DEBORAH: I hear with different ears than those I heard with in my youth. As a new convert, then a wife and young mother, I heard the men at the General Conference podium through ears of hope and expectation. I relished their promises that following their counsel—being a wife devoted to the betterment of my husband in both career and church, being a sacrificing mother intent on raising my children in a new, exciting gospel—would result in a happiness unmatched outside the reach of the gospel. Every inch of my soul longed to please God and, with my whole heart, I trusted the men called to speak for Him.
I’m at the other end of life now. I’ve raised my children and am watching them raise theirs. I’ve lived as is prescribed for Mormon women. I earned an education—a bachelor’s before marriage and a master’s degree in midlife—but I’ve not had paying, full-time employment since my first child was born. I ensured my children learned the gospel; we attended our meetings, held callings, and lived an existence centered around the church and gospel.
When I listened to General Conference last weekend, I listened with the ears of an experienced Mormon woman and with eyes wide-opened by time. While most of General Conference was uplifting, some of it rang as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Certain things said leave me wondering if some of the men who lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understand women at all.
The covenant path described for all women by our male leaders is marriage, followed by babies babies babies, and a life at home unless dire poverty compels employment. Saint Matthew may have explained that the path to eternal life is straight and narrow, but he didn’t teach that there’s only one way to travel it.
Following the path is a choice, but how you travel it—whether you walk, run, or dance—is another. How wonderful it must be to be a man in the church, to evaluate your gifts and talents and then select the way you will travel the path—choose a career that will develop you and lead to confidence and independence! A man may be faithful and become anything he wants. But a woman must climb onto the prepared pedestal, smile, forgive offense, and sacrifice until her soul bleeds out. This woman is Angel Mother, but gentlemen, Not All Women.
Many of us are starved emotionally and spiritually by the limitations men set for us. Some women are quite literally physically harmed by it, finding ourselves stuck in violent or abusive marriages and without a means of self-support. Furthermore, some children (I can name names) are being raised in resentment. The fault for this shouldn’t fall on the women who obeyed counsel. It should fall on the men who couldn’t see Woman as anything other than a false ideal and an idol.
President Nelson invited faithful women to fast from social media for 10 days in order to avoid negative influences and create more time for scripture study. Anything that is spiritually rejuvenating is good. Still, it boggles the mind that our leaders apparently think that, of all the things in our lives, social media is the great threat. The truth is, social media is more often our strength, our way to bond (especially for obedient at-home mothers) and to express ourselves, to be both seen and heard. It can be a place we don’t have to live on the pedestal.
My young ears would’ve heard this counsel to fast from social media as if it were the word of God. But my mature ears hear the clang of potential danger and hypocrisy. For our leaders to not understand that the precise life they outline for us isolates us and leaves us starving for connection is incomprehensible. They say God entrusts us with the greatest job—that of raising children—but then they treat us as incapable of using social media in our own best interest. I applaud women who opt in to the social media fast and increase their scripture study, but I also applaud women who don’t so they can remain connected.
If it had only been the social media fast, I’d have shrugged it off, but women were also counseled by our male leaders to put away our smart phones. President Oaks referred to a vague study that showed a woman’s anxiety skyrockets more than a man’s when she is separated from her cell phone. (I’ll remind you here that, Saturday morning, he warned members to be wary of scientific studies, especially from unidentified sources. Check and check.) The study is likely correct, but President Oaks’ inference that the higher level of anxiety among women proves a negative dependence on pocket technology suggests an inability to understand the world as women experience it.
In this dangerous world, cell phones provide women a level of safety I never dreamed possible in my youth. During the years between the invention of the mobile phone and 2001, when we could afford one, I carried a block so I could pretend I had a phone if I sensed danger. My anxiety plummeted the first time I slipped a real cell phone in my pocket. My cell phone has allowed me to quickly respond to children who’ve been in vehicle accidents and to an aged parent’s need for hospitalization. So yes. You can bet my anxiety will elevate more than a man’s when you take away my cell phone.
It’s stunning that my church leaders didn’t think through the female experience well-enough to understand a woman’s relationship to technology. When I add the often isolating lifestyle “foreordained” women, the social media fast, and the request to put away cell phones, an agenda appears that isn’t helpful or healthy for responsible, adult women.
When our leaders counsel women in ways that isolate us and that drive fear between us and the pursuit of truth; or assign a single, one-size-fits-all, only-way-to-please-God lifestyle; or that presume women lack an ability to focus on the spiritual without direction, they are not counseling us to follow a covenant path, but a covenant pathology.
To all the young women with ears ringing with hope, hear me. As good and wonderful as these men are, as well-meaning and generally inspired, they are not your conduit to Heaven. You are. You, with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, must discover your life. Don’t pass it off to someone who only sees you as an unrealistic ideal, a false idol fashioned to serve institutional need. Choose the covenant path, but also choose the way you will walk it.
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