Guest Post: One view from the mountainside

By Anonymous

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.

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19 Responses

  1. acw says:

    well-written thoughts. I’m witnessing my 18 year old niece go through a similar life-changing decision. Her parents say they had other things in mind for her to do before marriage, but she was never expected to go to college or have a career or anything, so why wait? That mission call for her is still almost a year away… I’m sad for your sister, and for our nation and world. Yet also hopeful, because things are so much better now , even with all the issues out there–when I was a teen, we never even discussed these things! “Baby it’s cold outside” came on the radio last night, and I had a conversation about consent with my 14 year old son. I see some progress even if it’s slow. Hopefully we can raise the next generation to be better than the current one!

  2. This has been a hard month. And for you, in more ways than one. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Caroline says:

    “We are selling our girls short and it is harming all of us.” Yes. I worry a lot about the constrained vision of womanhood that church culture so often presents to young women. I’m desperately hoping that the books I read with my daughter, the conversations she has with me, and the example of women who have reached high and far academically and professionally will enable her to see her own potential as limitless. How I hope those things will counteract other messages she might receive at church.

    Thanks for this great post.

  4. Michelle says:

    Yet, by the time a young girl reaches a certain age, she is stigmatized, marginalized and never fully accepted into adulthood (or Relief Society) because she is nothing without a man. Feminism is grand…until that biological clock starts ticking. Feminism is grand…if you can land that high paying job with nobody to share the bills. Feminism is grand…until you find yourself struggling to lift something heavy up the stairs ALL BY YOURSELF because, (darn it!) real women don’t need men.

    • Lily says:

      The reality is many of us won’t find a man, so, yeah, you better be ready to support yourself financially and lift that heavy item up the stairs.

    • Carrie says:

      Feminism is grand because you share the duty of child rearing with your partner. Feminism is grand because you work together with your partner as you each reach your highest potential. Neither one of you is solely responsible for the well being of the family. Feminism is grand because you see men as more than the ones who do the heavy lifting. Grab a few feminists friends and you can do that lifting with no problem. 🙂 Feminism helps EVERYONE. Men included.

  5. Sylvia Cabus says:

    also our church culture: that your beautiful, raw essay is anonymous. :/

  6. Haylie Swenson says:

    This is heart-breaking and beautiful and real <3

  7. Andi says:

    This was her decision. For all we know, your opinions and example that you have expressed to her had something to do with that decision, as well. And you are implying that a woman’s life is closed down and stunted when she marries, which is not true.

    I had two daughters married at 19, which I was not happy about because of the maturity factor. However, one has had a huge adventure with her husband traveling and getting used to being an adult, and having a great time. The other has had a huge adventure with her husband becoming a mom and developing things she loves like home farming and clean eating and child development.

    How dare you judge other women’s choices and what is fulfilling for them!

    • Caroline says:

      Admin Note:

      Andi said, “How dare you judge other women’s choices and what is fulfilling for them!”

      Andi, that is not the way we interact with each other in this forum. You could have easily (and kindly) made your point by acknowledging that you had some worries about your own daughters who married at 19, but it turns out that they have had very positive experiences. That would have been a generous, productive, and non-shaming way to talk to another human being. Please keep that model in mind when you comment in the future.

      • Andi says:

        Good point, and I’ll keep that in mind.

        Here’s a point for you. In all the times I’ve read this website I’ve noticed many writers assigning bad motives for people they have heard in church without clarifying or even being careful to quote accurately, and I’ve seen tons of judgement of strangers lives. Here is one example of this from this post –“From birth, we deprive them [girls] of support, of rhetoric, of expectations that could lead to a richness and fullness and respect that only men are currently able to enjoy.” Wow, as if my self esteem didn’t take enough of a hit when people ask me what I do and then can’t think of anything else to talk to me about when I say I’m a SAHM. I will try to phrase this kindly, but if you can’t see how judgemental and hurtful this statement is of people’s lives and choices, I am at a loss. Maybe imagine this was said about a man who chose to focus on his children, maybe being a stay at home dad. Can you understand that POV?

      • Caroline says:

        Andi,
        Many of us who write on this blog have chosen to be SAHMs. We don’t attack that choice. However many of us do see aspects of our LDS culture (and wider culture in general) that limit girls’ choices and visions for what their lives might be. We hope for a world where women’s opportunities and options proliferate and where their diverse voices are heard and respected. That’s a lens almost all of us share at this blog. You may not share that perspective about gendered limitations in and outside the church. If so, please feel free to speak from personal experience and share your own.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Andi, as the author, I’d like to jump in here a little bit. I think you are absolutely right that there is a lot of judgment in church culture about women in general – women who choose to stay at home feel judged by others, as if they are somehow unfulfilled or inferior, and women who choose to work professionally also feel judged, as though they are less valuable or are somehow sinning/selfish. It feels like a lose-lose situation either way, and of course one answer is that we stop. the. judgment., and let each woman choose the path that she will find most fulfilling.

    However, that’s not what my piece was about. As I noted above, I have absolutely nothing against anyone choosing to get married at nineteen. Many of my high school friends did so, and they are brilliant, dynamic women who I admire so much for the energy and dedication and creativity they put into their marriages and their child-raising. (It’s wonderful that your daughters, too, have been so fulfilled.)

    But my piece was specifically about one person – my sister – who I do know, better than I know almost anyone – and her decision to turn down a mission call simply because a boy walked into her life three months before her report date and told her he’d prefer if she didn’t go. My point was not about getting married young. My point is that my sister has been raised to believe that men and marriage are the end-all be-all, to the extent that she now will be deprived of a valuable life experience that would have done wonders for her spiritual and personal growth. She had repeated spiritual confirmations that a mission was the right choice for her, numerous trips to the temple, pointed assurances from her patriarchal blessing – and none of it mattered once the boy arrived.

    I believe changing our culture and widening girls’ horizons will solve both of the above problems: there will be less judgment overall for women in all circumstances, working or not, and nineteen-year-old girls will not feel the need to set aside their personal goals and decisions as soon as they find someone who wants to marry them. That’s the point I intended to share, and I apologize if it came across as judgmental against marriage instead.

    • Andi says:

      Thanks for replying, that shows you are open to ideas, I appreciate that.

      A couple of things that I think are important to point out. You say that your piece was specifically about one person– your sister. However, paragraphs 11 and 12 specifically broaden the topic to all church culture (saying “we cheat our girls”, etc.; in fact, it reads as if that’s the point of the article. If you’re saying your sister had spiritual confirmation to go on a mission and then a boy told her not to, you have a point. Do you really know that this happened? Because among LDS friends even the most twitter pated knew that that was a huge red flag and it ticked girls off. A running joke was about a guy receiving spiritual direction for you that you hadn’t received. If that’s really what happened then there are girlfriends and teachers telling her this is a bad idea, but she wants what she wants. To broaden this out and say it’s church culture borders on ridiculous. I have seen this swatted down by friends the 3 times anyone admitted it happened. There have been general conference talks refuting this.

      That said, some LDS girls get married young for the wrong reasons. I did. I married because I was scared to go to the Philipines where my mission call was to, and because I was afraid my boyfriend would marry someone else while I was gone. This wasn’t any church culture reason, just immature girl reasoning. It was the same reason many of my non-LDS friends either lived with a guy starting young or got repeatedly used and abused by jerks. Girls (and boys) want to be wanted and that makes them make stupid choices sometimes. My LDS culture actually made my stupid decision work out because it gave a supportive culture, taught forgiveness and kindness and a million other helpful things. My friends who ended up with STD’s, and kids that don’t live with them and were used up and cast aside with age, didn’t fare as well. Some of many reasons I like LDS culture (even though not all is great, obviously).

      I also, don’t get the assertion of the article that somehow people who haven’t worked don’t have rich lives. That assertion is there.

      So anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth. Echo chambers bother me so I guess that’s why I made the effort. Maybe there’s something for you to consider in my thoughts.

      • EBK says:

        Andi,
        I just wanted to tell you my experience to illustrate why I believe that church culture does teach young women to trust the words of men over their own spiritual experiences. This doesn’t mean that every girl takes this to heart or is even that damaged by it, but some are.

        When I was in the MTC, we had an Apostle come and speak to us once per week. The second week I was there, the speaking Apostle asked every missionary in the audience who had a girlfriend or boyfriend to stand up. A large number of missionaries stood up. He addressed the Elders first. He told them to write to these girlfriends today and break up with them. That way the Elders would be able to focus on their missions and the girls back home would feel free to pursue marriage. He than addressed the Sisters. He said they should all go home tomorrow and get married to those boyfriends. Over the next few days a lot of sisters went home. One of those sisters was my roommate in the MTC. She had told us multiple times how she knew she was supposed to be a missionary and had never felt so right about anything in her life. The day she left, she didn’t say anything to us. She just cried. As a missionary you are taught that obedience to leaders is more important than anything else. She believed that and went home, devastated. Unfortunately I didn’t keep in contact with her so I don’t know if she married that boyfriend or how her life has turned out now. Maybe everything in her life is perfect and it ended up being the right choice. I really don’t know. What I do know, is that a group of sister missionaries trusted a blanket statement about their life choices that came from an authority figure over their own spiritual impressions. That broke my heart.

      • Anonymous says:

        Andi, I so appreciate your response – I too dislike echo chambers, and I think pushback is vital to a productive conversation. Thank you! (Though I do wish we could have this conversation in person.)

        First, I’d like to point out that you’re making some assumptions about my knowledge of my little sister’s choice (“Do you really know that this happened?”). I’m obviously not interested in airing all of the details of my family’s dirty laundry on the Internet, but suffice it to say: yes, I do. This whole situation has been rife with red flags, up to and including the future mother-in-law taking my sister to lunch and telling her that for girls, marriage is more important than a mission. Family members, bishops, and YW leaders have all tried to help my sister see that the choice she is making doesn’t make any sense to those who have known her for her entire life (compared to the boy who has known her for less than half a year). I take comfort, though, in the fact that you have seen such decisions “swatted down” in other circumstances; I wish our attempts to do so had been more effective for my sister.

        You’re right that I broaden my complaint to include all of church culture, which affects all YW, and I intentionally did so, using my sister as a primary example. I agree with you 100% that there are really wonderful aspects of our culture, and I love how you noted that it can be extremely supportive and teach forgiveness. However, I think the crux of my assertion is that all too often, there is only one primary narrative taught to girls from a young age: the traditional marriage-and-stay-at-home path. Please let me reassert that I find absolutely nothing wrong with that narrative!! – in fact, I love that our church supports that choice in an increasingly secular world that tends to deride those who get married young. BUT – and this is the point I was trying to make – that one narrative will. not. fit. all of our young women. It can’t, because we are infinitely (and beautifully) varied. Some young women will find that their spirit aligns with that primary narrative, and they will follow it and find immeasurable joy and fulfillment in that path. But we cannot – and should not – expect all women to feel the same way. We need to invite other narratives, narratives that do include things like missions and advanced education and careers *along* with family, and we need to ensure our girls know they will be supported in whatever direction their personal revelation takes them. If church culture better empowered my sister to follow her personal spiritual direction instead of letting a boy stand in as a substitute, she would be in the MTC today.

        Finally, I never meant to assert that people who don’t work professionally don’t have rich lives. I’m not sure where that is implied, since I’m upset about my sister turning down a mission call, not a job offer. I do think, because she has worked towards a mission for years, that that experience would have enriched her life as she would have seen the blessings promised to her in her patriarchal blessing come true. Ultimately, I think we all find the most “richness and fulfillment” when we are following personal revelation given to us by the Spirit, and that personal revelation can guide us to all kinds of situations: home-related, work-related, and everything in between.

  9. Martha Hales says:

    It is heartbreaking. And it starts so early! My nephew’s wife posted a picture today of their 4-year-old daughter’s birthday haul (all stuff she had requested), and front and center was a Ken and Barbie wedding set with them in bridal clothes and some Skipper dolls (I’m guessing) dressed as bridesmaids. It made me so sad!

    • Andrew R. says:

      I would like to point out the Ken and Barbie dolls are not produced by, or endorsed by, any Church leader. Millions of little girls get this toy, and millions who have have not ended up in anything like and LDS traditional marriage.

  10. Andrew R. says:

    Surprisingly to most here, I have to agree with anonymous. I know that Church policy is still that a young woman should choose a marriage proposal over a mission. However, at 19 waiting to complete an actual mission call will make very little difference. Having said that, if the young woman has spoken with God and made this choice no one should be saying she is wrong – I don’t know if she has.

    I do know that any man who would not respect an 18 month mission call wait is probably not the person I would want one of my daughters to marry.

    I don’t think that waiting for college is right, or having enough money. But an actual Mission call, different in so many ways.

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