I have 3 daughters between the ages of 6 and 11. That makes me a bit nervous only because of the subtle messages regarding women that they are surrounded by in society but also because of the expectations in their Mormon environment. I have so much to say about this and it will probably involve several posts, but let me say for now that this was one major factor that led me out the faith of my fathers. I believe it’s a toxic environment for women and my daughters deserve better.
Back when I was studying Mormonism and realizing that it’s not all it claims to be, I looked around at the women in my life and realized that there wasn’t one of them that I would suspect of being happy. There wasn’t one of them that was living what I considered an interesting life. I knew many of them were depressed, unsure of themselves, overly obsessed with the religiousness of others or hyper-judgmental . Their outward smiles belied a deep inner dissatisfaction. I know anecdotal evidence to suggest that Mormon women are medicated with anti-depressants at a much higher rate than others.
These women were using the advice of 80+ year old men who had spent little time with their own families as their guide. This advice centered around the biblical admonition “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In Mormonism this means marry young, bear a lot of children and stay at home full-time to raise them. (If you doubt that Mormonism has a unique claim on the quest for perfectionism, just google that phrase above; the top 2 results are talks by Mormon leaders and there are 2 more LDS references in the top 10. Or read anything by the woman at the right, Julie Beck). I believe it’s possible for a woman to find fulfillment as a mother of a large family, but I don’t believe it is THE sole recipe for such fulfillment for every woman or the single best answer for all children to have such a Mom.
I believe my own ex-wife is a much better mother now that she’s been forced into the workforce than she ever was as a stay at home Mom while we were married.
I’ve read 2 blog posts on this topic recently that I really love. The first one titled Do You Overemphasize Happiness? reviews some research on happiness and concludes a person has to choose between being happy and being interesting but we can’t have both.
I think choosing a life that is interesting to us and choosing a life that makes us feel happy are probably very different choices.
For one thing, people who are happy do not look for a lot of choices, according to Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of Choice. People who want to have an interesting life are always looking for more choices and better choices, and they make decisions for their life based on maximizing choices.
The women who are examples to my 3 girls are the type of people who are paralyzed by choices and attempt to eliminate diverse choices and divergent thought. I hate to admit it now, but this simple-mindedness initially attracted me as quaint and as Mormon leaders would phrase it, “safe.” What bothers me about this now is that my girls are not the cookie-cutter round pegs that the Mormon church would want them to believe that they are. They are unique in ways that no organization’s pre-fabricated roadmap would serve them best.
The second blog post I referred to takes a jab at the old adage No one is perfect and flips it on its head so eloquently that we’re left agreeing that our individuality is better than perfection…whatever that is…
The idea that no one is perfect no longer rings true to me. I’m not sure it ever has. Because who gets to decide what or who is perfect? Is she someone who cooks a perfect roast? Or is she someone who can laugh at herself and order a pizza when she burns it?
Does perfection laugh, but not too loud? Does she laugh only when it’s appropriate? Who gets to decide what is appropriate? Does she have laugh lines or botox? Does she use a clothes dryer or hang a perfect clothesline? Or does she hire a maid? How many children does she have? Are they perfect, too? Does she have stretch marks? A tummy tuck?
Does a “perfect” person even have a sense of humor? Or do they walk around all the time with a knowing, condescending, holier-than-thou look, rolling their eyes upon hearing a joke they decide is too racy? Because I would hate that person, especially if she were me.
So when I hear the common expression, “No one is perfect,” it grates a little. Well, a lot actually. That expression suggests we are somehow consistently falling short, always striving but never achieving, perpetually less than.
The message is indeed that if you are not the ideal you are somehow less than. I felt it as a gay man growing up in the faith and I don’t want my daughters to feel inadequate for being anything other than their beautiful, quirky, hilarious selves.
One of my girls writes insightful, clever songs and spends her time in the bathroom singing in the mirror; she has an infectious, adorable laugh. One wears boys clothes and plays her brothers’ football video games; She asks the most insightful and thought-provoking questions. The third girl practices being a teacher; she writes and illustrates adorable books telling family members she loves them.
This past week they held their own scriptwriting contest in which they performed each others’ plays and recruited me to judge.
They are creative and intelligent. I want them to know that they are interesting and perfect right now – as is. There are infinite possibilities…they can travel, study medicine, play soccer, become a university professor, writer, singer or landscaper. But when you are raised that only a man can be a savior or that men are qualified for some power and control that you are not, then Dad has something to say about it.
Surrounding my girls are women who have used cosmetic surgery to solve their self-esteem issues – from boob jobs to face-lifts. There are women who discount education or achievement and set up the bearing of children as their loftiest goal.
And I’m not diminishing motherhood at all. But you can be a mother by accident… anyone with a uterus can do it. I think my daughters could one day be “perfect” mothers (if they choose that) by following their own dreams and accepting their innate beauty.
They are perfect and they can have interesting lives…and motherhood can be a part of that if they want it.