Cultural Expectations as Adversity

This is a guest post by Camilla AM. Camilla was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil and moved to the United States for her undergraduate studies at BYU. After graduating, she taught English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese in Brazil before returning to the United States to pursue a career as a graphic designer, initially in the private sector and later in the higher education field, most recently at The University of Texas at Brownsville. After completing a Masters in Organizational Leadership, she transitioned to a faculty position at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville), where she teaches upper-division courses in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Cross-cultural Psychology, Research Methods, and Gender Studies.

Years ago, following a job promotion, I received an email from a newly inherited male subordinate that I will never forget. In his message, he explicitly stated that he had no intentions of following orders from a woman who had fewer years of professional experience than he did, let alone someone who was so much younger than he was. He closed his email by saying that if I had any thoughts otherwise, that I was very wrong. I was shocked!

Fast forward several years, thinking about this episode, I felt compelled to share this and other experiences that have been heavily shaped by social and cultural biases present in the workplace, which resulted in the production of an edited volume book, Silencing Gender, Age, Ethnicity and Cultural Biases in Leadership.

As I started to reflect on different episodes that I have come across relating to my career and family decisions, I realized that many of my life choices have been strongly influenced by my Brazilian/Latin American ethnicity and my religious cultural expectations — both patriarchal cultures — instilled in me. As a woman, there was always a cultural assumption that it was my responsibility to focus on my husband’s professional achievements before my own, even drawing from The Family — A Proclamation to the World’s statement that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children,” and from the Young Women Theme’s promise that “We believe as we come to accept and act upon [the Young Women] values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family.”

As a result, although I had had professional growth opportunities presented to me, much of my early career development was choppy because my husband and I were focused on short-term “survival” jobs while he acquired his doctoral degree, accepting those that were flexible and allowed us to somewhat manage the schedule of a young family at the same time. And, even though I was proud of and excited for my husband’s accomplishments, I was also dealing with internal conflict and resentment toward him because I was sacrificing my own work aspirations for his career benefit, even though he had always been very supportive of my decision to pursue a professional path.

On the other hand, I found comfort in the occasional words of encouragement from Church leaders for women, to seek personal growth in conjunction with building a family. One example is President Monson’s General Relief Society Meeting address in 1997 (only two years following the release of The Family — A Proclamation to the World), where he stated, “Each [woman], single or married, regardless of age, has the opportunity to learn and to grow. Expand your knowledge, both intellectual and spiritual, to the full stature of your divine potential.” I have always had a strong desire to continuously develop myself as a person and a woman, to seek a professional career, and to be an example to others around me, so finding official support from the Church was refreshing, following so many previous messages that mostly focused on my role as a mother. When my husband concluded his studies, our young family was ready to settle down and work toward long-term goals.

So, in a spirit of prayer and guidance, I had the strong impression that the right direction for my family was for me to pursue a full-time career while raising our children. However, resistance never came from my Church leadership, nor from the answers to my prayers; it came from fellow Church members, both male and female. Unfortunately, often times, I felt that other members were more judgmental about my choices than they were respectful of my personal revelations. Some of the women were stay-at-home moms by choice, and one in particular did not hesitate to tell me that I had no business working outside the home, and that my obligation to society was for me to stay home.

Thirteen years later, I am very glad I did not listen to her. I have had a wonderful professional journey in higher education, in which I have been able to learn from so many people around me, while leaving my own mark in the workplace. So, when the idea to share my story and the stories of other family/career women came about, I invited seven fellow Latinas in positions of leadership to contribute with their own accounts and to tell their narratives replete of gender, age, ethnicity and cultural biases they also had to face in their professional and personal lives. Some of the contributors were born in Latin American, others in the United States, but all currently live in the U.S. Because culture can be manifested in many forms, five of the eight contributors have LDS backgrounds at varied levels of activity, while others are Catholic.

These women discuss how their professional goals may conflict with their culture’s expectations for them, and they describe the complexity of life choices for working Latinas, including their struggles in challenging such social assumptions. This book is not a compilation of victimizing stories; on the contrary, it serves as a statement of success despite adversities.

* * *

What stories do you have encountering cultural biases in professional settings? How do you approach apparent conflicts between professional goals and external cultural expectations that seem to undermine or challenge such goals?

You can pre-order Silencing Gender, Age, Ethnicity and Cultural Biases in Leadership today for $19.99 at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780761870692/Silencing-Gender-Age-Ethnicity-and-Cultural-Biases-in-Leadership or by contacting Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group by phone (1-800-462-6420), and letting the representative know that you are placing an order toward the pre-publication order (ISBN 978-0-7618-7068-5).

Comments

  1. “[R]esistance never came from my Church leadership, nor from the answers to my prayers; it came from fellow Church members, both male and female.”

    This is a powerful truth, that bears repeating across a thousand different contexts. The collective weight of decades of teaching has a momemtum all of its own in the membership. Even when messages change, even when messages drop, even when “exceptions” or “alternatives” are emphasized, even when God grants personal revelation, even when leaders “approve”, decades of opposite messaging result in SO. MUCH. community judgment mingled with scripture.

  2. Stephen Evans says:

    Camilla, this is outstanding stuff, and a powerful testimony to the importance of following personal revelation. Thanks for sharing this. Planning on reading your volume with interest.

  3. latebloomer says:

    My second year OB resident daughter, who has 2 toddlers and a husband who is the full-time stay at home caretaker, was recently asked by her former Stake YW’s president if she had lost her testimony of eternal families. This former leader is about 70 yo. Does this mindset and judgement come mostly from baby boomer era women, because so many more of us chose full-time child rearing and homemaking thinking it was a command straight from God?

  4. Not a Cougar says:

    latebloomer, in my experience (which consists mainly of hearing comments made in Gospel Doctrine) yes, much of the boundary maintenance of female roles in the Church is done by older women (my mom is one them).

  5. No one at church cares about my job since I’m a dude, but my decision to marry outside the temple raised an eyebrow or two. Although temple sealings and work aren’t really the same thing at all, I can offer a hearty testimony of the importance of following personal revelation in search of happiness. I suspect some of the grassroots pushback against perceived norms-violators stems from resentment born of hewing to what one assumed was the party line, only to observe that it changes over time and that those who arrive at the eleventh hour are held to a “lesser” standard. In my own family sensed this with regard to large families and stay-at-home-mothering, for instance.

  6. It isn’t age. It really isn’t. Young mothers shame other young mothers for not breastfeeding. There is a website where Gen-X and Millennial Mormon women sneer at Mormon women who don’t “stand” where they “stand.” I’m a baby boomer and I don’t condemn — if anything, I’m almost jealous of — younger women with education and professional standing as well as family. So, obnoxious as it is to say, #NotAllBabyBoomers and #NotOnlyBabyBoomers.

    It’s not a big deal to challenge the assumption that it’s only old women who police boundaries. It’s a reminder to watch out for the tendency to do it yourself, whatever your age.

    I’ve had a long-running blog series “The View from [year]” that posts without comment talks, lessons, articles from Mormon sources throughout the 20th century that speak to assumptions about women’s roles. These items are actually what we’ve been taught from time to time, not what we assume has been taught. They come from men and women, old and young, and convey messages we today would applaud — or deplore. The series would be a good resource — and I freely offer it to anyone who wants to use it — as the historical backdrop to what Camilla writes about here.

  7. @Ardis: I have no idea how I didn’t know about your series before now, but I now I want to read ALL OF IT!

  8. Camilla, thank you. As a mother to girls of color, hearing this perspective matters deeply to me.

    Amen to what Ardis says about boundary policing not being the provenance of a specific demographic. Some of the LDS people most supportive of my decision to pursue my career (we have two very small children) are the boomers and silents; of course, I’ve also had great support among my fellow millennials and the X-ers just a bit ahead of me. And I’ve gotten pushback from people across demographics, but not much. It helps that I enjoy just about every privilege an LDS woman can have in our community. I also definitely scaled my career back when our children arrived, but that’s a decision I hope we’d honor for any parent, though somehow I think that had I been a man, stepping away from a well-paying mid-level executive position in academia to go back to the classroom so I could have more time with my kids wouldn’t have been universally applauded in my LDS circles. And that’s a shame. I still make a good living (not as good, but more than enough), and I get to be home a LOT more.

  9. I’m with Carolyn here- I want to read that, Ardis!

    And to Camilla, I applaud you listening to and trusting your own revelation, and having the courage to follow it. I am really looking forward to reading your forthcoming book.

  10. latebloomer, I think there’s a lot of truth in what you’ve identified to be the problem even though I also know what Ardis says is true as well — maybe the synthesis of the two is that those baby boomer women who take serious umbrage at women like Camilla who sought personal revelation and learned it was perfectly okay to have a career and a family at the same time are possibly jealous of Camilla and women like her. They possibly view how Camilla sought this personal revelation on this topic to have been taking an unwarranted liberty in the face of what appeared to them to be straightforward teaching that having a career and a family was an illegitimate choice, so no personal revelation should be sought or would be necessary on the question.

  11. One thought that struck me, Camilla, as I read your post is that we are so desperate for “adversity” that we create it for ourselves through the Church culture we’ve created. We cling to it.

  12. Yeah, no adversity, no growth!

  13. Carolyn, Tracy, plug “view from” into the search box at Keepa, and they’ll all pull up under the format of “Title of Individual Article:The View from [Year]” — about 60 talks/articles/lessons so far.

  14. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    One thing that my mother’s life has taught me very well is that experiencing adversity in no way guarantees personal growth, and in fact can do quite the opposite.

    Sometimes the chrysalis opens, and out walks the caterpillar.

  15. Thank you, Ardis!

  16. Bro. Jones says:

    Thanks, Ardis. I’ll have to go check those out.

  17. What I’ve experienced as a working mom is a lot of demonization of daycare. I’ve heard “I just couldn’t imagine someone else raising my baby” and “I don’t believe in daycare” from both millennial and baby boomer friends and colleagues.

  18. Rexicorn says:

    I attribute most “mommy wars” stuff to insecurity, because parents (especially moms, it seems like) perpetually feel like they’re failing. Church teachings add a whole extra layer of pressure to it, though.

    I can say that I personally experience a lot of self-doubt because of the teachings I got as a kid about gender. They may have added loopholes and tried to shift in a more inclusive direction, but I definitely grew up hearing that all women were obligated to be stay-at-home mothers, regardless of aptitude or interest, unless circumstances absolutely prevented it. It has really messed with my head and held me back at times, and I don’t even have kids. I just got the message that being a career-minded woman meant you were the wrong kind of woman, and even though intellectually I knew that was wrong it still messed with my confidence.

    Anyway, just wanted to echo what Carolyn said about ripple effects. You can’t really instill a whole worldview in a person and then ask them to just drop it one day. It lingers.

  19. “I just got the message that being a career-minded woman meant you were the wrong kind of woman, and even though intellectually I knew that was wrong it still messed with my confidence.” Sadly, this is really what was taught, no matter how much some members now might try to deny it or soften the blow. One only need see and read the talks themselves. Go to Ardis’s site to see a lot of them.

  20. My husband and I went through a very rough patch in our marriage 15 or so years ago. During that time I realized that if I was suddenly single, I had no way of supporting myself and my four children. I decided to go back to school and finish up my bachelors degree. I cannot tell you how many women at church (older than me and my peers) who “gently” encouraged me to wait until my children were grown to go back to school. Or, who questioned my testimony/faithfulness in not staying home with my kids. None of these people knew of my marriage issues – and I wasn’t about to tell them. I didn’t feel I needed to justify my choices. But even if I had decided to go back to school because I needed my brain to work in ways it hadn’t in years, or because we needed a second income, or because I felt called to follow a certain career path – I HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE THAT CHOICE! Without judgement and censure. ( I should also point out that my husband totally supported me, I was the PTA president and my kids’ school, and taught Gospel Doctrine so it wasn’t like I was shirking my duties!)

    My husband and I stayed together but I am SO thankful for going back to school. (And my two oldest daughters decided it was better to finish up college and grad school BEFORE having kids. So there’s that.)

  21. camillam says:

    @Carolyn, thank you for your comments. Honestly, I can say that community judgement was one of the biggest culture shocks for me when I moved to the U.S. over 20 years ago. Although I was born and raised in the Church, my experiences growing up abroad were completely different.

    I hope you get to pre-order the book. Even though not all contributors are LDS, the several angles of cultural expectations explored in the book become similar in the sense that other members of our social groups always seem to “know what’s best for us,” and that doesn’t necessarily match our personal thoughts and feelings.

  22. camillam says:

    @Stephen Evans, thank you! I’m glad you are interested in reading the book. Pre-ordering it will help get the project out. Please share it with others who you think might be interested, and let me know what your thoughts are when you get to read it.

  23. camillam says:

    @latebloomer, @Not a Cougar, @Ardis, thanks for your comments. The types of remarks latebloomer mentioned drive me CRAZY! And I completely agree with Ardis that it is not an age thing. Although early in my marriage I found resistance from my husband’s family when I chose to work, the person who told me I had not business pursing a career was about my age. Chapter 8 of the book includes a good account about this particular issue, and how peer-resistance is very strong. I hope you all get to pre-order the book and share it with others who might be interested in the topic. Thanks!

  24. camillam says:

    @peterllc, thanks for your comment. Chapter 8 of the book touches on dating/marrying outside the Church, and even how friendships were lost of this particular issue. I hope you get to pre-order the book. Let me know what you think about it.

  25. camillam says:

    @Tracy M Thanks for your nice words. The funny thing is that the answer to my prayers came while sitting through a Relief Society lesson. I have always had a strong testimony of personal revelation, and I am glad that I followed mine. I hope you enjoy the book. If you can, please pre-order it to help get the project out. Thanks!

  26. camillam says:

    @john f., for some reason, we humans like to complicate life, right? I find that sometimes in our culture, we overthink a lot of things that in reality should be very simple.

  27. camillam says:

    @Marian, YES! Luckily, my husband and I were able to trade off with our first child for his first few years, but when the time came with the second one, we had to put him in daycare when he was about 12 months old. My husband’s family was very vocally against daycares, and it was initially hard for me to deal with the “what is she doing?!” mentality. As time passed, they saw that my kids were perfectly fine and happy. I was also happier, and our family was more in harmony with me pursuing a career. Throughout the years, I always made a point to periodically “check” with my kids if they are ok with me working, or if they prefer for me to stay home. They always answer that they think it is just fine for me to work; in fact they often find it very strange that I even ask the question. I hope you get to pre-order the book and help get the project out. Chapters 1 and 7 both touch on trying the “stay-at-home” route and the blues that set in during that time from this forced cultural expectation.

  28. camillam says:

    @Rexicorn, my husband and I were both born and raised in the Church, but in two different countries. I always joke that while we were both born/raised LDS, we were born/raised in “different churches.” I think that in Brazil, while we got the message that it was preferable for women to stay home, this was not a black or white issue. Although my mother didn’t work, and thrived in her role of motherhood, several women in our ward/stake worked and it really didn’t seem to be as big of an issue. My husband, on the other side, is a feminist at heart as a way of rebelling against the cultural/gender oppression of the environment he was brought up in. I hope you get to pre-order the book; several chapters touch on this topic.

  29. Interesting how different congregations within our church treat this differently. I recall a high performing grad school ward where most (not all) of the students were men and most of us had children and the choice to stay home, at the cost of certain luxuries, was a matter of faith. Fast forward a few years to an economically diverse ward where staying at home was still viewed as a badge of honor and faith. Jump ahead a few more years to an economically homogenous group of relatively affluent ward members. Most women in the ward are involved in some sort of professional or volunteer work outside the home. And they don’t have to do it for money’s sake. In fact, I would say that their ability to work is almost a luxury in and of itself. But there is zero shame. Only interest. My wife, for instance, is an artist with studio space who spends significant time on her craft. And many of our ward members have her art in their home. As do many others in our community. And she is a remarkable mother. She does it all brilliantly.

    Simply interesting to me how, in different circumstances, a working mother can be viewed through much different lenses. Even in our own culture.

  30. camillam says:

    @Jill, congratulations on finishing your degree!

  31. Chapter 8 of the book touches on dating/marrying outside the Church, and even how friendships were lost of this particular issue.

    It may be difficult to pre-order as I live abroad, but I am interested in how others have navigated this path.

  32. camillam says:

    @Jill, I was just reminded of President Ballard’s recent (refreshing) Q&A in the Spring 2018 issue of the BYU Magazine:

    “Question: As a woman, I sometimes feel guilty for pursuing an educational degree. How do I balance pursuing my education and preparing for marriage?

    Church leaders have counseled young adults on this topic for some time. For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

    You must get all of the education that you possibly can. Life has become so complex and competitive.

    I echo President Hinckley’s advice: get as much education as possible and plan on being employed sometime in your life after college. At the same time, prepare for marriage and family. Some women will choose to work and raise a family. Others will need to work because that will be the only way to support themselves. Others may not need to be employed because their husband can support the family through his income. Some married women will become single through the early death of a spouse or because of divorce, so they will need the skills to support themselves and their children in such a situation.

    My basic counsel is to not delay marriage because of educational goals. You can accomplish both with hard work, sacrifice, and planning; in fact, with a companion’s support, you can be even more successful.”

    https://magazine.byu.edu/article/questions-and-answers/

  33. camillam says:

    @peterllc That’s a good point. I guess in your case you would have to wait and order the e-version in a few months. Thanks!

  34. @peterllc I wanted to let you know that there is now a way to pre-order the book online in case you who might be interested: https://bit.ly/2MqC61V

  35. This is good news! Thanks for the update!