I must admit I’m a bit ashamed that as someone who studies Mormonism I had no idea that the Young Women’s Conference was coming up or even that such a conference existed. After reading Liz’s post and the explosive feedback that resulted, I was reminded of my favorite poem by Adrienne Rich called “Living in Sin.”
She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
Although the poem is about someone living in sin, it reflects my general feelings about marriage. As a kid, I never thought about the day-to-day aspects of marriage — washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, mopping the floor, all the things I hate to do and yet have to get done. Yet, these aspects make up a significant part of my day. The poem also captures the general ennui that sometimes catches people by surprise when they have been married for awhile. Marriage isn’t a happily ever after. Even after they get married, people fight. They get annoyed and sometimes even bored with another.
The message that marriage is like a fairy tale as suggested by the promo video for the Young Women’s General Conference seems innocuous, but I am not sure that it is. One of the things that sometimes strikes me in discussions with my friends is how much we expect out of relationships with men. We expect to find someone that completes us, that continually makes us happy, that shoulders our burdens. It is ridiculous to expect another person to fulfill us. No one person can do it. Although my husband listens to my complaints and tries to help lift my burdens when he can, I don’t expect him to fulfill all of my needs. I need other people to connect with and talk to. Whenever I hear that marriage is a fairy tale and that girls should aspire to it, I shudder. It’s as though Betty Friedan never wrote the Feminine Mystique.
Sometimes I think that the nineteenth century Mormon women that I write about were closer to the truth than those men and women that I hear about today. In the Woman’s Exponent, Mormon women argued that monogamy was a problem because it expected women to find happiness just in their husbands. They saw love as a potential part of the oppression of women because it tied women to men who were unworthy of them. They argued that women should have careers outside of marriage and encouraged women like Romania B. Pratt to attend medical school, even if it meant leaving her family behind for years to do so. It seems difficult to find such rhetoric within the Mormon Church or even Christianity as a whole today.
Part of the reason I am so invested in this is because of my little sister. Although I am not Mormon, she is and she attends the Young Women’s group in her ward. I don’t want her to hear such messages. Laura, if you ever read this, know this:
1. You may never get married. That’s okay and is preferable to getting married to a jerk or someone who’s not worthy of you.
2. Even if you do, marriage will never be all that fulfills you. You need some other purpose.
3. Happily Ever After is a myth.
To view the video, visit this link: http://ldsmediatalk.com/2011/03/25/2011-lds-general-young-women-meeting/