Every time we go to a Young Women/Young Men fireside, a periodic inspirational meeting for youth in the LDS church, I have a chat with my daughter in the car on the way home. “You realize we aren’t inherently better because we were born in this country, right?” or “You realize that boys are responsible for their own thoughts, right? That’s not why we dress modestly.” As much as I love and respect the people in my LDS ward and stake, they aren’t always aware of language and its implications. And there certainly aren’t many who would self-identify as a feminist.
So I braced myself at the last question-and-answer-style fireside when the counselor in the stake presidency started his response with, “Boys, you need to be focused on preparing for your mission, and girls, you need to be focused on preparing for…” motherhood. That sentence always ends with “motherhood” and is followed by a deep inner sigh from me.
I love being a mom. It’s very important. It’s well worth preparing for. But I can guarantee you I spent more of my teenage years contemplating motherhood than all of the teenage boys in my stake spent contemplating fatherhood. Did I say stake? I meant state. Or, rather, all of the United States. Because when I was in the Young Women’s organization, 52 percent of the lessons were on motherhood (the other 48 percent were on staying away from that thing you do to become mothers).
I’m sure my Young Women’s leaders would tell you that the reason for this emphasis was that traditional motherhood was under attack and needed to be shored up. Well, shore it up if it needs it, but don’t bury me in the process. Don’t answer questions about gender inequality with the old trope “men have priesthood and women have motherhood,” as if all babies were immaculately conceived and all men (the righteous ones, at least) were eternally excused from diaper duty.
I am on a spiritual journey that includes amazing opportunities like being a parent. That’s not a man/woman divide. That’s true for all of us.
Being a mother is something I cherish, but I’m also a playwright, a poet, and a pianist. I have spiritual needs and a spiritual role that transcends the still very important role of motherhood, present or future. The idea that my son may grow up to be the prophet is not my reason for being here. I am on a spiritual journey that includes amazing opportunities, like being a parent. That’s not a man/woman divide. That’s true for all of us. But not everybody grasps that (especially in the broad brush stroke environment of a youth fireside), so I was floored when the sentence in question actually came out like this: “Boys, you need to be focused on preparing for your mission, and girls, you need to be focused on preparing for the temple.”
In the pew, I smiled up at my priesthood leader. In my feminist heart, I jumped up and shouted, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Afterwards, I went up and thanked him for what he said, and he looked perplexed, even after I explained further. Honestly, the look on his face was as if I had thanked him profusely for breathing. For a moment, I doubted my own experience. Had I been overly sensitive? Had I overestimated how unusual his statement was? Was I completely out of touch?
That knee-jerk reaction soon dissipated, though, and I was left with the uneasy feeling of not being sure if I should feel glad that more inclusive language is reflexive for at least one male leader or disturbed that gender issues were the furthest thing from his mind. I decided to go with both. Good on you, brother, but let’s keep talking — and not just at a youth fireside.