Mirrors and Windows: The Importance of Mentoring and Networking for LDS Women

Hall of Mirrors at Palace of Versailles, France. Image credit: Patrick Down

by Naomi Watkins

“A single book can be a mirror for some readers and a window for others.” –Rudine Sims Bishop [1]

When I taught a university-level course about global children’s literature, I shared the above quote on the first night of class to introduce one of the main reasons for including more multicultural and global literature in K-12 classrooms. I feel strongly that all children need and deserve to see themselves reflected in the “mirror” of a story, and that all children need and deserve a “window” to see and learn about others who are different from themselves. One of the main reasons I love to read is that I not only see parts of myself mirrored to me through characters and plot lines, but because I also get to vicariously live experiences that I might never otherwise or catch a glimpse of what could possibly be. Unfortunately, many kids rarely see mirrors of themselves in books due to the low amount of multicultural and global literature published for children. [2] And that needs to change, and it is…slowly.

Even though it’s been a while since I taught this course, I was reminded of this metaphor when listening to the excellent podcast on mentoring with Whitney Johnson and Lisa Gregory Chapman, and when I read Rachel’s essay about not being able to be what you can’t see. I’ve been thinking about the concept of mirrors and windows in relation to Aspiring Mormon Women, particularly as it relates to the online community that we are in the process of building.

I’ve written before about receiving a strong prompting that I needed to pursue a PhD and how I really wanted to connect with other LDS women who were either pursuing PhDs or who had already done so. I wanted to see and find LDS women who mirrored my ambitions, who shared similar beliefs and faith and culture, and who were also walking, and sometimes limping, down a not-so-typical path for LDS women. I wanted to be able to talk and commiserate with and ask questions of women “who just got it,” who understood the academic and professional side of my life—a side that I rarely discussed at church—and how that meshed, or didn’t mesh, with my spiritual life and the cultural expectations of my faith.

At the same time, I also wanted a window into what could be. I wanted to see and know LDS women who already had PhDs, who had husbands and children, and who continued to work, while remaining faithful church members and goers. I wanted to see that it was possible for my academic and professional ambitions to jive with my spiritual ambitions. I wanted to see LDS women who made family and career work, even if it was difficult and messy, and who did so not just because their educations and careers were contingency plans, but because they were the plan. I didn’t just want to be told about possibilities; I wanted to tangibly see how it was possible.

When I couldn’t find or didn’t have access to these types of women in person, I read about them. I read about pioneer women of the past, women like Ellis Shipp and Martha Hughes Cannon. I asked my father to share with me again the story of my great-great-great-grandmother who attended Brigham Young Academy and later practiced as a midwife. I read about pioneer women of the present, women like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Christine Durham. I also turned to the stories of non-LDS women academics, reading books like Mama, PhD or Mothers on the Fast Track.

But while this book reading satisfied some needs and answered some of my questions, I found that it could not completely replace person-to-person connection. And so, I actively sought out my own mentors—some I found through my fellow graduate school peers, my mirrors. My windows came through reconnecting with mentors from my past, making a point to ask them questions and to share my concerns. Now several years after graduating with my PhD, I continue to find both professional mirrors and windows in the women I know and meet. They are invaluable to my success and sustainability. Increasingly more so, I also find myself in the role of mentor rather than the mentee.

LDS women are especially good at mentoring other women when it comes to child rearing or homemaking. Conversations about these topics are often overheard at church. We all know the woman in the ward who bakes delightful goodies or the woman who plays the piano or who homeschools her kids with great passion. However, there are many educationally ambitious and career-oriented LDS women who do not see mirrors or windows of themselves in the women immediately around them. There may also be women who do not know how to bring up education or career at church or with other LDS women.

Many of us, and I include myself in this, need to be more willing to uncover the heavy drapes and cobwebs that have collected or that we may have placed over the mirrors and windows of our professional lives. We may be careful because we have been judged in the past, because we fear other’s reactions, or because we don’t believe there is anyone around to relate to our situations or we don’t think that our story matters or could be of help to someone else. However, I can speak from recent experience that when I have opened up about this part of my life to other LDS women and men, they respond in kind. I listen as women share their dreams and desires and goals, and I am in awe of how much they want to do, achieve, and contribute. These types of conversations are contagious and inspiring. I usually leave more energized, excited, and committed to my own personal and professional goals.

As we launch mentoring and networking features on Aspiring Mormon Women, I hope LDS women find mirrors of and windows into their educational and professional selves. It’s time we were more open about our education and career-related goals and dreams. It’s time we supported the goals and dreams of other women. If we are those who have already trod a path, let us be the windows into what can be. Let us be mirrors to those around us of what we are and what we are becoming.

But this goal is only possible if we all show up—connect with other women, learn from those who are living or pursuing a different path, answer the questions of a woman starting on a new path, ask for help and support, make a friend, share our enthusiasm. Ideally, Aspiring Mormon Women can work as a sliding door between windows and mirrors—helping us all become truly unstoppable beings.

It’s time that we not only show each other what we can be, but how this is possible.

 

[1] Rudine Sims Bishop.  “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no. 3. Summer 1990.

[2] Lee Galda, Lawrence R. Sipe, Lauren A. Liang, & Bernice E. Cullinan. Literature and the Child. 8th edition. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2013.

15 Comments on “Mirrors and Windows: The Importance of Mentoring and Networking for LDS Women

  1. “There may also be women who do not know how to bring up education or career at church or with other LDS women.”

    Over the years the message from general authorities has been that, when possible, women should be at home with their children, i.e. careers for women are contingency plans. On the one hand, this isn’t a message that women are going to get anywhere else in the world, so it’s important and validating for women who choose not to work. On the other hand, it feels a bit…limiting, lacking in nuance. I’m not going to say that the general authorities *should* be saying something different, but I’d certainly appreciate more acknowledgment that women can be faithful members of the church, good mothers, and also choose to have a career.

    I think that the messaging women have gotten from church leadership has definitely contributed to a hesitancy to really discuss these issues. It still feels as if there is one “right” answer. I love that we’ve seen single career women in leadership positions over the past several years, but do we have any examples of apostles’ wives or general auxiliary leaders who are or have been working mothers?

    • Melanie,
      Thanks for these excellent points. I am thinking, after reading your post, perhaps I should be more BRAVE and open in my education/career discussion with other LDS woman. I too wish there was one good answer, but the only one answer for each of us is to follow what we are prompted to do. I would never have completed my education had I not followed those prompting, which seemed strange, odd, and almost ridiculous at the time. In hindsight, there is an understanding of the plan the heavens had for me.

    • Melanie,

      I agree with you. Your comment reminded me that whenever I pick up a copy of Church News, I always read the section of bios for new Mission Presidents and Temple Presidents, looking specifically at the info on their wives and noticing how many (or few) even have college degrees. And I started that practice as a young woman.

      “but do we have any examples of apostles’ wives or general auxiliary leaders who are or have been working mothers?”

      I’d have to do some digging to find that answer, which really just reaffirms your point and speaks to why it’s so important that we be examples and mentors to each other.

  2. I wonder what will happen if we take the word “career” out of our education discussions. The world thinks education and degrees equals jobs, success, money, and careers. But as LDS, we have been taught from scriptures to modern prophets, to be educated and intelligent women. Many of our general authorities have wives with formal education but perhaps not careers. Obtaining a degrees does not mean we must be employed, but it does mean we should use it to elevate our surrounding world. I raised my four children while earning my undergrad and masters degree. People kept asking me what I was going to do with those degrees (yes, it is an annoying question). My answer was simply to raise awesome children, be an informed citizen, and understand the gospel. Did I eventually go to work when the kids were grown? Sure, and I even added on a doctorate. But if I never worked another day for pay, I would never regret my education. The message we should celebrate and send to women, is that knowledge and intelligence, often earned through formal education, is not always gained to achieve careers, but to enrich our lives and to add to our eternal progression. Let’s celebrate the change education brings to individual lives of women.

  3. Thank you for this post. I have been pondering this a lot lately as I’m about to have my first child. I’ve been trying to find a role model that professionally did what I dream of doing while also raising children. So far, among all the professional women I have admired either had no children or one child. And all the mothers I admire did not have a career similar to the one I want or no career at all. I have been looking for anyone who has found a way to balance what I want in a family and what I want in a career. I feel like I’m doing this on my own. However, you remind me that maybe I need to look harder around me and connect with more women. To see how on earth they did it.

  4. Katherine,

    And I’m hopeful you’ll find women to connect with here at AMW as well.

  5. Naomi, I love the quote you used at the beginning of your article, and I enjoyed reading about your experience pursuing your education. I think it’s amazing to hear how The Lord inspires and directs each one of us individually and uniquely (especially as women) in pursuing education and careers. You are an incredible example of educational and professional achievement, and I love that you’re sharing your story for others to hear and be inspired!

  6. This was a beautiful piece. I see it as both a call to action for me to engage more as a mentor while encouraging reflection on how I ended up where I am. I love the analogy between mirrors and windows and can see very clearly times in my life that I wanted either one. Recently I have found myself becoming more open about my work and education. I speak with greater confidence in my choice and other seem to respond kindly.

  7. Gay Lynn, I love what you’ve written here about the value of education. When I was a YW the message I received was “get an education in case…” I’ve always hated that message. Education is important for women, period. Yes, there is something to being prepared to support ourselves and our families, but we need and deserve educations because we are daughters of God who have divine destinies to become like Him and our Heavenly Mother.

    However, I do think we do women a disservice by not talking more about careers. I’ve always loved and valued education, but I was never taught to consider a career. I feel like the message that I needed to obtain some sort of skill to support myself “in case” speaks to the lowest common denominator. Had I been taught that I might find joy and meaning in a career, I might not have struggled as long as I did to find meaningful work. I think that even women who choose not to work outside the home would be much better off if they were encouraged not just to pursue an education but to think seriously about what types of careers they would enjoy and do well in. And yes, when it comes to career, I’m much for comfortable using the “in case” argument.

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  9. I think we’ve already taken the word “career” out of the discussion which is why so many of us who don’t end up married find ourselves lacking the skills to manage a career. I thought that at least in publishing I’d be able to use it part-time and working from home when I had kids, so I’m better off career-wise than many women I know, but the husband and kids never came along, and I find myself reading Lean In now and wondering why I backed off and why I’m lacking the leadership skills I need to be able to accomplish this job I find myself at. So no, I don’t think we should censor the word “career.”

  10. Michelle,

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve had positive experiences sharing about your work and education. I hope that your openness and confidence will encourage others to do likewise.

  11. “Had I been taught that I might find joy and meaning in a career, I might not have struggled as long as I did to find meaningful work. ”

    I really think this is key, Melanie.

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