I was surprised by the content of Dialogue’s pink issue. I expected to encounter more scholarship than personal essays. My own supposition about the content likewise surprised me. I am deeply persuaded that sharing stories is an essential way for women to claim their agency, to challenge official narratives by saying, “In my experience, that is not the case.” Or, “That way of doing things does not work for me.” But when I came across a group of women doing just that, I felt let down. I had conditioned myself to think (despite my own aforementioned conviction) that women should contribute to the conversation in ways proscribed by academia, with footnoted papers on historical subjects and the like. Part of my ambivalence about blogging for Juvenile Instructor was my own failure to post anything of scholarly merit. I could only bring myself to write spiritual autobiography sprinkled with theology, which, although valuable, seemed somehow not good enough. As a woman searching for her voice among mostly men (all fine human beings), I angsted about it a good deal. Did the fact that these ladies were writing about themselves in very personal ways, like me, make their project less valuable or interesting? Absolutely not. But, what was I supposed to take away from this issue, as a young Mormon feminist forty years later?
One of the pieces I found most affecting was Lucybeth Cardon Rampton’s Mother’s Day sermon. Perhaps this is because matronhood/motherhood as the divinely appointed role of women is an unavoidable issue the Mormon woman must come to terms with and is (often) a determinant of her place on the Mormon cultural spectrum of acceptability; at least, it is an aspect of Mormon theology and my female identity that I have struggled with.
I observed my mother’s model of motherhood. She married when she was thirty and regularly pursued creative projects, work outside the home, and her career, as well as serving faithfully in church callings throughout my growing up years. Thus, I never really expected to marry early, and I didn’t see career and family as mutually exclusive alternatives. However, I experienced the sometimes excruciating cultural expectation to be a Mormon woman whose primary obligation was not her own self-actualization but the nurture of a family. I passionately told my mother I would get married when I was good and ready, and tramped off to BYU, where I was determined to reach my academic potential.
The environment challenged me. I was surrounded by people who seemed overeager to play traditional gender roles in what to me seemed like a wacky Mormon time frame. Women married early, sometimes even dropped out of school for such; returned missionaries zealously searched for mates. And I studied, wearied and cynical and all the while feeling as though my aspirations were out of place. Landing in graduate school has not eased this conflict, as I have allowed myself to desire, even need, human affection and to hope for a future partnership. At the same time I have grown in my career aspirations and have begun to fear that I might not be able to accomplish my dreams and pursue romance.* So many Mormon women bravely confront this dilemma and feel as though they are thrust out of the garden.
Lucybeth Cardon Rampton briefly and beautifully explained the universal aspect of motherhood, which resides within each human being. This “is the part which wants to cultivate and nurture young growing things, especially children, and see that they have a chance to grow and mature properly. It takes pride in their maturity, and wants that maturity to be as productive as possible. It respects and values age, and wishes to see it accorded the dignity it deserves” (89). This definition of motherhood is not restricted to women or the home; marriage is not a prerequisite. It has allowed me to consider the boon of my creativity, my desire to experiment theologically and personally with my fiction. I can be a mother to my friends, to my artistic creations**, and to my family. This kind of motherhood is not a consolation prize; it is a characteristic of divinity.
So, what is my pink Dialogue take-away? My struggles are not new, nor am I the last who will experience them. In addition to being a fascinating and often under-considered part of the historical record, women’s stories are powerful vehicles for solidarity and an indispensable window into what makes us human, as well as helpful tools for improving our humanity. Women are wonderful and smart, and they are even taking over the post-industrial economy.*** So we’d better listen up.
* Christine Meaders Durham found a way to have her cake and eat it, too (see pp. 35-40), as did Juanita Leavitt Brooks (see 15-21).
**The gestative and parturitive metaphors are especially strong in my personal descriptions of my creativity. After writing one particularly difficult paper I exclaimed, “I feel as though I have given birth and I have no love for my child.”
*** Check out Hanna Rosin, “The End of Men: How Women Are Taking Control—Of Everything,” in The Atlantic (July/August 2010), 56-72. The gender shift is shocking and tragic in terms of what it is doing to men, socially and economically, and should no doubt be the subject of an entire post itself. Although we haven’t yet defined feminism on this blog, since we hope it will primarily be about women’s history (although writing women’s history might be an inherently feminist endeavor; thanks to Rachel C. for the link), I hope the other ladies would agree (I know Amanda would), that it includes a complete consideration of gender dynamics and seeks for an uplifting understanding of males and females alike.