Guest Post: The Message We Send

by Lori Davis

Fairly often, I read a blog expressing outrage about the message women and girls learn at church: women have no value outside the home, working women are neglecting their real responsibilities, women should always be subservient to men, etc.

I feel some sympathy here, but mostly, I feel puzzled. I’m not hearing that message at church here in the UK.

Two recent talks in Sacrament Meeting are good examples. One working mom spoke about praying over a change in her career path with good financial and spiritual results. Another talk discussed Deborah, Esther, and Eliza R. Snow, with particular emphasis on how motherhood is not what they are remembered for. Incidentally, this last one was given on Mother’s Day, which is in March here. As far as I know, no one batted an eye at either of these talks.

Strong role models are more effective than any amount of talking, so I tallied up the currently prominent women in my ward. 

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Less Obnoxious Interpretations of Adam and Eve

Adam and EveLet’s talk about Adam and Eve. So, God created Adam first because he was the most important. Then God realized Adam would need an assistant, so he created Eve expressly for this purpose. He made her from Adam’s rib because she was kind of an afterthought and He was out of other materials. God told Adam and Eve not to eat a certain fruit but Eve was naughty and disobeyed God. Then she peer-pressured Adam into sinning as well. They were both kicked out of their garden for this bad behavior but since Eve started the whole thing, she was cursed with some extra punishments, including having Adam rule over her forever after. Like Eve, modern wives are also expected to let their husbands rule over them.

In a few weeks, we will start studying the book of Genesis in Sunday School. I have never had a Sunday School lesson about Eve and Adam that was quite as bad as my opening paragraph to this post. However, it is not uncommon for something to be said during an Eve and Adam discussion that hurts my feminist ears.

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We Can Do Both

I was walking down the South Hill of BYU’s campus discussing a lecture I had recently attended with one of my only openly feminist friends. The lecturer had argued that women’s abilities were best spent at home raising children (read sons) that could then go out and change the world. For two young, idealistic feminists still trying to find their place in the world and in the church this talk was devastating. We were smart, capable, ambitious women with the potential to be a force for good in the world. I remember my friend saying, “I can do both! I should do both! Anything other than that is a cop-out. It’s me not being brave. It’s me wasting the talents God has given me.”

It was an important moment in my life, one that has stayed with me as I went on to motherhood, graduate school, and career. But that lecture was certainly not the last time somebody has declared that I am better suited at home, that any contribution I make to the world pales in comparison to what I can do for my children. Indeed, just this weekend I had a conversation with a very genuine woman who has raised and home-schooled an impressive number of children. All of those children went on to get degrees, sometimes multiple degrees, from ivy-league universities and are now making an important contribution to our society. When she heard, however, that I have four children and am trying to complete my Master’s thesis she urged me not to finish it but to pull my children out of public school and home school them instead. She sweetly argued that whatever honor I would get from finishing my degree would be nothing compared to the reward I would receive from making my children successful. Considering her record, I admit that her argument was both persuasive and guilt-inducing. I love my children, I want more than anything for them to be successful and I fear that my choices have negatively impacted them at times. 

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Exponent Classics: Something About Learned Women

Something About Learned Womenby Lucy M. Hewlings,
First published in The Women’s Exponent, vol. 7 no. 17
February 1, 1879

The question has been asked, “Was there ever a time when there were no learned women?” To this query we reply, No! never since the creation of Eve, our first mother, down to the present, when the cause of women’s social and political rights has become a distinct national question; we admit there has been an unusual intellectual activity for the last twenty years, both in Europe and America, and that there has been advancement and progress in this respect within the last decade, but we are apt to felicitate ourselves, and perhaps are too indiscriminate on the progress achieved in female education.

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Ritual Inclusion

My body has born four children. And I have watched as the men I love have taken each of these little bodies in their arms–bodies that I have grown, birthed and bled for–and conferred upon them a name and a blessing. I deeply love this Mormon ritual. I love watching as my husband, fathers and brothers encircle and cradle my babies in their love.

This time, however, I wanted more than to just passively watch from the side. Perhaps because this is my last child, I found myself grieving my exclusion from the ritual where I never had previously. A dear friend in charge of our ward’s music graciously allowed me to choose the hymns and because it was Fast and Testimony meeting I was able to bear my testimony and give my baby a mother’s blessing of sorts.

It was mr. mraynes who came up with the idea of holding the microphone. I was resistant–balking at the symbolism of being the instrument to give voice to my husband while being silenced myself. But I have sisters who have asked for this small thing and been denied. In the end I could not let the opportunity pass. An opportunity I knew I had only because my husband is in a position to ensure I had it.

So yesterday I found myself in a circle of men. A space reserved for masculine authority.

For the first time I was witness to the incredible beauty and power that resides within the blessing circle. As I held the microphone to my husbands lips, I could see the overwhelming emotion and love he has for our son. For the first time I saw my son watch his father intently and smile because of the security and happiness he undoubtedly felt. And I was able to feel the love these men had for each other and this sweet little baby. I could feel their hope in the possibility of his life and their desire to give him every gift they could.

This is a powerful ritual and in arguing that women’s participation is unimportant we sell ourselves short.  Baby blessings are the literal expression of our joy in the creation of life. When we try to make this blessing, and any blessing, less than what they can be we loose half of the creative possibility and power that God intends us to have.

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