(This post is inspired by this beautiful photography and story project on Mormon women created by a non-Mormon student at Massart.)
When I first heard about feminism described in waves, this really made sense to me. My mother was on an earlier wave and now I’m on a later one. She was as feminist as a devout Mormon women dedicated to her family could be. She paved the way in an era when women often didn’t have higher education and pursuing their own passions outside the home was looked down on. She got married at 21 and had a baby in a little over a year. She always said she felt like she got married too young although she didn’t regret any of her kids. Her stories included a childhood Sunday School teacher who taught repressive things on women based on a book he would bring to church. Later she found this same book in a church library in Georgia and threw it out. She was the kind of woman who at the end of her life was studying algebra so she could take calculus, something women didn’t do when she was young.
My dad was always really supportive of her, and they had a great marriage. After three kids, she got a master’s degree and taught evening classes in English. When my youngest sister went to first grade, my mom started teaching full time at a community college. She was really happy about working. My mom was an amazing teacher. While I did miss her at home some, I also knew I really mattered to her. I never felt like my mom loved us less because she wanted to work and have a career too.
My parents always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life, that I should follow my passions. It was a huge shock when I went to a church lesson for young women around 14 and heard about how women were primarily responsible for staying home and taking care of their kids. I cried and cried. I felt too ashamed to tell anyone the truth and said I was crying for a different reason. I wished I talked to my mom about this issue because she would have probably really helped. I spent most of my high school years trying to figure out how I could have a family and be dedicated to what I wanted to do with my life. I was obsessed with it. I remember having a long talk with my dad after watching an awful seminary video in which a teenager is trying to decide about having a career. In the movie her mom is doing laundry and her kids find her college degree in the attic. They didn’t even know she had been to college at all! Mom then gives an explanation about how she’d decided to stay at home. The girl then tells her science advisor she’s not going to continue on the path of vigorous study. The options presented seemed to be all or nothing, but I decided in the end I wanted to always work part-time but also be at home with my kids.
As much as I have strong feminist feelings, I also have incredibly strong maternal instincts. I am good with kids and work with them as the paid part of my art career. I want to get married and have kids and give them the safety and love I felt as a child. I think I might have gotten married earlier if I hadn’t had some emotional problems connected to my mother’s death that got turned into a low-grade depression inside of me. Such things aren’t really certain though, and I have to remember it doesn’t define my worth. Progression is what matters, and I’m so grateful to God for how he’s helped me overcome it.
The greatest consolation prize for being single is nieces and nephews. Kids always want extra love and I have a lot to give. I can connect to them in some ways my married siblings can’t. My visits to my siblings make me realize I can still support families as a single person. I’m not sure I can feel prouder than when my little niece Hathaway calls me her “best friend.”
To me the most important thing about feminism is that women have choices, the choice to stay at home or to work as they feel is right for them and their family. At the same time, I strongly believe in the importance of families. It’s quite clear to me that a lot of the problems of our youth today, particularly inner city youth, are related to the lack of strong families. Yet I do not feel that going back to an era when women had fewer options is going to solve the problem either.