Play Group vs. Book Group and other Barriers to Sisterhood

June 3, 2004 | 41 comments
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As sisters in Zion, Mormon women are taught to develop feelings of love towards each other. The Relief Society is ideally an organization where “charity never faileth” and close bonds of friendship and sisterhood are cultivated. Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, this doesn’t always happen.

Several years ago I was in a ward in which the Relief Society sisters were divided into two camps: women who participated in the book group and women who participated in the play group. I belonged to the book group. We were a relatively small and diverse group composed of graduate students (married and single) and young moms, some who worked and others who stayed at home. We debated, disagreed and developed ideas together as we discussed what we’d read. Our meetings were a source of strength, and sanity for us. Once a month we’d get together to eat and talk. Over the years we laughed and cried together through the triumphs and tragedies each of us faced.

The other group in the Relief Society was the play group. The play group was composed of young stay at home mothers with toddlers at home. Almost all of these women were supporting husbands in school. They met weekly for lunch and to have their children play together. Although I never attended play group, I know that the women involved discussed and developed solutions to practical problems like how to work out cooperative child care arrangements so that each woman could find some personal time or go out with her husband. For many of these young mothers play group was a source of strength and sanity. Once a week they would get together to eat and talk. I imagine they laughed and cried together too since strong and lasting friendships were forged.

The activities of these two groups were parallel and fulfilled similar needs for the sisters who participated. Nevertheless, these groups turned out to be divisive in our Relief Society because of an unspoken animosity that grew between some of the women in the book group and some of the women in the play group. What was the problem? Here comes the unsurprising part: it turns out that there were women who felt judged and excluded. Some play group women felt judged as mindless, uneducated and uninteresting while some book group women felt judged as self-centered, disobedient, or faithless for pursuing degrees, working, putting off children, or keeping one’s birth name after marriage. The feeling of being judged ultimately led to friction and hostility among some of the sisters and inhibited not only feelings of sisterhood, but also the Spirit in our meetings. Although this situation may be an extreme example, it cannot be considered entirely uncommon since Mormon women often report such feelings (see Janiece Johnson’s article Patriarchy and Contentment) whether or not judgments are actually made.

So, here’s my question: If it is true that Mormon women feel judged, why do they feel so? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard lately:

1.Mormon women, (like all women?) feel judged, because they are judged—especially by other women. Society teaches women to be overly conscious about their appearance, their work, their children and their choices resulting in insecurity which can only be resolved by close and constant competition to assure that you are ahead of the crowd.

2. Mormon women, (like all women?) feel judged not because they are judged by others but because they harshly judge themselves. The feeling of being judged stems from deep insecurity and one’s own judgments which are interpreted as coming from others. (or some other reason why Mormon women feel judged even when they aren’t)

3.Two nights ago at a discussion group a friend (male) suggested that perhaps being judgmental is just part of women’s essential nature. He wasn’t kidding so I had to add this to the list as representing a legitimate possibility to some.

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41 Responses to Play Group vs. Book Group and other Barriers to Sisterhood

  1. Kaimi on June 3, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    fix

  2. Frank McIntyre on June 3, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    I have no comment on the question of judgement. But let me note that I attended a ward with a large student population that successfully had both a play group and a book group with non-trivial cross-over attendance.

    Thus there remains hope for an eventual Zion where all are as one and there are no [club]-ites among us.

  3. Ryan Bell on June 3, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    Melissa, I agree with your friend: being judgmental is part of a woman’s essential nature. It’s also part of a man’s.

    Not sure the act of judging is so much a gender-based problem. We all do it, or at least we all deal with the tendency. It seems that women could sometimes be more susceptible to feelings of inadequacy (tending to overplay negative comparisons of themselves, where men tend to overplay positive comparisons of themeselves) than men, and that might set them up for feeling judged by others. But that would just be the same as saying that Jane thinks others feel about her exactly how she feels about herself.

    I can second Frank’s post. The Arlington, Virginia ward had a very high-minded book club, a very pragmatic play group, and even some aerobics classes, with large numbers of women participating in all three.

  4. Kristine on June 3, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    I think part of the trouble, too, is that there is only one officially validated profession for a Mormon woman–stay-at-home mom. Compare that to the wide range of professions sanctioned for Mormon men, and I think you have at least a partial answer to the question of why women are so quick to judge in the Church. I’ve rarely heard a Mormon man criticize another for choosing to be a banker instead of a lawyer. We are just used to thinking it’s OK for men to construct their lives in various ways, while women’s officially approved choices are more limited. There are a lot more ways for a Mormon woman to depart from the expected, and thus open herself to judgment.

  5. Kingsley on June 3, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    When your job is your family, on the job “failures” can be devastating in a way that marketplace jobbers may not comprehend.

  6. William Morris on June 3, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Great point, Kristine.

    As a new father, I’m amazed [and yet still seem to expect — even I’m not fully liberated from the ‘soft’ expectations for fathers] at how I get ‘points’ for involvement in the baby’s life that my wife doesn’t get even thought she’s the one who has the larger share of the childcare burden.

    Melissa:

    I could see the same scenario happening with men. It’s just that we don’t seem to have book groups and play groups — at least not in the form that seems to be developing in many LDS wards.

    Why is that, BTW? Is it simply a (perceived) lack of time?

  7. Frank McIntyre on June 3, 2004 at 5:39 pm

    William,

    Welcome to the internet version of a Book Club.

  8. Melissa on June 3, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    In this particular ward there was a successful male book group, but it seems like Mormon men are more likely to get together to play basketball once a week. Am I wrong about this? If not, where does this leave the men who dislike basketball?

  9. Kingsley on June 3, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Doing their own thing.

  10. Nate Oman on June 3, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    When I lived in Cambridge, there was a small group of Mormon grad students (and me, the lowly law student) who use to read articles on Mormonism, philosophy, or religion and then get together once a week for lunch. We called ourselves — toung-in-cheek — The Metaphysical Elders (a hybrid of the Metaphysical Club of pragmatism fame and the Swearing Elders at the U.of U. in the 1950s). I point out, however, that we were not organized in opposition to the basketball players (I happen to like playing basketball), and I don’t think that anyone was really aware of or cared about our existence.

    Now I blog.

  11. William Morris on June 3, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    Frank:

    Thanks. And..

    Well, yeah. And there certainly were some similar tensions and dynamics in the AML-list when it was in full swing.

    But as much as I enjoy online interaction, we don’t usually all end up in the same room Sunday morning trying to function as cohesive auxiliary or quorum.

  12. Leslie on June 3, 2004 at 7:05 pm

    Melissa,

    You bring up an interesting example of the difficulty of social groups and groups within groups. In efforts to establish group cohesion and identity, those who do not belong to the group will inevitably be left out. Since I am childless, I won’t be invited or at least won’t fit in at play group. Even though Frank and others have pointed out that some people can cross groups, that is beside the point. Nobody can access all groups. When people are left out and others are on the inside, ill feelings easily follow.

    We see this phenomenon in the sharp division between Mormon and Non-Mormon, Member and Non-Member. Mormons gather in groups to engage in practices and affirm common beliefs. In strengthening that sense of community, the community is often juxtaposed against “the other.” Since the dichotomy develops in the context of one group being superior to the other, judgment enters into the picture. For example, your average Mormon’s picture of a Non-Mormon is someone who smokes, drinks, and has promiscuous sex—in other words, he is evil. When the same Mormon encounters a Non-Mormon who displays “good” characteristics, the Mormon is surprised. She describes that person as a “good person even though he is not a Member.” The caveat has to be given because the Mormon thinks her Mormon audience will misinterpret her if she only says that he is a “good person” or if she only says that he is a Non-Member. Hence, Mormons end up judging others based on their lack of affiliation with Mormonism because they assume that group affiliation gives them a shorthand way to find out every fiber of someone else’s being.

    This seems to be analogous to what is happening between the play group vs. the book group. The women in the play group have the advantage because in the Mormon paradigm the play group women are filling the measure of their creation while those women in the book group are engaging in selfish and potentially apostate practices. The second layer of tension that Melissa brings up is that these two groups exist within a larger group, Mormonism or Relief Society, that encourages unity. So, each group struggles to perpetuate itself in competition with the other. At the same time, the larger group attempts to unite the two groups.

    What is tricky is how one can build a unified community without creating a stigma on the outsiders. Including outsiders in the community may threaten the integrity of the community if these outsiders don’t conform to the practices/beliefs of the community. I may wreck each group if I participated in the play group and expressed my hatred for kids or the book group and detested reading. At the same time, people want to gather to socialize. How can people form groups without ostracizing others?

  13. brayden on June 3, 2004 at 7:21 pm

    I hate to act like a sociologist here, but I am what I am –

    Sociologists have shown that as groups grow in size, cliques tend to form naturally. There seems to be some size threshold at which interaction fragments into sub-groups. Perhaps it has something to do with a natural tendency within humans to only maintain a certain number of personal contacts before those contacts lose their intimacy. Or perhaps cliques exist at all group sizes, but as the threshold is reached the cliques become more noticeable and divisive. Anyway, once cliques form individuals began to define themselves in relation to those cliques. Judgmentalism is just one way of refining those boundaries, defining who is in and who is out.

    BTW, this occurs not just in informal social groups but also in complex organizations (bureaucracies, etc.) and societies (see Durkheim’s division of labor theory).

  14. clarkgoble on June 3, 2004 at 7:22 pm

    “For example, your average Mormon’s picture of a Non-Mormon is someone who smokes, drinks, and has promiscuous sex—in other words, he is evil.”

    Umm, I think few Mormons buy that. Far too many of us have non-Mormon friends. Perhaps a few sheltered in Utah who never encounter non-Mormons. But even those who’ve been on missions will recognize that above as incorrect.

  15. Nate Oman on June 3, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    “For example, your average Mormon’s picture of a Non-Mormon is someone who smokes, drinks, and has promiscuous sex—in other words, he is evil.”

    I have to second Clark here. This seems like a rather unlikely claim. I seriously doubt that it describes most of the Mormons in my ward, for example.

  16. Steve Evans on June 3, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    Leslie’s picture isn’t that incorrect, I don’t think.

    While we may not explicity engage in the judging part of what Leslie described, I can safely say that many (if not most) of my non-Mormon friends smoke and drink, and the single ones have promiscuous sex (as often as they can). At the very least, mormons are aware (and proud) of the way we “stand above the world,” which is an implicit judgment of non-mormons.

    Whether you agree with this example of Leslie’s or not, her point is still valid, and interesting, that it’s nigh-impossible to “build a unified community without creating a stigma on the outsiders.”

    My wife would probably answer that she feels judged by others, while at the same time harshly judging herself. I don’t think the two are necessarily exclusive.

  17. Ben Huff on June 4, 2004 at 1:19 am

    Hm. If Melissa’s story is representative, I do think men are less inclined to judge or feel judged within the ward, like Kingsley said. I wonder if this is because so much of a man’s life goes on outside the domain of church discussions. In a way this is the flip side of what Kristine said. On the one hand, church discussions don’t really provide any traction for judging a guy who installs air conditioning systems as any more or less righteous than a dermatologist (tho if they’re single it may affect their dating experiences). On the other hand, men who are working full-time are going to get quite a bit of feedback on whether they are “good enough” or whatever, through their work. So the question of validation for what they do during the week just isn’t on a guy’s mind so much at church. By contrast, homemaking and child-rearing strategies are considered fair game for lessons and the like at church, and a lot of the validation for these activities is going to come through church channels, so women’s heavier involvement in these activities (or even just the expectation they’ll be more heavily involved) makes church generally a more prominent source of validation, or lack of validation, for women than for men. Validation, or lack thereof, is more on the table at church for women, even for those who are already getting it at work, just because they’re women. Just a theory.

  18. John David Payne on June 4, 2004 at 1:55 am

    Leslie: Although you are childless, I would guess that the women with children would be happy if you volunteered to take a turn and let the group play at your house. But since you don’t have kids of your own, you would not benefit from the others doing the same. It’s not a matter of you not being welcomed into the group– it’s that you don’t have a reason to join the group. If you wanted to, I’m sure you *would* be welcomed since your membership would lighten the load for everyone else.

    Kristine: I am not sure I believe the bit about women’s choices being constrained by the lack of ‘official’ support for working outside the home. Utah ranks (if I remember correctly) sixth among US states for two-income households. So I have a hard time believing that staying at home is so entrenched that having a job is to “depart from the expected.”

  19. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 10:22 am

    (been on vacation): interesting post. perhaps I just missed it, but…why are the two groups exclusive? why define yourself as _belonging_ to one & not the other? don’t non-graduate student moms like books too? don’t non-mom graduate students like kids?

  20. Kristine on June 4, 2004 at 10:27 am

    John, it’s true that lots of LDS women work, but the rhetoric has not caught up with that reality.* There’s some support, or at least pity, for women who “have” to work, but virtually none for women (especially mothers) who choose to work because they like their careers.

    *I just want to forestall the “how dare you suggest that the prophets should tell people what they want to hear?” comments. I’m not arguing (not right now, anyway) that the rhetoric *should* catch up with the reality; only remarking that it hasn’t, and that women do bump up against official and quasi-official and cultural opprobrium if they choose to work in any but the most dire economic circumstances.

  21. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 10:33 am

    If Kristine won’t go there…we all know that I will! :)
    1: God gave (wo)men talents. Seems like there are scriptures re: burying & not magnifying talents. Some talents can only be magnified via work.
    2: The glory of God is intelligence. Pres. Hinckley has made it clear that (wo)men should get as much education as possible.

    ergo: (create your own intervening syllogistic linkages)…if you get an education & then waste it (note, raising children is NOT _wasting_ an education)…sounds like you would be condemned.

  22. Frank McIntyre on June 4, 2004 at 11:19 am

    Krsitine,

    The funniest thing about it is that women who don’t do paid labor also get their share of social opprobrium. Personally I’ve seen many women and men in the Church supporting women’s decisions to be employed because they “like it”. So we’ve got all kinds. It may be we have more of one kind of judger than another, but have no fear, there is someone to judge you harshly for any career decision you make.

    As a side note, saying that one does something because one likes it is almost tautological. Suppose a man said that he didn’t want to come home at night and be with his family because he “liked working all night.” This would not receive much support from Church members. And rightly so.

    I am not opposed to saying that on average women and men approach judgement and guilt differently, and so this can lead to barries in sisterhood that don’t emerge so much among brothers. Melissa seems to think this kind of thinking is a little beyond the pale but I am not sure why. Is there some reason to assume that men and women are the same?

    On the other hand, women’s life choices have been a hot-button political and religious issue for quite a while. This means that it is more difficult to have even boring conversations without stepping on toes, impeding discussion.

    Imagine I was a member of the Church who worked at Planned Parenthood performing abortions. Would I feel like people were judging me when I told them what I did? Yes. And I should feel that way because my career choice has clear moral implications. Regardless, I would feel a barrier with my brethren.

    Women’s career choices have much fuzzier moral implications, but a toned-down version of the abortion doctor example will come into play as women talk to each other about their day. Men’s career choices have a lot fewer moral implications. So less tension.

    And since when do men talk anyway? I thought men just sort of grunted between foul shots?

  23. Kristine on June 4, 2004 at 11:36 am

    Frank, I think men’s career choices have serious moral implications that go unremarked because of the overriding goal of having men make enough money to support their families solely on one income. I suspect we will one day be sorry for that.

    You said, “As a side note, saying that one does something because one likes it is almost tautological.” I don’t think that’s true in the realm of women’s career choices–there’s a very weird dynamic that says women should sacrifice for their children, and thus valorizes choosing to do the thing you like *less.* I think this martyr complex is less well-developed in Mormon men than it is in Mormon women (and women in general). It’s incredibly stupid and wasteful, but deeply ingrained in the culture. So stay-at-home moms are perpetually complaining that it’s so much harder to stay at home, while working moms are complaining that it’s so much harder to balance a career and family. Everyone has a stake in saying they’ve chosen the most difficult, least pleasant way of structuring their lives.

    Weird, stupid, and wasteful, but at least it gives economists who work with rational choice models a nifty puzzle to work on :)

  24. Nate Oman on June 4, 2004 at 11:47 am

    Kristine: I am not sure that it creates such a problem for rational choice. As long as the expressed preferences are transitive, you can model them as utility maximizing so long as you conviently (and tautalogically) define utility in terms of maximizing expressed preferences.

  25. Melissa on June 4, 2004 at 11:51 am

    Yes, Lyle President Hinckley has “made it clear that women should get as much education as possible” but it is that last “as possible” that is tricky. Just what does that mean exactly? Get as much education as you can before you get married at 21? Get as much education as you can before you have children following the rhythm method? Get as much education as you want? (I personally would like to finish up my Ph.D. in religion, go on to get one in philosophy and, since I want to know more about constitutional law, perhaps I will go to law school too–but that seems a little over the top doesn’t it? Besides I’m not sure I can live without an income for that long :)) Seriously, what does “as possible” mean?

    I was recently asked to speak on a panel at a Church-related function about why I chose to do graduate work and what I plan to do with my degree when I finish. I was also told not to say anything during the panel that would be contradictory to the counsel of the prophets or that would encourage women to work outside the home. As far as I was concerned these were contradictory instructions and left me sleepless and more than a little *ambivalent* for several days. What did they expect me to say–that I was pursuing doctoral work for fun until I could get married and settle down to do what I really loved? I really struggled over how honest I could be. I supposed that they didn’t want me to tell the real truth: that I am passionately committed to my work, would never give it up, and love being single? When some young thing on the front row asked the panel how we ever hoped to juggle motherhood with career, implying that we couldn’t, I avoided the question to the best of my ability.

    Mormon women are not alone in their ambiguously supportive responses, however. A brilliant single scientist friend of mine recently told me that the last three LDS guys she dated broke things off when they found out she really loves her career and isn’t just passing time until the right proposal.

    So, between confusing statements from on high and the varying degrees of criticism, judgment or suspicion among members, a working woman (or advanced graduate student who plans to work) must travel a thorny path.

    Mm. After writing this post it seems to me that my two entries so far at Times and Seasons are really about the same thing.

  26. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 11:53 am

    Frank,

    actually…the ethical dilemna of men’s careers was the biggest subject at the first annual LDS law students conference at Harvard this last february.

    folks were split between those that felt it was immoral for LDS men to work 80 hour weeks to become ‘partners’ & also get church callings like bishop/stake president & then never spend any time with their fams.

    the other, more intersting split, was among the practioners on the panel. most of them felt _guilty_ not because they were working _too much_, but because they were afraid they weren’t working _enough_ hours to properly represent their clients & often felt guilty for taking time off of work for church, family, etc.

  27. Kingsley on June 4, 2004 at 12:00 pm

    Melissa: Sounds like that Grondahl cartoon, where the sister is up at the pulpit in her BYU ward, saying, “I’ve come to this school to study nuclear physics … not to get a job but to teach nuclear physics to my children in the home.”

  28. Russell Arben Fox on June 4, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    “Church discussions don’t really provide any traction for judging a guy who installs air conditioning systems as any more or less righteous than a dermatologist.”

    I’m not sure I would agree with this Ben. It fits in, though it’s worth debating exactly how, with Kristine’s comment that “men’s career choices have serious moral implications that go unremarked because of the overriding goal of having men make enough money to support their families solely on one income.” I guess it depends on what is meant by “church discussions.” Clearly there is nothing (or almost nothing) on anything like an “official” or “prophetic” level which makes distinctions between men who are blue-collar, clock-punching air conditioner installers and white collar, stock-portfolio-owning dermatologists, certainly not in the same way there are distinctions made between women who are full-time homemakers and women who work outside the home full-time. But that isn’t the only level on which “church discussions” take place. My experience is that callings, assignments, and other informal markers of “righteousness” in the church often (though of course not always) follow social cliques, which are frequently defined by class. Lawyers, doctors, academics, and other professionals will too often have a very different (and rather judgmental) understanding of “the overriding goal of [making] enough money to support their families” than will farmers, mechanics, food service employees, janitors, etc. (And, of course, vice versa.) While I won’t pretend that such divisions are as painful as those described in Melissa’s original post, they’re real, they hurt, and they slow down the work of the church. I’d be very suprised if the majority of men here haven’t, at one point or another, served in wards and elders or high priest groups that were profoundly, and perhaps judgmentally, divided by issues of class, education, and vocation.

  29. Frank McIntyre on June 4, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Kristine,

    Nate is correct about the implied tautology.

    One can go further, but this is probably not the time, so I’ll wait for a post more directly related to the issue rather than spinning off into tangential oblivion.

  30. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 12:45 pm

    Why is getting a PhD & a J.D. over the top? Since when should anyone have to answer to what ‘everyone else’ (whomever they are) thinks?

    And so what if you are living poor. You’ve done it for years…why stop now? Think of all the great synthesis you could get out of combingin a J.D. with your other degrees.

  31. Melissa on June 4, 2004 at 1:05 pm

    Lyle,

    It would be deliciously fun to synthesize philosophy, religion and law, but what I *really* want to do is teach and write in religious studies. Besides I’m not sure how the academy would feel (nondescript personification is always safe) if I finished my dissertation and then went to law school. The truth is I just want to know everything! For example, I’m realizing now that I should have taken some classes in cognitive science, neurology, and psychology (think Steven Pinker, Owen Flanagan and Pascal Boyer) because these fields are related to my work in religious studies (actually every discipline seems to be related to my work in religious studies) My greed for knowledge is actually becoming a problem as I prepare to take my qualifying exams because my book lists are ridiculously long.

  32. John David Payne on June 4, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Kristine: As I see it, there’s two ways that a behavior can become normal, or expected. One is for it to happen all the time. Another is for it to be approved either in official or informal discourse. My point was that Mormon women just as much as gentile women, so I am surprised to hear that the behavior is still considered abnormal. Your point seems to be that without the legitimacy granted by (official) discourse, working outside the home will continue to be considered abnormal for women in the church. I guess I can buy that for the present, but I would guess that the realities of women’s choices will eventually legitimize working outside the home, for good or for ill.

    About men’s career choices, I am not sorry that men have to work long hours because their wives are staying home with the children. I am, however, very sorry that men have to work long hours because they, their wives, and their children have been brainwashed by our crassly commercial society into spending far more than is prudent. That’s the problem that I see. Young marrieds want the kinds of things that their parents have now, after working for thirty years, rather than the kinds of things that their parents had when they were young and poor.

  33. Kevin Barney on June 4, 2004 at 2:35 pm

    Melissa, don’t go to law school. Some have done both a JD and a PhD–Richard L. Anderson and David Paulsen spring to mind–but they did the law school thing first, not second. When you finish your PhD, I would focus on trying to get a tenure-track appointment. You can continue your pursuit for knowledge to your heart’s content as an employed professor. At some point you’ve got to cut the formal schooling loose.

    On what “as possible” means, I think the ambiguity is intentional, and you should use it to your advantage. It means whatever you want it to mean. Maybe for you, “as possible” means limiting yourself to one PhD, not two and a JD on top of that.

  34. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    note, two former BYU Poli Sci professors left teaching to go back to law school; and one got his law degree from BYU while teaching (granted, he already had tenure & wasn’t focused on getting top grades).

    regardless, their choice & the two Philo professors mentioned above…rests on personal career choices. & this thread is about education, etc…not you making choice. my point: yes, you [& every other (wo)man] can ‘have it all’

    if you are serious about it though…see if you can get into some type of joint degree program…rapido so that you can double count at least some of your classes.

  35. Melissa on June 4, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    I’m laughing outloud at the advice suddenly coming at me from two lawyers. One says go, the other says no. However, I’ll refrain from telling lawyer jokes because I’m a guest here.

    For the record, although I am interested in con. law, I have never even considered going to law school. I was simply trying to give an example (one I thought was extreme) of a possible interpretation of the sometimes confusingly vague statements made by general authorities.

    Having said that, I’m interested in Kevin’s comment about using ambiguity to our advantage.

    Perhaps by defining the ambiguity as “intentional” you mean to suggest that although guidelines have to be given, leaders keep their remarks undefined on purpose trusting that members will make the right decision by following the Spirit’s direction. Did you mean something more than or different from this?

  36. Kingsley on June 4, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    Most men probably find their jobs at least as limiting as stay-at-home moms find theirs. Loving one’s day job is the exception to the rule rather than otherwise. For lots of fellows it’s a great sacrifice to leave the house morning in, morning out, in order to keep food on the the table. To love what you do is a rare gift. My father & mother sacrificed equally when it came to their divine “roles.”

  37. cooper on June 4, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    I agree completely with Russell’s comment with regard to judgemental behavior in male circles at church. In my experience, men are more highly scrutinized with regard to employment or occupation in church. There are just as many cliques in male circles as in female. I just don’t think they take the time to verbalize it.

    I am highly sensitized to this issue because we have been criticized as to role reversal’s in out own home – husband a Licensed Medical Social Worker ie. (care giver), me Stock Broker, then Management professional. I gave up years ago trying to fit in “role” wise.

  38. Melissa on June 4, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Kingsley,

    You make an important point. I think that in discussions about this issue it often gets assumed that men can do just what they please while women are oppressed because they are supposed to stay home. I would guess that it is rare that many men do just what they love professionally.

    Even *with* a stimulating career, there are many good men (I know some of them) who would trade places with their wives in a hearbeat to get to stay at home full time to raise their children. I think that it is possible to become so besotted with one’s own children that one’s first choice becomes full-time childraising.

  39. Chad Too on June 4, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    to Melissa: Ooh ooh pick me!!

    I was one of those stay-at home dads who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I seldom found it tedious, it was fresh and exciting living and learning about life again through a 3-year-old’s eyes. I miss so much about that period of my life: library storytime, lunch at the park, playing horsey until I thought my legs would fall off. I still get that tingle in my spine each afternoon around 3:30 (the time he normally got up from his nap) because I had to be on my toes. He tried every day to quietly put on his pirate costume and sneak downstairs to scare me with a hearty “arrrrrrgh!”

    Wow. Until I wrote that, I’d forgotten just how much I missed it.

    We had a great time together and people still marvel at the close, trusting relationship my son and I have.

    And to come back to topic (I can do that if pressed), if you’d really like to be on the receiving end of animosity from the ward sister cliques, try being a successful stay-at-home dad who occasionally runs into these sisters in the park or library. You might as well have painted a target on my ample backside.

  40. Heather Oman on June 5, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    I love my play group. It lets me see that other 2 year olds are as crazy as mine is, and I can see how other mothers handle their kids, and learn from their experience.

    I love my book group. It gives me a sense of friendship with sisters who are not in the playgroup, i.e., my 75 year old visiting teacher who blushed when she discovered there are lesbian overtones in the book “Fried Green Tomatoes”.

    When I was childless, I participated in none of these groups, because, as was brought up earlier, I didn’t need anything from them. I was working 40 hours a week, enjoying my job and the people I worked with, and did not need a break from the house because I was hardly ever home. And I have to admit, I frankly felt excluded and isolated from a group at Harvard called the Harvard Law Couples Association, because all they ever did was organize book groups and play dates, things I wasn’t interested in. I would think “Don’t these women have anything else to do?” Then I had my own child, and the light dawned.

    So I think my answer to the original question about if Mormon women feel judged is absolutely yes, and here are my reasons why:

    Yes, they ARE being judged, by women who are judging themselves harshly, as Melissa mentioned. These are women who are trying to find justifications for their own lifestyles, no matter what lifestyle they have chosen, and who feel excluded because of their choiced. And women everywhere, in the church and outside, get mixed reviews about said choices. If you are a stay at home mom, you are congratulated for making sacrifices for your kids, but people think then you are not contributing significantly to society. If you go to work, you are congratulated for being a productive member of the community, but silently judged for not being a better mother. So combine all that with Mormon women stress syndrome, and no wonder you have some nasty undercurrents going on in Relief Society. It’s too bad really, because I have a strong testimony of the power of sisterhood and the power of Relief Society. But I think good feelings can exist in a Relief Society if we just respect other people’s decisions, and just assume that they have made them prayfully.

    Chad–my cousin is a stay at home dad (and a good one, too). He made every woman in his ward smile on mother’s day when he got up and said, “Mothers, I feel your pain.”

  41. Jack on June 6, 2004 at 3:18 am

    I’m a middle-aged blue-collar clock-punching father of six. My salary is pitiful. (even for blue collar standards) I have roughly two years of college under my belt. (which I completed over an eight year period) I studied music composition and theory. (Ben Huff, have I blown my cover? Don’t tell anyone) Now, maybe I haven’t made it in music because I’m not very good at it–or maybe I don’t have enough ambition. But, whatever the reason, I wish like heck that I was doing music fulltime instead of driving a truck.