Guest Post by Naomi Watkins

 

I’ve written before about the negative (and ridiculous) things I’ve been told by people over the years concerning my educational and professional aspirations and achievements. When people hear these stories, their reactions often fall into three camps: 1) they are completely incredulous that these types of sentiments are not only still believed, but still said, 2) they nod their heads and relate someone else’s story, or 3) they share stories of their own.

 

I am told stories by and of young women attending a spectrum of universities, many of them top-notch, who desire to highly educate themselves; who may want to use these talents and skills inside and outside of the home; who are bright, enthusiastic, and able.  They have taken Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel to heart:

 

“The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge…You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.” [1]

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But an apparent disconnect exists between President Hinckley’s counsel to young women and what they are often told by many church and family members and friends: hold back; be less than who you are and who you want to and can be.

 

Young women with these ambitions are often told that no one will marry them, that they will educate their way out of the LDS dating pool, that they wouldn’t want to have more degrees or earn more money than their husbands. They are told that education is good, but not to get too much. They are told to forsake their aspirations for engineering or philosophy or business because these fields are “unladylike” or have no use in the world of motherhood. They are told that college is the time to have fun and find a spouse because never again will there be a place with such a robust selection, so hurry! They are told that by pursuing an education and career, they must despise wifehood and motherhood—that pursuit of both, if they desire, cannot happen simultaneously, that if they were “good” mothers, they would be content to with mothering. They are told that a pretty face and a model physique (hot, but not too hot) are more important than having curiosity and smarts—that it is physical appearance that will catch them mates not their brains. And unfortunately, many times women not only give credence to, but they believe these lies. They tell stories of holding back and waiting, of forgoing their educational and career dreams, of choosing more “ladylike” majors, of dropping out of school, of living with regret.

 

I would really like these types of stories, and the cultural lies, to be things of the past.

 

Instead, President Hinckley’s truth is what needs to be more prominently promoted, shared, and repeated.

I remember listening to President Hinckley’s words in person (don’t you miss this man?) and being powerfully struck by their potential and truth. Over the pulpit, from the mouth of a prophet, my own aspirations and ambitions, and those of other women, were not only validated, but also supported and encouraged. Luckily, I had grown up in a home where my intellect, my endeavors, and my dreams were supported. I relied on this foundation to combat the cultural lies and pressures that were muttered to me under the shroud of “advice” and “good intentions”—sometimes from church leaders I respected and from acquaintances I fleetingly encountered. Luckily, I was stubborn enough most of the time not to listen.

 

And, yes, I realize that these lies are more pervasive than just the LDS culture; women throughout the world are not immune, and many deal with much worse. However, this reality does not exempt us nor should it pacify us. There are those in the world who are already working hard to combat these lies [2] and there are many of us within the LDS Church and culture who are doing the same [3].

 

The mission of Aspiring Mormon Women, the non-profit Dianne Orcutt and I founded, is to support, encourage, and celebrate the educational and professional pursuits of LDS women. We are working hard to not only bring LDS women together who are interested in furthering, strengthening, and continuing their educations and careers, but we also hope to illustrate that not everyone believes (or lives) these lies. Through career day profiles, personal essays, informational articles, podcasts, and networking opportunities we are showing that intelligent, ambitious, and achieving LDS women need not concede their true selves—to be less than—in order fulfill their dreams—to be educated or successful, to marry, to have children, to be righteous women. We are showing that there are many intelligent, ambitious, and achieving LDS women with a gamut of life experiences. We are showing that “never marrying” is not punishment for not conforming to a specific type of womanhood. We are showing that women who pursue educations and careers do not hate motherhood or men (or even want to be men) because of their ambitious aspirations. We are showing that education and career (regardless of type) prepare women for personhood, provide more and better opportunities for contributing to the world—and not just at home. We are showing that LDS women can be mothers and in the workforce and still be active, engaged church members, wives, mothers, and friends. However, we are not only showing, but also providing support and connection to those who are already living these truths.

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We should raise youth—both women and men—who do not short-change their full potentials, who refuse to settle for less than their true selves “in order to marry,” who do not believe that an education and possible career translate to hatred of family, who are taught that their value is not determined by the luck of “catching” a spouse.  We should raise youth who value women for their intellects and for all of their aspirations and ambitions—in the home and out; who are taught that a woman’s value is not determined by her appearance; who do perceive smart, educated, ambitious women as equals and allies; who are not threatened by strong women; who support and encourage the dreams of (other) women while pursuing their own.

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We are to seek learning by study and by faith. We are to put our shoulders to the wheel—and all of us—push along. I believe that our Heavenly Parents desire men and women to educate themselves and to work ambitiously—in and out of the home. They want Their children, sons and daughters, to have all that They have, including sharp intellects and bright minds. Let us not allow others to place limits on our own potentials and those of our sisters, daughters, wives, mothers, and friends. We cannot allow these lies to get the best of us. “Limitless is your potential. Magnificent is your future.” [4] I wholeheartedly believe this truth. And I know many others do, too, which gives me hope that things are getting better.

 

To those who not only believe these truths, but who also speak and live them, how do we help others believe, speak, and live them, too?

 

 

Naomi, is on of the co-founders of Aspiring Mormon Women. Aspiring Mormon Women is a non-profit organization with the broad purpose to encourage, support, and celebrate the educational and professional aspirations of LDS women who are high-school age, who are in school, who are working, or who are desiring to return to school or the workforce. a former middle school English teacher, she earned a B.A. in English education from Brigham Young University, a M.Ed. in language and literacy from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in teaching and learning with a literacy emphasis from the University of Utah. When not teaching literacy pedagogy courses to aspiring teachers at a private university in the Los Angeles area and conducting research in adolescent literacy, she can be found hiking in the mountains, soaking in sun at the beach, traveling close-to-home or abroad, or reading a good book.

 

 

[1] Gordon B. Hinckley, “How Can I Become the Woman of Whom I Dream?” Ensign, May 2001. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2001/05/how-can-i-become-the-woman-of-whom-i-dream

 

[2] Some of my (recent) favorites: Mercy Academy’s recent advertisements, Beauty Redefined, A Mighty Girl

 

[3] See Aspiring Mormon Women Resources Page, which is a work in progress, so please send additional suggestions.

 

[4] See Hinckley talk above.

Jessica is a Master’s Student at King’s College London, where she studies religion in the contemporary world. She recently completed an advanced Diploma in Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge. She earned a Bachelors from BYU in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. She is married to her best friend, and they have 4 daughters.

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