Mormon Woman's Place Is in Home — With a Degree

Dear Rachel,

My understanding of Judaism, up until very recently, was centered on a few stereotypical things: their near decimation during WWII; kosher isles in the grocery store; men with black hats and those curly bits of hair (what do those symbolize and how do they get them so perfectly curled?!); and the entirely racist sentiment that they’re penny pinchers.

That’s pretty much it. I’d never given much thought to how their women lived or how they might struggle with some of the things I struggled with growing up. My religion felt very much isolated. A world unto its own.

MRS degrees, for instance (I didn’t even know there was a name for this! Mind blown!) wasn’t what I considered to be a common modern concept. Despite what popular culture might believe, Mormons encourage their women to pursue a higher education. What remains unspoken, but nevertheless true, is that this is more a means to find a suitably educated husband to support you and less about finding a job after graduation. The fact that Mormons believe a woman’s place is in the home is no secret, but it was one that rubbed me the wrong way from a young age.

I don’t think I actively considered the effect my upbringing had on my choice of major (History) until long after the fact. History wasn’t the sort of degree a person pursued to make money or launch a lucrative career. I had only the vaguest sense of what I might do after college, which basically amounted to: pursue my Masters; possibly work at a museum; write books. But really, in the back of my mind, I knew I was going to accept my diploma, tuck it away, and likely never put it to use. Maybe I’d frame it and use it as a dining tray. Ha.

As you mentioned, I was married in college. I also had a small child to care for and sometimes I felt like college was merely a means to distract me and placate me rather than uplift me. I think this is certainly how my ex-husband viewed the endeavor, with a sort of indulgent belittlement.

Older and wiser, I now wish I’d pursed something different.

I chose History because it was easy and it was safe, and also because it was one of the pre-approved MRS degrees. There would be no long nights for me, hunched over a computer or workbench as I worked my way up in an Engineering field, because my husband worked and I belonged at home. There would be no devoted hours toward exploring the complex world of computer programing (I think it would be amazing to be involved in video game development, but that’s the geek in me) or, closer to my heart, no scrambling to have my writing published. A small but insistent voice told me I would never be good at those things and that I would never succeed. Looking back, I think the source of that voice is pretty obvious.

I was far more school oriented than my husband. My grades had always been better and my motivation to pursue education much higher. Another little voice in my heart whispered early on that if I were to step out into the workforce, there was a good chance I could make more money, that we could live easier and better lives. A voice that grew louder and louder as my ex-husband lost job after job and settled into something very close to mediocrity. As much as I enjoyed my time at home with my daughter (because I absolutely did) it was incredibly frustrating to watch my life deteriorate, seemingly beyond my control.

I struggled deeply with the guilt of these feelings. Teetering on the edge of everything I had ever known. My place was with my daughter, at home, caring for her needs; facts which had been drilled into me since birth. It’s an ideology I still struggle to come to terms even now, years later.

All I know is that I draw a great deal of personal happiness and satisfaction both from my current career in the government (as well as my humble dalliances in writing) and in caring for my daughter. But there is a sense, quiet but aggressive, that to pursue one to is to scorn the other. It sets me apart in many ways in the Mormon culture and it pushes me back, it keeps me just a little bit outside. Activities are often set during the work day, Callings (each member of the church is given a specific task; child care; teaching young adults; planning events, etc.) that demand a great deal of time and effort during the week…I think you get the idea.

These feelings are merely magnified by the fact that I am, in fact, divorced and, up until recently (I remarried in November of last year), I was a single mother. These are two claims very few Mormon women can make and are easily what defines me through a religious lens.

As to there being a stigma around single women…absolutely. I have a close friend who is now in her early thirties, unmarried, and struggling deeply with remaining in her faith because, after a woman reaches a certain age, so few things are designed around husbandless and childless women (as I’ve already discussed). They have what they call ‘Singles Wards,’ which is really the Mormon equivalent to a mix and mingle, but in a town as small as mine there aren’t enough unmarried people to facilitate one so they have the occasional get-together. It really boils down to another form of isolation though; a constant reminder that you haven’t settled into what is easily one of the most important parts of Mormonism — marriage and the family.  

For me, personally, I find it incredibly comforting to know and connect with women who maybe struggle with a similar pressure and a similar sense of insecurity. I guess the point is that it’s always nice to know you’re not alone.

Since we’re talking about faith, what are Jewish beliefs concerning alcohol?

Mormons have a pretty strict diet and consumption rules but I’m thinking we’ve got that in common, too. (How you guys manage to live without bacon is quite honestly amazing.)

Sincerely,

Brianne

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