I recently returned from a trip to Botswana, where I joined a group of scholars (including three other Exponent bloggers!) in collecting oral histories from women of faith from several different faith backgrounds, including Mormonism. As a group, we were able to talk to dozens of women and hear about their struggles, successes, hopes, fears, and how their faith informs their choices and the lives that they live. As I talked to these women (and particularly Mormon women), I admit being surprised by their answers, because they didn’t always reflect my biases. As African women, shouldn’t they resent the church’s priesthood/temple ban that wasn’t lifted until 1978? As most women I talked to were working women, shouldn’t they resist or resent the church’s culture/teachings about mothers staying home with their children? Shouldn’t they find great joy in Relief Society as a way to bind women together and promote sisterhood?
Over and over again, I was reminded that my story is not their story, and really, even their story isn’t their story. The women I interviewed were so completely unique – none of their stories matched up to my expectations, and none of them even matched up to each other. I kept expecting to find a theme – I wanted to be able to walk out of 5 or 6 interviews with a clear picture of what Batswana Mormon women think and feel. But what I found is that their faith and their lives are as varied and multifaceted as any other group of Mormon women.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, speaks about the danger of this “single story” in her TED talk (embedded below). She says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” When we expect a single story from a person or group of people, we don’t allow for nuance, complexity, or the possibility “to connect as human equals.”Read More