Mormon Women and The New York Times: My Thoughts. Lots of Thoughts.

So this article posted Saturday on the New York Times’ website, and was front page, above the fold Sunday morning.

To be honest, I thought once Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, the New York Times would stop covering Mormons. But apparently, they see a shift within the church that I’m not sure the church itself sees, and the Grey Lady deems that shift newsworthy.

As I read the article (and much like this post, it is not short), my feelings ran from irritation to sympathy to joy to envy. So this is my feeble attempt at crystallizing some of those feelings.

1. “A mother and a businesswoman,” she said in an interview on her first day, neatly summarizing the two worlds, Mormon and secular, in which she hopes to thrive.

This is a  quote from one of the sister missionaries interviewed in the article. This woman is currently serving in South Korea, and is the answer to the question of what she wants to do upon returning from her mission.

Feeling: envy.

When I returned from my mission 15 years ago, I was sent home with one goal: marriage. There was no career or education advice. In fact, the only reason I finished college was out of spite toward an abusive ex-fiance who told me there was no reason for me to go to college. Though we haven’t spoken since I left him, I wanted to prove (maybe to myself?) that college was not a waste of my time. So I graduated from college and promptly moved to Utah, where a boyfriend awaited me and the hope of marriage abided. And I could maybe use my college degree while he finished school, and once we had kids I would totes stay home.

On my mission if I had been asked what my post-mission plans were, there was only one acceptable answer: marriage and motherhood. Anything else was sacrilege and a surefire way to ensure I’d stay single forever. I was already risking a life alone by serving a mission–at that time, the stigma was that only women who couldn’t get married went on missions. Back then, the minimum age for women to serve was 21. I was 23. (And a half). I turned 25 three weeks after returning home, and felt that if I wasn’t married within the year, then it simply was never going to happen.

Feeling: joy.

That this woman feels she can coexist as a professional and as a mother gives me hope for my nieces. Hope that they will see their individuality as something beyond their capability for marriage. Hope that they will, if they so desire, serve missions because they want to, not because they haven’t been picked for the marriage train (and with the lower age requirement, I certainly hope they aren’t married quite that young). As Maxine Hanks is quoted in the article, “the church has officially established the mission as an equal rite of passage for women.”

2. “The scramble to find a match is intense because marriage is the church’s most important sacrament and families remain together forever. “
Feeling: irritated. And not at the reporters.

I would like to be able to say that marriage is not the church’s most important sacrament; that baptism, confirmation, and weekly sacrament (our version of communion) are the church’s most important sacraments, as those ordinances define our lives as followers of Christ. However, I have gone to church more weeks than I’d like to admit, where the sermons and lessons are about family and there’s not a whole lot of talk about Jesus. That’s not okay with me, not when I’ve spent my life trying to convince people that I am, in fact, a Christian. 

3. “Like many young, single Mormon women, Ms. Sagers is looking for a man who would be supportive of a working wife. Her mission in South Korea had a tremendous impact on her trajectory, recalibrating her career goals.

Feeling: envy.

An LDS man told me–on a first date, no less–that he would never consider marrying a woman who wanted to work. “I became a dentist so my future wife would never have to work,” he said.

“What if she wanted to?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t let her,” was his response.

One of the great loves of my life didn’t overtly tell me my desire for a career made me undesirable to him, but he allowed his struggles in his own career to drive a wedge between us that eventually ended our relationship. I was willing to support us until he found his footing; he saw that as complete and utter failure and didn’t want to “hold me back from someone who was more established.” Didn’t matter that I loved him. Did matter that I was marginally more successful at that moment in time than he was. Are men today ready for these women coming home from missions with recalibrated goals? I hope so. But I fear that they aren’t.

4. “Men still have the dream of the six or seven kids, and you’ve aged out of that dream,” said Kimberly Houk, 37, a television journalist in the Salt Lake City area. “I’m doing my part. I keep my weight down and my looks attractive. If I wanted to be married, I could choose someone who is choosing me.”

Feeling: anger. I mean, sympathy.

This is my life. This has been my life for 10 years. Once I hit 30, men my age wanted nothing to do with me, and were creeping on girls 10-12 years younger than them, because at 30, I was clearly barren. My favorite story? Before I turned 30 and figured online dating was my only hope, a 72 year-old man contacted me. When I politely told him he wasn’t quite in my age preference, he responded, “Your child-bearing years are numbered and you shouldn’t be so picky. I can still have children. You won’t be able to much longer.” And yes, he was LDS…according to his profile…so who really knows…

I don’t quite understand her “I could choose someone who is choosing me” except to say that if she’s looking for a spouse based on the fact that he deemed her physically worthy of his presence, is that really a marriage worth having?

5. “Marriage is so tied up in your individual worth with the church, which is great if you end up being in the norm,” she said, “But for those of us that aren’t, you have to go through a time of working out that there was nothing you did wrong.”

Feeling: all of the sympathy.

Oh, I so get this. I’m still working out the idea that I’ve done nothing wrong. Some days I’m confident I haven’t. Other days, I flog myself for every little tiny sin I’ve ever committed, pointing to those as reasons why I am still single. Some weeks I go to church and am completely uplifted and love my people. Other weeks I go to church and never want to go back. But it’s not just an LDS issue…as the author of the linked blog states, “A lot of girls were sold on a deal and not on a Savior.” There is no better summation to how I feel my church taught me as a teenager and young adult.

It’s a solid article–if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have felt all the feels–and should be required reading for all LDS members. Too many points raised in this article (especially the ones I highlighted here) have been ignored by the body of the church for too long, and too many amazing and wonderful people are choosing to leave because of that ignorance. 

Heaven knows I’ve tried to more than once.

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