Some conversations stick with you. And not in the delightful way that great food sticks to your ribs. More like superglue that irritates your skin and is impossible to remove.
Five years ago I was struggling with all the things a young mother wrestles with. The demands of my three young sons seemed never ending, and I remembered the days, just a few years before, when I taught full time. I had loved my job and was really, really good at it. Praise from students, colleagues, parents, and my principal was generous and frequent. While I loved my babies, I felt my talent and passion languish, and my heart was continually torn and guilty. For so many friends, the answer to this dissatisfaction was to have another baby, but it was clear to me that another baby was the last thing I needed.
It was in this state of mind that the aforementioned sticky conversation took place. I struggled to share my feelings with a sister-friend from church, hoping for some flicker of understanding. I explained to her about my deep desire to have some kind of professional work that brought me joy. My friend shrugged and said, “I guess you’ll just have to find a new passion.”
Find a new passion.
Just like that?
How does that even work?
It seemed to me that it would be easier to cut off my right hand than to not teach again.
Other voices told me the same. You can’t possibly consider going back to work full time before your kids are out of the house. You’ve got to keep having babies until the girl comes. You can’t. You’ve got to. The voices were so loud that my own inner voice went silent, and I limped along, uninspired, trying to run faster than I had strength
Not long after that superglue conversation, something happened that provided me with the only insight I could hang on to for many years. Another friend wrote on her blog about her music students and the lovely art she’d been able to hang in her home and sell. She spoke with deep satisfaction about the difficult pieces she’d been asked to play and sing in church settings and other places. As I heard the joy come through in her essay, I had an a-ha moment: Why should our cultural mores tell me that I needed to give up my passion? Because it was a paid profession? The idea that somebody would say to my friend, “Sorry! No more music! You are a mother now!” is totally ludicrous. Why should it be any different for my own gift? A gift I know comes from the Great Gift Giver Himself.
I’ve hung on to that idea for many years now. I’ve struggled to be content with teaching at church, or passing off merit badges with Boy Scouts, or tutoring, or teaching my children. Through all of it, I have known that my real passion is in the science classroom. And I have tried to patiently wait for that road to open up again.
Two-and-a-half years ago I stood on the cusp of a huge decision. Was I really going to have that fourth baby that seemed so important in validating my membership in the Church? Cheerfully shoulder that diaper bag one more time just to shut up the library lady who shouted down the hallway at least monthly that it was time to have another one? I prayed. And then prayed more. I went to the temple and sought peace about any path forward.
It was then that the answer came, as prosy as can be, to my yearning heart: a webpage explaining the virtues of an online master’s program in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences. All the clarity I’d been seeking burst forth like a ray of sun. I started earning my master’s degree. Despite the myriad difficulties that have come with that decision, I’ve never doubted the original inspiration to go in that direction. My classes have filled me with ideas and happiness and ambition that I haven’t known for years. My degree is about how to modernize a classroom, how to make learning relevant for the children of this generation, and the best teaching practices consistent with current research. I’ve been able to think deeply about how children learn best and have applied much of what I know with students. My studies have given a depth to my natural abilities that is unexpected and delightful.
Sometimes dinner isn’t made. Sometimes I hit the wall. Sometimes the laundry piles up and the floor isn’t vacuumed. But it doesn’t matter, because this momma is following her passion, and I know that I’ve been led to do it. Mothering, it turns out, wasn’t the end of me; it was just one part of me.
Image credit: Zen
Front row: Jane S. Richards, left, Emmeline Wells. Middle row: Phoebe Woodruff, Isabelle Horne, Eliza R. Snow, Zina Young, Marinda Hyde. Back row: Dr. Ellis R. Shipp, Bathsheba W. Smith, Elizabeth Howard, Dr. Romania Pratt Penrose. (Utah State Historical Society)
During the infancy of the LDS Church, female members advocated for themselves and other American women with vigor. They were proponents of women’s education, equal pay, and women’s right to vote.
Emmeline Wells, Eliza R. Snow, Emily S. Richards, the staff of the The Women’s Exponent, along with many other women, declared their right to vote again and again, making great strides for the state as well as for the Church and its members. Politically, their fervent involvement began the process of gaining equal rights for women. Women’s suffrage gave the general Church membership a much needed increase in political power. Perhaps its most significant contribution was giving its female members a political voice and providing an example for future generations of women to follow.
In 1870, in an effort led by Mormon women and supported by President Brigham Young,2 Utah became the second state (though it was a territory at the time) to recognize women’s right to vote, making them among the first women to vote in a national election.1 How I wish I could have been alive for the first vote cast by a woman in Utah!
That right was tragically revoked by the United States Congress in 1887 as a provision of the Edmunds-Tucker anti-polygamy act, which defined polygamy as a crime punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a $500 fine.3
Seven years passed before women were allowed to vote in Utah again. During that time, Utahans continued fighting to restore that right. Utah delegates voted for the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the Utah Constitution,4 effectively granting suffrage. Almost 25 years later, the United States would ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women across the nation the right to vote in all elections. I imagine women in Utah experienced the greatest elation that women across the nation would now join them in voting locally, in addition to being able to vote in the national elections.
I am inspired by the editorials women (and happily, men) of the time wrote advocating women’s rights. The suffrage movement, like many other movements, was not just about the outcome. Hearing or reading the discourse fostered by these movements gave society and each individual within it a chance to consider new views and grow.
Eliza R. Snow, in the July 15, 1872 issue of The Women’s Exponent wrote an article entitled “Women’s Status” regarding the necessity for the government to extend the right to vote to women. She began her argument stating, “The status of women is one of the questions of the day. Socially and politically it forces itself upon the attention of the world.” I would argue that the finer points of the status of women remain among the questions of 2013.
“[A woman] must be preserved from the slightest blast of trouble, petted, carressed [sic], dressed to attract attention, taught accomplishments that minister to man’s gratification; in other words, she must be treated as a glittering and fragile toy, a thing without brains or soul, placed on a tinselled and unsubstantial pedestal by man, as her worshipper. This elevation of status is by courtesy, not by right. Let one of those idols choose to step beyond the bounds which society prescribes, and she is hurled from her position, and flung in the mire of social degradation. What legal rights can she fall back upon? What power has she to work her own restoration? In some of the States of the Union she can acquire and control property, and this is a great step in advance. Yet she is far from possessing the power to rise above untoward circumstances that she would possess, if she enjoyed political rights and influences.5”
Though she was addressing issues of her time – like a woman’s right to own land – her argument for treating women as people, equal under the law, and in the view of the Church, with Celestial potential and a divine inheritance, is still needed, even today. We have certainly made great strides, but there are many who still treat women like “a glittering and fragile toy,” including members of our own sex. But the right to vote and equality before the law gives us a voice and a catalyst for change.
One question naturally arises out of this discussion about women’s suffrage and rights: What am I doing with my vote and my voice?
I hope I am advocating for women and their right to choose a life for themselves that reflects their own ideals, and is full of equal opportunity. I hope I am encouraging women to become educated, so that they can navigate their way through the rhetoric of elections and choose a leader they think will best represent their values. I hope that I am looking for opportunities to challenge my view – even if the alternative makes me sad or angry – and looking for solutions for myself and other women. But most of all, I hope I recognize women’s basic right that was denied before suffrage: To be treated as people with a divine inheritance, who have a right to challenge authority (including whatever authority I feel I have) when it refuses to acknowledge their needs. Because if I can do that, I can make a difference.
Timeline of Utah Women’s Suffrage:
1870: The Utah territory extends women the right to vote
1880’s: Utah’s industrialization. In 1880, Utah’s census stood at 143,963
December 11, 1883: Congressional Representative John T. Caine presents a bill that would make Utah a state. It fails to pass committee.
March 3, 1887: The Edmunds-Tucker anti-polygamy act becomes law, abolishing Utah’s women’s right to vote, among other blows to the territory.
Jan. 10, 1889: Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association created
October 6, 1890: The church, bankrupt, its lands seized and many members jailed, signs a manifesto written by Wilford Woodruff that ends the practice of polygamy.
May 13, 1895: A three-day conference of the NWSA ends with Susan B. Anthony presiding
1895: Utah’s constitutional convention questioning the inclusion of women’s right to vote leads to a petition of 24,801 for it.
April 18, 1895: Delegates vote for the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the Utah constitution, allowing them to vote in local and state elections.
Jan. 4, 1896: Utah declares its statehood.
August 26, 1920: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, granting women the right to vote.
1Haddock, Marc. “Utah women voted earlier than most in U.S..” Deseret News, February 8, 2010. Accessed July 1, 2013. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700008024/Utah-women-voted-earlier-than-most-in-US.html?pg=all
2Women of the West Museum, “Utah: Women in Church, Marriage, and Politics.” Accessed July 1, 2013.
3Schindler, Harold. “Federal Vengeance Finally Wears Down Mormon Doctrine Polygamy: Feds Attack LDS Doctrine.” Salt Lake Tribune, October 15, 1995. Accessed July 1, 2013.
4Utah Division of Archives and Records Service. “Utah Constitution.” Accessed July 1, 2013. http://images.archives.utah.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/3214/id/9
5Snow, Eliza R. “Woman’s Status.” The Women’s Exponent, July 15, 1872. Accessed July 1, 2013.
There’s a lot of pioneering left to do, ladies. So happy Pioneer Day to us all!
Tell us a little about yourself and about your job.
My name is Denise Evans Ward, DNP, ACNP, FNP. I am a mother, wife, and flight nurse. I have been a nurse for twenty-seven years and a flight nurse for eighteen years. I am too old to give my age, but you can guess by my years of experience that I am definitely not at the beginning of my career.
When I started college, I first considered majoring in music, then history and eventually health science. I never considered a career in the medical field until I was married. At that time, I thought it would be a good “part-time” job to have while I was raising my family. This was over thirty years ago and Mormon women were pressured to be full-time, stay-at-home mothers. My son was born while I was in my first year of nursing school. When my son was five months old, my husband was killed in an industrial accident. I was suddenly a widow and a single a mom. My “choice” to go to school now became a necessity. I took the small amount of money I received from my husband’s insurance policy and invested the money into my education. This was the best investment I ever made because it not only gave me a career, but also guaranteed a stable future for my son.
As a flight nurse, I provide medical care for the critical patient during transport. Basically, the helicopter becomes a portable ICU.
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
I would like to write specifically about some pressing economic trends that have led me to think deeply about the importance of supporting my daughters in their educational and future professional goals. My concern is colored heavily by my professional life as a professor who specializes in studying the changing nature of work, human resource management practices, and the labor market. While I hope to write some more in-depth articles that explore important changes in the economy and world of work as they relate to the choices facing LDS families and women, today I want to share in broad strokes three basic facts about the modern US labor market that all women and their families should know. The reality is that young LDS women and families face a very different economic environment than that experienced by their parents and grandparents – and they need to be prepared for it. Read More
“So what is it that you do?” my friend’s father asked as he offered me a seat in his home.
“I’m in graduate school,” I replied, hoping that he would stop there and not continue to ask questions. But naturally, he persisted, desiring more specifics.
“In literacy,” I continued. And then, one of my friends piped in, “She’s getting her PhD.”
His eyes grew large in surprise. “Well, I told all of my daughters to do something useful.” He paused. I shifted uncomfortably. “But none of them took me up on that advice.”
Unsure as to how to respond, I fiddled with the zipper on my jacket, avoiding eye contact.
His response was not the first or last time that I received a less than positive response after telling someone what I did for a living. And unfortunately, these few negative responses have largely come from church members, both male and female.
I’ve been told that no LDS man would marry an LDS woman with a PhD.
I’ve been told that my PhD makes me too career-oriented and ambitious to want to have a family.
I’ve been told that my PhD makes me incredibly intimidating—to both men and women.
I’ve been told that all of this is a waste of time because one day I’ll just end up staying home anyway.
I could believe all of these statements. And there were times that I have. I have downplayed my achievements and my ambitions. I have given vague responses. I have redirected, focusing the attention on others. I have been embarrassed and ashamed for taking a “different” path. I have given excuses and apologies. I have remained silent during the “Good News Minute” in relief society when I met a school or career goal—even when I’ve attended relief societies where the majority of women were highly educated and working.
On first dates during my initial years of graduate school, I told LDS men I was “just a teacher” (not that teachers are just anything). This answer seemed to satisfy many of them. But when pressed, and when they learned the truth, their reactions told me many of the important things that I needed to know about them and if there would be a second date.
When socializing with stay-at-home mothers, I’ve kept silent about my job, figuring that they couldn’t relate to or didn’t want to be bothered with listening to mundane details about conducting research or grading assignments or writing journal articles. It was just easier to coo at their babies and dodge questions about my dating life than try to talk about school or work.
It is easy to hang on to the figurative slap-in-the-face, to the sting that comes from rejection. So while my default may be to brace myself for that negative reaction or judgment, I am far more often met with comments like, “Wow, that’s awesome” or “I’ve always wanted to do that” or “That must have been a lot of hard work.” When I honestly reflect, I can count far more positive reactions than negative ones. Those are the reactions to remember. We all need to receive more positive responses to who we are and what we do, especially when we do not fit some cookie-cutter cultural norm.
I don’t remember a specific point in time when I decided that this silence, this avoidance, this unfounded shame, this projection, this downplaying of achievements needed to end. It did nothing but hurt me, making me less than who I was and am. And it did nothing to help others to know the true me.
Now, I make it a point to look church members right in the eye and tell them exactly what I do, not just for me, but because I dream of church as being a place where varied paths for women are not just talked about and shared, but embraced and celebrated; where stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are not at odds; where we are just as likely to announce a job promotion in Relief Society as we are the engagement of a son or daughter; where education is not a “just-in-case” plan, but the first plan.
Because really, this dream will only become a reality if we are willing to tell the truth about who we are and what we do—without apology and without reservation. And so, tell me, who are you? What do you do? And what is that you want to still do?
Image credit: Paul Hudson
I have always been afraid. Lots of fear. Mom says I was born with it, and I think she may be right. My earliest baby pictures show me weeping in terror of the camera. I was afraid of walking to school, of being kidnapped, of falling, of climbing trees, of failing, of roller skating. I remember crying myself to sleep behind the green rocking chair when my uncle wiggled his mustache for my older sisters. I was afraid it was going to fall off.
As I grew into adulthood, two new mighty and pervasive fears developed—the loss of security (financial mostly), and the thought of growing old and dying.
In the summer of 2010, both fears came to a head.
I was not, mind you, dying alone and insecure, but being a single girl in Utah with no prospects at age 35 (gasp!) simply compounded all my angst when I lost my financial security. Yup, laid off. Blast that recession. A few days after losing my job, I wrote the following:
Friday afternoon–around 4:45: Bill, a friend of 12 years and the senior partner at my company–came in and closed my office door. He sat down and said, “You’re being laid off.”
A very surreal moment.
I packed up my office. I backed up my computer. I turned over my keys and credit card. I shook everyone’s hand, noticing that my own hand was shaking uncontrollably (how annoying is THAT?). And I left.
Where did I go? To my celebratory, Six-Years In Our House Anniversary Dinner with my sister, Jill, where I dropped the bomb on her. And then? Then we went to the Apple Store, where I blithely spent $300 on an iPod Touch. Clearly, I was affected.
Truth be told, I DO feel ok.
The other night, Jill was watching a documentary on work. They interviewed a man who had always wanted to be a comic book artist, but who had chosen to go to a “regular” art school and then ended up teaching for years in a high school. He made a comment that struck me then and has stayed with me since–he expressed his regret at living “Plan B” without ever even trying “Plan A.” He gave up his dream right out of the gate because he thought it was unachievable, or irresponsible, or just not “right.”
I think I did the same. I’ve been living my back up plan, instead of living my dream. And part of that probably has to do with me not knowing what my dream is. I always wanted to be a wife and mother (uhh, that didn’t work), and then I wanted to be an artist (but I opted out of that in college years ago). So what now?
Weird that—at age 35—I’m trying to find myself.
The scariest thing about being laid off is that I feel like God is pushing me to make major changes in my life. The world is wide open, and I have so much less to lose, since I’m already in the process of losing it.
I’ve dubbed it already … this is “Life: Take 2.” My second chance to get things right.
Where do I go from here? And how do I stay close enough to God to trust that I’ll choose the right direction? And does it really matter what direction I choose? Does life really have an answer key? Is my chosen career important at all, aside from the fact it should be something that truly makes me happy?
No answers yet, just questions. Part of me feels like this is a new (and big!) test of my strengthening faith. Last year really put me through the ringer, but although much is still unresolved, I feel like I’m finally coming up for air after thrashing around under the surface for far too long. I feel like I’m healing. And that the whole experience has tempered the steel of myself, my relationship with God, and my stability.
In a way, I feel like this is a gift from God. Like I’ve been taking some hideous exam, and I finally finished the hard section. Like God has decided I’m ready for the next thing. Like this is a reward instead of a punishment. It’s a strange sort of reward–at least on the surface.
But I think it is.
Looking back now, it’s abundantly clear that what I thought would be an insurmountable summit—my greatest fear come to fruition—ended up being a bit of a gift. That fear I’d held inside for my entire conscious life, certain that it would consume me if just given the chance, didn’t quite last the first three hours. By nightfall, I was fine.
I let my anticipation of something “bad” gnaw at me for years—as Mom would say, “I was borrowing trouble.” I spent more time fearing the possibility of losing my job than I did being afraid when I actually lost it.
While I can’t say that losing my job led directly to wonderful things, or that I scored high enough of some Divine Quiz to earn rewards I’ve always craved, but what I can say is that God knows our path, and sometimes He has to lead us through what we perceive to be the darkest spots—the things that frighten us the most—not to punish us, or to show Him that we’re up to it, but rather, to show us what we’re capable of.
And we’re capable of a lot.
Two years later, I’m now living the life I always wanted. Employed. Married. A mother. And while I still struggle with the knee-jerk reaction of predicating decisions on fear, I’m learning to trust that the things that look scary to us at first glance can often turn out to be blessings we had never imagined.
So my advice to me (and you and anyone who will listen)?
Stop with the fear. No. Really. Stop it. Just go out and do it, whatever your “it” is.
Image Credit: Andolent
Tell us a little about yourself and about your job.
My name is Brianne Hamilton, I’m 30 years old, and I’m from a small suburb along the Wasatch Front. I now live in Salt Lake City with 4 housemates and work as a mechanical engineer for a medical device company. The company is a spin-off of a University of Utah research project. We work on devices that use microwaves to heat up and/or kill cancerous tumors. For the last 6 years, I have worked doing various aspects of the design process. Mechanical engineers generally work with the design, manufacture, process, and assembly of mechanical devices (things that move, but not necessarily).
The jobs mechanical engineers (MEs) have are varied. Some examples of jobs a ME would have are things which involve fluid mechanics (air, water, etc.), mechanization, manufacturing design (designing processes to build assemblies), quality, medical devices, automation, composites (e.g. carbon fiber), aerospace, automotive, etc. Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) tools may be used for the design, assembly, and drawings of a device to be constructed. Read More