Guest Post: One view from the mountainside
A few weeks ago, our nation elected Donald Trump to the presidency. A few weeks before that, my younger sister got engaged. My reaction to both of these events has been complete, utter heartbreak.
It may not seem like these things have anything to do with each other. But they do.
Setting aside politics for a second, I want to share how indescribable it felt on election day. I’m not a registered Democrat. But I wish I could adequately vocalize what it meant to scroll through that infamous Pantsuit Nation Facebook feed, photo after photo flashing past of women from all walks of life, all over this country. Elderly women who went to the polls with their walkers and vintage pantsuits. Mothers of all shapes and sizes who stroller-ed their toddler daughters along to the voting booths so they could push that historical button together. Latinas and African Americans and women sporting red, white, and blue hijabs. Immigrants and daughters of immigrants and mothers of biracial children. Daughters who accompanied mothers who accompanied grandmothers. Women dressed entirely in white, in serene homage to the bold and brave suffragettes to whom we owe so much. Women who brought their mother’s pearls, their grandmother’s brooch, their unborn children in their bellies. Women who, for just one day, saw beyond the mountaintop to a new, beautiful, infinite place.
And then, of course, we woke up to a world unchanged.
My sister is nineteen, dark-eyed and lovely and charming. She adores Mexican food and photography and running races. In the past, she has shared with me her dreams: a mission. A college experience, living independently, decorating her own apartment. A career. Studying abroad, traveling the world. Her patriarchal blessing talks of her immeasurable potential and, very specifically, the mission she will serve among a special people who need her dearly. How she will bless their lives, and how they will bless hers. For the past few years, she has looked forward to the fulfillment of that promise, finally excitedly submitting her mission papers. Then earlier this autumn, the call: Buenos Aires.
Argentina! Eighteen months of living in a dynamic foreign country, of an immersive Spanish-language experience – most nineteen-year-olds can only dream of that opportunity. But she, just a couple of weeks before her report date, decided to turn it down.
Why? You know why. She met a boy, and he happened to think she should get married instead.
My darling, creative, tenacious sister, lover of Instagram and careful curator of her Facebook and Twitter feeds, does not yet know or realize that she is falling victim to Mormon culture’s most pervasive, dangerous trap. Make yourself attractive, we say. Prepare yourself for marriage, we say. Write checklists of things you want in a future husband, we say, at the age of twelve. Be cheerful and cute and uplifting, we say. Don’t worry too much about school, we say, because you’ll only need it if something happens to your husband. Take almost any Mormon teenage girl you know and ask: who are her idols? I know who my sister’s idols are. I know, because I see her constantly liking their photos or retweeting their funny comments. She sees them with their photogenic husbands, immaculate houses, and adorable babies, and she thinks: “That’s what I want.” Little does she know that Instagram is the most sinister of gossamer veils: pull it back, and you’ll discover the real, messy, often sad stories behind those seemingly perfect lives. And her culture, which should be encouraging her to look beyond this materialistic, narcissistic world to discover all the infinite possibilities her Heavenly Parents have in store for her — her culture does nothing. On the contrary: it created this boy who told my sister that she should marry him instead.
I’m not drawing a parallel between Donald Trump and this boy. I am, however, pointing out a dangerous problem that is simultaneously propelling Trump to the White House and keeping my sister from Argentina: the way we devalue our women.
I am one of those fighting to get to the top of the mountain. It hasn’t always been that way; not too long ago I, too, was nineteen in heavily white, Mormon suburbia, feeling incredibly guilty that I wanted to go to college. But now, years later, I’m so close to the summit that sometimes I can almost taste the fresh, clean air. I can just barely see what it will look like on the other side, but I know it is going to be beautiful, life-giving, and infinitely better than what we know now. I am working daily to creating a better world for my future daughters (and sons), who deserve so much more than America is currently willing to give them.
But today, I am heartbroken, because rarely has this problem been so starkly clear to me. We cheat our girls. From birth, we deprive them of support, of rhetoric, of expectations that could lead to a richness and fullness and respect that only men are currently able to enjoy. We teach a crooked and dangerous version of modesty that perpetuates rape culture and entirely ignores rampant materialism. We teach our girls that men shall preside. We teach our girls that no success can compensate for failure in the home, and that they are primarily responsible for that home. We teach our girls that their wedding day is the finish line, and we ignore everything else that comes after. We teach our girls to covenant to their husbands instead of to God. We teach our girls that a professional career will never be considered as much of an accomplishment as a photogenic husband, Instagram-worthy wedding, collection of well-dressed babies, and a sufficient number of artfully-edited photos of the temple in their feed (complete with inspirational prophet quote). As a result, my sister will go straight from our father’s house to her husband’s house, and she will never know anything different.
WE CHEAT OUR GIRLS. And in doing so, we cheat our boys. Because this cheating leads simultaneously to a leniency for words that blatantly condone sexual assault and a deeply-felt suspicion of a woman who has had many years of an unparalleled professional career, but only one child. It leads to a twenty-one year old boy believing he has the right to tell a nineteen-year-old girl what to do, and a nineteen-year-old girl believing that he is correct.
Look, it doesn’t matter which party you belong to or who you voted for. And plenty of people get married at nineteen, to the right person, for the right reasons. My issue is not with Republicans and it’s not with people who get married young.
It’s with us. Every one of us who has ever accepted that it’s okay to have lower expectations, and higher standards, for our daughters than for our sons. Every one of us who has ever uttered the phrase “boys will be boys.” Every one of us who has allowed that kind of thinking to persist in our communities and in our homes. It brought Trump to the White House. It’s stolen from my sister what may have been the most critical growth and spiritual experience of her life. We are selling our girls short and it is harming all of us. The system, it turns out, really is rigged.
Anonymous loves faraway places, good literature, and feeling close to the clouds.