Yesterday, four permabloggers here at Times and Seasons made internal announcements that there will be new little blogglings in their homes come next March. Hours before the flurry of “me-too” emails, I’d heard that my sister is also expecting. I was truly delighted to hear so much happy news at once. Along with my hearty congratulations to everyone, I responded with a couple of comments in an email which led to a much broader discussion. With everyone’s permission I am reposting some highlights here for your blogging pleasure. Please weigh in on the issues we raise. .
I think you fathers out there are luckier than you realize. You get to be parents without pregnancy or childbirth and without giving up your other demanding and valuable work. I may not ever get to be a parent, but if I am presented with that opportunity, it will most certainly require all of this from me personally.
If I had the choice of trading with my husband, I wouldn’t. (Although he’d be much better at being pregnant–at 6’1, he’d still be able to reach faucets without turning sideways, which is something I can only dream of in the final trimester). I’ll spare you the treacly rhetoric about motherhood because I hate it myself, but what I do is more important and more rewarding (even in the short term) than what he does. To contextualize that, he is doing what he wants professionally, in good (extremely flexible) circumstances, adequately compensated. But he’s still hunched over a monitor for 9 hours per day, while I read aloud about alchemists, tour ice cream factories, teach the baby to clap, read the Little House books to my kids for the first time (and to me, for the first time), and, in general, have much more control over my life, schedule, and environment than he does. Which is not to say that I don’t deal with way more literal and metaphorical poop than he does, but I still think he has the short end of the stick.
Julie, I know you feel this way and I love the fact that you do. But, I can’t help wondering if your husband agrees? Does *he* think that he’s got the short end of the stick? Bracketing theological and practical considerations for the moment, would your husband want to change places with you?
How much of not wanting to trade with your husband has to do with what he is actually doing (hunched over a monitor all day)? I don’t know what it is you might want to be doing except for raising kids–because it seems like that’s what you love best–but what if there were something else you really loved and couldn’t do as long as you were a full-time mom? What if you could be an engaged and devoted parent and still pursue that passion (I don’t just mean having the ability to do enjoyable things like “tour ice cream factories and teach the baby to clap”) in a concentrated way like some (certainly not all or even most) men get to do? Wouldn’t you want to?
>How much of not wanting to trade with your husband has to do
>with what he is actually doing (hunched over a monitor all day)?
I honestly didn’t know. I asked. He said he wouldn’t trade because he didn’t think he could do what I do the way I do it, and that I’d be ticked at him. I asked him to take that off the table and imagine that I’d be fine with whatever he had or had not done when I got home from work. He said he couldn’t do that because then I wouldn’t be me.
>I don’t know what it is you might want to be doing except for raising
> kids—because it seems like that’s what you love best—-but what if
>there were something else you really loved and couldn’t do as long as
>you were a full-time mom?
This made me cringe. (Although I am sure that wasn’t your intention.) Raising kids isn’t what I love best. Raising kids while homeschooling, teaching Institute and Sunday School, writing, reading, experimenting with new recipes, and going out to dinner with my girlfriends in the ward is what I love best. Raising kids by itself would make me someone-cidal (self or other, I don’t know). As for your question after the ‘but': I don’t know how to answer that except to say that it isn’t just about moms. Maybe 1% of men love their jobs to the point where it is ‘the thing that they love'; the rest are paying the bills and having their time to do what they love devoured by their children. In other words, being a working dad is usually just as incompatible with doing what you love as being a SAHM mom is. BTW, had I not had kids, I’m sure I would have taken a PhD at the GTU, finished around 2000, and looked for a job.
>What if you could be a engaged and devoted parent and still
> pursue that passion (I don’t just mean having the ability to do
>enjoyable things like “tour ice cream factories and teach the
>baby to clap”) in a concentrated way like some (certainly not
>all or even most) men get to do?
Ah, I just don’t think that is true. Men who work full time give up a huge chunk of ‘engaged and devoted.’ (I’m not saying they are bad fathers; I am not saying society does or should call them disengaged and lacking devotion, I am saying that they miss out on a lot of good stuff.) I addressed above my thought that very few men are actually pursuing their passions 9 to 5.
> Wouldn’t you want to?
No. I may just be a dilettante, but I am happier on a day with a few hours of school, a (grudging) hour or so of home care, time at the park with friends, dinner with the family, and then ‘holing up’ (as we call it around here) with my books for 5-6 hours in the evening. I wouldn’t trade that for a 14 hour day with the books. I think balance improves all endeavors.
Sorry for asking such personal questions, but in honest moments I’ve had not a few men admit to me that they would never want to trade positions with their wives. I’d be interested in what your husband would say if really pressed–maybe he’d say the same thing he did–or perhaps he’d be duplicitous about it (for whatever reason), but then again maybe not.
>In other words, being a working dad is usually just as incompatible
>with doing what you love as being a SAHM mom is.
Of course, this is true. I made the same point at M* last week. I was just interested in the question theoretically for you two. As for the cringing, you’re right I didn’t mean to evoke that response. Of course, I recognize that you do much more than raise kids. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I’m also sure that your life is MUCH more balanced than mine is. I sat in two 3 1/2 hour seminars today (has anyone else ever heard of seminars longer than THREE hours?) one of which I directed. I was up at 5:00 to finish reading and writing my notes for that meeting and I’m still at work now–not even close to being done yet. Although I spend a lot of the day reading, I can’t imagine 5-6 hours of reading strictly for pleasure. I too like to cook but cooking for myself feels like a waste of time when it’s so easy to stop by the salad bar on campus or pick up a cup of soup at the cafe across the street. I haven’t actually cooked a single meal since I’ve been here. It’s really not enjoyable to cook for yourself and it turns out to be more expensive too. Whether or not balance improves “all” endeavors is another question we can argue another time–but certainly your life is more balanced and varied than mine and that might be a good you wouldn’t want to sacrifice.
I tried to make it clear that I know that most men, like many women, don’t get to do what they love. This seems to be an obvious and uncontroversial claim. I was just wondering what you thought about a woman who does have a job she loves which happens to be incompatible with full-time parenting. Of course, I’m talking about myself here. I realize I am one of the infinintesimally small numbers of lucky people on the planet for whom this would even be an issue. Nevertheless, I am not the only person on earth for whom the following description is apt. I simply *love* what I do. Not a single day passes when I’m not struck by feelings of amazement and gratitude that I get to be doing the sort of work I do. Of course there are challenges in my profession, but that would be the case no matter what I was doing. I am so passionate about and committed to my work that I can’t even fathom leaving. It would be a profound, identity-altering sort of loss for me to walk away from academia, especially my teaching. Although there may be but few men who have the luxury of feeling this way about their work, there are certainly some who do. These men will never be asked to give up their professions to become parents. You’re right that there are things that fathers who work outside the home all day miss—and I think that’s unfortunate. Part of what I was arguing at M* is that our current way of doing things is bad for men as well as for women. But, even in our flawed setup men can still pursue a profession of interest to them and also become parents. Provided that men take an active interest in their children and are generous with their time in the evenings and on the weekends they are even considered and can consider themselves good parents (even if they do sometimes miss important moments). This sort of picture would never be acceptable for a mother. I could never be considered a good parent if I worked outside the home full-time by choice no matter how much I adored my children or how involved I was with them in my off-work hours. What’s worse, in my experience, most LDS men who are serious about the gospel would
unreflectively expect me to leave my profession once we became parents.
A man expects to carry on with his professional life more or less unchanged when he becomes a parent. In contrast, as a woman, I am expected to walk away from (or severely curtail) my profession in order to do the same thing—become a parent. For some men very little needs to change in their lives to be able to experience parenthood. But, my whole world would have to change (physiological, professional, social . . .).
If we both love our jobs then this arrangement seems to favor him. If he is only marginally happy with his job the scenario is even worse! Why should I leave a job I love while he stays in a job he’s indifferent to (and possibly even despises) so that we can become parents? Aren’t there other arrangements that make more sense than this one? It’s one thing to start having babies in your early twenties; it’s quite another to you start having babies in your early thirties, and yet the norms are the same. A woman who has spent a decade or more receiving education, professional training, gaining experience and advancing in her career is expected to leave it behind (some even expect her to want to do so and are “shocked” to discover that might not be the case). If I were a man the fact that I love my career would NEVER prompt the question, “don’t you want to have kids?” but as a woman I get this question all the time. Parenthood and professional pursuits are seen as mutually exclusive activities for women but not for men. Let me make it clear: this wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t care about being a mother! It troubles me precisely because I do want to have children. I don’t want this point to get lost in the conversation.
Of course, I am always willing to acknowledge the possibility of my becoming so besotted with my own infants that I couldn’t imagine leaving them for a moment. I am willing to entertain the idea that the reason I don’t feel that way now is that I don’t yet have children. Perhaps my feelings will drastically change when this is no longer merely theoretical.
>I’m also sure that your life is MUCH more balanced than
I’m not sure that is true. I’ve only seen glimmers of your life, but you do things I don’t: exercise, pick berries and apples, host dinner parties. I would be a better person if I did those things.
>Although I spend a lot of the day reading, I can’t imagine
>5-6 hours of reading strictly for pleasure. I too like to cook
>but cooking for myself feels like a waste of time when it’s so
>easy to stop by the salad bar on campus or pick up a cup of
>soup at the cafe across the street. I haven’t actually cooked
>a single meal since I’ve been here (besides it’s really not
> enjoyable to cook for yourself. It turns out to be more
I hope nothing I have said appeared to sound as if I were trying to suggest that my life is better than yours; what I was trying to suggest is that I think the ‘SAHM-life-is-so-hard’ card gets overplayed sometimes. I got a little of that vibe from your post about fathers being grateful, and I just wanted to suggest that even for a woman with lots of academic and non-child interests, even for a woman for whom the language of duty and ‘woman’s natural inclinations’ rings hollow, there are a lot of advantages to this arrangement (which, incidentally, I had to work to establish–I didn’t feel this way at first).
>I tried to make it clear that I know that most men, like many
>women, don’t get to do what they love. I was just wondering
>what you thought about a woman who does have a job she loves
>which happens to be incompatible with full-time parenting.
God asks different sacrifices of each of us, and it may be that some women (those with career interests incompatible with motherhood) may have to lay that on the altar. But this isn’t primarily a feminist issue–many men do, too. Have you seen the pictures of Pres. Hunter’s band–he toured on cruise ships–that he gave up because he knew it wasn’t conducive to family life? To the extent that a woman is more likely to have to give up career aspirations than a man, well, he’ll have to end up sacrificing some significant depth of relationship with his children. From a gospel perspective, he is getting the short end of the stick, whether he realizes it in any individual case or not. Let us not forget that God is a stay at home parent, primarily responsible for the nurture of children.
>I am so passionate about and committed to what I
>do that I can’t fathom leaving. It would be a profound,
>identity-altering sort of loss for me to walk away from
>my work, especially my teaching.
I felt exactly the same way during my graduate program. I felt like a fish out of water–a really, really angry fish–during my first year of motherhood. I had to refashion my identity, I did, and I am happier now than I was then.
>Provided that men take an active interest in their
>children and are generous with their time in the
>evenings and on the weekends they are even
>considered and can consider themselves good parents
>(even if they do sometimes miss important moments).
Yes, but even with the social and religious approval, they are still missing out on good things of great value by not getting to spend those hours with their children. They are still making a trade-off.
>This sort of picture would never be acceptable for
>a mother. I could never be considered a good parent
>if I worked outside the home full-time by choice no
>matter how much I adored my children or how
>involved I was with them in my off-work hours.
Your passive contruction here intrigues me–by whom would you not be considered a good parent? God? Yourself? Your family? The gossip sitting behind you in sacrament meeting? The prophet? I would consider you a good mother if your husband were home full-time. Otherwise, I would think that your children were missing out, and you were, too. I also think the focus is off: we shouldn’t be nearly so concerned about whether you are (or are perceived as) a good mother as we are about what is happening to your children. What would happen to your children if you weren’t there? I don’t wish to make this too personal or accusatory, but I’d no sooner have paid someone 2.25 an hour to write my book than I’d pay someone that rate to watch my kids–why would I assume that appropriate attention would be given to the latter but not the former?
>In contrast, as a woman, I am expected to walk away
>from (or severely curtail) my profession in order to
>become a parent. For some men very little needs to
>change in their lives to be able to experience parenthood.
>But, my whole world would have to change (physiological,
>professional, social . . .). Why should I leave a job I
>love while he stays in a job he’s indifferent to (and
>possibly even despises) so that we can become
>parents? Aren’t there other arrangements that make
>more sense than this one?
In that situation, I would be carefully prayerful about it and go with that. I am not opposed to SAHDs, assuming God is onboard with that plan, and I have no reason to think that is impossible.
>It would be a profound, identity-altering sort of loss for
>me to walk away from my work, especially my teaching.
As Julie pointed out with the President Hunter example, Melissa, I know many men who give up doing something they love expressly because they wish to provide support for their family and, in some cases, so that their wife could be at home with the children without the financial pressure of a low income. Your ideal profession, a professor of religion, would actually be a prime example of the sort of thing that many men would never even attempt because they know it will, with high probability, not provide for their family and is too risky a job. Let’s face it, a PhD in the humanities is as much about personal consumption and gratification as about investment in future income. How is that professional sacrifice substantively different than the one you envision you may be faced with?
As for giving up my job to stay with my kids, I’d be happy to give it a shot. I am not so naive to think that I know how I’d feel about it before trying it, but then, who is? But it is a little silly of you to think you know whether or not any man is properly grateful for the work of his wife and the mother of his children.
>But it is a little silly of you to think you know whether or
>not any man is properly grateful for the work of his wife
>and the mother of his children.
I don’t think I’ve suggested that I know this at all. Being “properly grateful” is very different from being willing to trade places. In fact, it may be the case that some men are grateful for what their wives do at least partly because their wives’ labor at home makes possible their pursuit of other projects which matter a lot to them. I’m not saying that this is the way it is, but I am posing questions.
I feel pretty bad for you, Melissa, but I don’t have anything useful to say about your personal situation. I do think that you are making a mistake by converting your personal anguish into a feminist critique. I hear you saying two things that don’t seem right to me–first, that the current system favors men because, while many men don’t love their job the way you do, some do, and they get to keep it–and second, that the problems of people having to spend their lives doing what they don’t love would go away if we stopped having gender roles. Neither bears up under inspection (in fact, the second point almost contradicts the first).
>I’m not sure that is true. I’ve only seen glimmers of
>your life, but you do things I don’t: exercise, pick
>berries and apples, host dinner parties. I would be a
>better person if I did those things.
Well, I pick fruit four days a year and I can’t remember the last time I threw a big dinner party (it may be almost a year ago). On a daily basis your life sounds a lot more “balanced.” Again, we could debate the relative importance of balance, but that’s another question.
>God asks different sacrifices of each of us, and it may
>be that some women (those with career interests
>incompatible with motherhood) may have to lay that
>on the altar. But this isn’t primarily a feminist
>issue–many men do, too. Have you seen the pictures
>of Pres. Hunter’s band–he toured on cruise ships–
>that he gave up because he knew it wasn’t conducive
>to family life?
I’ve already agreed with this at several turns. I know that men make great and good sacrifices for their families. That’s not in question. My central point is that men get to be parents without giving up their careers. If we are going to pull out the general authorities as examples, Frank, Elder Oaks got to be a lawyer and then a judge AND be a father. Elder Nelson got to pursue medicine and become a leading surgeon AND be a father. Their wives, as far as I know, did not pursue any career but motherhood. This is not a denigration of motherhood it is simply an empirical observation.
>To the extent that a woman is more likely to have to
>give up career aspirations than a man, well, he’ll
>have to end up sacrificing some significant depth of
>relationship with his children. From a gospel
>perspective, he is getting the short end of the stick,
>whether he realizes it in any individual case or not.
>Let us not forget that God is a stay at home parent,
>primarily responsible for the nurture of children.
I’m not sure about any of what you say here. I certainly don’t think that “from a gospel perspective he’s getting the short end of the stick.” And it doesn’t seem like God is primarily “responsible for the nurture of children” since he’s also busy organizing worlds without number among countless other things (if we subscribe to the theology that God is still progessing it is certainly the case, although this doctrine has been up for debate historically).
>Your passive contruction here intrigues me–by whom
>would you not be considered a good parent?…I also
>think the focus is off: we shouldn’t be nearly so concerned
>about whether you are (or are perceived as) a good
>mother as we are about what is happening to your
>children. What would happen to your children if you
>weren’t there? I don’t wish to make this too personal
>or accusatory, but I’d no sooner have paid someone
>2.25 an hour to write my book than I’d pay someone
>that rate to watch my kids–why would I assume that
>appropriate attention would be given to the latter but
>not the former?
Since I think being a good mother is directly tied to what’s happening to my children I didn’t separate the two. I have never suggested day care. I don’t think I’d ever consider anything but the most minimal type of friend/family/ward member exchange sort of day care arrangement. The question about what other people think was not really my point, but we could have a long discussion about it someday. As a member of a ward community it is very difficult to be deeply misperceived and misunderstood on an ongoing basis. I don’t imagine that as a stay at home, homeschooling mother you have ever been perceived as anything but the quintessential example of womanhood and motherhood by members of the church. If you were to experience being marginalized, mistrusted, overlooked, demeaned, patronized, pitied, etc., etc., for any extended period of time at church you might feel very differently about whether how others perceive you is important. Lots of Latter-day Saints, especially LDS women, seem bothered that I adore my work and generally have a strong sense of wellbeing even though I don’t have children. Sometimes it seems like some of them would be much more comfortable if I seemed just a little unhappy.
My feeling, with Frank, is that I’d love to give child-rearing and domestic operations a try, but, unlike him, I know ex ante that the results would be a shambles. Sara’s a lot better at this stuff than me.
I haven’t meant to convert my situation into a feminist critique, Adam. The critique exists whether I make it or not and stands quite apart from my own experience when I do go down that path. I know many full-time stay at home mothers who are NOT happy with the way that work and childraising gets divided up. I don’t think that the extreme specialization model is the best model for anyone (including children). That has less to do with my own experience (since I don’t have children am not even faced with the challenge) than with what I’ve observed over a lifetime.
I would, I’m almost certain. Trade places with my husband, I mean. (Not with any man, to be sure, but with a man who has had the same opportunities and choices as my husband–which I have every reason to believe I would have had if I had been born an oldest son, as he was, instead of an oldest daughter.)
Yes, I enjoy pregnancy, and yes, I enjoy a qualitatively different relationship–far closer, far more interdependent, far more emotionally fraught, and, undoubtedly, far more constitutive–with my children than does my husband. But my husband, who frankly admits that he would not trade places with me, doesn’t feel at all the lack of these in his own life, and I have no reason to think that I would, either, if I were a man. My husband, I think, enjoys the children during the time that he’s with them, he feels responsible for them and certainly loves them, and I think fatherhood has generally been a very rich personal experience for him, despite the fact that he is not an especially involved father, either by temperament or, of course, by profession. My father was not at all a hands-on father, either; he performed even less of the physical care of us, if possible, than my husband does of our children, and he spent very little one-on-one time with any of us, and yet he takes an enormous pride and satisfaction in his children–he always wanted more. The point is, I think I’d be like my husband and my father, if I were a man: I would enjoy and benefit from my children, and I wouldn’t miss the emotional interdependence or the physical experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
And of course, both my husband and my father take great satisfaction from and, even more importantly, derive a significant sense of self-identity from their work. They do not experience the sort of transcendant radiant attachment to their work that Melissa does to hers–it may very well be that most human beings are constitutionally incapable of that sort of transcendant radiant attachment to anything! ;) –and, of course, their work is high-pressured, sometimes boring, and not always glamorous. Still, according to what they tell me, they have greatly enjoyed and profited personally from the opportunity to develop an expertise of their choosing, and from the sense of, what, underlying self-worth (I hate that phrase, there must be something better) and realization that it has given them. I experienced some of that as a graduate student, and as I said in a previous message, I feel its loss acutely.
This is because my (and Julie’s) claim is not limited to upper or middle-class, professional men. I was just talking about men in the whole, wide, world, of whom the upper middle class (American) professional set is neither representative nor particularly large, nor particularly important. It is a set many of us are members of, but that has little relevance to its global importance.
The first problem with Melissa’s “feminist critique” is that not getting to do what you love applies almost equally to men and women across the globe, outside the clique Rosalynde mentioned above. It is a classic case of overemphasizing one’s own box.
And Melissa, if Oaks and Nelson are the test cases, we all pretty much look like losers, right? Those men have had far more opportunities than billions of other people, because of their extraordinary skill and spirituality. Both those men were called to leave their professions by God to do something else. The sacrifice may have been small because they recognized the incredible value of the Apostleship. Is it more important to be an Apostle than a mother? If so, why? Don’t we all serve where we are called? To my children, Carrie and, to a lesser extent, I, are vastly more important to their spiritual development than Elder Nelson. No offense to Elder Nelson.
It is my observation that men who most strongly support naturalized traditional gender roles are also the first to insist that they would trade places with their wives in a minute, if the tables were turned. And then, almost invariably, they add that their wives are much better at it than they would ever be, etc etc etc, thus re-naturalizing the roles. Don’t get me wrong, and please don’t take offense: I don’t doubt theirsincerity in the least; in fact, I’d think it’s probably psychologically necessary to believe this in order not to feel bad about insisting on the rigidness, too.
Conversely, men who are most equivocal about naturalized gender roles tend to be much less sanguine and much more qualified about their willingness to give up their chosen work.
There are a few men, just as there are a few women, for whom childcare is a true avocation, who take true pleasure in interacting with and caring for kids—and these men are often quite flexible about traditional gender roles, but also would be quite willing to give up their own work to be with their kids. I think Kaimi may be one of that sort.
>I would, I’m almost certain. Trade places with my
>husband, I mean.
Are you saying here that your choices were limited in your family because of your gender?
>But my husband, who frankly admits that he would
>not trade places with me, doesn’t feel at all the lack
>of these in his own life, and I have no reason to think
>that I would, either, if I were a man.
You know, I’ve had many conversations with working women who say that their relationship with their children is just fine, thank you. I want to say (but don’t): that’s becuase you don’t know what you are missing! (Analogy: if you have never enjoyed a fine meal, you might think a frozen dinner is just fine, thank you.) My point is that just because he doesn’t feel a lack, and just because you might not in his place, doesn’t mean that something real is not missing.
>The point is, I think I’d be like my husband and my
>father, if I were a man: I would enjoy and benefit from
>my children, and I wouldn’t miss the emotional
>interdependence or the physical experiences of
>pregnancy and childbirth.
I wonder how much family of origin plays into all this. My father (a nonmember with only 2 kids) was with us constantly: wrestling on the floor every night, swimming, going sailing almost every weekend, etc. This might be my template for what constitutes adequate parenting. (BTW, my mother taught school during most of my school years.)
>My central point is that men get to be parents
>without giving up their careers. If we are
>going to pull out the general authorities as
>examples, Frank, Elder Oaks got to be a lawyer and
>then a judge AND be a father. Elder Nelson
>got to pursue medicine AND be a father.
>Their wives, as far as I know, did not pursue
>any career but motherhood.
I think the problem is that you are assigning equal value to Elder Nelson’s ‘fatherhood’ as to his wife’s ‘motherhood’, as if because they both got to check off the boxes, they both did the same thing. I read his bio; during his career he was out of town ONE THIRD of the time. He also had demanding callings. I hate to comment on other’s (especially church leaders’) personal lives, but I daresay he put much less into those relationships and therefore got much less out of them. It isn’t equivalent. In a very real sense, I think
he gave up 80% or so of fatherhood (NOT that I am questioning his decision) for his career. He made a
>I’m not sure about any of what you say here.
>I certainly don’t think that “from a gospel
>perspective he’s getting the short end of the
>stick.” And it doesn’t seem like God is primarily
>”responsible for the nurture of children” since
>he’s also busy organizing worlds without number
>among other things.
Well, I cannot say much to your assertions, but I’ll engage them if you flesh them out. Do you really think that God devotes as much energy to physical creation as to nurturing children?
>As a member of a ward community it is very
>difficult to be deeply misperceived and
>misunderstood. I don’t imagine that as a stay at
>home, homeschooling mother you have ever been
>perceived as anything but the quintessential example
>of womanhood and motherhood by members of the
(falls on the floor laughing) You have no idea. I generally get shunted off as a feminist firebrand because I actually disagree with what people say in Relief Society and present challenging Sunday School lessons. No one thinks I am normal. They think I am bookish, weird, geeky, etc.
>If you were to experience being marginalized,
>mistrusted, overlooked, demeaned, patronized
>etc., etc., for any extended period of time at church
>you might feel very differently about whether
>how others perceive you is important.
Perhaps. But that wouldn’t make it right to privilege other’s opinions over what I knew God wanted me to do.
>(falls on the floor laughing) You have no idea. I generally get shunted off as a feminist firebrand because I actually disagree with what people >say in Relief Society and present challenging Sunday School lessons. No one thinks I am normal. They think I am bookish, weird, geeky, etc.
I have no doubt that you stand out in any ward as being “bookish” and “feminist” because you’re smart and articulate. But, this isn’t at all what I mean. Take your experience of being labeled as “feminist bookish, weird, geeky,” and multiply it exponentially. I’m considered all those things because of my education too but I’m oh so much worse because I’m not married, don’t have children and don’t seem to be actively mourning this situation. In an earlier email you said that one of the things you love best is going out to dinner with your girlfriends from the ward. The very fact that you have girlfriends (plural!!) in your ward indicates clearly that you just do not know what I’m talking about. I would guess (although I’d be happy to be wrong) that those LDS girlfriends of yours are all married with children. Am I right? I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were right.
>But that wouldn’t make it right to privilege other’s opinions over what I knew God wanted me to do.
This discussion has been so wide-ranging that it’s easy for the different issues to begin to bleed into each other, but let me make it as clear as I can. I never ever said or meant to imply that it is “right to privilege others’ opinions over what I knew God wanted me to do” If I believed that it was I would have gotten married and had kids a long, long time ago. I engaged you on the “what other people think” line of thought when you picked up a loose thread from another of my comments but in terms of causality it is simply a nonissue in my situation. It is tangentially relevant to the larger conversation in that being ill-treated by some members of the church can sometimes be a consequence of being in a situation like mine, but that’s a different point from letting other people’s treatment determine behavior.
I began this conversation to try to get everyone to see a different perspetive from the essentialist one that underlies most LDS conversation on this issue. I am not different from you, Adam or Frank! I do not think that I would find it natural (or easy or . . . insert your own adjective here) to raise children or make a home. I don’t think I’d be any good at it. . . at first! Just like Julie said of her experience, I think it would take a lot of deliberate effort for me to learn how to do it well and to finally embrace and enjoy it. (reiiteration: that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a mother, or that I don’t value motherhood! On the contrary! It is too simplistic to say that the qualities necessary to be a good parent are inherent in women and not in men. It dismisses the real work involved in acquiring key virtues like patience, compassion, unselfishness, perserverance, and so forth). I was trying to say that as a woman, in order to become a parent, I will be asked to do something that I don’t think of as being an expression of the “essence” of my identity. So many of you have talked about “sacrifice,” and rightly so. There is a lot of sacrifice involved for both spouses in the decision to become a parent. What I want to call greater attention to is what sort of sacrifice (if we are going to use this word in this way) it is that women are often (perhaps unnecessarily) compelled to make.
I have framed this conversation around pursuing a job that one enjoys partly because I personally really love what I do, but also because I think there there is value in choosing one’s own life path. What I don’t mean by “one’s own life path” is a veiled reference to radical individualism or even the misguided attempt to be as different as possible for the sake of being unique. What I do mean is that in choosing the course of one’s life (inasmuch as we can choose some parts of it) we should take our agency very seriously; planning one’s life should be an active, engaged, imaginative endeavor. A life that is deliberately constructed in this way is qualitatively better than a life in which one uncosciously mimics another’s plan or defaults unreflectively to custom or convention. But, just because that is the case, does not mean for a minute that I am suggesting that one should leave God out of the enterprise. The opposite is in fact what I suggest—since without seeking God’s active participation in our plans it is too easy to succumb unthinkingly to society’s expectations of us—whether that society is the church or the world. For me, constucting a life plan has always been a dialogical affair. At every step in the process of my education I have counseled closely with God. In every decision regarding my personal life I have sought His guidance and direction. In the course of these conversations, I have often been asked to make sacrifices that I never dreamed I would have to make. Indeed, there have been moments when I’ve been asked to do things that I believed were beyond my capacity to endure only to find ultimately in my Jacob-like wrestling that I could.