#hearLDSwomen: I’m Told at Church and at BYU It’s My Job to Be A Wife and Mother, Not to Have a Career

I was asked (as a working mother and previous single mother) to speak in sacrament about the Family Proclamation and specifically about God-given role of women to stay home and care for their children.
– Rachel Coleman

 

Before I started my master’s program at BYU, I of course had to get an ecclesiastical endorsement. My bishop offered nothing but support and kindness during round one of the interview process. When I went in for the stake presidency interview, the counselor who I met with asked with great concern if I already have a full-time job. When I answered yes, he proceeded to ask if adding graduate school to my already busy schedule would prevent me from fulfilling my responsibilities to my family. I responded by saying that my daughter is married, my son has his mission call, and my husband is a grown man who can take care of himself.
– Kathryn Larsen

 

I recently studied Engineering at BYU. Most of my professors gave a testimony at some point, that they knew how important school and learning were and how much studying Engineering would help us, even the girls because Engineering is a great major to prepare for motherhood. I never heard even one male teacher in the department acknowledge that a female might have a career after marriage/kids. Some of the smartest people in our class were female. On awards night at the end of senior year, not a single female received an award based on anything but straight GPA. They did recognize one amazingly talented woman by nominating her husband as ‘Most likely to be a stay at home Dad’ as a joke and giving him an award. As an Engineer raised in the Mormon Belt, I have been to hundreds of meetings/seminars claiming to support women in STEM. I have only once seen a woman with a full-time career as the guest speaker/role model.
– Anonymous

 

My grandmother, as Associate Editor of the Relief Society Magazine, was paid significantly less than men in similar positions, because they were “supporting their families” while her pay was supposedly just extra, even though she’d explained to them that my grandfather threw his money into risky investments and she was almost the entire support for herself and my mother.
– Nancy K.

 

I think the biggest silencing the church did to me was when I worked at LDSFS. I was told to stop participating in Mormon feminism in any way, leave all MoFem groups on FB, stop commenting on any feminist blogs, or else I was in danger of losing my job. I was written up by my supervisor. This was action was prompted because a mole in the fMh Facebook group sent screenshots of my comments to church headquarters. This was the Ogden, Utah office at the end of 2011, beginning of 2012. I did what I was told and shut up. Until June 2013 when I quit my job. They were actively dismantling the adoption program and wanted us to lie to our clients that despite rumors it was “business as usual.” I thought it was funny I was asked to break temple covenants by not being honest in my dealings, but couldn’t be honest about my feminist feelings in public.
– Marisa McPeck-Stringham

 

When I was 18, I was sitting in Stake Conference between my dad and older sister. The stake president was giving the closing remarks. I don’t remember what the topic of his talk was but I do remember my blood started to simmer early and then boil by the end. He started talking about the evils of feminism (this was early 2002). He said that all of the evils in society could be traced back to feminism and the denegration of the family unit and home. The only comment that has been seared in my mind was “Women should be more concerned about the state and strength of their ceiling at home than trying to break through and glass ceiling that, when broken, the shards of which will damage, injure and destroy all in its path.” At that point in my life I hadn’t “come out” per se as a feminist, I didn’t have the language for it yet, but I knew that he was talking about me. I knew that he thought who I was at my core – a feminist- was something he was teaching was evil. When I looked around and saw approval and nodding heads of the people in my stake my heart simultaneously broke and my rage ignited. The moment the meeting was over I bolted, leaving my family behind. I walked the neighborhood trying to get my rage and hurt under control. When I got my home my dad didn’t understand why I was upset. He figured if I was angry and hurt it was because I was being called to repentance and it was a message I needed to hear.

I left for college that fall. I attended a liberal women’s college in Southern California. The next 4 years solidified my own brand of feminism and, I know keep, set me on a path that eventually led me to leaving the church when I discovered I was pregnant with a little girl. I knew I never wanted her to feel the way I did sitting in that crowded cultural hall.
– Kelly Boren

 

Pro Tip: Women have many different roles and desires and viewpoints. Do not pigeonhole women into one role or set of opinions that may not fit. Trust women to know what’s best for them.


Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Cameron says:

    Adding my voice to this:

    Because I was taught that women stay home and men go to work, and because my own mom had to work whenever we got into a bad financial situation, I was terrified of the idea that I might *have* to work someday. Work seemed foreign, difficult, and undesirable. Having to work was a sign of failure. It wasn’t until sophomore year of college that I finally admitted I needed some kind of back-up plan juuuuust in case I didn’t manage to snag a BYU husband before graduating.

    Lo and behold, it’s ten years later and work has been a fulfilling and enjoyable part of my life. If I’d had the slightest glimpse of my current life back in high school/college, I wouldn’t have been afraid.

    The strange thing is, plenty of women in my childhood ward worked, and one of my best role models was a single sister with a successful career. But I saw her career as a side effect of her singleness, and I didn’t want to end up *gasp* single!!the horror!!!! It never occurred to me that work could be desirable and help me grow as a person irrespective of my marital status.

    I am still working out the temporal, spiritual, and emotional ramifications of feeling like I have failed God because I am single and failed my societal role by working to support myself. It didn’t have to be this way.

    • m says:

      I realized my singleness and opportunities for advanced education and work were a gift from my heavenly parents who wanted me to explore my potential, and then everything changed. I left feeling wistful about being married in my 20s and never looked back.

  2. Chiaroscuro says:

    I find myself in middle age woefully underprepared to re-enter the workforce. Because of damaging messages like these, I never considered working outside the home while caring for many children, no matter how much I wanted to do something else, I obeyed my church leaders.

  3. Aubstar says:

    Growing up hearing that my duty was to prepare myself for my role as a wife and mother and that I didn’t need to worry about a career meant that I spent my 20’s single, depressed about being single, in a terrible job that I didn’t know how to leave, depressed that I didn’t have a better job, and guilty for wanting a better job.

    My entire identity was wrapped up into this thought that I should be married with children. Because I was unmarried I was failing. But to find a better job also felt like failure, because I was focusing in the wrong place.

    I married when I was 31 and my husband and I both love our careers. It took me FOREVER to crawl out of the depression of my 20’s. When my husband and I have children, I DO NOT want to abandon my career for any period of time. And I expect that I will struggle with guilt, anxiety, and depression about this then.

    • Lily says:

      This was my experience, although I never did marry. Only at 50+ do I realize that I was blessed with education and career opportunities and that this was the plan. There is something truly wrong with a “doctrine” that leaves people miserable for half their life.

  4. m says:

    These stories all confirm that my singleness, advanced education, and worklife have been great blessings for me. I am so very glad that the spirit shouted at me louder than the messages that were coming at me from church and Utah culture. I’m glad my parents encouraged and fostered fearsome independence from all their children. I hope that I’m setting a good example of a happy, ambitious life so some girl out there trying to figure things out can realize this is a joyful option.

  5. Spatty says:

    I was taught as a youth that instead of changing the world I should have children that change the world. Of course that would only apply if I had boys…

    As a 27 year old single adult I tried to make space for other women who would likely also find theirselves single past the marrying age in church. During a lesson on our roles and pathways in life I added that we could do meaningful things and shouldn’t sit by waiting for something to happen for us, but the bishops wife quickly followed my perspective with a comment that our contribution to the world would never be enough if it didn’t include being a wife and mother. I had just returned home from working in the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. My eyes well up with tears thinking about how heart broken I was over something I had so little control over, (even now that I’m married) .

  6. Brooke Booth says:

    I was released from teaching institute because I labeled myself as a feminist.

  7. DT says:

    My blood boils every time I hear a speaker say that we should worry more about bringing people to Christ than fighting for social justice. Maybe I am just hyper sensitive about that so it stands out to me more, but as someone who is committed to working in the social services it really irks me.

    I was just released from teaching in RS when a all new RS presidency came in. Teaching kept me coming to church at least once a month. When I was released, I told the priesthood leader that he was taking away the reason I went to church. I miss weeks at a time now as I struggle with a faith transition.

    I injected my views about feminism and social justice in all my lessons. Women would come up to me and ask if I was teaching that week. More orthodox members would push back, but there was typically a positive response. After I was released, many women came up to me and said that they were upset I was released.

    There is a time and a season for everything, but I can barely stand to sit in class as the new teacher rails on about the evils of single mother pregnancy, divorce, same gender attraction, gay marriage and how there is no point in coming to church if you are sinning because the Spirit won’t be with you. When I go, I sit in the front row so she can see me glare and she can’t miss when my hand goes up to inject some mercy into the conversation. And then women come up to me after class and thank me for saying what they are scared to say.

    • Marie says:

      My understanding of Christ is that He was all about social justice. I hope you keep going because I bet those women who were upset when you were released still need you. At least, I know *I* do. I need to know there are other women out there changing the conversation.

  8. Marie says:

    Thank you to the women willing to share their stories. It helps to know I’m not alone. A few thoughts I reached over the years about this subject.

    -Aspirational shame is the name for what many women in these stories experienced. For me, it’s helpful to have a name for things. Aspiring Mormon Women is a fantastic association for women looking for role models, encouragement, support, etc. in their educational and professional pursuits.

    -The Family, a proclamation to the world, is not scripture. It was written by a committee under the direction of the First Presidency, however it is not scripture in the same way the Bible and Book of Mormon are scripture. It was helpful for me to read an interview with Chieko Okazaki in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought about how the General Relief Society Presidency was not consulted at all during the process of writing the proclamation. Ouch. The interview included a quote from her saying that she felt like they could have changed a few things. I long to know what she would have changed.

    -Also in that same interview, Chieko Okazaki shares experiences she had hearing painful things said over the pulpit that she knew were not doctrine. It helped me to read about how she handled those painful experiences. Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that lots of crap (i.e. people’s opinions that they state as doctrine because of their leadership roles) gets spoken, especially at stake conferences.

    -Nurturing children does not equal staying home and not getting an education or not working professionally. It just doesn’t. There are many ways to nurture children. Also, it puzzles me that it’s ok to send your child to school for 7 hours a day but it’s not ok to hold a job you enjoy and work 8 hours a day. Uh? Just doesn’t make sense.

    -We are told to become perfect, meaning complete, fully developed. Education and professional pursuits are important avenues to that perfection and development.

    -Jesus knows women and how to treat women as humans. Books that I found helpful: Sisters at the Well by Jeni Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.