Hi, my name is Jenny, and I am a recovering gatekeeper. A little while ago I had to leave for work at 4:00 pm and my husband wasn’t going to be home until 4:30 pm. I didn’t have time to make dinner for my family to heat up while I was gone and I’m afraid to say that I felt guilty about that. Later that evening I came home to a nice dinner still warm in the oven for me. I started being a gatekeeper the day I got married and it has gotten progressively worse with each baby that I have had. I began to realize just how big my problem was when my fourth child was born three years ago. I was facing burn out of an astronomical proportion, guilt mounting on top of guilt, and I barely had time to sit and breathe for a moment during the day. Luckily for me I had a feminist intervention and now I only fall back into gatekeeping every once in awhile, like the other day when I started to ask my husband if I could go to book group and then caught myself midsentence and said, “I have book group on Friday.”
Do you have a gatekeeping problem? You might not even know you have one. I didn’t know for a long time, but now it’s a lot easier for me to recognize the symptoms. For instance, one of the biggest arguments I hear against women holding the priesthood is this: “I don’t want the priesthood. I have way too much to do as it is. I don’t need one more responsibility!” Some might wholeheartedly agree with this statement, some might say that this woman is being selfish, but what I see is a mindset that I fully understand and am trying to recover from myself. You see, I made this argument myself only five years ago.
I grew up in a culture that creates amazing gatekeepers in its women. We are taught at such a young age, that the home is our main responsibility. Not only that, but the home is the most important institution on the earth. The home is the place where Mormon women gain most of their power and recognition within the culture. This gives us the propensity to grab every ounce of responsibility we can get our hands on and not relinquish any of it. My great responsibility in the home was instilled so deeply in me that I literally felt I was single-handedly holding up a house, and if I let go even just a little bit to grab something else my house would collapse. So of course the priesthood did not appeal to me. Neither did a job or anything else that wasn’t part of my home. I was being crushed under a heavy load to the point where I couldn’t handle anything else. If I reached out to grab the priesthood, my house would fall. But at the same time I felt a sense of pride in my ability to hold my house up by myself without help. I felt powerful, so I thought women who wanted more of the men’s responsibility must feel powerless. They must not understand how powerful a woman holding a house can be. I understood…or so I thought.
But I didn’t know then how much more powerful I could be by sharing the load. I didn’t realize that if women reach to help hold up the church, then men can reach to help hold up the house. If Mormon women could just understand that their house is not going to fall if they let go of a little bit of their responsibility, I think the priesthood and other life callings outside the home would feel more appealing to them. I love being a stay at home mom, but I don’t love every minute of it. I’m good at it, but I’m good at other things too. Lately I have worked harder to try those other things that I am good at. In doing so, I am finding that my husband is really good at doing things in the home. These were things that used to be my responsibility, things that, due to the sheer volume of them, prohibited me from doing other things I loved. I also discovered that my kids are much better than I thought they were, at being independent and helping out. In fact, it’s my husband who brings that out of them.
Now that I am giving up gatekeeping, we have twelve hands to hold up our house. Some of those hands are little and not so helpful yet, but nonetheless, our house feels more balanced and stable. Now if I want to leave, I know I can leave my house in good hands. I can spend time teaching yoga and writing, travelling, going to trainings and retreats, running races, working to bring money into our home(something that I never fully grasped the value of until I realized how much confidence it gives me). If I was allowed to, I could sit on the stand at church while my husband handles the kids on his own. It wasn’t something I ever considered before, but now I see the potential. Lately I have noticed many women who would make amazing bishops or leaders in other priesthood capacities, and would greatly benefit their wards with their service. The only thing holding them back is the fear that we have as Mormons to let men reach that hand out to help in the home while the woman reaches a hand into the men’s world of serving in the church. I’ve been there. I understand the fear, but now I see only the benefits.
It takes coordination and effort to keep that balance. It may even require hiring extra hands for support or enlisting friends, grandparents, neighbors. Some women don’t have an equal partner for support. I think it’s important to build a community of support to help all women to feel that freedom of knowing that they can relinquish their responsibilities at times to find themselves and to express the other beautiful things that they have to offer the world. The first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem. Then we can help each other. If you want a community of support to help you overcome your gatekeeping addiction, feel free to comment below with an acknowledgment that you have a problem.