Third Hour, Episode 1: Mormon Women’s Whiplash

Welcome to Third Hour, a new podcast from By Common Consent!

The idea for this podcast blossomed during a very lively discussion on a Facebook post from former BCC permablogger Natalie Brown. She wrote:

I struggle with how the LDS Church tends to promote to leadership roles or feature in campaigns women who hold / held prominent professional roles rather than followed the endless prescriptive, prophetic advice to stay home. (Remember, for example, the role play in the YW’s manual in which a talented female scientist practiced saying no to her career so that she could raise kids?) To be sure, I disliked that advice myself, but to this day I feel unable to pursue anything without dealing with layers of guilt and mixed-messaging from those closest to me. Indeed, I feel a great deal of paralysis when attempting to plan a life for myself. And so I find this institutional whiplash hard. Like, WHY saddle so many women like me with these lifelong feelings if it turns out that the Church didn’t really mean it? Or, conversely, why not promote and highlight more caregivers if the Church really feels that’s what has most value? Long, complicated topics . . .

Long, complicated topics indeed. The post ended up garnering nearly 100 comments, with many Mormon women sharing their own experiences of what Natalie referred to as “whiplash.” I was one of those commenters. So was BCC permablogger Carolyn Homer. And Emily Butler, a friend of Natalie’s from college.

From that thread emerged the idea to do a roundtable about Mormon women’s whiplash. We set a time to meet and record, and then… well, our conversation just kept spiraling out into more and more complex topics, mostly having to deal with being a woman connected to Mormonism in late capitalism. We decided this would need to be a series to cover all the ground we wanted to cover. And what better place to get conversational nourishment than skipping your third-hour meeting chattering away in the foyer? (Yes, we’re aware of the two-hour block… so spend your now-free third hour with us!)

Tune in to hear what we hope is the first of many episodes diving into “deep culture,” which we know is at least as important as “deep doctrine.” Topics discussed include the Church’s messaging around family, education, and career; the way prescribed life scripts and narratives shape Mormon life; generational differences in how “institutional whiplash” is experienced; and some changes we’d like to see moving forward. Happy listening!

BCC Third Hour, Episode 1: Mormon Women’s Whiplash
Music: “Seek-Seek” by the Masters of Harmony Detroit from the Free Music Archive, licensed under an Orphan Work License

UPDATE: Read the transcript of this podcast episode here.


Cover photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Fairchild says:

    For me the whiplash was going to the temple for the first time in the mid-90s. The YW program taught me that I had a Divine Nature and Individual Worth and emphasized my relationship with my Heavenly Father as a Daughter of God. No mention of a husband in between in 6 years. I immediately recognized it as a relic from the 1800s but why was it still there? It made no sense to me to keep something so archaic around. What a bait and switch for all females growing up in the church. Not cool.

  2. EagleLady says:

    Whiplash for women is not just an LDS problem, nor is it just an American or late capitalist problem. Whiplash is not just a women’s problem. It happens to any group in a backseat position to the drivers in power in a society. That includes minorities. The backseat groups’ maps are laid out for them by the drivers and their elite front seat group. The backseat groups give input on their maps and some small suggestions might make it into the map. That helps the backseat groups feel validated and supported. But the backseat groups are never included in drawing up the overall map and are told differing answers about it when they ask, but mostly “It’s complicated and we’ve got experts working on it.” The backseat groups’ maps change to fit the needs of the drivers’ controlling map. When your group’s map gets a major update or backdate, that’s whiplash. “Wait. What?!” Backseat people who go along well to get along, get certain rewards like certain token recognitions and treats, but their group as a whole is ignored. Troublemakers will be shoved out the door while the bus keeps on moving.

  3. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    I just finished listening to your inaugural podcast. Thank you for saying out loud what my friends and I often discuss in private! As a lifelong member of the church I have never fit in with the “standard script” that is given to girls from a very young age and told that this is “the only acceptable way to be and to live your life”. Looking back on my life now in later middle age I have no regrets that I could not and did not follow the script. My mother still doesn’t understand why I refused to follow in her footsteps, and I still have ward and other church members who look at me askance when I express opinions that aren’t “on script”. What they don’t realize is that all of my decisions have been prayerfully made and have not been acts of rebellion against the church. God made each of us wonderfully different, and what works for one individual may be extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of another person. We are not meant to be photocopies of some kind of fantasy church member. I look forward to to the next podcast!

  4. Richelle Wilson says:

    Thanks for the comments! @Fairchild, the temple experience was definitely something that came up as we were planning for this (and is mentioned briefly in the podcast).

    @EagleLady, yes, this is just one example of many forms of institutional and cultural whiplash.

    Glad to hear it resonated with you, @A Poor Wayfaring Stranger. Feel free to let us know if there are topics you’d like to hear about in the future!

  5. Michinita says:

    I hadn’t been able to articulate something y’all said so plainly. They scripted my path to full time caretaker, and then held up women who excelled in careers as shining examples (I first noticed that in the “I’m a Mormon” campaign), which is of course well deserved. I couldn’t figure out why it made me feel so gross. Whiplash it is.

    I feel a little better having heard you discuss it. Thank you for this gift of a podcast.

  6. Natalie says:

    Glad the podcast resonated! I also first noticed this “whiplash” with the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. There’s definitely sometimes a disconnect between which aspects of identity we project to outsiders and which we emphasize internally. I sometimes wonder if celebrating for PR purposes a few individuals notable for their differences / nonconformance paradoxically also makes it easier to reinforce norms by simultaneously turning them into eccentric outliers.

  7. “My wife has been on the couch in the depression for the last couple of days because the Church’s fancy PR agency is showing a woman who has pursued a career, whereas my wife gave up her education and her pursuit so that she could raise a family the way the prophet told her to. And now, you know, you’re telling her that she didn’t have to do that, she didn’t have to make that sacrifice.”

    That is an excerpt from a letter that was sent to the marketing team behind the “I’m a Mormon” campaign after it aired (found here: https://www.ldsliving.com/looking-back-on-the-im-a-mormon-campaign-and-the-message-it-communicated-to-women-in-the-church/s/93370).

    There was (and frankly, still is) a real sense of betrayal from LDS women who were told that they needed to give up their educations, careers, aspirations, and identities to raise a large family. I can’t imagine how those women felt up to their necks in diapers, dirty laundry, spit-up, grade school homework and time-consuming class projects, and countless children’s toys that take up a lot of space and make a lot of noise with mind-numbing children’s programming blaring in the background, a sink full of dirty dishes that need to be done, and a house that needs to be cleaned being lectured by general authorities about how they need to be better and aren’t enough… only for those same general authorities to put a career woman at the face of their PR campaign, only calling career women to the women’s general auxiliary boards and presidencies all while highlighting their career achievements (She has a doctorate! She’s an attorney! She’s an animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios! She works for NASA!), and loudly braying, “SHE’S LDS!!!” to the media whenever an LDS woman has accomplished something noteworthy.

    It absolutely smacks of the church trying to have it both ways and frankly, the backlash the “I’m a Mormon” campaign received for that was well deserved. Mormon whiplash, indeed.

    I’m not wife or mother, but I have friends who are, and they struggle with this everyday. I know the general authorities have taken to lamenting a “demographic winter” that has befallen the church as of late: people getting married later or not at all, family size decreasing (most LDS families I know only have 2 children, some have 3, but 4+ is seen as unusual now), and women choosing to work outside the home and have careers. I can’t help but wonder if this “demographic winter” the general authorities are moaning about is a result of this Mormon whiplash and the backlash that has ensued from it. I look forward to hearing what other people have to say.

  8. I loved the “I’m a Mormon” campaign in part because it did portray LDS women with educational and professional accomplishments and it felt validating to me (I am a professional woman with advanced degrees who is also a mother). I had spent my adult life feeling somewhat marginalized and excluded in church settings because I was not following the script. I had been treated with a little bit of suspicion and as less faithful even thought I have been an active temple recommend holder my entire life. But I can understand how women who gave up what they truly wanted (and really, needed) could feel betrayed and angry. I am so grateful that I was able to feel spiritual confirmation that the path I chose was right for me. Now I think that in reality, the counsel given to women re career development is misguided and continues to cause harm.

  9. Latam girl says:

    LOVED LOVED LOVED this discussion. It resonated completely with me. I’m looking forward to more discussions about this.

    (One thought, though–you might want to consider a different name for the podcast. I tried to subscribe to yours on my podcast app but only found this one: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-third-hour-podcast/id1448199375)

  10. Richelle Wilson says:

    Thanks so much to everyone for weighing in! I’m so glad our conversation is affirming to some of you, even though the topic is indeed difficult and sensitive for many of us.

    @Latam girl, thanks for catching that! We knew about the other podcast but hoped that having this connected to BCC would help avoid confusion. (Our first name was “The Foyer,” which turns out to be yet another Mormon podcast!) Apple doesn’t list podcasts until they have three episodes, but for now you can find us here (https://anchor.fm/bcc-third-hour) or listen and subscribe on Spotify. We might indeed have to reconsider the name if we expand beyond our original plans of staying here on the blog, and we welcome suggestions!

  11. Latam girl says:

    @Richelle

    Makes sense! I was able to listen to it but only on the web version. At any rate, it was amazing and honestly I feel like it wrapped up so many of my issues in a nice little package. Several friends and I have discussed these themes in a discussion group over the past year and this one hit home the most. THANK YOU!

    @E–I agree with you. It’s about personal revelation and it’s important to have that confirmation as well.

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