’m jumping on late because (perhaps ironically), I had the kids all day while my husband was working on his dissertation. However, one thing different for me today than a year ago, is that as soon as he got home, I picked up my backpack and left to a campus office nearby to do my own work.

It’s a strange thing because my husband is about as far from a misogynist as I can imagine, and has been going to counseling to deal with anxiety, partly induced by the guilt he feels in taking so much time (all of our time) to do his PhD. The thing is, that up until very recently, I have not had the confidence to take myself seriously enough to step outside of being a mom to do my own work. When I was writing my book, my editor was an incredible advocate and helped to get some funds so I could hire a babysitter so I could write alone rather with my kids and all the neighborhood kids in a 6-foot radius. Initially, I thought, I’ll just find a way to write and then we can have some extra money to pay off debt. Luckily my husband took the reins, hired a babysitter, and I did in fact write the latter half of the book in silence. The thing that makes me sad though, is that I was not capable of making those choices for myself at the time. I was too ensconced in the expectations that a woman and stay-at-home mom can do it all, and on her own.

Mike’s post and the comments make me feel really sad, because as a bright college student, I honestly never considered I could have a career of import. Luckily though, I did come in contact with several female professors who instilled something in me that I could not shake, and maybe now is just starting to come to fruition. Until the day I die, I will consider one of my greatest blessings to have somehow shown up in all female poetry class taught by Kim Johnson the year before my mission.

Anyway… this is long now, but the thing I want to say is that I care for you all in ways that are hard to articulate, because it is often difficult to articulate even in my own life the ways that I am more confident, a better believer of the work I am capable of, and more aware of the issues that need to be addressed, since I have been here at BCC.

Blue, your kids will love you for the work you do, both in and out of the home. They will probably be grateful you didn’t make them potty-train earlier than they were ready for, or spend copious amounts of time brushing their hair. I never see my child so proud as when he comes with me to do a book reading of one of my children’s books. It reminds me that children are our biggest advocates in so many ways.

Ms. Pink: I can relate to much of that, Green. I’m completely unbalanced right now because I don’t know how to accept the security given to me now in a stable marriage. I know that sounds nuts, but for most of my adult life- at least since I stopped working outside the home when I had my first child, my life has been unstable. I gave up my larger income for my then-husband’s smaller one because we agreed having me home was that important. Add two more babies, and then a terrible divorce, and I have a solid decade of instability.

Now I have an unfinished graduate degree, I’m in my forties, and and I don’t know how to work the math on if going back is worth the ROI. I feel like in every direction lay mistakes- I should have finished my degrees younger, I shouldn’t have given up my career when I had babies, I should have bailed earlier on a sinking marriage… every direction, coulda shoulda woulda…

My second husband is supportive of my writing and academic aspirations- if I want to go back to school, that’s okay. If I want to concentrate on writing, that’s okay. I am sitting in a position of tremendous privilege, and I am petrified to move. I don’t know what to do when the house isn’t burning down, and I don’t know how to move out of that frightened space and claim air on my own to breathe.

Ms. Green: I hear you, Pink. Although our situations differ quite a bit, I find that it is not the men closest to me at this point in the game that are asking me to set limitations for what I can and cannot do. It is the me that spent my whole life watching church structure, and mission structure, and yes, even BYU college structure. I am working through these things and I think making steps in many of them. I am incredibly grateful for the many bold, perceptive and good men and women that surround me now and are brave enough to tell that I don’t have to believe and act according to those beliefs anymore. I remember at one point in writing my book, near the beginning when I was expressing a lot of anxiety and doubt to my editor about not feeling good enough, not feeling like I had anything worthwhile to offer, etc… and he said something along the lines of me needing to take myself seriously, that I could and should do that, and that other people would do the same. Whatever it was exactly, it was a life-changing conversation for me.

Ms. Orange: I might be wrong, but I think that little girls are now getting much MORE of this rhetoric in primary and young women’s than we did. So the chickens are going to start coming home to roost in about 10 years….

Ms. Pink: I don’t think you’re wrong. It seems like the pressure is on more intensely for boys and girls, as if there is a doubling-down, instead of a “inviting” unto Christ. My kids openly dislike the lessons on the The Family and on gender, and it seems like those were the lessons all summer long. One of my daughters opted out of weeknight activities because they weren’t doing anything she found constructive or interesting.

Ms. Blue: “he said something along the lines of me needing to take myself seriously, that I could and should do that, and that other people would do the same” That’s excellent. I’m taking that to my own heart. I had no idea you ever doubted that project, Green—the book is brilliant and beautiful.

Ms. Green: Thanks, Blue. It’s weird because I both did, and didn’t. Deep down I felt guided and inspired and like I was doing an important work, but I still really had to work through this idea of taking up space in the world, which sadly I think has a lot to do with being a woman in a patriarchal culture. It has always been hard for me, and this book seemed like a true test of taking up space. I’m so glad I had to work through it though, it has been invaluable and world-opening to feel a confidence I have never felt before in my life, or at least never felt that I should. That isn’t to say I am free of self-doubt, etc…but I am comfortable saying that my voice matters, and because mine does, other people’s matter as well.

Ms. Blue: And that probably isn’t a gendered thing: self-doubt doing something big, like a book. I think a lot of men would attest to having felt that way before. But it seems like many women are not really taught to overcome that sort of self-doubt, especially since we are constantly reassured that we don’t *have* to feel pressured to provide or create or complete anything not directly related to bearing and raising children. It’s not that we are discouraged against these sorts of accomplishments, but, I don’t know—it’s like, every time the dissertation gets hard, my critic is an invisible voice that says, “This is why you should have stayed home. This is why you should have put your own interests aside for your husband. What are you even doing here?” and it’s frustrating how much strength that pretend critical voice has, and how extra strong it gets after every recent General Conference.

Whenever my family has a rough week, or it’s finals week and my husband and I are both slammed, I am always first to blame myself. We’re stressed because of me. Because I don’t listen to prophets. Because I work outside the home.

Ms. Green: Yes. I agree with the self-doubt not being gendered. But I also believe that there is more supposed value and expectation for women to be humble, which often converts to self deprication.

As for the stress you feel in pursuing your career, I definitely feel that. There have been times, especially over the past year that I have felt incredible and even crippling guilt my husband won’t do as well at his PhD or get the job he wants because I have been running consistently with my own work. He hasn’t made me feel that way, but I have done a lot of my own work to feel that, especially when there are many women around me who have given up everything for this time so their husband’s can pursue a degree. So I guess I don’t have anything but solidarity and my confidence in you.

Ms. Red: No one is immune to self doubt. A while back, I took a severance package from a company I had been at for years. I had been looking for another position, and didn’t want to take a step down. Since then, I’ve had self-doubt. I went through two interviews in which I was assured I was a top candidate each time, and I didn’t get either offer. I became sort of convinced I had a Heidi-Howard problem because the jobs went to men in both cases.

In my moments of self-doubt, I think I’m too old now. I feel like those Hollywood starlets who know that if you don’t look great you don’t get roles. Corporate life isn’t that much different. If I have lines on my face, people will think I’m too old, I’m irrelevant, I’ve been out of the business world for too long. When you have only a first impression to make, you have to look the part to get the part. But then I remember that I’m awesome, that I’m smart and funny and that I rise to the top in every situation, that I’m grace under fire, that I kick ass, that I pretty much dominate everything I try. That helps.

Ms. Pink: See, this scares me. Do I invest in finishing my grad degree, only to not be able to find work because I’m too old? Men become distinguished. Women become invisible…

For more thoughts on this subject and some cool graphs, see Ziff’s post here, and Kristine A’s post here.

Comments

  1. BCC women are incredible!

    What a great conversation. Honored that you would share it with us.

  2. Green: <3

    Take yourself seriously and others will do the same. That's a mantra to add to the list.

  3. What a wonderful, honest conversation. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I have one thought to add… I also struggled with self-doubt and feelings of selfishness for pursuing what I am passionate about (it’s not about the family! Nor does it earn income in the short term!) that lead to my shutting down when it came to my passion. I was literally blocked from working on the things I loved.

    A friend gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It completely changed my way of thinking about myself and God’s support of my endeavors. Ms. Cameron is not Christian, although it is a deeply spiritual book (aimed at, but not limited to artists) that is more getting you to think and work through things than just lecturing. I highly recommend it.

  4. Thanks, Olde Skool, it definitely is!
    ReT, thanks for the reminder about the book, I read it many years ago, but have a feeling it would be relevant for so many women right now. It is hard to overcome those feelings, and I know I am game for anything that will uphold me and the things I feel like I should do.

  5. Seriously, thank you for this conversation!

  6. Thank you. A few months ago I was going through an exercise that asked who I admired. The first people who came to mind who have done what I want to do and with a family are men. I racked my brain for female examples, and after a lot of thinking, I managed to come up with a few who aren’t exactly in my field but who have taken a similar path. But that was a lot of work, and there are dozens, even hundreds of men I could think of. So then I felt shocked and truly dismayed at how hard it was to identify women to emulate, much less mentors. And my gut response was that I wanted all the more to do my thing; I don’t want my nieces to feel that it is so hard to come up with role models.

    I should also say that since then I’ve become aware of more and more women I can emulate and learn from. We need one another’s community. Thank you for sharing this conversation.

  7. ReT, I have that book around here somewhere, too. Probably bears digging it out and giving it a re-read. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Sharon, yes- we really do need to see role models so we can imagine ourselves in spaces. It’s important, and it matters.

  8. Sorry for the weird tangent, but I just have to say that this conversation is even better if you imagine it is between the characters in Reservoir Dogs.

  9. This is pretty honest stuff. Privileged to know you all.

  10. Dave K, that was intentional. :)

  11. Self doubt, conflicting priorities, messages from my faith causing me to question where my investments are, sifting through the “noise”, unfairly comparing myself to others, giving up career opportunities for quality of life/home – sounds a lot like being a man too ;-)

    You’re right about the importance of mentors and role models (and that more are needed that people can relate to), but even w/ those the constant re-evaluation takes place. That’s part of the gospel, repentance and asking “Is it I?” Just like the temple recommend process, I take guidance from the pulpit as an invitation to judge myself – not be judged.

  12. This has been my year of Awakening. This discourse has just given my decisions a solid foothold in knowing that it’s time to walk a path that feels better. I’ve been working from home for the past year and it’s been great. But it’s not in a career that I want. It feels like a filler. So I’m studying my brains out for the next year and taking the FSOT. If I pass everything, it’s going to take myself and my family everywhere. It will give my husband the chance to find something he enjoys doing while I go to the office – I look forward to being able to provide him the same chance he gave me. If I don’t pass, I’ll try again while also looking to see if there isn’t something else that interests me. Our children are still young, we are still young, I’m ready to move forward with my life and take my family with me. Especially since having daughter do I feel the need and drive to show her how to pursue whatever she dreams.

  13. The Other Clark says:

    Hmmm. Was BCC hijacked by FMH? I’m pushing back on a few of Red’s claims here:

    1) “Every human being has to have the means to support him or herself independently.” I get the sentiment, especially for women trapped in negative situations. However, there’s a huge segment of society, that for whatever reason (physical and mental handicaps, youth, old age) will never meet this standard. And it’s precisely how we treat this segment–the poor that we’ll always have with us–that shows the degree of Christianity within us.

    2) “Nobody asks men how they balance work and family.” Actually, they do all the time. I’m a guy. I ask and get asked. There are conference talks on the subject. In today’s world of kids sports, scouts, school, seminary, etc., dads are involved. Dads do dishes and laundry and diapers, they stay home so wives can go to school, travel, etc. Saying that men don’t worry about balance, or ask for input from mentors on the subject is either ill-informed or disingenuous.

  14. We’ve been hijacked because we’re having a conversation about women’s lives? Check yourself. FMH funded my senior year of college with the Tracy McKay (that’s me!) FMH Scholarship for Single Mormon Mothers, and their name is safe here.

    Nobody said men don’t worry about it, TOC. Mormon men are probably more involved with their kids lives than many men, on average. But I doubt men often get asked the very specific question Red was referring to- it’s *assumed* men will balance work and life, and for women, it’s often assumed they will sacrifice to be caretakers.

    Also, yes, it’s good to have the ability to support yourself, to the best of your ability. That’s why we’re encouraged to get as much education as possible. Then we can better support not only ourselves, but those in need.

  15. Hi Clark, we haven’t been hijacked by anyone. The women of BCC are strong and accomplished–and given our life experiences, have informed opinions about issues that affect women most acutely. And I’m glad that you and other men are getting asked about balancing work and family. It is something that we ALL share responsibility for.

    Honestly, I’m bristling a little bit at women being thrown in the category of children and the infirm. Of course, there are people who can’t independently support themselves. But women as a gender do not fall into that category. The fact of the matter is that traditional gender roles often leave women disempowered within their own families. If everything goes ideally, that may never be a problem. But I’m beginning to think that finding an ideal family is a bit like finding leprechauns with free pots of gold.

  16. Thanks so much for this thoughtful and candid conversation. I appreciate the many women here at BCC and throughout the Mormon (studies) world who make their voices heard.

  17. No need to worry, The Other Clark. The feminists who are responsible for sacking BCC have now been sacked.

    Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretty nasti.

  18. Jeannine L. says:

    Yes, The Other Clark. All lives matter.

    Geez.

  19. I appreciated the bravery to share such intimate thoughts on their lives. But it makes it sound like only the evil church teachings are holding women back.

    For many of us, in the reality of our lives, it is not any philosophy but rather our darn bodies, supposedly created in the image of Heavenly Mother, that hold us back from the career we might choose.

    And thus I am grateful for the church teachings that men should be providers, and we should adapt individually as a couple.

    I had severe vomiting during pregnancy, and severe hypoglycemia when breastfeeding. So it costs about two years out of my outside-home productivity to produce a child. I am glad that nobody expected me to support myself during those years. And those years added up to a full decade, since I had five children. And then two surgeries afterward to try to put things back into place.

    I know non-LDS women who would love to have another child, or would like to spend more hours at home, but their husband expects them to “pull their weight,” with traditionally male work (i.e. wage-earning) being the only contribution that is acceptable. I am glad that my own spouse recognizes homemaking and child production as legitimate contributions to our family enterprise.

  20. We did talk about our own situations holding us back. And it was mentioned that for women who choose to stay home, and are genuinely happy at home, that’s a perfectly valid choice, too. It does put one at risk, should anything go wrong, as you cannot jump back in the job market where you left, should that happen (I know this well.). Among us, there are a wide variety of life experiences, from completely traditional, to absolutely not-traditional lives, and every marital and child/less status in between. We’re trying to show that it’s okay, whatever works for you, that we don’t need to ostracize each other, we can all claim our Mormoness in ways that work for us.

  21. I think I’ll start referring to myself as a Mormoness rather than a Mormon.

  22. There’s a lot covered here that could be addressed. For what it’s worth, I agree with much of the above, but

    1) it’s important to recognize that this is an endemic problem, and isn’t confined to our particular corner of US society. There’s a strong grass-is-greener impulse in a lot of these Mormon blogposts, as if outside of the Mormon cultural centers husbands are dutifully egalitarian, and as long as your daughters don’t go to BYU they will have their pick of liberal versions of Boy Scouts eager to take on half if not more of the housework, when time use research show that women are still doing the lion’s share of the housework in nearly every sector of US society. These issues are much more deep-seated than a few conference talks or sociocultural idiosyncrasies.

    2) There is a standard narrative of the repressed housewife who wants to be employed, which is fine if that fits you as long as we also acknowledge the existence of other narratives. Traditional second-wave feminism was very based on white women experiences. Black women have always been employed, and many would have loved to have stayed home. My wife left the work force and never looked back. SAHMs are also as satisfied with their work now as employed mothers are (http://jfi.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/08/05/0192513X16663253.abstract). So if you are going to project the conventional second wave, throw off your domestic shackles narrative, don’t underhandedly or subtly demean those who choose to stay home (” It is hard for stay at home moms to hear this stuff, but I can’t really do much about that unfortunately”), or else you become one of those feminists people refer to when they say they’re not feminists.

    3) Let’s not glamorize academia or other “life’s of the mind” more than they deserve (Kissinger–academic fights are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low). Yes, your family you sacrificed for may implode, but so may your academic career; matter of fact, given today’s climate it’s more likely that your academic career will. As long a we realize how hollow the honors of men are in this regard, then it’s great to get more education for contingency and overall self-improvement.

    4) The people who “have it all” with two spouses working power jobs in nice neighborhood, etc. almost always have 1-3 children at the most. For higher fertility families it is difficult to not just bite the bullet and have one spouse stay home, especially if children are younger, so in this sense Mormon women have higher potential for stress because they’re comparing themselves to the Obamas and Brin/Wojcicki, but with 2-3 times more kids.

  23. Hi Tiberius. So. Did you read the post before you jumped in to bullet point all the things you think we missed? (you’re wrong, btw) I was 29 when I joined the church, already married and had a child. I know full well what’s on the other side of the fence, and no one implied anywhere that the grass is greener and it’s only birds and sunshine there. We’re allowing you a peek into a conversation where women are honestly talking about things that concern us.

    You are mansplaining to women with PhDs, who are law professors, SAHM’s, divorced, married, single, with many children, no children, step-children, disabled children, and blended families, and none of us are unaware of, or missing your points.

  24. Everyone needs to go read the Eternal Marriage Manual Section “Mothers’ Employment Outside the Home” that is very much still in use today in our institutes around the world and then tell me that there isn’t pressure on Mormon women to fulfill a very specific role.

  25. ^^Let me give you a taste it: “You in these unusual circumstances qualify for additional inspiration and strength from the Lord. Those who leave the home for lesser reasons will not.”

  26. I can’t tell you how much I love listening to this conversation. Thank you for sharing it.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Powerful conversation; thank you for sharing it with us.

  28. Yes I did read it. You say I’m wrong, but then you say that you didn’t miss my points.

    Point one: Many statements in the post were qualified with “Mormon” e.g. “When Mormon men tell women they can’t have it all…” implying all over the post that this is a particularly “Mormon” problem stemming from Mormon institutions. I thought my pointing out the time use literature on this matter was relevant, and not particularly antagonistic to the spirit of the OP.

    Point two: Often in these discussions people give lip service to the “each their own” sentiment but then take subtle digs at the SAHM option, I gave an example quote of this happening in the OP. If you really in full sincerity have a “to each their own” attitude then more power to you.

    Point three: strong concern displayed about being able to make it in academia in the OP, thought that downplaying how important it is to make it in academia might help (since hardly anyone does). For example, the concern that it’s taken her 6 years to write her PhD, when average time to completion for a PhD is now over 8 years.

    Point four was an interesting aside to complement what said in the OP, not trying to dispute or fight back, really. Just a relevant addition.

    So yes, just thought I’d throw in some other perspectives, but agree that this is a powerful discussion overall.

  29. One thing that is missing (thankfully) from this wonderful conversation is the women who don’t want to have children or who have them and physically can’t stay home to take care of them without suffering from crippling depression and anxiety. These women do exist and the constant drumbeat of women cannot do anything more important than take care of children is demoralizing, alienating and false.

  30. Tiberius, you do understand that this was seven different women giving input and not one opinion piece? Because there were several statements about care for SAHMs and I don’t think there were any digs. A couple of us *are* SAHMs. The concern about academia was from *one* of us, and she’s doing well, thanks. None of us are comparing ourselves even to each other, let alone to straw-women. We’re showing our real selves, being vulnerable, and honest. We are not representative of all women, of all Mormon women, of all academia, of all SAHMs, or all of anyone.

    Jenn, absolutely those women exist, and whatever they need to do to find their own happiness is just as valid as any other course.

  31. 1.) Thank you for sharing these intimate thoughts with us. Especially given some of these responses…

    2.) Various parts resonated so strongly with me. This first comment from Orange…. “Your babies get that from you from the first breath that they take. They will never ask the questions you’re asking yourself right now, because a competent professional woman defines their their reality and existence. You made their world bigger just by being you” Thank you.

  32. Tracy M – Agreed, but all we hear is that a woman without children is less than. While it’s true that child rearing is important and meaningful, it’s not for everyone. There are many other ways to live a healthy productive life that does not include children. But admitting this publicly is like declaring yourself to be a monster and to invite pity or derision. How can we begin to introduce the idea that having children really should be a choice and not a default expectation for everyone? I know, that is way too much to ask at this point. :)

  33. Tiberius: I was OK with your comments, personally. Just to add to some of what you said earlier:
    1) it’s definitely not just a “Mormon” problem, although it’s a Mormon blog, and these are Mormon women talking, so I think the caveat’s fine in context. It’s true that equal marriages are equally easy or hard to find whether in the church or out of the church (at least that’s what I see). Either way, they aren’t necessarily the majority of marriages yet. I’ve often noticed that the church’s focus on men being involved with the family can result in men who take their role as husband and father more seriously and are more willing to be a partner in the family. I’d stack up the average Mormon man’s diaper changing against his non-LDS counterpart’s any day of the week.
    2) To paraphrase a quote from the OP discussion “There’s no one way to be a feminist, but a million ways to be criticized for being one.” The women of BCC represent all the different waves of feminism. There are a lot of women in RS who are SAHMs who love it and choose it, and that’s great–they don’t find these discussions difficult because they love their situation. There are some women in RS who are SAHMs who don’t love it, who feel like they never had a choice – these are the ones who find it hard in these discussions if they are doing something that isn’t working for them and they see that others did something else (a career). I don’t know how you have a discussion about it when someone regrets the choice they made and they are talking to someone who didn’t make that choice; there are women in the church who feel they were told how great it was going to be if they stayed at home who have not enjoyed it. Obviously, nobody enjoys anything 100% of the time, but for women who don’t feel they are in a good situation, realizing that they had a different choice isn’t going to be easy.
    3) Nothing much to add here except that it’s true that all honors are fleeting: academic as well as careers. But careers are also about financial stability, not just personal achievement. No job is relentlessly glamorous, not even Hollywood. If jobs didn’t suck, they wouldn’t pay you.
    4) This gets to the heart of the real issue, not the number of kids part which I think is really just personal decision as well as health, but the economic divisions out there. As was pointed out later, minority women have almost always had to work because of historical economic disadvantages. Choosing to work (or not to work) is a position of privilege. I don’t think we should hold such strong opinions about each others’ choices, but it is important that we allow for people to be able to make whatever choices they can so they own their own decisions.

  34. Jenn, I think talking about it is a good starting point. I have friends who have opted not to have children for various reasons, and I know some of them have complicated reasons and feelings going along with those choices. Write a guest post and submit it to us? Bringing these things out in the sunshine is a great way of making them less scary.

  35. Absolutely choosing to work or not is a massive privilege. It’s a choice many women do not have. I believe it was mentioned in the post by someone that she knows she is “sitting in a position of tremendous privilege.” One (of many) problems arise when we set that privileged-status up as the ideal, and then attach superior moral value to it. (see the quotes EmJen linked to upthread)

  36. I liked this discussion. I also found Tiberius’s questions interesting. But I find myself wondering if a man can ever have a contrary opinion on a feminist issue without being accused of “mansplaining.” Or is it mansplaining for a man to point out that mansplaining seems like an overused term used to shut down not just trolls, but a lot of legitimate discussion. If so, then, well that’s like totally meta.

  37. jimbob: Mansplaining is usually defined as a man explaining something to a woman when her expertise in that area is superior to his own. I guess it depends on whether the “feminist issue” under discussion is one in which the man has less expertise than the woman does and whether he is “lecturing” the woman on the topic she knows more about. Certainly we can allow for the idea that a group of Mormon women have a clearer idea of what it is like to be a Mormon woman than a man does. Since this discussion is about choices women are making for their own lives, I wouldn’t call that a “feminist issue” so much as lived experience. But I didn’t find Tiberius’ questions over-the-top mansplainy either.

    As Tiberius pointed out about the issues being discussed, likewise mansplaining also isn’t a uniquely Mormon phenomenon, but it’s not rare either.

  38. christiankimball says:

    Great conversation. I like that there’s not a neat package or wrap-up. I think it would be fake if there were.
    As a man listening to women, I’m struck by the number of “do it all” references. Although men certainly do hear some form of “balance?” question (at least in the Church we do), I suspect it’s a little easier for men in the culture to settle on some form of “I’m ok”–I’m this type, not that, I do some things ok to very well, and some other things not at all, and that’s ok.

  39. Sorry I’m coming in late, had to clean the kitchen (although in our society I get extra credit for doing so:)

    “Tiberius, you do understand that this was seven different women giving input and not one opinion piece?”

    Understood. I guess that’s the difficulty of responding to a piece like this (not that the format isn’t valid, just that it’s difficult to respond to).

    “it’s definitely not just a “Mormon” problem, although it’s a Mormon blog”

    Also understood. I guess it’s hard to distinguish when the Mormon culture critique is the natural outgrowth of the subject of the blog itself, or when it’s assumed that it’s being compared to some superior background population. I guess it’s a matter of emphasis; if it’s sixes either way, the pros and cons should get about equal air time, but if somebody never has anything good to say about the Church (not in any way referring to this blog or bloggers, referring to other personalities),then it’s hard not to see them as implicitly making a statement about the background, comparison population as well. I sincerely appreciate your positive comments about my religious/gender demographic.

    Point 3, agreed, although that can extend to other situations, and can be reversed with hindsight suggesting less occupational time and more family time might have been better (e.g. Death of a Salesman), although those particular messages are coming from sources other than the Church, so may not be relevant here.

    re financial stability. Yes, it goes without saying that no women should be blackmailed into staying in a relationship because she doesn’t have the financial means to get out. We should all be able to weld/prescribe medicines/read sonograms/ something similarly marketable, and perhaps just as important have access to the life-expanding benefits of knowledge about the world. However, given current trends in gender differentials in college completion women might end up bringing home the bacon AND doing the housework, and we’ll watch our football.

    Yes, staying home is a privileged lifestyle option.

    I try to be introspective when accused of mansplaining, because sometimes I’m guilty, but yes, like all terms, occasionally it’s misused.

  40. A friend of mine (is actually a friend, not me) asserts that the flaw in Michael’s original article is that there are so few LDS women with PhDs that it’s nearly impossible for BYU to hire women professors in any significant number. His anecdotal experience is that BYU is now quite anxious to hire female professors, although he acknowledges that that enthusiasm is of recent vintage. Thoughts?

  41. one of the few says:

    David Day, I’m not sure what your comment exactly has to do with this particular post (this issue you bring up has been discussed at some lengths over at Mike’s original post), but I just want to throw out there that yes, LDS women with PhDs exist, and we are growing in number. BYU-Provo is much more research-focused than -Idaho or -Hawaii, so that makes the hiring process considerably more competitive. I do not understand why the percentage is lowest in Idaho, where the focus of the school is on teaching over scholarship, meaning that more candidates can qualify for the positions without having published several articles already, giving the departments a wider range of qualified candidates to choose from. If the school valued having more women’s voices in the institution, this could happen easily.

  42. Love the dialogue and comments. I shrivel up inside every time I hear a sister say at the pulpit, “but then I quit my job to stay home with my children full time.” Why can’t we support each other and our fellow brethren by not bringing up work or home/work status?

  43. Few comments are worse than the type that assume they are correcting something from the post when the post they are responding to already accounted for the things the commenter thinks they’re correcting.

  44. Thank you for this conversation. As a childless divorced academic, I think I’ve always been on the defensive about my circumstances. It hadn’t really occurred to me that when somebody insists that you can work outside the home and be a good mother, it might suggest to non-working mothers that the value added by them staying home is not very significant.

    I don’t really know how to reconcile this, since I do think that staying at home with family can be a valid and respectable life choice. I think that the root of the conflict may be some false assumptions about what a woman owes her family, and the idea that everything a wife/mother does (whether she works or stays home) must be judged at some level by how it affects the other family members. I’m not saying that family happiness shouldn’t be a consideration, but it’s not fair to make maximizing family happiness the ultimate goal without considering the happiness of individual members (or while ignoring the happiness of the mother entirely). And the baseline shouldn’t be, “Would this family be better off with a completely selfless full-time servant? If so, Mom isn’t doing her job.”

    I love the points that kids are not our whole lives, that families aren’t products, and that everything has tradeoffs and you should simply try to make decisions that you believe you can live with, within the range of what’s workable and possible. I also like the idea of “taking space.” I was raised to believe that my mere existence served to inconvenience others, and that I had to make myself small and constantly render extraordinary acts of service to compensate. I’ve reached a place in my life where I take up space and don’t feel bad about it. People don’t necessarily like it, but I’m happier, and that’s important.

  45. Em – I think part of the message of the gospel and plan of salvation is that “everything a wife/mother (or husband/father) does must be judged at some level by how it affects the other family members.” Regardless of gender, I think it is not just a consideration, but probably our top consideration.

    Now I do think “consideration” is broad and should include quality of life, emotional health, financial stability & contribution, and so on.

  46. Jane – I feel your pain, but also feel conflicted. On one hand, one of the great things about the gospel (at least for me!) is that it permeates every aspect of my life in a positive way – so when I hear testimonies from others about their life experiences and how threads of the gospel are woven in it resonates for me.

    But there are also those times when someone either bears testimony of a blessing I have not had or might not particularly want, I feel the rub.

    I try to remind myself that I can’t have it both ways ;-)

  47. The idea that being a full-time parent is a “privileged choice” and those at home are “non-working” is perhaps the biggest barrier to successful workplace re-entry. I never thought of myself as “non-working” during those years. I took my stewardship seriously. While there were seasons when all I could do was lie on the couch barfing, I had spent the prior months filling the freezer with easy healthy meals so that my family could be fed during my pregnancy.

    I was able to re-enter the workforce successfully twice when my youngest at the time entered kindgergarten (bi-modal childbirth pattern required meant that happened twice). Not to say that one person’s experience means it is possible for everyone, but neither does it mean that the previously cited experience of others means it is going to be very hard for everyone.

    One thing that helped me was my attitude that I had always worked hard at every position, including being a mom at home. And that job prepared me in many ways for my current position. I thought of myself as working, just in another field for a season.

    I personally know three people at my university who didn’t go to school until later and accepted their first assistant professorship in their early 50s. All are now full professors. Somehow they were able to do it.

  48. The thing about all roads leading to The Family is that it’s complicated. For women, in particular, I think. I remember wondering, as a new convert, if my primary job and focus on life was supposed to having children and bringing them up in righteousness, what then was I actually doing but raising my daughters to turn around and do exactly what I was doing, without regard to individual strength or talent or what she might contribute to the world? Who affects change then? Who makes things better? Who invents vaccines and improves the suffering of humans? Who develops new ways of doing things that might help the human race? Only boys? It doesn’t seem right that less than half God’s creations are all that are needed, while the other half are essentially brood mares.

    Of COURSE families matter- healthy, happy families are important and make healthier, happier societies. But I think there are many ways to have a healthy, happy family. Women in a perpetual cycle of raising up children to only have half of them contribute anything besides their genetics doesn’t strike me as particularly sanctified or holy.

  49. Terrific discussion. Thank you for sharing.

    Quitting academics was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it’s definitely left emotional scars. I often wonder if I didn’t take myself as seriously as I needed to post-child (or even pre-child) because of my LDS upbringing or because of the general societal beliefs about women’s roles. I will note that before I had kids I had a lot of cheerleaders of both genders helping me along my path. Once I had a kid there were basically a couple of women who were supportive and everyone else, especially men, started looking past me.

    Tracy M–I’ve long thought that if I were to design a religion based on evolution/natural selection it would preach a lot of what the LDS church says about the family. Large families where the ideal is for each child to create another large family, perpetuating a very specific rearing model just feels so much like we’re going to win the survival of the fittest contest by out-procreating everyone else. It doesn’t seem like a model much interested in bettering the world, only on creating as many new little humans as possible.

  50. @ naismith: Quick addendum: “Privilege” should not be conflated with non-working. Stay-at-home parents work quite intensely, especially if young children are at home. However, staying at home implies that there is enough income coming in that that’s even an option; that’s what’s making it privileged. Presumably without an the additional income a parent would have to shoulder both all the work and domestic responsibilities at the same time. Saying that the SAHM option is a privileged one is not implying that the option is socially validated, glamorous, or luxurious in any way.

    Referring to stay-at-home parents as non-working irks me too. Non-employed is more precise and doesn’t imply that they’re just sitting around in luxury as kept women. And yes, society should take do more to facilitate reentry into the employed workforce.

  51. I agree wholeheartedly, Tiberius.

  52. As a single mother, I can say that having the choice to stay at home or not is incredibly privileged, even among the already privileged of those who don’t have to worry whether or not the next meal is coming.

    I would give almost anything to be able to either actually take care of my children, or at least be married to someone who could. I work in a place full of dads with stay-at-home wives. They are also very privileged. Far more than they realize. They take it for granted.

  53. This post and the previous post have reminded of a recent article in the Atlantic that talked about how volunteering in civic organizations has declined as more and more women have entered the workforce and how that has affected communities. The link is here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/what-women-lost/500537/

    I’ve been hearing a lot about the overall decline in community involvement and while I’m sure there are many factors (including technology), it makes sense to me that this is at least one of them. I wonder if this has a trickle effect on even those women who do not work outside of the home. Perhaps I’m not at the right stage of life yet but I haven’t heard much about SAHM that volunteer outside of the church (all my kids are pre-k still). Although when I think of some of the older women I know who stayed home, they were/are often involved with various community organizations.

    Anyway, not sure what point I’m trying to make but I thought it was interesting.

  54. Krisi, yes. YES. I spent five years as a single mother, and I had to run from church more than once in tears. Everything was on my shoulders- every bill, every tear, every homework, every rent payment, every carpool, every winter coat, every single damn thing. And I would hear women at church talk about being a “single parent” when their husbands were traveling. I wanted to scream, “He’s coming back! You have a date you can circle on the calendar! You can call him for support at night! He’s helping pay the bills! YOU ARE NOT A SINGLE PARENT!” I’m still not over it, though I did remarry two years ago. I try now to be even more of an advocate and always speak up.

  55. One of the things that has struck me several times as I’ve read the recent posts on women is that underlying so much of these conversation is a defensiveness about the life choices we’ve made. If I am a SAHM then I feel attacked by those who work. If I work I feel attacked by SAHMs and the church hierarchy.

    It feels bigger than women as well. I know a lot of Mormons who are feeling deeply defensive about being Mormons (against those that leave, by other communities), etc. And those that leave feel deeply defensive about their choice to leave when faced with TBM Mormons.

    No matter what we do, we must defend ourselves and our choices against somebody who did it differently. Which all feels very dysfunctional. And I say this as someone who feels deeply criticized for not matching up with the Mormon Female ideal in a number of different ways. I recognize that the place to start is myself. But at the same time, I don’t find this so present so overtly outside of the church which makes me wonder if it is system problem as well.

  56. I was a single mother for some years as well. I find that marriage is a different kind of challenge. When I was single, I could make all the decisions, and needed only worry about my own career. Being married, the constant negotiation can be wearying. Of course this varies from person to person. But it is not to be dismissed.

    And my financial struggles when single are certainly part of the reason that I never felt I could sit around in my pajamas when I was a married mother at home.

    When the children were little and my husband left town, I actually found it harder than when I was a single mother. As a single, I had a circle of friends and support network in place that would have been inappropriate as a married woman. And part of the support was the sympathy of ward members when I was a single mom, who took my son to church on Sunday if I had to work, etc.

    Once when my husband was out of the country and unreachable, I had to fix the furnace. I was proud of being able to get it done. When my husband came back, he was somewhat angry and kept saying he would have done this or that differently. It took me a while to realize that he was mad at himself for not being there, not so much at me for stepping up and doing what needed.

    That’s the kind of thing that exhausts me. There are other decisions that we have had to make, and reaching consensus has been a long struggle. Polite conversation throughout, but just a lot of talking and debating and double-checking what the other person really means. We complement each other wonderfully, but we don’t think enough alike to make life easy. A friend of a friend who observed our effective but forthright interactions asked us if we had ever read Sharon Shinn’s fantasy book “Archangel.” Ouch.

  57. Perhaps life isn’t a box of chocolates after all, but is instead a box of comparisons.

  58. Kevin,

    As you will see shortly most the US education system is overly dependent on unpaid work from stay-at-home mother volunteers. Why pay for something if you can get it for free?

    At some level, of course, the decline in community organizations isn’t good on the other hand we should question a society dependent on unpaid work of ultimately economically vulnerable individuals. I have seen so many capable, hardworking Mormon women dedicate their entire life to community building, civic institutions etc. and ultimately end up in severe financial risk. If they had spend the same effort, knowledge and capability where they got paid and were recognized for their economic contributions their families and themselves would be far better off. The Price of Motherhood does a good job of laying out this basic argument. You might want to check it out.

    Its time we stop free riding on women’s free labor or at least getting serious about putting our money where our mouth is and provide serious financial stability for those who help run our communities. We can pedestal these women all we want and for those with economic security maybe that is enough. However, economic security is too high price to pay in my book and far to many of our women or families are paying that price.

  59. kevin: interesting question about the role of charitable work in the lives of stay at home parents. I really don’t know any statistics, just anecdotes. When my husband was a stay-at-home lead parent, he also was treasurer for a Cambodian charity we were involved with. I think being on the boards of charities is something that has often been the purview of upper class individuals – I know folks on the boards of museums or other philanthropic work, but they are all pretty well to do. Families who are middle class do tend to be involved in the schools (either PTA / room parent / carpool / volunteerism) or their churches or both, but may be less likely to oversee the planning of a $1000 a plate fundraiser for donors. But that’s similar volunteer work in the community as well. Perhaps you are just thinking of the former type and not the latter?

  60. pconnornc: I agree that the church makes family paramount, but I do think there’s something a little insidious about the idea that a person (especially a wife/mother) should always prioritize others’ happiness over her own. Wives and mothers are part of families too, and their happiness matters. I worry that a lot of times when we teach that a happy family is the ultimate goal, women in particular take that to mean that responsibility for any unhappiness within the family falls on their shoulders and that their own happiness should come almost entirely through the satisfaction of having a happy family, even at great personal costs. Often, that simply doesn’t work. Maybe it would be better if we taught that God wants us to be individually happy, but that an essential part of becoming truly happy is cultivating good relationships, especially family relationships.

  61. I’ll come back to this post and comments again and again, wonderful and so needed. Thank you!

    “You have to own every choice you make, and if you can’t own it, then it wasn’t your choice. I don’t do things that aren’t my choice.” Struggling with a big decision right now. Feeling so much cultural church pressure it’s like the choice has already been made. That makes no sense, it’s my choice, I need to own it, otherwise I might resent it. Thank you Ms. Red!!

    And Yellow FTW with this one: “Sometimes kids need their mom, and sometimes they need someone else.” So much permission in this statement! I’ll quote that to myself the next time I’m feeling bad that someone other than me does a better job at helping them through a problem.

    Red, can you start a hotline for us working moms to call when we’re doubting everything? You make so much sense.

    Sorry to gush, but I feel like that this post is an example of the women’s sacred space I’ve been yearning for.

  62. “I remember wondering, as a new convert, if my primary job and focus on life was supposed to having children and bringing them up in righteousness, what then was I actually doing but raising my daughters to turn around and do exactly what I was doing, without regard to individual strength or talent or what she might contribute to the world?”

    Yes! I have thought this so many times. It’s like we’re raising sons to build the world and raising daughters to raise sons who build the world. And then I went to the place of thinking that well, I guess the growth and fulfillment comes in the raising of the kids? But then what about me when they’re out of the house? Or when they’re in the house and I feel a bit empty inside?

    I feel for many LDS women with grown children. Out of necessity many go to work in low paying jobs that are physically demanding on their aging bodies. Some struggle to fill their days in fulfilling ways. I have an aunt who jumps from one MLM to the next. When I encourage my daughters to seek careers, I’m not only thinking of their 20s, 30s, and 40s, but their well being in their 50s and 60s as well.

  63. This was so powerful. I see posts all the time that tempt me to send to my family with the note “this explains how I feel,” and 99.9% of the time, I refrain, because my church status is enough of a thorn, but I sent this one. Because this is how I feel. It made me realize, again, how culturally Mormon I am, and how I will stop being that, and move on, as soon as I figure out how to shed all my other selves. You know, when I figure out how to stop being female and American and generation x.

  64. I have two young children and work full time outside the home in Silicon Valley. I’ve had the following experiences in the past three days:
    1. RS lesson about honesty, and when the teacher got to the portion about being honest in our business dealings she said, “Now, this section doesn’t apply to any of us, but we could apply it to our role as wives and mothers…”
    2. I work in a small law office. The four attorneys are all LDS, and three of the four support staff (paralegals and office managers) are also LDS. While discussing the upcoming calendar in our weekly office meeting, one (male, married, mid-thirties) attorney referred to an upcoming business lunch that another (male, and happily married with children) attorney has with a (female) business associate as “lunch with his girlfriend.” They have all known and worked with this female business associate for YEARS.

    OUR CULTURE MUST CHANGE.

  65. one of the few, I suspect that the primary reason that the percentage of women on the faculty at BYU-Idaho is so low despite its more family-friendly teaching orientation is that very few women with advanced degrees would want to live in eastern Idaho, which makes Utah County look like Berkeley or Santa Monica. I’ve seen BYUI referred to as “BYU-Kandahar” more than once.

    There’s a smart young woman in my ward whose parents want her to go to BYUI because it’s cheap. (Her SATs probably aren’t good enough for Provo.) Ultimately it’s her choice, but I really would rather that she go to a Cal State just so she doesn’t end up on her second kid by age 21, married to a man who’s still dragging her around the country every summer to sell third-rate alarm systems or pest control. The chance of that is a lot higher in Rexburg than it would be if she were living at home and going to Cal State Fullerton or Cal Poly Pomona.

  66. The Other Clark says:

    APM wins for the most bigoted comment on BCC.

  67. Obviously The Other Clark hasn’t been in a ward full of summer sales bros recently.

  68. Ah, the Summer Sales Bros. They come in thick every summer here in Austin. Every batch would have a few good ones that would actually contribute to the YSA wards, but the majority would “enjoy the nightlife” and complain how there weren’t enough hot girls in the ward. As a member of the EQ presidency every summer was a new challenge to try to protect some of the more naive or vulnerable members of the ward from their subtle but ultimately predatory nature.

  69. Far too many of the ones who descended on my ward this summer had wives who looked to be about 15. My wife’s in the RS Presidency and has talked with many of the wives; “quiet desperation” is definitely an apt description of that lifestyle.

  70. Of course it’s been mentioned that there is underrepresentation of females among faculty in general, not just BYU. This is particularly the case as you go up the “ladder.” For example, among associate and full professors. I know many people look at this as a form of discrimination, or society discouraging women. And I’m not discounting that. However, I would also point out that there are rational choices people make which pull them away from academia. Because in many respects academia really sucks. And a lot of people who want to live a normal, balanced life find themselves leaving academia. My first exposure to a real research lab was working with people who worked 70 hours a week. The boss only took about 3 days off a year to be with his family (he didn’t take weekends off). I realized it would be difficult to “compete” against people who were putting in so many hours. One of the first small seminars I had with one of the most distinguished researchers in my field was his admonition to not do research–because it is harder, you’ll get paid less, you’re future will be more insecure, and most people will never care about your research. His point was that the pursuit of research was in many ways irrational, and you should only do it if you feel compelled to do so against all common sense and odds. Almost all my colleagues that started with me in academia/research have quit or flunked out. I know many of you are pursuing or have pursued in PhDs in areas were the ONLY jobs are in academia. And you really would never be competing for grants. And an academic position is about the best thing out there. I’ve seen the struggle of folks just not making it, despite great ability and track records. And they feel terrible, and I feel terrible for them.

    Having said all that, my wife is working towards now pursuing an advanced degree. After years of being a SAHM. And I want all options to be available to my daughter. But I tell you, when she tells me that she wants to be a scientist, I inwardly cringe. Not because she is female and wants that, but because anyone who wants that faces a huge, huge hill to climb.

    My point is that a lot of people make rational choices which take them away from being professors. And maybe women are making those rational, reasonable choices in greater numbers.

    I grew up in a college town. And I can recall two women in my ward who were academics. One of them had a strong impact on me. But here I am in middle age, and I have never met a female Mormon doctor or dentist. Or architect. Or engineer. I know they exist. But they just haven’t existed in my corner of the world. A lot of Mormon women work, but there aren’t that many working in those professions. And every time an educated Mormon woman bails on the church, maybe it makes it just that little bit less likely that some of those girls in the church will pursue a higher education. Or have an impact on young boys like me.

  71. @Mike W.

    Agree about the nature of academia generally, but mileage may vary according to institution and program. My advisor worked long hours, but many were from home, and no one could find him in the summer because he was chilling out at his lake house in Vermont. Not a bad lifestyle all things considered.

    Also, I’m geologist – science doesn’t have to be done in a lab or a university! I spend most of my days outside, working on my own, trying new things. I love it. My grad program sent people to south america, antarctica, and the arctic for field work, a good compensation for long hours spent in the lab. So cheer up for your daughter – science is a hill to climb, but there are a lot of rewards, and academia is far from the only option.

  72. Academia is very unequal both within and across disciplines. For everybody that achieves the posh life of the mind with a lake house where you can sit and think deep thoughts all day you have legions of academic sweatshop laborers (9th year PhD students, adjuncts, postdocs) barely eeking out a living after spending a decade in expensive postsecondary education. Of course this varies from discipline to discipline (geology in particular has a private sector demand so you’re probably better able to set your own terms), but it’s particularly pointed for the humanities, where I’m not the first one to point out that it’s becoming akin to a ponzi scheme.

    It’s often enough to break people with no dependents or church obligations, so add that to all the additional demands on the women described above… So yes, pursue higher education, but keep up your private-sector skills, less you be a PhD working at Starbucks when you’re 35.

  73. I just want to point out that in this thread, Tiberius is a great example of steering the conversation in the way he tried with his first bullet points. The conversation was about women, and their lived experiences. Tiberius came in with his agenda, numbered for our convenience. It certainly wasn’t offensive, but it wasn’t actually what we were talking about. Thorough his series of comments and the responses he’s generated, the conversation is now all about his list.

    This is a decent example of what it looks like when men dominate the narrative when women try and talk about their thoughts and ideas. It’s not malicious, and there might even be some decent points- but it’s also an example of being oblivious to what he’s doing, and how it’s effecting the original conversation. Again, not malicious, and probably not even intentional- but it chills the ability for the women to naturally express themselves, and the men don’t even realize they are doing it.

  74. I guess I’m fuzzy on where it was “supposed” to go. Nature of these threads is that they wander (which is fine) and, like you mentioned, there was a variety of different points made; the thread could have gone a billion different ways, so I laid down a few. Maybe this should have just been a purely supportive thread, but I always felt like the point of comments was to flesh out the issues even more, which I thought we did.

  75. Tiberius, you’re not wrong. Blog posts are amorphous and comments can and do go different directions. You just provided an unintentional example of something women experience frequently. Again, I honestly believe your intentions were fine. Just maybe re-read and see if you can see what I’m talking about. We all have things to to learn from each other.

    (Also, Tiberius is my dog’s name, [English Mastiff] and he’s snoring heartily and keeping my feet warm.)

  76. fine! I’ll just take my ball (and Y chromosome) and leave!!!!

    ​Seriously though, I always thought Tiberius was the quintessential cool, masculine name (in a good, Russell Crowe/Hugh Jackman sort of way).

    I guess I still don’t get it, but I’m open to just being too dense to. ​

  77. “Russell Crow/Hugh Jackman” but not…. James T. Kirk?

  78. Here’s an important thing we touched on in the main post: Women struggle to feel okay taking up space, raising our voice, making ourselves heard. It’s not a Mormon problem, (though it manifests in particularly toxic ways within Mormonism) but a societal one. Girls don’t speak up in class as often in many cases. When they do, they can easily be drown out by boys who are used to taking up space, who consider space “their birthright” as Ms. Plum said- not because they are bad, but because they have been socialized and grown up being shown, over and over, that that’s their birthright. It’s not malicious. But it’s very, very real.

    And what we experienced here in the comments was an example of that. I received messages from women who withdrew, one because she felt they had to respond to a numbered comment, even though she neither cared nor wanted to. So she stopped talking. We do this because we, too, have been socialized. We know when we speak up (and online it’s particularly fraught- getting called vile names, being threatened with rape are all realities for women online, yes, it’s true) that we are often not only not going to be heard, but are going to be attacked. So we have adapted. And part of that adaptation is our retreat. This is a up-front attempt to address that and ask our men, who we know are generally good, to look at themselves, and ask “Is it I?” Even if you didn’t mean any harm, sometimes, you are causing it anyway.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean your silence, but it does mean being introspective, and attempting to engage, if you do, with the actual things the women are saying, and being aware if you are raising your voice above theirs, or promoting your agenda and not doing such a hot job actually listening.

  79. Nah, I know he was just a cute face, but by the time I was watching Star Trek he was just old and frumpy, unlike other actors like Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore that look more distinguished and wise as they age :)

  80. “Women struggle to feel okay taking up space, raising our voice, making ourselves heard.”

    Tracy, Ashmae, Women of BCC: at a minimum this space should be yours to take. Why does this happen here, and how can we help? I’ll do whatever is right to try and help with this problem, though I know I can be part of the blockage at times.

  81. The culture issues that Tracy brings up are real. Women often feel pressure to be self-effacing or apologetic or simply to stay quiet when people talk over them. One of the reasons we decided to do this post in this format was to model for both women and men what a conversation like this can look like. For the men, we gave you a chance to eavesdrop on serious women talking about serious issues, while being free of interruptions by men who want to correct our ideas or set our agenda. We don’t need to have our ideas corrected or our agendas set. We’re perfectly capable of doing that. And in cases like this, where we are talking about women who may be feeling pressured to make life choices that they don’t feel comfortable with, women should be setting the agenda. We know these issues. This is our lived reality. Our ideas and the direction of our discussion is valid.

    This isn’t an accusation of some kind of maliciousness. It’s an invitation to look at dialogue in a different way, and think about overcoming the implicit and often unrecognized habit of undervaluing women’s voices.

  82. And Tiberious’ utter lack of reconsidering or introspection when called out is why we women don’t usually bother calling this out.

    Sigh.

  83. Steve, since you asked….

    That comment right out of the gate, first comment? Not cool. We were talking about a serious subject, and you trolled. It was meant to be funny, and I get it, and the rest of the comment was supportive, but you set the tone with that opener, my friend.

  84. That’s totally fair. I’m sorry. There is a time for stuff like my comment, but not in a serious conversation and certainly not out of the gate.

  85. Hey all, yep, I’m one of the ones who actually wrote something up a couple of times and then erased it and didn’t post. Tiberius, I don’t think the thing we are asking you to do here is take your Y chromosome and leave. We are asking you to stay, and to listen, and then listen some more, and then, please, take part. Honestly, the comments I had written were in response to your numbered comments, but turns out, responding to those weren’t actually the thing I cared about or wanted to say, but I suddenly felt like I had some sort of accountability to prove myself to the men who had taken over the conversation. Honestly, the thing I think you’d hear if you listened long enough is that (and I guess I can only speak for myself) we are not at war with a gender, we are not in the business of being angry, more often than not, we are at war internally with ourselves, largely due to a lifetime of external circumstances that implied we are not to take up much space, not to speak out, not to feel unsettled or dissatisfied with our circumstances. Privileged or not, SAHM or not, academia or not, is truly not the issue. We are talking about raw and honest thoughts, emotions and ideas, and I guarantee you that a bunch of bullet points taking that apart is not hearing, nor really helping.

  86. And to the men on this thread, you’re simply the proxy (how perfectly Mormon) here for what we as women have experienced hundreds (thousands) of times. You’re not worse, you just happened to be one of the ones who did it here, today, where we are trying to talk about it.

  87. It’s also irritating that we have had two posts in the past week that were about how women’s narratives/experiences/perspectives can be unintentionally squashed or overlooked (Kristine’s Heavenly Mother post and this one), and then the comment threads performed exactly that. And in both instances, when that behavior was called out, uncannily almost verbatim the same reaction: the guy in question retreats to “oh I didn’t know all you wanted was ‘affirmation.'” Like we are asking you to play easy on us because we have such delicate feelings and can’t handle a real game. That suggestion in itself is rude and sexist! We aren’t asking you to play easy on us, we are asking you to LISTEN to our voices and what we are saying and address the agenda we are set. In other words, if you show up to our indoor soccer game in the church gym and start grabbing the ball with your hands and shooting baskets with it, the problem isn’t that you’re too good at basketball for us, the problem is you didn’t listen to what we were doing and actually engage it. Play your best A game in soccer, fine, we got that. But don’t act like the court belongs to you and our game doesn’t matter (not coincidentally something that almost always happens with actual church gym spaces that the YM act like they own and snatch from YW trying to do their thing…).

  88. (Random aside, when did bullet points become a sign of hegemonic masculinity?)

    Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the function of a post is. In many blogposts somebody presents a point, other people agree, disagree, or qualify, and the edges become sharper as people are forced to define and frame things more clearly. They’re fundamentally, not quite adversarial, but critique-based.

    However, there are some cases where that is not the point of the post and the conventional approach is not apropos at all, in which case you will have to be patient for those of us who are too dense to realize when this is the case. To continue the gym analogy, we have to know what the game is in the first place, or else yes, we might just start kicking balls and messing up your basketball game. Let us know it’s a basketball game. We”ll play accordingly.

    That is NOT to in any way imply that the more analytical type blogposts are inherently male and the more feeling-based ones are female. I’m sure that Asmae could have responded and we could have had a good back-and-forth but, as she pointed out, that was missing the point of the post so maybe it would have been wasted effort on her part.

  89. I’m pretty sure this is what Tiberius heard, Cynthia:
    Cynthia: Girl stuff, blah, blah, blah, anger, hey wait–something about balls!
    Tiberius: My thoughts, my thoughts, my thoughts. And balls! I love talking about balls! Let me explain to you why my thoughts.

  90. Tiberius, thanks for being willing to work through this here, I think it is a really important step to getting at what these issues really are–the working through, however difficult, how these actual conversations are playing out and what it feels like to both women and men.

    For me personally, I think the bullet points, while they were fine material and fair questions, has to do with so much of me working through my own difficulties in taking up space. I suddenly felt academically insufficient, and also pressured to take the conversation in the direction of responding to them in a way that you would think was smart enough and correct enough, and then I would have to deal with the aftermath of not knowing everything needed, not having all the correct arguments, repeating things that should be common knowledge. Part of this honestly comes from being a SAHM for the past five years where I rarely have ample time to sit quietly and research then think things through to their end. So yeah, frankly, it still feels to me like I won’t be good enough and then I’ll just feel dumb when I’m not, so easier not to say anything.

    I think the thing that is important to understand (in my case) is that, while I am 32, while I have advanced degrees, am smart and can hold my own in most scenarios, I honestly did not even consider the idea that I could have much impact in the world, let alone a career of import until about two years ago. That is extremely problematic and while it is partly my own fault, it is most definitely partly not. I’m working through finding a career path that I feel strongly about right now, but also difficult when my husband is in the final year of a PhD, we live in the most expensive city in the country on a student income and so can’t afford childcare, and have very small children at home, so yeah, it’s complicated.

    I would say, if you want to hear where many of us are coming from, the rhetoric we’ve been wading through for our whole lives, I would read this completely, replacing all the female pronouns for male ones: https://www.lds.org/manual/eternal-marriage-student-manual/mothers-employment-outside-the-home?lang=eng In fact, please do this.

    I don’t know that there is a right answer for how a blog post should be responded to, and I don’t know that there is a right way to write a blog post, but I do know that it is worth working toward better understanding one another, even if that means dismantling what we thought we knew (on both ends). So honestly, please stay, please continue to listen. It may take some time and effort to understand what the “game” is that is being played, and sometimes that means just taking some time out on the sidelines to figure it out.

  91. The Other Clark says:

    Meh. Posts like this need a “Men and Dogs Not Allowed” sign at the top. No matter what Tiberius (or any other guy) says on this thread, it’s going to be seen as unwelcome, or “mansplaining,” or whatever.

    Some posts are great for having a debate. Others just want sympathy. Nothing wrong with that.

  92. Thank you Tracy and others, for governing the comments so well. I’ve followed this thread because it speaks about things so rarely discussed even though we (women) have lived them daily. We know from real life experience that most guys are not interested in hearing about it.

    I have been percolating a response, but lost that mojo when it went to the long rather clumsy numbered list agenda. Helpful organization fella, but not germane to our lived-experience discussion. My mind glazes over when that stuff shows up.

    My experience is as a somewhat privileged SAHM whose children are grown, and only I know where the cracks are in that privilege, because I mostly keep it to myself. I know many women who have suffered more acutely than I have. And I’ve also had really effective self-effacement training (RS is a big part of that) so I find it easy to mute myself.

    I think the most important idea I’ve gleaned from this thread is that the consequences of not training our girls in life-planning and achievement are tragically wasteful, no matter how it affects the single working woman, SAHM forced into a belated career by divorce or other circumstances, or the “successful” SAHM struggling to create a belated career late in life in a near vacuum. The problem will manifest differently in individuals but the source of the problem is the same: our society, and the church is acutely complicit here, pushes us into doing this to girls from infancy. And we need to change it.

    Go read Rebecca’s post for an in-depth treatise on how we get to this wasteful place. Also a fun read.

  93. The other clark,
    that is a real ass thing to say. I repeat this: I would say, if you want to hear where many of us are coming from, the rhetoric we’ve been wading through for our whole lives, I would read this completely, replacing all the female pronouns for male ones: https://www.lds.org/manual/eternal-marriage-student-manual/mothers-employment-outside-the-home?lang=eng In fact, please do this.

  94. I personally would like to get a dog’s perspective on this.

  95. “So yeah, frankly, it still feels to me like I won’t be good enough and then I’ll just feel dumb when I’m not, so easier not to say anything.”

    I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Thanks for taking the time to explain what exactly was disconcerting about my approach.

    “I’m working through finding a career path that I feel strongly about right now, but also difficult when my husband is in the final year of a PhD, we live in the most expensive city in the country on a student income and so can’t afford childcare, and have very small children at home, so yeah, it’s complicated.”

    That is hard. Last year we were in a similar situation. 3 small children, PhD program (that I almost got kicked out of), below the poverty line in a high crime area, foodstamps, stuck in the house all day in below-zero weather. Hopefully you’re almost out.

    “So honestly, please stay, please continue to listen.”

    Will do.

  96. I hope this isn’t taking the thread further off course, but this conversation in the comments reminds me of the opening of Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ, where his wife says she gives up, she can’t do all the things church is asking her to do, and his response is “That’s when I realized my wife didn’t understand the atonement.” I’ve always wondered if we got his wife’s version of the story, would she say, “And that’s when I realized my husband hadn’t heard a word I’d said.”

    It is actually possible to understand the Atonement and still feel overwhelmed by all the church is asking you to do. It is actually possible to understand that a) men’s lives aren’t automatically a picnic, b) lots of full-time caregivers are perfectly satisfied with their lives, c) the grass isn’t necessarily greener, etc., and still feel conflicted about your role in life.

  97. Goodbye, Other Clark.

  98. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the function of a post is.”

    Again, almost verbatim from the last post where this went down. This complaint reminds me a lot of how a car will hit a motorcyclist and then whine that they just didn’t see the motorcyclist. If you’re used to not looking for motorcycles, you are unconscious of how much you don’t see them when they’re right there. And if you are unconsciously biased towards not really hearing women when they talk, then yeah, you won’t really get what they said! Funny how that works.

  99. I am intrigued by the way that nearly every post with women’s voices degenerates into a conversation about the conversation.

  100. Every. Damn. Time.

  101. I was sorry to see this one dissolve into the predominant meta too. The OP was one of the best treatments of this complex problem that I’ve ever read. It and some of the comments helped me unravel it a whole lot. I hope that the lurkers were edified too.

  102. I wish I could be sitting around a real kitchen table with you! I feel like I’m going through a Mormoness (thanks Villate and Tracy M) midlife crisis. I earned my bachelor’s degree and didn’t pursue grad school so my new husband could get his degrees. I stayed home with our children working only a few days per month if that. Now that my children are all in school I’m feeling quite lost. I didn’t anticipate that at all. I don’t know what I should be doing. I’ve put everyone else first for so long I’m not sure how to move forward. Deep clean the house? I guess it needs it. Volunteer more? Yes, maybe. Get a job? I’ve found that my 4 year degree is pretty useless in getting me a well paying one. Go back to school? I’ve been gone for 20 years! Is it even possible? Is it worth it? Ugh!! The good Mormon girl plan isn’t turning out as I thought it would. I could use a good Mormoness mentor right now. Thank you for this great discussion. I feels good to know that I’m not alone because that how I have been feeling.

  103. Dear Mormon women of BCC. I have a confession to make. I don’t any know Mormon women. Not really, anyway. I get to know men at church. I don’t get to know women. The people I have worked with closely in callings are mostly all men. The only time in church which involves real conversation is the 3rd hour (priesthood) and that’s all men. I know many women in a casual “hi, Sister Malone” kind of way, but nothing more than that. And I think my experience is typical. So I’m kind of amused when some of the women here are upset about the men talking. Mormon men and women, in ordinary circumstances, never share a serious conversation! At least not in my experience.

  104. What I wouldn’t give to observe a conversation between my husband and six other guys, getting all vulnerable and honest about an issue that permeates some of the most important adult decisions they’ve made. I sure hope I’d appreciate it for the gift it was.

  105. Mike W, your comment frustrates me. I’m too tired of explaining why to explain why. Good night.

  106. Mike, maybe that’s something you and the other men need to work on. Most of us don’t live in segregated lives. We interact with and talk with men and women on a daily basis. Maybe getting to know at least one or two women would open some doors for you to see us more as people.

  107. I love this post so much. I’ve come back to it several times today. Thoughts:

    As a pregnant (with my first!) working mormon lady, I think about this all. the. time. I think about it when my SAHM friend tells me that preserved baby food is toxic and she only makes her own (when will I ever have time for that???) I think about it when my husband, who grew up with a single working mom, tells me he doesn’t really get the stay-at-home thing (what if that is something I need to choose? What if we have kids with special needs?). I think about it when I have breakfast with my friend, a mormon chemical engineer, breadwinner for her family, pregnant with her fourth (how the heck did she do that?) I think about my mom, who stayed at home for most of my childhood (which was great!) until she became a nurse, and suddenly she was an incredible mom in a different way (more herself? more powerful? more assertive?).

    To be honest it is the (mostly) imaginary judgments from the women in my life that shadows my choices. Why do I feel attacked by choices made by other people that are different from my own? And why do I catch myself judging other women for being successful with a different set of choices?

    Finally, Mike W. Isn’t it weird when the relief society president speaks in Elder’s quorum? Or tags along to Scout Camp to supervise? Or shows up in EQ meetings? Or when the General Relief Society president closes Priesthood session? Don’t you wish men were invited to more meetings where decisions are made? Wouldn’t you love to have a elder’s quorum lesson that discussed a man’s life instead of a woman’s? Oh wait. None of those things ever happens. That is part of what is being discussed here. You may never hear the voices of women in your manly man space, but it is impossible to escape the voices of men for women in church. Except for one hour of the women’s session (not even the full 90 minutes!), we are either speaking about men or being spoken to by men. So take a chance and listen to women’s voices for a change. And if you pay attention, you may hear them in church too.

  108. I interact with lots of women. At work. They aren’t Mormon. I work in a profession with very few Mormon women. As in I’ve never met a single Mormon woman who does the kind of work I do. These women are my colleagues, equals, superiors, mentors, mentees, etc. That same kind of relationship doesn’t exist for me in the church. Maybe I’m the outlier. Perhaps if I were single, in a singles ward, it would be different. The moment that this kind of hit me was after I gave a sacrament meeting talk. One of my wife’s female friends in the ward commented, “I didn’t know your husband was so funny” (cracking jokes is the domain of the spiritually shallow, but it’s all I got). And I realized that this woman really had no understanding of me, and me no understanding of her. And I tried to think of a single woman I knew in the ward well, and I couldn’t think of anyone. And that persists to today. There are little moments, a sentence shared here and there. But it just doesn’t compare to the countless hours I have spent with the men in my wards. Helping with more moves than I can count, for example. My point is that the Mormon experience is a segregated experience, by gender. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here. I personally feel that someone who denies this has their head in the sand. The structure of the church is fundamentally segregated by gender. And there are the rules of society as well, separate from Mormonism, it’s hard as a married man to get really get to know women in any way that is intimate. I do thinks one-on-one with male friends. I don’t have any female friends where it is just me and her, one-on-one…..having said that, I think the closest things I have experienced to working side by side with women in the church are 1) the relief society president in countless ward council and PEC meetings, and 2) coordinating with the YW president(s) when I was the YM president.

  109. One other comment/observation. I attended a stake priesthood leadership meeting once. And for some reason that escapes me now, many women were invited to attend this meeting. It was about temple work. So near the end of the meeting, they had an open question/answer/comment period, and a funny thing happened: woman after woman raised their hand and spoke. I got the impression that it was like a pipe under pressure that finally had a release valve. The input from the women (who were a small minority in the meeting) dwarfed the input from the men. When you think about it–it’s kind of crazy. That you try to train the leaders of the stake, but you generally exclude all women. Even though the majority of the members are female. Even though, in many cases, the greatest need for help/service exists among the women (a very local observation that most of the PEC & welfare discussion in my ward has concerned struggling older single women). I’m not ignoring the women. I’m not setting things up to exclude women. I’ve told women to not defer to me, they don’t need to defer to me, they don’t need to apologize before they say something. I think things will change eventually and we’ll see women with leadership roles, and more situations where men and women are working side by side. But that’s not what is happening right now.

  110. Mike W: As women we are certainly aware that church has been structured to be a gendered experience. Some weeks I’m surprised we don’t have separate water fountains. So, given that you have no Mormon women sharing their thoughts and feelings with you, was the post helpful to understand where (some) Mormon women are coming from?

    I also feel compelled to mention that there have been men at church that I have felt I’ve developed a friendship with. For that to happen, men have to make the effort to talk to women as people and individuals worth getting to know, not just as their calling, or as a couple, or as a potential seductress who must be kept at bay. The church doesn’t see women as individuals (if it sees men that way). So it’s up to each of us to form individual friendships.

  111. Mike, I appreciate that you see this dynamic. It’s true that church does not leave room for men to get to know women. Unfortunately, as you stated here, that generally serves to marginalize and silence women, since men are in authority and making all the decisions. There has to be a better way. Thank you for reading and thinking about the concerns that we presented in this post.

  112. I’ve thought for a long time that the gender separate at church is a negative thing. I love R.S. and having some separation, but reading Mike W’s comments, I get what he is saying (as a woman). It’s hard for men or women to befriend someone of the opposite sex in the current dynamic even should they want to. There are very few interactions for most members of opposite sex that allow conversation to go beyond the most shallow of topics (unlike a work situation where at least individuals can be physically in each others presence for large quantities of time).

    If a friendship between a man and a woman should develop it will be seen as a huge negative and threatening. Mormons are super paranoid about this. I recently sat in a R.S. meeting where women spoke about the extreme lengths they and their spouses go to avoid even being seen along with someone of the opposite sex (I couldn’t help myself. I raised my hand to point out that some of their husband’s tactics at work were discriminatory and sexist).

    My own example of this is that as a married woman, I became friends with a much younger single man who attended a class I taught. We’d chat after class and he’d come sit by me when we were both at events so we could continue our discussions (sometimes including my spouse, sometimes not). All of that suddenly all that stopped and I heard through the grapevine that he’d been called into the Bishop’s Office for a ‘discussion.’ I was just sick about the whole thing. I was (almost) old enough to be his mother. Never once did the conversation move in any way that was uncomfortable. We were just friends. Which just can’t be allowed.

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