My mother is a feminist. She’s a mid-century, never-employed, stay-at-home… feminist. Her own mother had a career, but Mom stayed at home because she chose to, because that interested her, because she felt called to be there. She always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, including (but not limited to) motherhood. During my formative years, she told me many times that she didn’t need my father – that she wanted and chose him, but that she didn’t need him. This in no way lessened my respect for my dad; rather, it increased my respect for my mother. I saw her choices as deliberate and, therefore, valid. True feminism, she instructed, isn’t anti-men, but pro-people – and women are people, too.
In the middle of my eighth grade year, it was time for New Beginnings – that always heartfelt, sometimes corny Sunday evening event that ushers in another year in the Young Women program. Young Women had begun painfully for me two years previously, and would end painfully four years later – I didn’t fit in. I never did exactly identify the problem, but I think it had something to do with my desire to avoid cheerleaders and druggies alike, those, unfortunately, being the two prominent demographics in my Mutual group. I had my sights set on something else, something as yet undefined but not at all indistinct. I had few local role models in the generation preceding me, but I clung to them emotionally with all I had; I was wholly determined to never slot into anyone else’s preconceived notions.
So, at New Beginnings, it came as no surprise that the Stake Young Women president spoke about who we young women could become. I listened eagerly, fully expecting to receive an inspiring message about our limitless divine potential. But that wasn’t the message she wanted us to hear. She told us that we should “get an education” – which she defined as graduating from high school – and this was, she assured us, because life can be challenging, what with husbands dying unexpectedly and all. I was disappointed with the low-level banality of this message but, thinking it absurd as 14 year-olds are wont to do, didn’t internalize it.
What I did internalize is this: the victorious addendum. I could feel my mother squirming in her seat. She fidgeted and fiddled for what seemed like a long while, and then: she stood up. In the middle of the meeting. Without being asked. And this is what she said: “I think we should encourage our daughters to get an education – a real one, one that will enable them to make a life for themselves – not because their husbands might die, as if their own potential is a back-up plan, but because their Heavenly Father gave them brains, and He expects them to use them.” And then she sat down.
I truly have no recollection of what was said or done in New Beginnings after that. I was (being fourteen) embarrassed that my mother had spoken out of turn – at church, no less. But I was proud, too, that my mom had the courage to break with tradition for the greater good of leading her daughter – all the daughters there that night – into herself, not the culturally pre-defined self, but the true self, whoever she was, that God intended her to be.
Mom and I do not always agree; our relationship hasn’t always been easy. But one thing I know with certainty is that my mother, a woman whose career path may seem stunted and unfulfilling to some, is as courageous and forward-thinking as anyone who marched on Washington. She didn’t need battles fought for her, but she was willing to fight them for her daughter. Due in part to her example, I’m a working mother. I fulfill both roles with joy, making my own life on my own terms. Life without one or the other kind of work – at home or at the office – is unimaginable to me. And primary in both pursuits is my faith that God has given me a brain and expects me to use it.
I hope my daughters are watching.
Art credit: Mother and Child Taking a Walk | Victor Vignon, unknown date