“Education is an important part of Heavenly Father’s plan to help you become more like Him. He wants you to educate your mind and to develop your skills and talents, your power to act well in your responsibilities, and your capacity to appreciate life. The education you gain will be valuable to you during mortality and in the life to come.” – For the Strength of Youth
When I was about 15, I remember having a combined lesson for Young Men and Young Women where we discussed education and college. As someone who always enjoyed school, and was already looking forward to college, I was excited to hear about how to achieve my goal of a university education.
We started out the evening with the quote from For the Strength of Youth above. It is something that always resonated with me: knowledge is power, the glory of God is intelligence, the truth will set you free and all those old clichés. I had been reared on words like those in the FSoY and prophets endorsing the importance of learning.
Imagine my surprise then when the Young Men’s president, the only speaker, addressed his remarks almost exclusively to the young men. He advised them to pick a career that would be fulfilling and lucrative, so that they could be consistent and support their wife and children. He told them to work hard now so they could keep their options open for later. He encouraged them to take initiative and network with people in the ward who were in careers they were interested in pursuing.
He only directed two comments to the young women. We should pick a major that would lead to a family friendly career, something like teaching. And we should go to institute because that was a good place to meet temple worthy young men to marry. While I have nothing against teaching, it is unfair and unwise to ask girls to limit themselves like that, and how many great male teachers have we lost because young men hear it described as a feminine pursuit? I also have nothing against institute. It’s just that the motivation for attending in my mind should be to continue to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to pick up an eternal companion.
Like most of my friends, I ignored the young men president’s advice. Sort of. I ended up in a ‘family friendly’ major, but only after changing twice and because I loved it. I attended institute, but didn’t meet a husband.
President Hinckley said in a 2007 New Era article, “You must get all of the education that you possibly can.”
I was once again shocked, then, when I got pretty negative reactions to my announcement that I would be attending graduate school. People questioned my priorities and my motivations. How would I meet anyone to marry? (I hadn’t realized there were no men in graduate school. Who knew?) Why did I need an advanced degree if I was just going to be a mom? (Which was infuriating in 2 ways: why assume I’m going to be a stay at home mom? AND there is nothing, NOTHING, ‘just’ about being a mother.) Why would I want a career when my husband would provide for me? (Right, my hypothetical future husband who may or may not ever materialize. And what about knowledge for knowledge’s sake?)
My male friend’s and my brother’s decisions to go to graduate school were not met with such resistance, even though they both had wives and children. The argument in favor of the men in my life pursuing post graduate school was that it would allow them to better provide for their families. They are pursuing graduate degrees in the humanities…not exactly guarantee of a high paying job.
These kinds of contradictions between what the Church, capital c, says and what the church, lower case c, does are what often turn women in my stage of life away. The double standard for men and women when it comes to education and career aspirations are not lost on us. It is confusing, and hurtful, and can lead us to feel guilty for our aspirations, even though it was the words of the prophets that inspired those aspirations in the first place. So what can be done to bring what we say and actual expectations in to better alignment? I do not have the answer, but unless we as a church want to lose more of our sisters, this is a conversation that needs to happen.