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8 October 2007

being a byu alum, i get the byu magazine every so often. sometimes i pick it up and peruse it. occasionally i read an article or two. usually it just sits in my pile of mail until it gets thrown away. tonight i started sorting through my pile of mail (i always have a pile of mail; i hate mail; i wish people would just not send me stuff; unless they’re people i know and love; then they can send me stuff) and ran across the byu magazine. and when i read the cover blurb ‘jane clayson lands her dream job: mother,’ some sick masochistic part of me turned to page 22 to read the article.

it’s all about jane clayson who becomes jane johnson. perhaps that’s reductive, but the article’s attempt to represent rhetorically the shift from single to married by referring to the single jane as clayson and the married jane as johnson does call attention to that shift. it was a bizarre editorial decision–one that caused more confusion than anything. and it made the difference between unmarried and married sound almost jekyll-and-hyde.

anyway. back to the regularly scheduled programming. here’s the reader’s digest version: jane goes to byu expecting to graduate and get married. jane graduates but doesn’t get married. jane becomes award-winning, nationally known television journalist. jane realizes that ‘real life’ has begun, even though she’s not married. jane gets married. jane quits working. jane has babies. jane has epiphany: ‘mothers matter.’ (yes, that’s the epiphany: ‘mothers matter.’)

it’s a lovely story. really. i’m happy that this talented woman had the opportunity not only to find such professional success but also to fall in love and marry and have children.

but dammit. don’t tell me i’m a mother simply by virtue of the fact that i have breasts, a vagina, a uterus, and ovaries. i am a woman. i am not a mother. and i don’t care how much mental gymnastics you do, you’re not going to convince me otherwise. but clayson (or should it be johnson?) tries: ‘i want every woman to feel in her soul that among the many important things that women do, mothering is the most important thing, whether a woman biologically bears a child or not.’

i appreciate the sentiment. i feel all warm and fuzzy that jane (and sherri dew and numerous others like them) recognizes that the church’s emphasis on motherhood for women leaves single and childless women feeling inadequate on some level. but has it ever occurred to them that perhaps the answer is to authenticate other life paths for women? to acknowledge that women have incredible contributions to make outside of motherhood?

i am a nurturer. i love children. i’m patient and kind and loving towards all of my nieces and nephews. i adore them. but i spend very little time with them. and while i know for a fact that they love me and that i have helped shape their characters in some ways, i also know that i’m not much of a presence in their lives. am i to understand that mothering is the most important work i do, when easily 90% of my time is spent completely apart from children? what does that mean about the rest of my time? is it really all that much to ask that the value of my work and life be acknowledged without trying to shove it through a mother-shaped hole?

please, jane clayson johnson (and anyone else who’s made the error of trying to convince themselves and others that every woman is a mother)–please have enough decency to honor all the work women do, not just the work they do as mothers. don’t tell me i am a mother in some misguided effort to make me feel better about the fact that i’m unmarried and childless. instead, look me in the eye and see me for who and what i am: a woman of god who is using the gifts she’s been given to make as much beauty and goodness as she can.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 October 2007 6:57 am

    I saw that article and also thought, “Um, what?” Yes, it’s all very good to want motherhood and to say that it’s her dream job to be a soccer mom, but I think it also ties into that Mormon 1st world upper middle class conception of what a mom is. My mom and my stepmom never lived that life, and I don’t really think *I* want that life of driving a minivan and picking kids up from soccer. I want to be a mother, but there are so many different ways that will happen for so many different people.What bothered me most is that they reinforced the idea that her life was meaningless until she got married and had kids. She was doing a LOT of good in the world, serving and reaching a wide audience and a lot of people looked up to her as a Mormon in the media, but somehow, that wasn’t good enough: it was only when she decided to give that all up that her offering was counted as good. I just don’t agree.

  2. 9 October 2007 8:11 am

    …it was only when she decided to give that all up that her offering was counted as goodThat’s what makes me sad. And Sheri Dew is not the only dynamic single woman who has had a wonderful career and made a contribution in her own right. Yet she is sort of the “poster child” for single women because she accepts and preaches the party line. Her talk on motherhood is interesting but I would rather admire her for her actual accomplishments than for what she has done to “mother” her nieces and nephews.

  3. 9 October 2007 9:32 am

    One of my roommates gets the BYU magazine, but I rarely open it. My mom had issues with Sister Beck’s talk in conference that were more or less along these lines.

  4. 9 October 2007 10:18 am

    I had issues with the R.S. pres. talk on Sun. It was fine and all and I get her point but why do you have to say stuff about Mormon woman always have their houses clean, pick their family first. I leaned over to my husband and said that people talking like that is why mormon women always struggle with feeling less than. I have also thought it weird that Jane Clayson gave up her whole past life so whole heartedly. I would think it was a big part of who she was and maybe she would want to hang on to part of it. I guess I’m also judging her without knowing her. Maybe she still has things to do with her past profession.

  5. 9 October 2007 12:55 pm

    in clayson’s defense, the article makes it clear that she appreciates what she was able to accomplish in the past and is proud of it. the article does present clayson as a woman who believes in the value of what she did in the past.i think the feeling that stacer is responding to–that clayson’s offering was only considered good when she gave up profession to be a mother–is generated by clayson’s effort to tell women that they are valuable because of their mothering. the article recounts clayson’s colleagues’ reaction to her decision to quit, focusing on those reactions which dismissed the decision as bad or one she would regret. it then recounts how the wives of prominent mormon men introduced themselves as “only” or “just” a mom at some big event clayson attended. and that bothered clayson, that they would introduce themselves as “only” or “just” a mom when mothering is so important and when the work of a mother is by no means easy.i appreciate clayson’s point–we shouldn’t downplay the value of the work mothers do. it’s incredibly valuable and difficult. but to try to correct the problem by going to the other extreme–by asserting that mothering is the most important work any woman can do, even a woman who is not biologically a mother–is to recreate the problem in a different guise. in my opinion, it actually reinforces the notion that women have no value in and of themselves.which is precisely what has literally been driving me crazy for the last few years. this idea that my life is meaningless until i can mother. i reject it. resoundingly. but it’s been so deeply ingrained in my psyche that i can’t escape it. is it really so much to ask that we recognize that women have value? just that. no more. not because of the work they do in mothering. just that they are important members of our society for themselves. regardless of what productive contribution they choose to make.which is why i agree with BiV. i want the women held up as models of righteous womanhood to be honored for all of their accomplishments, not just their mothering. which means that the single women held up as models should be honored for their accomplishments in the workplace and their community, not for their loving their nieces and nephews (not that loving their nieces and nephews and helping nurture them is not a good accomplishment; just that doing so is simply not typical of a single woman [who, like me, is unlikely to spend all that much time with her nieces and nephews], even if such accomplishments are real).

  6. 9 October 2007 1:01 pm

    on president beck’s talk: i found it incredibly problematic. i appreciate the point she tried to make–that women who know their divine nature and the importance of parenting in god’s plan will be able to prepare children to live righteous lives. but she spent so much time talking about outcomes–the spotless house as the pinnacle of nurturing; the crisply ironed dress and the missionary haircut on the children as the product and generator of temple covenants; the moving children to serve missions and marry in the temple–that the point got lost in a morass of judgment. you’re only a woman/mother “who knows” if you achieve the ends. i don’t believe it. mothering (and fathering!) are about an ongoing process of loving and caring for your children, not being able to check boxes of a list of items that allegedly demonstrate the fact that you’re a “mother who knows.” what of mothers and fathers with children who fall away from the church? is she really suggesting that they somehow failed to nurture their children because the child made the “wrong” decision? and what about those homes where spotless bathrooms and immaculately ironed clothes are less important than any number of other worthwhile activities? does she really mean to suggest that parents who take their kids to the library or to museums or just simply play with them are somehow lacking if their windows aren’t shining? i believe she did not intend to send such a message (god help her if she did). but she sent it anyway. for which i hold her accountable. she should be smart enough to recognize the ramifications of her own words.

  7. 9 October 2007 1:03 pm

    and one last: zeeny, clayson continues to engage in professional pursuits. she does some public speaking. she’s just published a book, which she has toured for. i find it a little disingenuous that the article suggests that she gave up a professional life in favor of mothering when she continues to engage in a professional life (even if it’s not the same one). i don’t criticize her for doing it; i simply criticize whoever (whether clayson herself or the article’s author) presents her as someone who gave up working for mothering when that is clearly not the case.

  8. 10 October 2007 8:24 am

    i read that article a few weeks ago and also found it to be equally frustrating. i agree on your comments about pres. beck’s talk. coming from a family with anything and everything but a missionary haircut, i find a lot of this hard to come to terms with (and i’m sure it doesn’t make my mother feel too good either!).

  9. 10 October 2007 11:45 pm

    Ahhh…some great thoughts going on here and AGAIN it is past midnight fastly aproaching 1am…so I will share the only thought that came to mind about all of your comments on Sis. Beck’s talk.I do remember feeling the spirit when she spoke and seeing the passion in her face as she spoke. I don’t remember the specific comment zeeny is referring to….however, I do remember a twinge of something about her talk that bugged me….so perhaps it was what you are referring to. I do remember thinking during a couple of the talks (one of them was the talk about neighbors and the list of all the trajedies that had occured in his neighborhood and how they all organized to help, etc., etc.) …anyway, I remember thinking – what must the Mardy’s (the orphanage director/Bishop in Haiti) be thinking about this talk ??? — it seemed to be a talk for *our* society and culture….it made me wonder about the many people around the world who live in very differenct circumstances. I don’t have an opinion good or bad….just awareness that some of the talks seemed specific to LDS people living in Utah….or the U.S. –and I wonder– Of course, the speakers speak from *their* experience – so please don’t take me as being judgemental. I just wonder sometimes about the differences and the challenge a world-wide church faces at such a time as conference. Surely, I might feel some of the talks were not *for me* if I couldn’t relate to the experience being shared….like keeping an immaculate home – if my home was like some of the homes I saw in Haiti……I think I would wonder what that meant really? Or just what IS a soccer mom? I have kids…and I still don’t really know — or I guess I just never was a soccer mom??? So, as we hear the R.S. Pres. speak of the importance of being a mother….I suppose (for me) it is to help me remember, as I live in a world that tends to down-play the role of mother, that it really is important *for me*. I struggled with being a mother for some time. I didn’t feel fulfilled by changing diapers and disney movies and and and… and I felt guilty about that….and I wanted more…. and partly because I wanted more… I got more….and because I was able to pursue the *other* things that are part of my *worth* I get to be a mother again….to three more children through adoption. hmmmm. I really should go to bed – because I’m not sure any of this makes sense. I guess, I think life is basically going to be full of people everywhere (work, church, family, friends) sharing *their experiences* with us – and what has helped me most is filtering the messages – taking what is good *for me* and leaving the rest by the side of the road….even if *the rest* or, the part of the message I leave, is viewed as valuable to the majority of people. If it doesn’t *help me to be better* I leave it….ok, I know, easier said than done….and you have heard me *rant* on numerous occasions about the crazy things people say. Anyway, ranting has a way of helping me understand why certain comments infuriate me (and I have no idea if I spelled that right…and frankly, I don’t care because it is now 1:36 a.m. and I must go to bed….:)Amy….you always help me see better how important it is to teach my children to focus on being good and righteous FIRST and then, whatever roles they fall into (mother/father or not) they will value WHO THEY ARE. Certainly, we can all do good and we all have purpose — every person must come to know this of him/herself. It is through knowledge and acceptance that we are worthy *alone* that allows us the freedom to *become* the person God knows us to be. Sadly, so many tag along the shirt tails of a spouses success – often women who don’t think they contribute much. I see through different eyes because of friends I have known who struggle with their worth as mothers….these talks are for them…..maybe they could be better…..maybe Sheri Dew ought to give the message you just wrote in this post….maybe you should? Of course OPPORTUNITY is the key to that one….and opportunity must come first to women BEFORE they can be mothers….so YES – I wish I heard YOUR message being shared loud and clear in conference……write and share it! You can do that and YOU just might be the one who can articulate this concern in a way that will begin a new generation of thinking…..thinking about becoming the person God knows us to be. It isn’t a selfish kind of thinking to feel you have WORTH! YOU MUST KNOW you have worth before you can really GIVE to others. I’m not suggesting a message of thinking of oneself in a selfish sort of way – rather, investing the energy in accepting your individual worth and THEN DOING ….LIVING…the life God would have you live.A and J-I love you….you ARE BOTH SO BEAUTIFUL TO ME!tash

  10. 11 October 2007 8:30 am

    I really appreciate this entry, Amy, and comments. I felt guilty for so long while I worked and had a brand new baby. But, I always felt like I needed to be in education. I was met by disapproval from some family and church members–which was hurtful–but I knew they just didn’t understand. I worked at a school where many kids came from abusive homes. I tried to make my library like a sanctuary for all students–a place to go to find peace, good books, and a friend to talk to. I read Chieko Okazaki’s book “Lighten Up,” and finally stopped feeling guilty (although, even before this, I felt affirmation that I was doing what I needed to be doing). We need good woman to be in the workplace (mothers or not). Chieko was a principal and raised 2 boys (sans missionary haircuts). Her insights to working and mothering were invaluable to me. I also have a good friend that is related to Chieko. She is also a former principal, and now a teacher raising 5 kids, and her husband is not a member of the LDS faith. She is a relief society instructor, and an amazing human being. I am so glad more woman are in a position of influence who don’t have “ideal” situations. My parents divorced when I was 8. I became inactive as a teenager because I felt there was no place for me at church–I didn’t fit the mold. A mission changed those feelings for me. I think it is harmful to promote a picture of what a “righteous woman,” or a “righteous family” should look like. I really appreciate Natasha’s comments about how people in different circumstances might feel about this talk. We should never promote our circumstances as the ideal. I’m surprised that this still goes on–why aren’t things changing??!!!

  11. 11 October 2007 8:57 am

    Also, I hate to admit this, but I almost always fast forward (because I usually tape or DVR conference)through the woman speakers precisely for this reason. I often find the tone, content, and delivery nauseating. That’s not to say that I don’t find things that are valuable…

  12. 11 October 2007 10:32 am

    more good comments.i feel so strongly, tasha, about the point you make about how listeners around the world hear such talks. it is such a privilege to have a home and then an even bigger privilege to have the time to spend keeping that home immaculately clean. even in the u.s. and other first world nations, many women do not enjoy such privileges. i understand the points underlying president beck’s talk. i appreciate the message she is trying to communicate–that when we as women know and understand our divine nature and the covenants we make with god, we will be better able to nurture our children (if we have them). this is an important message, one that needs to be shared. but i think it is the responsibility of someone at the head of such a diverse organization to set aside the particularities of her (or his) own experience, and try to find ways to communicate a message that will make it as accessible to as many members of her (or his) organization as possible. i think president beck failed in doing that.ultimately you are right–we must simply filter the messages we hear, gleaning the good that will nourish our own souls and leaving that which does not speak to us (though it may speak to someone else). but i know for a fact that many, many members of the church do not feel authorized in doing so. instead, they feel that, because of the divine nature of callings to lead the church, those who speak at conference must be speaking the literal word of god and all of it must be accepted and embraced. it’s a big mess sometimes, quite honestly. i don’t think god intends us to take every word so literally; and i do think he intends us to evaluate and consider and reach our own conclusions about how counsel works in our own lives, even if we believe it all to be divinely inspired.alise– i appreciate you sharing your experience. i have other friends who feel very strongly that they have important contributions to make outside the immediate realm of their home. and i respect and honor them for making that decision. i believe so strongly that there is no one way or role that will equal righteousness. and i frankly do not understand the animosity, whether overt or veiled, expressed towards people who choose a way other than the norm. honestly i think it reveals insecurity. if one is confident in their own choice being right for themselves, why must they be so aggressive in forcing others to make the same choice? and while i usually suffer through the women’s talks at conference (i usually watch it at the stake center), i understand your response. there’s little i hate more than the saccharine sweet, nearly contentless talks given by women at general conference. give me a sermon. please. something powerful and insightful. as someone at fMh said the other day, where are the women who use physics as a metaphor and expound isaiah? how refreshing it would be to hear a woman give a talk that was just a talk, rather than a woman’s talk.

  13. 11 October 2007 11:23 pm

    a most interesting discussion. about that conference talk…i will never, ever understand why people in the church are so completely obsessed with the appearance of cleanliness and order. now, being clean and orderly is a good thing. and i suspect that being clean and orderly outwardly would also follow from living a life centered on Gospel principles. but as i recall the scriptures tell us that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). so, why are we so obsessed with haircuts and pressed clothes? for one, i think we focus on these things because it’s easy. it’s so much easier to worry about looking clean and proper. it’s so much more comfortable to worry about than to worry about being pure in heart (E.Bednar’s talk comes to mind). that could lead to some uncomfortable and difficult self-reflection and perhaps admitting to our peers that we’re not as perfect as we seem to be (and what would all the rest of the perfect people think of me then?)kind of makes me want to grow my beard again just to show ’em all.

  14. 12 October 2007 2:36 pm

    i think the part of the beck talk that bothered me the most was the one that talked about little african girls in their cripsly ironed dresses and the little boys with their missionary haircuts. not only because it gave so much emphasis to the appearance of children as a reflection of their mother’s worthiness (and really, what child remains perfectly neat and tidy all the time?), but also because it was embedded in a discussion of temple covenants. it seemed to imply that when a woman makes a covenant, she makes sure her children look neat and tidy (as a direct result of understanding those covenants). and in turn, children who were kept neat and tidy will someday make their own covenants. it was just such a fallacious line of argument.i have to agree with you seymour; the emphasis on neatness and appearance is an easy manifestation of worthiness, so it’s probably not all that surprising that it gets a lot of attention. but this begs the question why our leaders, who we believe to be inspired, spend so much time talking about it (i’m thinking of one talk a couple years ago in which the young women of the church were told to wear nylons, etc. to church; it was silly). and i think it has to do with the idea that internal change follows external change–that if we adopt practices and habits with the appearance of godliness, then our hearts will follow the lead. i honestly don’t know what to make of that line of reasoning. to a certain extent i think it’s true. when i force myself into certain routines that i know are typical of a lifestyle i want to adopt, those routines sometimes lead to an internal change (this has happened for me with things like exercise and diet). but i don’t think it’s universally true. and there’s such a great danger of focusing attention on shallow measures of worthiness. like nylons. and beards.and in all honesty, my short short hair has a bit of the “just to show ’em all” attitude, too (though i genuinely like it best that way, so i’m not just thumbing my nose at all the staid mormons…).

  15. 23 February 2008 7:34 pm

    I am so sad, I wasted my time reading your Blog entry on this.Although, I am sure I am wasting my time leaving a comment.However, I must!When humans have a life change, that they feel is for the better, Why dog them? Why can we not encourage GOOD change. Would you feel better about yourself if she would have married and then let that marriage fall apart, because traveling takes a toll and a marriage is a partnership & a commitment to another human being?I am sorry to say this, but if you are single, it is not a shock! You are obviously a negative person. Why would a guy want to be with that.Change your attitude, it will change your life. And for the better.I wish you luck in finding your happiness. I hope you can be happy for others who find theirs.

  16. 24 February 2008 1:21 pm

    Anon: It’s hilarious that you seemed to have missed the point of the criticism: Calling all women “mothers.”i’m happy that this talented woman had the opportunity not only to find such professional success but also to fall in love and marry and have children.i am a woman. i am not a mother. and i don’t care how much mental gymnastics you do, you’re not going to convince me otherwise.Now, you could argue against that point, argue that it should have come earlier in the piece, or even agree with it.But to miss the point completely and proceed to ad hominem attacks… wow.I guess I’d do that anonymously too.

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