Women as Servants

by Jessawhy
Mother's Hands
As a woman, particularly, as a wife and mother, I use my body in service to others. This idea came to me late one evening after making love to my husband, then later breastfeeding my infant. I looked down at my body and realized that between my three children and my husband, I use my body for service almost around the clock, and sometimes for years at a time.* Since this realization, I’m trying to come to terms with it’s implications.

To clarify what I mean by physical service, here’s what comes immediately to mind. Thinking of all the kinds of service my body gives actually makes me more exhausted than doing those things. Breastfeeding, holding, rocking, cuddling, wiping, bathing, feeding, burping, carrying, clothing, washing, singing, reading, cleaning.
I can’t go on.
I’m too tired.
I feel pulled and prodded all day long. Sometimes at day’s end I don’t want to be touched at all. Then there is the less physical, but still important service I provide for those outside my family, like ward members, neighbors, friends, and the like.**

So why all of this service? Is it a choice? Is it how God designed my body? If so, is God trying to remind me of the physical service of Jesus? Of course we think of Jesus healing with his hands, and sacrificing his body for our ultimate physical and spiritual salvation. If I choose the physical service of wife and mother, am I choosing to be more like Jesus? Is it something else? Like a curse?

Another perspective is that perhaps my body was made to serve, but not because I am holy and Christlike. Maybe women are the pack-mules of the human race. I often remember this comment by Rilkerunning from a long ago thread on Zelophehad’s Daughters. In sum, the author explains her difficulties with her body, reproductively, and that her husband has no such difficulties. This difference, she asserts, is mirrored by church teachings of gender roles. Her last line, “In fact, I think I would have left the church thinking it was untrue based on its doctrine regarding women except that very doctrine makes me think it is true because it fits with the discrimination I see in how our very bodies are created.”

Are our bodies designed for service a blessing to make us more like Jesus, or a curse, perhaps from Eve? Does accepting the role our bodies play in service make it easier to accept the church’s teachings for mothers to be primary nurturers?

In the end, I’m glad I’m thinking about my body and it’s service in a new way. I’ve often taken this service for granted, or sometimes resented the use of my body by others. But, by comparing it to the Savior’s life, mission, and death, I can see my sacrifice in a new light. I am serving, and in some ways, a savior to those I serve.
There are ways we each serve, but for me, the physical daily service I provide to my family is a special kind. It is purifying, cleansing, holy. At least that’s what I think right now. Ask me tomorrow when I’m catching spit-up with my bare hands.

Disclaimers
*I don’t always think of lovemaking as service, but there are times when it can feel that way and thinking about service helps me to have a better attitude. This could be another post entirely, so don’t confine your comments to this portion, but to the subject as a whole
**Many of these types of service aren’t specific to motherhood. Caregivers, including fathers, can do most of these things. But, it seems that mothers usually do them, and in the FamProc they are encouraged to.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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  1. happytobeamom says:

    Thank you for your post. I have never thought about it in such terms. As women I feel we have been given many challenges regarding our bodies. (I could go on and on here)

    I have never thought of it as service. I am so glad I had the experience of having a child and using my body to do all the things you mention. Yet sometimes I struggle with what it has done to my body. Both physically and mentally. Some times it is just so exhausting.

    Maybe thinking of it in new terms will help me on a day to day basis when I am doing the less then glamours things.

  2. FoxyJ says:

    I think that part of the problem is the fact that in our Western, post-modern society most employment does not involve the body. And in Mormon culture we tend to have more women employed than men. My grandparents all worked equally hard with their bodies: my grandmother raising children and taking care of the home, my grandfather running a small dairy farm (herding animals, picking rocks, planting crops, mending fences, etc.). These days most people who are employed don’t use their bodies in such a physical way, at least in the United States. I think that makes it harder for us–my husband spends much of his day sitting in front of a computer and I spend much of mine doing more physical labor. In many other countries, however, the majority of men still share physical labor.

  3. FoxyJ says:

    In my second sentence I meant to say that more men than women tend to be employed (duh). Also, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden they were both told that they were to support themselves “by the sweat of their brow”. I think that physical service is created to give us a human connection; Christ laid his hands on people, he fed them, he washed their feet. We tend to shy away from both physical labor and tasks that involve touching others, but I think that the connection and touch are a way to become more Christlike. We are embodied spirits for a reason.

  4. Alisa says:

    Jessawhy, you have to use that beautiful picture of your baby’s feet, don’t you? It’s just too tender and sweet.

    As a married woman currently choosing to not have children for many personal reasons, this post gives me something to think about. My ideas would probably be quite different from those who have already chose the mothering route.

    One of the ways I show love is through touch. I don’t touch many people because it is so special to me. However, I do like to serve the elderly with my hands by touching them. I think it’s important for everyone to be touched and served through someone’s hands. And let’s not forget the ways men currently serve with their hands in blessings, the sacrament, and all other ordinances. It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure that these have to be gender-specific.

    As far as reproduction goes, I am working through some strong feelings. I have had bitter thoughts that God must hate women for giving us periods (strong, I know!). I have also had feelings about what came to women because of the fall, and what the atonement should be able to restore. If men and women were equal before the fall, if painful birth and “desire to husband” were results of the fall, shouldn’t the atonement absolve those differences? I guess what I’d like to see is men and women equally serving with their bodies and hands side-by-side in a pre-fall/Celestial state, and not be limited to our Telestial condition.

  5. Caroline says:

    Alisa,
    “I’d like to see is men and women equally serving with their bodies and hands side-by-side in a pre-fall/Celestial state.” I like that sentence. And for me that goes beyond physical service to all types of service, including ecclesiastical.

    I think I’m lucky since I don’t generally feel like my body is at the mercy of others very often. I probably felt that the most when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, but since weaning the kid a year ago, I feel like my body is mine again. I work part time, and my husband co-parents with me, so I’m sure that helps. A lot of baby’s grabbing, clutching, cuddling, etc. is directed at Mike (thank goodness.)

    On another note, I tend to resist the idea that women are or should be the Christ figures of the family. The one’s to suffer and serve. It seems to me like both parents should sacrifice and serve equally.

    Interesting post, Jessawhy. Thanks.

  6. Janna says:

    I don’t see my body as designed to serve any more than a man’s body. With the exception of a few 9 month periods (give or take the breastfeeding months), there is no biological difference in terms of ability to serve.

    I am uncomfortable with the idea that women by virtue of our biology alone are destined to serve any more than man.

  7. m&m says:

    If men and women were equal before the fall, if painful birth and “desire to husband” were results of the fall, shouldn’t the atonement absolve those differences?

    This confused me a bit. I’m interested to know where it’s written that men and women were equal before the fall, or what you would like to see happen to overcome the effects of the fall before passing through this essential space of mortality. Had Adam and Eve not fallen, they would have been stuck, so obviously, pre-fall life is not really what we should fully be yearning for, should it? Maybe I’m missing something.

    To me, the Savior showed us the way with these things. He, too, had to descend to a less-than-ideal state to perform His mission, just as we do – a state filled with thorns and pain, opposition, sacrifice, etc. But it is through these things that we can become like Him and THEN have the atonement help us overcome the effects of the fall. It’s an existence full of paradox, opposition, irony, and difficulty, but I believe it is through those things that we find Him, and find joy that could not be found otherwise.

    Jessawhy, one scripture that came to mind to parallel what you are talking about:

    Eph 5:
    25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…;

    Ephesians 5:27
    27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. [How can a husband perhaps sacrifice so that his wife can be without symbolic wrinkle or blemish — spots of pain, neglect, etc, perhaps?]
    28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
    29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

    Anyway, don’t know if others see some parallels, but I think in the end we will find that we are all asked, in our own ways both by gender roles and responsibilities and also through individual circumstance and trial, to sacrifice as the Savior did to some degree.

    Interesting reflections in this post. I remember when I realized that even my monthly cycle, where I “lose blood” all for the possibility to give life, could help turn my mind to the Savior — lots of ways we can ‘always remember Him’, no?

  8. JKS says:

    I had my fourth baby 2 weeks ago. I don’t enjoy breastfeeding at all. I look forward to stopping someday in the future and getting my own body back (and my sex drive).
    I think it might be an easier time because of my older children (10, 8, 4). With my 8 and 10 year olds begging to hold the baby I have a little more personal space this time around.

  9. Jana says:

    Now that my years of childbearing and nursing are behind me, I occasionally feel nostalgic for those days when my days were filled with so many snuggles and sticky kisses from my babies and toddlers… I especially miss breastfeeding–that was one of my favorite parts of early motherhood. But at the same time, I relish my current physical freedom.

    So I guess what I’m trying to to say is…I’m glad I had those very physically demanding days way back when, even as I’m glad for my stage of life now. Now, I did hate being pregnant–no nostalgia for those days AT ALL!!

  10. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for all of your comments, sorry I’ve been MIA.
    My 5 month old got pushed down 4 stairs in an umbrella stroller and landed on his nose. We think it’s broken. 🙁
    Anyway, he hasn’t been sleeping well, so I’ve been blogging less.
    It looks like I’m in the minority here with my feelings about my body being designed to serve.
    But that’s okay. I hope that I don’t feel like this forever, and Jana’s comment helped me realize that I probably won’t but also to appreciate the joys of babyhood while I have them. (So I snuggled my baby right after he had his bath today.)
    Perhaps we do sometimes underplay the physical design differences between men and women in an attempt to justify our feminism. For me, feminism doesn’t mean men and women have to be the same, or interchangable. I liked the comment that before desk jobs, men were working just as hard (or harder) physically on the farm as women were.
    I still see a difference here, though, in emotional service provided. In my mind, breastfeeding a child does not equate with milking a cow for emotional reasons.
    Alisa, you mentioned showing love through touch. That is exactly what I am getting at. Remembering that service I give with my body is out of love is sometimes hard for me, especially when I’m so tired and spread so thin.
    Caroline said,
    “On another note, I tend to resist the idea that women are or should be the Christ figures of the family. The one’s to suffer and serve. It seems to me like both parents should sacrifice and serve equally.”
    I agree with this in principle, but don’t see it in practice, and not because my husband doesn’t do his fair share. (last week he put the kids to bed every night)
    Maybe I undervalue his service and sacrifice because it’s not the same as mine.
    Interesting comments. Thanks for your thoughts. (gotta run, baby’s crying)

  11. Janna says:

    Jessawhy – I agree completely with the emotional side of serving with the body (i.e., milking the cow.)

    I guess I’m confused about what you were asking. I interpreted your question as, “What do you think about the fact that you, as a woman, are physically designed to serve more than a man is designed to serve?” If you mean that question, then I maintain that in terms of the “biology of serving,” men and women are just not that different.

    But, given your further comments, I think you were asking generally, “What are your thoughts about the fact that our bodies get worn out in physical service, particularly because of the social and potentially spiritual callings we have as women?” Just want to make sure I’m responding appropriately! 🙂

  12. jks says:

    I do agree that for certain periods of time, I use my body for serving my family. Since breastfeeding for me happens to be painful and has never been emotionally positive, I look forward to that part ending! Pregnancy was far easier to appreciate– the miracle of my body doing something so amazing and having a baby to show for it!
    Since I have had time between pregnancies, I see that the physical exhaustion of pregnancy and new babyhood and the many physical acts of caring for toddlers do NOT last forever.
    You might enjoy reading the Mother Styles book that is based on personality types. It goes through the 16 types and their strengths and weaknesses as mothers, as well as their priorities. It really helped me understand other types of mothers and everyone I know who has read it says it describes them perfectly and helps them see their strengths! My Motherstyle really described accurately what types of things I considered a “chore” and what types of things I really enjoyed about mothering. You would probably find the book interesting.

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