For Mother’s Day yesterday, our bishopric arranged for all the women to participate in a wonderful brunch and musical program during the second hour of church. Snacking on fruits and vegetables, we watched the youth sing, play various instruments, and read poems and short stories. It was delightful, all of us had a break and enjoyed the program.
The last hour was Sunday School, taught by a former bishop who casually remarked that women are naturally more selfless than men. This is the kind of comment that gets thrown around constantly on Mother’s Day.
But do we really believe it? Is it helpful?
In general, I’m not a Mother’s Day hater, although I understand that many women are. I haven’t struggled with infertility, and my children aren’t old enough yet to forget to (or not want to) call. So, for me the only discouraging part of Mother’s Day is the laudatory rhetoric.
However, I try to self-censor based on my known biases toward feminism. But, just for kicks I leaned to my non-feminist friend and asked her what she thought about women naturally being more self-sacrificing than men.
She looked at me a little blankly, so I explained myself.
“By saying that selflessness comes naturally to me, it takes away the actual sacrifice of putting others before myself. If it’s natural, then why is it so hard to do?”
On this point she agreed, and said she would rephrase the comment.
“It’s not that sacrifice comes more naturally for women, it’s just that it’s expected more from women.”
Ah. Women are expected to put themselves last most of the time, and to make men feel good about that, we are told it is part of our natural characteristic. This is the double whammy. First, I must often learn the difficult lessons of self-sacrifice, which I absolutely believe are important to my spiritual and social progression, but are nonetheless painful. Then, I don’t really get the full measure of value from my sacrifice because I’m led to believe it was natural, or easy for me. This logic isn’t always attributed to mothers, sometimes it’s aimed at all women.
In the midst of out whispered conversation during Sunday School, the discussion moved on to another topic, so I didn’t raise my hand to comment on this issue. But the fact that my friend who admittedly doesn’t see the church through my feminist glasses still agreed and identified with this issue was enough to give me comfort. The sacrifices of women do not go unnoticed to each other, especially on Mother’s Day. If each of us understand how difficult it can be to put others first when we really want to put ourselves first, then we’ll see the sacrifices around us in a more genuine way, male or female.
Lastly, I’d like to suggest that this is a good place to start pushing back against some of the laudatory rhetoric. In retrospect, I wish I’d politely commented in Sunday School to explain how unhelpful the idea of women being more naturally selfless is to me. Perhaps some people haven’t thought this logic through in the way I’ve explained it. Perhaps others will disagree with me regardless of how I explain myself. Either way, I can raise awareness of this issue to those around me by stating simply that I’m really not natural selfless. Overcoming the natural woman is as hard as overcoming the natural man.