Guest Post: To Thine Own Self Be True — Being Female at BYU
(DefyGravity describes herself as follows: “I’m a senior at BYU studying theatre education and history teaching, graduating in April. I’m an avid reader, anglophile and I’ve been a raging feminist since I was in junior high, which fortunately has not scared away my husband of two years.”)
For about 2 years, I’ve wanted to explore the female experience at
BYU. I’ve never felt I fit the expectations for women at BYU, and
never wanted to. But there were periods when I felt guilty or ashamed because I didn’t want what I was supposed to want, or because I wanted things I wasn’t supposed. It was a painful place to be in, to feel that who I was and the things I wanted for myself were wrong in the eyes of the church or the Divine. I felt as though I had to be disloyal to myself or to Deity because it was impossible to be loyal to both. Eventually I came to understand that just because the people around me expected me to marry, have kids and stay at home with them, that didn’t mean that God expected the same thing of me. I’ve found that my marriage doesn’t mean I have to be domestic or that I have to have kids or that I can’t pursue a career. I’ve found peace with my choices and my desires because I learned the difference between cultural expectations and what God might want from my life.
After finding peace with my own beliefs, I began to see other women around me suffering from the same things I had. My sister, who is an incredibly talented special education teacher, feels like a failure for not being married and for not wanting kids. I’ve heard women say that their education was a trial because they wanted to use it but they were supposed to stay at home and be mothers. I’ve had friends who’ve chosen to stay home with children who feel looked down on for not having careers. I watched these women and felt their pain. I wondered how I could help the women around me to embrace their own choices, and to make decisions based on their relationship with the Divine, as opposed to what others expected of them?
My response to that question is a devised theatre project called To
Thine Own Self Be True. Devised theatre creates a theatre piece from scratch so you can make it specifically for a given situation. With a group of five actors and a playwright (all female) we are creating a piece about the expectations put upon women at BYU. We deal with dating, modesty, the focus on family, the break between family and career, missions, domestic skills and personal revelation and decisions. The script is draw entirely from experiences of the cast or those they know.
I know my attitudes towards being female in a predominantly Mormon society have changed as I’ve worked on this project, and will probably keep changing as we finish and perform it. I’m more accepting of other women’s choices, even if they aren’t the choices I would make. I can respect and admire those who feel called to motherhood, without feeling as though my calling to other things like theatre and teaching are of any less value. I know others who are involved in this piece have changed as well. I’ve seen an actress who started out expressing no opinions at all begin to speak out in rehearsals. She seems more confident in who she is and what she thinks. Another member of my cast says she’s “figured out I just need to happy with my life.” I doubt any of this has to do with my prowess as a director, and more to do with the fact that we’ve created a space that gives women a voice, where they can talk about what they want from their lives without judgment. We’ve made it a goal to celebrate who we are and the choices we make and treat our rehearsals as such. In celebrating who we are, we have found the freedom to make the choices we need to make.
This piece is a one-time thing. It will perform a few times, and then
be over. I hope it has as strong an effect on the audience as it has
on me. But how can empower women to claim their own choices in a more lasting way? Or is this just a BYU/Provo/Utah Valley problem that doesn’t need addressing outside of this area? What experiences have you had that have helped you live as your Parents would have you live, rather then by the expectations of those around you?
(If anyone is interested, To Thine Own Self Be True shows March 30, 31 and April 1 at 7:30 in the Nelke Theatre on BYU campus.)