(And So Do I)

A row of Harrods employees, each wearing the uniform of a different women’s service during World War II.

by Hadley Duncan Howard

Here we go again. We come home from church, and try to undo the damage done when some very sincere speaker has again furthered the idea that women’s work is only valuable – no, noble, ordained – when it’s in pursuit of raising children in our own image, that the only education and work necessary (and approved!) for a woman’s life in Christ is to be found within church service.

I fervently beg to differ. And, importantly, so does my husband, the father of daughters.

He opens the subject as he makes the soup. (He makes the soup.) “I wanted to stand up and explain that one person’s experience does not translate into universal, gospel truth.” My daughter is listening as he makes the sandwiches. (He makes the sandwiches.) “It’s important to teach young women that they can – no, must – go into the world and make a contribution,” he says as he sets the table. (He sets the table.) “What, the world doesn’t need teachers and doctors and writers and researchers? Doesn’t need women to do these and other jobs? The world cannot, in fact, survive without women who leave their homes to contribute. To think otherwise is faulty logic and false doctrine!”

So much to love and admire about this man.

And so we gather as a family and eat the meal my husband had made – that he and I have both worked to provide – and discuss gender roles and “women’s work” and other manmade ideas. We teach the gospel to our children – the real gospel, the actual gospel, the one that tells us “go ye into all the world,” to be a “light,” to seek learning “even by study and also by faith,” and that “by their works you shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.” The gospel that is no respecter of persons, the gospel that is both inclusive and expansive.

It’s the gospel itself that’s ennobling, not any particular line of work within it – including mothering, the lay sainthood of the post-modern era. Anything a woman does with full purpose of heart, with an eye to the glory of God, as an expression of her dedication to doing what the Lord asks of her individual talents and abilities for the betterment of people and thereby society, is worthwhile and valuable work – is ordained of God. Our sisters in Christ who are not mothers, and those like myself who I cheekily refer to as “working mothers in Christ,” should not be made to feel that their contribution is B Grade. The truth is, we cannot do without that vitally important contribution, whatever it is.

If we’re hearing that women’s broader contributions are misguided or second best endeavors – even if we hear this at church – we’re hearing the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. The Lord has never made any such claim, or in any way imposed sanctions on our willingness to serve the human family. In fact, He will swing doors wide open to allow us to more readily and effectively do that.

My friend, a talented and successful interior designer, often receives what she calls “the well-meaning head tilt” from women who persist in asking why she can’t make it to some lovely-but-optional, loosely church-sponsored, daytime activity. She again explains that she works during the day to bring livable beauty to homes where children are being raised, because the Spirit is more discernable in environments of order and beauty. Her work is her ministry. The church ladies seem to understand this in theory, but somehow fail to appreciate that, in practice, her contribution to their lives and their children requires her to work outside the walls of her home.

They’re grateful for her contribution. So why do they judge her for making it?

My spirit and my conscience cannot be convinced that women are valuable in only one sphere. We need female swim coaches, female pediatricians, female senators, female psychologists, female artists, female editors-in-chief. We need them not instead of, but in addition to, those who contribute primarily at home through mothering. We need women everywhere, doing everything good there is to do.

There’s so very much good to be done in the world. And the Lord needs women to do it.

“Your potential and ability to do good, to make a difference, is unlimited and eternal,” my husband tells the girls over lunch. “God wants you to live large. He’s given you intellect and energy to help you, covenants to keep to direct you, and the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort you.”

“You can be anything and do anything you want to be and do,” he says as he clears the table. (He clears the table.) “The challenge is listening to God’s word for you, and choosing wisely and well what those endeavors will be.”

“Your Heavenly Father can’t wait to see what marvelous work you do, the ways in which you magnify the calling to be yourself for the glory of God and the benefit of others, and the magnificent woman you’ll become in the process,” he tells his daughters as he does the washing up. (He does the washing up.)

(And so do I.)

20 Comments on “(And So Do I)

  1. This was exactly what I needed to read today. A million times thank you. It is good to remember that we can hear those philosophies of men ideas anywhere, even an Church. The spirit is the teacher.

  2. Powerful words. And so true. Not so long ago I heard a dear, devout sister bear testimony in our ward that “everything a woman ever needs to know can be learned by being a mother in the home.” I wondered why that statement didn’t ring at all true with me. In fact, it seems to me now like an insidious falsehood–insidious because it sounds superficially honorable and relatively orthodox, yet masks deeply troubling implications, and falsely brands anyone who disagrees with it as an “anti-mother” radical. Your words have helped me process my reaction to this moment, and given me hope that deliberate ignorance and voluntary subservience among the women of the Church might eventually be replaced by deliberate choice and voluntary variety of opportunity.

  3. Last Sunday a woman in our ward, who isn’t aware of many of the circumstances of my life, and probably won’t ever be on a list of potential mourners when I am mourning. She assumed that since I am disabled, that I would have plenty of time to watch her grandchildren, while her daughter went to a retreat for homeschooling families.

    I listened for longer than I usually would, because I originally thought that she must have had me mixed up with someone in the ward who had a business providing day care, and was waiting to get a word in edgewise. When I explained I’m a full time journalism student, with responsibilities at the student newspaper and radio station, she kept looking at me, almost like I was speaking King on. . (Somewhere in her mind, a 38 year-old, with a walker, and a gait makes it obvious that even after two complex spinal surgeries, imperfect is as good as that part gets.)

    She then asked me about my children, who she has heard me talk about. When I explained that given my medical issues, the kids had been living with my ex husband when my husband lost his job, and that going to school in Alaska was the only place we could afford to go to school at the same time. She immediately told me that any mother who would abandon her children to public school in another state wasn’t getting close to her grandkids. (I wasn’t calling her to come back and please let me, even though she looked back several times.)

    I was left with an almost surreal feeling as she walked away. A women I have met twice thought I would jump at the chance to watch 3 children I have never met before, for 10 days? Really? She also felt qualified to judge decisions about my children without ever meeting them? Really?

    It has been a climate, schedule and cultural adjustment adjustment going from Oregon to Alaska. What hasn’t changed no matter where I have lived, is that there will be someone willing to second guess my parenting, spousal relationship and llife’s goals, while assuming that I have not consulted our Heavenly Parents about my decisions.

    I am guilty of this at times too. I wish every chapel and every RS room had a big sign that said, “Stop it! This sacred space is a place for imperfect people to find strength, not for hypocrites to preen and posture to try and hide their sins from view.”

  4. Blah, blah, blah.

    Another woman with self esteem problems blogging because she thinks her voice matters or makes difference.

    Its amazing how Lucifer is twisting the perceptions of modern women and trying to belittle the role wot motherhood. I raised kids who have gone on to do great things in the world. If it wasn’t for my “role” as a mother. Non of them would have achieved what they have.

    Get over it young, “modern” women. Reign in the pride and the world owes me something attitude and start being mothers who care about the world. Then maybe the world will start to be a better place. Like it used to be.

  5. Marg,

    It would seem that you misunderstood every aspect of the essay. And personal attacks are not only uncharitable, in this case they’re utterly wrong. Aspiring Mormon Women is a place for encouragement and support for like-minded, Christ-centered women; if what we stand for and express here brings out the worst in you, as above, this may not be the website for you.

    Best,
    HDH.

  6. Marg,

    Thank you so much for your comment because it proves and shows that the creation of Aspiring Mormon Women is so, so necessary. When we created this web site and organization, there were some who did not believe that people in the Church (I’m assuming that you are LDS) still not only thought as you, but were audacious enough to personally attack others for their choices.

    When I read Hadley’s post, my heart and mind are filled with light and truth. But your comment? It’s filled with darkness and hate. Maybe the world will be a better place when women can get along despite their differences and not belittle one another because of them.

  7. I wanted to comment because it seems that so often the fact that one works, others make the assumption that you can’t possibly be a mother as well. I work and I know that it helps me be a better mother for my daughters. They know I love them and I’ll always be there for them and that’s what matters. I teach them the best that I can the same as if I was at home full-time.

    Thanks for the great article

  8. Juliathepoet,

    First, congrats on your schooling and that both you and your husband are able to do so. How exciting to work on the student newspaper and radio show! What do you do for both?

    And, secondly, these stories like the one you share are all too common and really need to stop. But know that you’re always welcome here, and we’ll never ask you to babysit. 🙂

  9. Hadley I love this post. Thank you so much for making these points so eloquently. This article reminds me of one of the points that Sheryl Sandberg makes in Lean In. She says something to the effect that we need women to aspire to be executives not because all women need to sit in the C-Suite, but so that those women who have the desire and opportunity to affect change can do so to make the workplace more friendly for all women. Similarly, the purpose of AMW and what we’re trying to do here is not to say that all women need to work full-time outside of the home but to provide a safe space and contribute to a dialogue that will hopefully shift the perspective of motherhood vs. work to one that accepts that Heavenly Father inspires his daughters to use their gifts and talents in different ways. I’m not yet a mother, but I think it’s especially important for the boys and young men of the church to see that there are righteous, faithful women who are wonderful nurturers and also intelligent, capable employees, volunteers, and leaders.

  10. Marg,

    Of course Ms. Howard thinks her voice matters. You also must feel your voice matters, given that you took the time to respond to this post. That’s good. Even in a limited sphere of influence, women’s voices do matter, which I believe is approaching the point of this post. I would simply ask that you sit back and really evaluate your response, which I found to be amusing in its irony. I didn’t read this post as a minimization of motherhood, but as a glorification of womanhood. It is absolutely wonderful that women can be mothers, and it is absolutely wonderful that motherhood is not the only thing that makes our lives full and rich. I want my daughters to know that I want everything for them, and that they are not solely valuable as mothers, but truly and really valuable as women. I simply can’t imagine the Lord feeling any differently about his daughters.

  11. I’m writing a feature about the condensed semester program, that allows students to earn 3 credits in 2 weeks, focusing on a single class, and several side articles on the campus recycling program, a teacher who is retiring, and my weekly column doing “Man on the Street” interviews about something important that happened on campus during the week. (I suspect it will be on the 8-12 inches of snow that are still in the process of falling.)

    For the radio station, I mostly produce ads, and listen to story cuts, when producers are rough cutting to make sure the story follows. I’m excited to be producing and recording my first “real story” about the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, from the perspective of one of the men who lives there and is in the vet program. (It’s the first time they have ever let a radio reporter behind the scenes, so I am also a little intimidated. I don’t want to mess it up!)

    I’m enjoying exploring the site! Thanks for providing such an important forum.

  12. What an enjoyable post, and why I love reading these posts that increase my confidence and strength as a woman with a career as well as enriching my divine role of parenthood.
    It is a blessing to have a husband who understands the value and potential I have and teaches that to our children. I have a house full of boys so this is really important to me.
    I have a picture of my Grandma in a nurses uniform almost identical to the one in the photo, I am very grateful for her efforts during the war and post war, she made an invaluable contribution to her country and community. I have realised I come from a few generations of strong talented and skilled women who loved their work and their families.

  13. Hadley, thank you for this lovely post! I sometimes wish I had been more sensitive to these issues when my daughter was younger (she’s 20 now). I encouraged her to dream whatever she wanted to dream, including motherhood and career, but I think I was pretty clueless about how challenging that is for young women in the Church. I appreciate your laying this out so clearly.

  14. Pingback: Women’s Work | Out of the Best Blogs

  15. I loved this so much. Well written and well timed. I have three step daughters and my first on the way. I find myself constantly torn with the questions implicit in this piece. Right now, there is no financial way for me to not work after the baby is born. But I wonder all the time whether I would want to give up my career as a teacher, even if I could. I don’t think so. I anticipate many “tilted heads,” and pieces like this make me feel like I’ll be less alone when facing them. Thank you.

  16. Hadley, I love you. I love your husband. This post was water to my thirsty soul. Thank you.

  17. Pingback: Guest Post - Aspiring Mormon Women | SOUNDS OF SILENT STORIES

  18. YES!!!! A MILLION TIMES YES!!

    Thank you for this article. I have ALWAYS dreamt of education and career (the way many other little girls dreamt of their wedding/kids/spouse) and am so excited to go back to school and have that career (and I will have that career. Oh yes, I will). I never ever doubted that that was my super-amazing goal…until I joined the church. Then suddenly my goals seemed awfully selfish and not very feminine. Of course it’s alright if you’re single but….
    I would dearly like to hear (from the pulpit-any pulpit) men talk about women who are ambitious and intelligent and list off women who have made advances in politics and science and research (Jane Goodall, Madame Currie, etc. and please let not all of them be LDS). I’d like to hear about women who CHOOSE to work outside of the home not out of necessity but because we LIKES IT! We might WANT to be on the front lines fighting the good fight alongside the men and golly gee we can be pretty good at it (dare I say sometimes better than some of the men?). Wasn’t Joan of Arc pretty fearsome? Or Queen Elizabeth I? Or Rosa Parks? Heck, Queen Victoria became queen of an empire (an EMPIRE!!) at the age of 18.
    I get just a bit excited to meet a young woman who is studying something OTHER than education, nursing or early childhood development (not that those aren’t worthy areas to study). I burst into tears when talking to a female medical student when she confided to me she was considering quitting because no boy would date her. (I told her that God had given her the desire to be a doctor and she is absolutely doing the right thing…and maybe I said “stupid boys” I couldn’t help it).
    Wouldn’t it be amazing to see men and women work side by side again doing things that move and excite them and fill them up with joy? Like in an operating room or fixing a car or washing dishes? Maybe the nurse will be a man or the stay-at-home parent be the father. It really doesn’t matter.
    I’d also like to nix the concept that women are “delicate, sensitive, nurturing little flowers made of sugar and spice and definitely don’t EVER want to punch people for saying things like this over…and over…and over”

  19. I’m just catching up to all the content in this website and I loved this piece too. I am raising three young boys and my husband and I both believe that they also, imperatively, need to hear loud and clear the message that women are inherently valuable and worthy of real respect apart from their relationships to others. I say “real respect” because it gets a little tiresome to hear about women being afforded admiration primarily for their nurturing/homemaking/organizing abilities and not so much for their competence (these often go hand-in-hand, you know). The rhetoric I hear within church culture about valuing women seems often to be a saccharine imitation of respect and it can feel, let’s face it, a bit patronizing, even if well meaning. When I go to relief society, I hear voices that are strong and capable, regardless of marital or employment status. Why is all of that strength so unnoticed in emphasis of the softer values? Why is the tug of ambition a flaw in me and an admirable characteristic in my brothers? It does not feel like a flaw…it feels like a divinely inherited gift. I will assume it is a gift and I will use it, rather than hide it under a bushel. And I will teach my sons the meaning of respect for women by living a life that garners their genuine esteem.

    Wonderful article! More please!

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