There are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996 Reference A
Statements like this one by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley belie an assumption that paid employment for women is only about money:
- Financially secure women who work outside the home are assumed to be doing so because of a greedy desire for more money.
- The only good reason for a woman to work outside the home is a dire need for money.
This dichotomy neglects the many other reasons a woman may be employed.
In 1959, Frederick Herzberg, in the book, The Motivation to Work, introduced Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as Two-Factor Theory). His findings showed that money was not a primary motivator in the workplace. Instead, employees were motivated by enjoyment of the work itself and by the advancement, recognition, achievement, and growth opportunities the work brings. Reference B
Personally, I feel motivated to work outside the home because I love the work and the contributions I can make to my community at large. While motherhood is rewarding in its own way, many of my strongest skills are not exercised by motherhood. In my paid employment, I work in fields that I have chosen to study because they interest me and align with my personal talents. In contrast, I spend a great deal of my at-home time cleaning up spills and searching for lost shoes, tasks that never interested me at all.
Housework is so intrinsically unenjoyable to me that it is hard for me to imagine how it could be that in 1963, when The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, the idea that a lifetime of uninterrupted housework wouldn’t fulfill a woman was groundbreaking.
Basic decisions as to the upbringing of children, interior decoration, menu-planning, budget, education, and recreation do involve intelligence, of course. But as it was put by one of the few home-and-family experts who saw the real absurdity of the feminine mystique, most housework, the part that still takes the most time, “can be adequately handled by an eight-year-old child.” -Betty Friedan Reference C
I beg to differ on that final point. My eight-year-old child can’t do basic chores without constant parental prodding. The rest rings true to me. While some motherly activities exercise my intellect, the majority of my motherly time is spent on chores that just aren’t that fulfilling.
In a completely unscientific study with a sample size of one, I charted out the proportion of time I spend in various fulfilling and unfulfilling tasks of motherhood and contrasted that to the way my workplace time is divided.
Of course, these results are not generalizable to other women. Other women may enjoy housework more than I do. (That’s a low bar.) They could be better household managers, accomplishing the less fulfilling tasks of motherhood more quickly. (Unfortunately, that is also a low bar.) Some families have adequate income to hire out housework. Many women do not have the opportunity to be employed in fields that they find personally fulfilling, so staying at home is comparatively more attractive. And of course, duration of time is not the only consideration. Some women have similar motherhood time allocation charts as I do but find the fulfilling parts of their day to be rewarding enough to compensate for spending the majority of their time in less fulfilling tasks.
Money is an important factor, but in a different way. Herzberg categorized salary as a “hygiene factor.” Regardless of how personally fulfilling the work may be, employees were unsatisfied if their salaries were inadequate. Other hygiene factors included positive working relationships and good working conditions.Reference B
Friedan saw a link between paid work and fulfilling work:
Even if a woman does not have to work to eat—she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society—work for which, usually, our society pays. Being paid, of course, is more than a reward—it implies a definite commitment. -Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C
Friedan clarified that women need not always be employed for pay; there is room for periods of stay-at-home motherhood as part of a long-term life plan:
The only kind of work which permits an able woman to realize her abilities fully, to achieve identity in society in a life plan that can encompass marriage and motherhood, is the kind that was forbidden by the feminine mystique; the lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession. It permits year-to-year variation—a full-time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not feasible. It is a continuous thread, kept alive by work and study and contacts in the field. –Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C
Five years after a talk that reduced women’s desire to work outside the home to either monetary need or monetary greed, Hinckley seemed to have a change of heart. He broke precedent and praised a married, employed mother as a role model:
The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part. I was in the hospital the other day for a few hours. I became acquainted with my very cheerful and expert nurse. She is the kind of woman of whom you girls could dream. When she was young she decided she wished to be a nurse. She received the necessary education to qualify for the highest rank in the field. She worked at her vocation and became expert at it. She decided she wanted to serve a mission and did so. She married. She has three children. She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases. She serves in the Church. She has a good marriage. She has a good life. She is the kind of woman of whom you might dream as you look to the future. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 2001 Reference D
Unfortunately for women like me, who find working outside the home fulfilling, the 2001 Hinckley talk proved to be an aberration, not the beginning of a new trend. I do not know of any other doctrinal talks by LDS General Authorities that praise married, working mothers. On the bright side, some currently serving apostles have been less critical of women in the workforce than some of their predecessors:
These are very emotional, personal decisions…we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. -Quentin L. Cook, 2011 Reference E
We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements. -D. Todd Christofferson, 2013 Reference F
However, the LDS Church continues its policy of not hiring mothers of children 18 and younger as seminary and institute teachers and firing married, female seminary and institute teachers for becoming mothers. Reference G Reference H This action sends a stronger message to young people about how to judge working mothers than any admonition from the pulpit “not to be judgmental.” Reference E
While married, working mothers are absent as role models in Mormon sermons and as paid seminary and institute teachers, we find many of them among us in our congregations. I look forward to the day when we really “do not diminish the value of what women…achieve in any worthy…career.” Reference F When that day comes, it will no longer be necessary for accomplished, Mormon mothers to apologize for their paid work, explaining it away with the comment, “We needed the money.” I hope someday our discussions about our careers will sound more like those observed by Friedan among fulfilled women in 1963:
The money [women] earned often made life easier for the whole family, but none of them pretended this was the only reason they worked, or the main thing they got out of it. That sense of being fully a part of the world—“no longer an island, part of the mainland”—had come back. They knew that it did not come from the work alone, but from the whole—their marriages, homes, children, work, their changing, growing links with the community. -Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C
B. Herzberg, F. The Motivation to Work. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 1959.
C. Friedan, B. The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton & Company: 1963.