Zelophehad’s Daughters

An Inarticulate Hunger: LDS Women and Graduate School

Posted by Eve

Last night I read again in 3 Nephi 28 about the three Nephite disciples who didn’t dare tell Christ what they most desired, leaving him to read the thoughts and the sorrows of their hearts. I won’t pretend that my desires are anything like theirs, but their fear to speak their own deepest yearnings lays bare something in me.

Growing up in Utah County, I didn’t realize it was possible for an LDS woman to go to graduate school. I don’t remember meeting any women who had, and the women I heard about who pursued advanced degrees or careers were usually spoken of with disapproval. Like my sisters here at Zelophehad’s Daughters, I’ve always had a passion for books and ideas, but I’ve also long felt that my desires for learning were not just daring, but beyond the bounds of religious acceptability, even evil. From the time I was eight or nine and throughout Young Women’s my future was usually laid out for me in terms of marriage and children. Among the hard lessons I absorbed during those years was the message that marriage and children would obliterate the intellectual desires that, consequently, came to feel so presumptuous to me that I hardly dared articulate them. That lesson, among other influences, taught me to view marriage and children with resentment and dread, as an unavoidable but divinely ordained fate. I recoiled from what I saw as a contracted future of feminine simpering (the women I identified as “real” Mormon women simpered) and struggling with too many children (I was the sort of Mormon girl who hated to babysit my own brother and sisters, let alone anyone else’s.). To borrow a phrase from Adrienne Rich, I was split at the root, my public religious life set in contradiction to the desires it rendered illegitimate and drove underground. As an adolescent I read all of Chaim Potok’s novels of religious conflict over and over, frantic for answers to questions that I couldn’t ask in the seminary classes I rarely attended. I remember the mute desperation I felt in junior-high and high-school careers classes, in senior meetings with my guidance counselor, whom I told I wanted to be a music teacher because that seemed an acceptable answer for a Mormon girl. In college I had long conversations with God about the harsh dichotomy between the limits imposed by my gender and my internal wildness. I accused God of cruelty, wondering why, if He had made me a woman, He had also afflicted me with this relentless fervor to know, to know, to know. Wallace Stevens said, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never…” but the longings of the mind can also be the longings of the heart.

When my husband began graduate school in the fall of 1998, we moved from Provo, Utah, where we had both been attending Brigham Young University, to a remote rural area of South Dakota. The transition was a difficult one for me. I felt abruptly cut off from intellectual pursuits. Once every month or two, without having planned to, I would find myself reading until 4 a.m., restless, giddy with lack of sleep and the wild contemplations of darkness, and ravenous for something I had long tried to convince myself was my religious and moral duty to sacrifice. But I often felt frustrated with that sacrifice and resentful of my husband’s intellectual adventures, partly because few besides my long-suffering husband seemed to see it as a sacrifice. In the LDS community, moving for a husband’s schooling or job is what women do, what many of the other women in my ward had also done, and it seemed routine, scarcely worth comment. However, the branch there–along with the immense and almost inhuman beauty of the Great Plains, the sea of prairie and sky I fell hopelessly in love with, as I had earlier fallen in love with the mountains and the desert–saved me. Although we left the plains seventeen months ago, I still physically ache for that dizzying view that exceeds the eye’s circumscription, for vast skies streaked with clouds or traced with the circles of enormous flocks of migrating birds or littered deep with stars. It is the geography of eternity into which I still escape time’s contingencies. And although I was raised in the church, living in that branch was the first time in my life I ever made friends in an LDS congregation. I had been so accustomed to looking for friends elsewhere that it took me a year or two even to imagine that a branch might become a home.

Last summer, my husband completed the final requirements for his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. That process, along with his acquisition of an M.B.A., took seven years. Honoring a long-standing agreement that we made partly in recognition of the fact that he is far more likely to find gainful employment in his fields than I am in mine, he finished his education first. Now we have reversed roles, and as he’s begun his first full-time job, I’ve returned to graduate school. Partly because we’ve moved twice recently, we have had different four bishops and branch presidents over the past two years. In casual conversation, two have explicitly discouraged me from pursuing a Ph.D., both by posing the question in terms of whether I don’t have enough education already. I don’t mean to condemn these bishops, nor to make them offenders for a word (Isaiah 29:21, 2 Nephi 27:32). I don’t envy them their callings, and I can only imagine the excruciating situation of living at the center of the ward fishbowl and of having to monitor every word that falls from their lips. The words that too routinely fall from my lips would not bear such scrutiny. I realize too that neither they nor any of us can entirely escape our cultural constraints. Yet their casual discouragement evokes an old sense of loneliness, of being split at the root.

I struggle to have faith that my faith, most truly understood, pervades and orients my life and is not merely a fragment of it, that even a woman’s mind can be consecrated to the purposes of God.

35 Responses to “An Inarticulate Hunger: LDS Women and Graduate School”

  1. 1.

    So interesting!
    I too have moved for my husband’s education… and I have for sure resented it. I was just wondering if you have any kids…
    I’ve got two and am pretty sure that I am done having them.
    I finished my two year degree a month before I had my second. Now I am going back to school to finish my bachelors. How I wish I would have finished it all before I even met my husband….
    I think it is great you are pursuing your PHD. I wish, at some point in my future, that I can do the same.

  2. 2.

    Good for you for going back to school, Kelly. I think that’s great–and it must be tough with kids. The irony is that, at least so far, I haven’t been able to have them, which (I realize) makes education much easier. Best wishes to you!

  3. 3.

    Didn’t Brigham Young say something along the lines that if he had the choice to educate either his sons or his daughters, he’d opt to educate his daughters? Though I think he gives the rationale that they will have a greater influence on the next generation, a justification I’m not entirely comfortable with. Both in the YW program and as an undergrad at BYU, I frequently heard that it was important for a woman to get an education because 1) it would help her be a better mother, or 2) it would be good to have it to fall back on in case the “ideal” situation (being supported by your husband) didn’t work out. Not that I see those concerns as illegitimate, but I rarely if ever heard the sentiment that education might be worth something in and of itself, as an end rather than a means.

    Because I’m single, I think that my pursuit of a PhD is perhaps seen as less weird than yours. And in the different wards I’ve been in since leaving Utah, there have always been other women doing graduate work, and that’s made me feel a bit less of a freak than I did at BYU. But every so often I hear comments–such as the remark in the general women’s meeting a few ago that women should be careful to not let too much education detract from their femininity–which remind me once again that church discourse about what it means to be a woman often has little to do with my actual experience of life. And it’s difficult to keep encountering that disconnect.

  4. 4.

    I think your experience of disconnect between religious discourse and your academic desires is present throughout the church. I’ve never lived in Utah (I grew up for the most part in the Midwest), and I’ve had very similar experiences. It’s interesting to me because I had parents who wholeheartedly supported my passion for learning and education and told me that I could do or be anything I wanted, yet I still internalized the same messages you describe. Until I got to college and saw other women in the church pursuing graduate degrees, I honestly thought there was something wrong with me for wanting to go to graduate school and spend my life in academia.

    This issue has become a little easier for me because I feel very strongly that pursuing a Ph.D. (what I’m doing now) is what God wants me to be doing at this point in my life. The recognition (which, admittedly, was slow in coming) that my passion for knowledge was not only acceptable to God, but is something that is of value and a gift he wants me to pursue and develop has brought a lot of peace to my life, and it makes it easier to deal with the frustrations I experience when dealing with the judgments of others (which, as Lynnette pointed out, happens less for me than others since I am also single).

    I also agree with Lynnette’s comments about the discourse that surrounds women and education. I am happy that church leaders are increasingly encouraging women to pursue education, but I think their encouragement is still limited in scope–women’s education is still often only discussed in terms of how it can benefit a her family. While I am excited about someday having children and sharing my knowledge with them, I am saddened that there is currently very little language that allows for women to talk about the pusuit of knowledge and truth as a worthy and noble goal in and of itself (as Lynnette put it, “an end rather than a means”).

  5. 5.

    Thanks for your perspective, S, and for taking the time to comment on this newbie blog. I’m particularly interested in what you say about absorbing the disconnect even outside of Utah and in spite of your parents’ encouragement. That’s very telling.

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you say about knowing that pursuing a Ph.D. is what God wants for you. I’ve had similar experiences, and they sustain me when others, even church leaders, question what I’m doing. It’s so refreshing to hear from other LDS women pursuing Ph.D.s!

  6. 6.

    Eve,
    Thank you for this post (and welcome to feminist Mormon blogging!).

    Your experiences seem almost to mirror my own, with one important difference: I seemed somehow to be able to “turn off” or “patch up” the disconnect as I grew in the church by convincing myself that I was so undesireable that I would never marry, and therefore none of that traditional role stuff applied to me, and therefore I could just ignore it and follow the path God had laid out for me (which I knew in my heart had to do with books and writing and art and learning).

    My root split belatedly, the summer I finished my MA, got married, and moved to New York where my new husband was set to begin his PhD work (in Psychology no less!). There, though I had been accepted to a PhD program in the City, I decided to forego my education, and degrees in hand, get a “real job” instead. Suddenly I found myself inhabiting a role I had never planned on, and making sacrifices I had never considered would be necessary (and which my husband, bless him, asked me not to make). I missed home–which for me meant beauty–so much that I thought I would die from the sheer ugliness of New York. I missed my careless independence in church–bewildered by the odd status and acceptance I met with as a married woman. I was completely at sea.

    I’m not sure what to do with the disconnect now. I am an educated woman, and I am a (relatively) faithful Mormon. But it sure is difficult to reconcile those two things, and it’s ironic to me that the split happened for me just when things were supposedly coming together.

    It’s nearly 3:30 am, so I hope this made any sort of sense.

  7. 7.

    Somehow I managed to be born into a whole family of old school feminists. My mother and all her sisters are incredably strong willed, motivated, intelligent, and goal-orientated women. Even though they grew up in Utah in a culture where women had more traditional roles, they all became very strong, independent, and amazing women.

    So for me, it seemed 100% natural to get as much education as possible, make personal goals, and not just assume I’d get married and that would be that. Don’t get me wrong; each of my aunts has raised a family, but none of them have just given up on their career or life goals. Some got advanced degrees early in life; others waited until their children were older. I didn’t even realize how rare their example was to me until I lived in Utah during my four years at college.

    I grew up in the midwest and took it for granted that righteous, happy LDS mothers got educations and were extremely motivated. Now I realize that I lived in a very rare ward where everyone had advanced degrees and celebrated learning.

    I am so thankful for this example of strong women, especially now that I am single. It would be much harder to find meaning in my life if I thought that my value was only found in my having children. I want to get married and have children 100%, but that isn’t my end-all in life. I always have a responsibility to me to grow, improve, and continue learning.

    That is wonderful that you are getting a chance to get a graduate degree! I commend all women (mothers or not) who continue their education in any manner.

  8. 8.

    Thanks for your perspectives, EmilyS and frittany. I’m fascinated to hear about how other people cope with this disconnect and how they experience it. I do hope that frittany’s experience becomes more and more the norm.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts at FMH, EmilyS. I’m intrigued as well by what you say about your new odd status as a married woman. That’s a difficulty I’ve struggled with as well. Although getting married in the church is in some sense a promotion, it’s also a demotion–to helpmeet. I remember being so frustrated, for example, when my then-fiance and I went to sign a lease on an apartment and make the first payment. I had more money at the time and I was the one writing the check, but the woman wouldn’t even talk to me or acknowledge me, only to my husband. I was really unprepared for the extent to which marriage is a social identity that subordinates women.

  9. 9.

    Eve, very interesting perspective. Yeah it is somewhat common to feel ignored when married. I think that it is often difficult to really feel one’s identity, especially during times of change. I admit that often I feel a little lost. It can be challenging to be a member of a church that if focused on families. I don’t feel left out, but I realize that I don’t always fit into their category of norm.

    But then again, who does. I’ve never really fit into the category of “norm.” I grew up Mormon in a predominately Luthern town. I was usually way too out spoken and opinionated for my own good. I was raised by an old school feminist mother and was surrounded by sisters. To me norm was having women be in charge. My poor father was surrounded by females (until my younger brother was born). He dealt with it well (he converted me to fly fishing at an early age). But I’m still used to having females be in charge and very involved in making decisions. In fact, we named our house Alpha 5 because five alpha females live there!

    I think that part of my very female oriented perspective is due to the fact that I don’t let socialty norms stand in my way. Well behaved women never made history.

  10. 10.

    You’re off to a great start here, Zs! There’s some impressive writing—and I love that you’re all sisters. Makes me want to start a blog with my own four wonderful sisters, in fact!

    Eve, your account of course works as a moving personal narrative, one that glances toward my own in a number of ways. More than anything, though, it illustrates for me the real inadequacies of the various social constructionisms as explanatory models for human behavior. (If the four of you are in graduate programs in the humanities, I suspect you’re immersed in these theories right now.) See, it wasn’t anything like that for me. I’ve always attributed much of my educational achievement to church and family, in fact: I think both were formative of my sense of self as an achieving agent, and both were certainly of inestimable practical value in helping me manage my children as I completed my graduate training. No, I didn’t have many female mentors or models, aside from my mother, but I honestly didn’t feel the lack—my male LDS mentors (university professors, all) were utterly supportive and all I needed. And in nearly every other way—ecclesiastical leaders, official church utterances, general cultural flavors in and around BYU, friends and family—I perceived nothing but encouragement for my determination to pursue graduate training. (The question of a professional career is another matter, of course, and a rather different one, I think.)

    And yet presumably I was exposed to the same cultural vectors that you were: I grew up entrenched in LDS culture, went to BYU and graduated in 1998, served a mission, married, had kids, stayed active in the church—and completed a PhD with almost no anxiety about whether or not I should or could. So what was the difference? Do micro-variations or local unevenness in culture lead to such different outcomes? Do I ocupy some constellation of subject positions (oldest child, smart kid, outsider Mormon in SoCal, whatever) that changes the way I metabolize the same ideological materials?

    Or maybe the biologists and social scientists are right, and environment has nothing to do with it: maybe it really is all in the unfolding of that seductive genome.

  11. 11.

    Thanks for commenting, Rosalynde. I feel as if I know you–at least a little–from having read Times & Seasons for the past eight or nine months. I’m encouraged by the ways your experience differs from mine. I hope that within the next generation or two, yours becomes more and more the norm, and mine becomes more and more obsolete.

    I’ve actually had very similar experiences with male LDS professors–they’ve been nothing but encouraging. It’s in church and family contexts that I’ve tended to encounter more ambivalence about women’s graduate education.

    You raise some complex questions about accounting for variations in experience. Partly from years of protracted late-night debate with my behaviorist husband, I confess to some skepticism about radical social constructionisms (and I realize you aren’t necessarily endorsing them, just bringing them to bear on the discussion). I’m sure social factors influence us. I would guess that part of the difference in our experience can be traced to differences in our mothers’ attitudes and expectations. My mother seemed to see graduate education for women the way we as a Church culture used to look at missions for women–a second-rate consolation prize for those who couldn’t snag a man. To be fair, I think now that four of her daughters are pursuing doctorates and a fifth is looking into an MLS, she’s more accepting than she used to be. But when I was growing up, I absorbed the idea from her that marriage and children would and should so fulfill me that they would erase all intellectual desires from my soul. (An idea that, now that I think about it, was belied by her own tendency to read novels in a single gulp and lock herself in the basement to write.) She tended to ignore or squash my few early tentative expressions of interest in pursuing anything that would require more than a bachelor’s degree (like a most kids, I went through my elementary-school try-on phases, in my case of wanting to be a geologist, a chemist, a mathematician, a cryptographer, and, in one memorable Halloween outfit, a spy for the CIA), so I gave them up and started to envision myself in refuge from an inevitable bleak future, in which marriage and children would hunt my wicked rebellious self down and tie me to the kitchen for the rest of my mortal life. I felt very guilty because I hated small children, I saw the hard work of changing their diapers up close (I’m the oldest), and I could not imagine myself enjoying it. My sisters still tease me about my method of babysitting, which involved locking myself in my room with a book and telling them not to bother me unless the house was on fire.

    On the other hand, biological predisposition undoubtedly plays a role as well. I’ve always been shy, anxious, brooding, and hypersensitive to criticism (hmmm…why exactly am I now baring my soul in a public forum?), so the same cultural factors that a more confident woman might breezily ignore I’m sure I internalized and ruminated over obsessively. I also haven’t tended to have much of what you describe as “sense of self as an achieving agent.” Left to my own devices, I seem to have a sense of self as an aimlessly peregrinating Cheeto-snarfer ;>

    If you and your sisters do start a blog, do let us know where you are. All power to the sisters’ blogs! Visiting Teaching on the blog! Oh wait, I’m getting a little carried away…time to catch up on sleep and homework, in that order.

    Please stop by again!

  12. 12.

    I’ll echo Rosalynde’s general theme. The world you describe certainly isn’t the one I grew up in, and I was only a few counties north, but still in relatively rural Utah. (Caveat: I am a male.) Graduate education for women was and is anything but discouraged in the circles I run in. Quite the opposite, actually. Of course, I grew up with a Grandmother who had done graduate work at an Ivy League institution, which colored my perception. I’m proud to say that both of my grandmothers had college degrees. My little sister has more graduate degrees than I do, and doesn’t show signs of stopping. I don’t think, though, that my family is that far ahead of the general population in terms of valuing education.

    I recall running into a female friend from high school on the first day of school at the U of U, just a few weeks after arriving home from a mission. I was starting my sophomore year, having done one year prior to a mission, while she was starting her Masters in Public Health, having done a bachelors in three years. I felt a small twinge of jealousy that as a woman she had been able to give so much to educational pursuits while I had been elsewhere (although I wouldn’t trade my mission experience for anything).

    A few years ago, while attending my 10-year reunion, I was very impressed by the educational accomplishments of the women in my high school class. I recall several doctors, and many other graduate degrees spanning a broad spectrum. Further, the graduate degrees among my female classmates weren’t limited to the singles or childless mothers. One of the doctors was married, and another friend with a young child had a Masters in linguistics. I don’t think that my high school class can be characterized as outliers, either.

  13. 13.

    EmilyS

    I’m so sorry that you didn’t see the beauty in New York–though it’s certain that there is plenty that is ugly, there is so much that is beautiful:

    The view of lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade;

    The Hudson River from Riverside Drive;

    Wall Street on a sunny morning, with the flags on the buildings brightening otherwise monochromatic scene;

    The rising (or setting) sun highlighting the skyscrapers in Manhattan;

    Central Park;

    Rockefeller Center at Christmas time;

    6:30 on a snowy January morning;

    and on and on.

  14. 14.

    Thank you for your words. I, too, wrestle with graduate school (in my case, law school); despite knowing with certainty that this is what I should be doing here and now, a certainty emphatically shared by my husband, I still sometimes hear that nagging voice in the back of my head: what do you think you are doing??? Why aren’t you satisfied to remain home? After nearly 18 years of stay-at-home-parenting, why ‘abandon’ the youngest ones still at home? Why are you risking not ‘being at the crossroads?’ The Prophets (why does that have to sound so Bajoran?)have said I need to ‘come home’.

    And I do worry that I won’t have time for my children, that I’ll be swallowed up in the seductive satisfaction of professoral approval, the thrill of the chase for the right case or the precise nuance. Yet it is amazing how there is enough (loaves and fishes) (of me) to go around.

  15. 15.

    Ah! There’s the difference between us, Eve: I’m quite sure a cheeto has never passed my lips. The same, alas, cannot be said for the cuter (and purer) forms of simple sugars: candy corn, necco conversation hearts, jelly beans, and all their blastedly cute cousins…

    In all honesty, I’m not sure I share your hope that my experience becomes more common than yours. Of course I’d love to spare my daughters the heartache you’ve suffered; what mother wouldn’t? But I’m not at all sure that my PhD makes me a better mother or a better Saint (I do think it makes me a better wife to my husband); in fact, I have a distinct suspicion that it may make me worse at both. It is my perpetual desire to use my modest accomplishment to build the kingdom, but I’m reconciled to the fact that my degree will be of very little value in doing so—at least it’s proved pretty useless so far!

    I’m surprised to learn that you’re skeptical of social constructionism, since I took it to be the structuring premise of your piece: LDS culture discourages women from pursuing education, you internalized this proscription, and suffered as a result. This is the basic sequence of many feminist arguments—I’ve certainly made it a lot, at least!But your qualified comment, suggesting that your mother (though she must have done something right to raise such a group daughters!) and your temperament were more formative, makes me wonder to what extent the original claim holds. If culture doesn’t in fact work upon women to produce their suffering, to what extent are we justified in criticizing on that basis? This is not to say that there aren’t other bases on which to critique, say, the LDS culture of femininity—but perhaps women’s resulting suffering isn’t always the most persuasive.

    (Of course, my individual experience isn’t enough to belie your entire argument—there are always outliers—but it does make me wonder.)

  16. 16.

    You should go to graduate school. I suspect God’s happy with whatever you do, but I can’t help but think he’d be proud of you if you felt called to a PhD and got it. The trick is to figure out how to keep the kids healthy, etc., and I don’t have a great solution, though there’s a spectrum from nannies, relatives, flexible fathers to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s solution of simply waiting until the kids were in school to start her PhD.

  17. 17.

    Coffinberry,

    I love what you say about the inner voices that ask “What do you think you’re doing???” There’s a collection of Alice Munro stories entitled “Who do you think you are?” and that tends to be what my inner demons say ;> My husband too is completely supportive and buoys me up when I start to succumb to self-doubt. Not having children, I don’t have to deal with the complexities and guilt and worry about neglect that you describe. Watch out for those Bajoran prophets ;> and good luck in law school.

    Rosalynde, I can highly recommend the organic white-cheddar Cheetos, even though I’ve currently banned them from my house in yet another attempt to eat more healthily. For whatever reason (social construction or biology? ;>) I don’t like sugar unless it’s combined with chocolate, so the candies you describe don’t tempt me, but my chocolate addiction more than makes up for it.

    I’m interested that you don’t feel your Ph.D. has made you a better mother or better Saint and suspect it’s made you worse. If you want to say more, I’d be curious about why that is. I’m not a mother, so I have no experience on that front, and I can’t say I’ve ever really considered whether grad school has made me a better Saint, a worse one, or had no real effect. I’d have to think about it.

    As far as social constructionism goes, to be honest, I really didn’t consider it at all in writing this post–I was just trying to think through the meaning of my own experiences–although I can see where you’re tracking it. I tend to be critical of its radical forms that make culture everything, and I’m somewhat sympathetic to the backlash against that in Steven Pinker, for instance, who I think rightly describes a neglect of biological constraints (although I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, either). On the other hand, I don’t think culture is trivial. I’d have to think further about the issue you raise of what’s an appropriate basis for cultural critique–suffering, or something else, maybe a failure of justice. I can see that a critique based on a failure of justice might be more profound than one based on suffering. For example, if people don’t suffer under some unimaginably gentle form slavery, I’d still want to say it’s wrong. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d want to move entirely to an abstract critique of social structures; we live and move and have our being in the irreducible particulars.

    In trying to think through the issue further, I would have to say that I see culture, family, and temperament as so entangled and mutually implicating that it’s impossible to separate them. For example, my mother’s attitudes come from her own temperament and her cultural experiences. In some ways my experience evidences the success of social construction–I do think cultural expectations, particularly those my mother embraced and magnified and those I thought were divinely ordained, influenced me–but in other ways, my experience evidences its failure; if I’d been successfully culturally constructed, I wouldn’t have wanted more education. I suppose the unanswerable question is whether I went to grad school anyway because of outside cultural influences or because of temperamental ones. Or, as seems most likely to me, both. And neither. In the last analysis, I think it was my choice to go.

    (For the record, I think the really interesting question in the nature-nurture debate and attempts to predict and control behavior more generally has to do with agency. The dichotomy itself and the whole surrounding discussion exclude it because it’s a such muckying factor. Even if we accept the terms of nature-nurture, it’s also interesting to consider what it means to be culturally constructed in a pluralistic society–it would seem that would work to reduce the power of any given culture, which is what so many first-generation immigrants see happen to the children they raise in the United States, for instance.)

    And you’re right about our mother. She did some great things for us. Among the best, I think, was the way she shared her love of books. I have very fond memories of us begging chapter after chapter out of her (which wasn’t too hard–she was as enthralled as we were!) far into the night. I think one of the best things about it was that it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a summer reading program, it wasn’t the broccoli we choked down to get at the Cheetos–it was a spontaneous, genuine love, a pleasure that she shared with us. And that is a gift.

  18. 18.

    Anonymous,

    You’ve named some very beautiful aspects of NYC. And I’m to the point now that I recognize and love many of its beauties. But have you ever had to walk down 86th street in Brooklyn (“Stayin’ Alive” coolness notwithstanding) on the hot summer afternoon before garbage day and realize that you LIVE here and that there’s nothing you can do about it? I don’t want to sound all whiney, Utah, I-Miss-the-Mountains Mormon, but….oh how I miss the wind in the quakies.

  19. 19.

    Eve,
    Thank you for the compliment. I’ve been enjoying your and Lynnette’s and S’s comments on FMH, and I’m excited for you all to have a blog of your own–although I’ll be selfish and admit to hoping it doesn’t take you all too much away from us.

    Once of the strangest things about being a married woman in the church, for me, is that it seems that people don’t expect you to want anything for yourself anymore once you’ve married. After all, you’re MARRIED, what else can you possibly want? (Besides children, of course.) Wanting education can be tolerated in single women who, after all, have nothing else to do with their lives, but in married women, it’s misguided selfishness. I’ve felt this especially keenly because marriage, that pinnacle of a woman’s existence (besides children, of course), is not something I ever actively pursued for myself (my husband pretty much fell into my lap…), and I feel like i’m being both rewarded and punished for something I didn’t….”earn?”

  20. 20.

    EmilyS, It’s interesting to me to hear your comments on marriage and education. I’m currently engaged, and I am slightly apprehensive how people will perceive my educational pursuits once I’m married. Even though I did internalize a certain amount of discouragement when I was younger, most of the time these days, I get positive responses from people when I tell them I’m getting a Ph.D. I’ve still got a couple of years left (and my fiance is moving here so that I can finish my degree), and then I plan to work as a professor. And, like I said, I’m slightly apprehensive about whether or not I’m going to start getting the now-that-you’re-married-why-are-you-still-in-academia-rather-than-having-children attitude.

  21. 21.

    emilys,

    Thanks for your enthusiastic recommendations! Don’t worry, I have no doubt we’ll be over at FMH lots. You’re our inspiration, after all.

    I relate to what you say about the expectation I’ve sometimes encountered that marriage is the End, the big one you’ve been waiting for since all those temple lessons beginning in MiaMaids, so what else could you possibly want? (And like you I didn’t pursue marriage very ardently–my husband showed up in my life without any effort on my part.) I got married a month before I started BYU, and the very first day of my first class, the girl sitting next to me asked me if I was married (I can’t remember why–maybe we were all introducing ourselves) and then asked, “Why are you here?”

    On the other hand, I haven’t encountered that sort of attitude nearly as much, if at all, over the past few years. For some young girls marriage seems to loom so large that they have a hard time imagining life after the ceremony. But by the time you’re thirty or forty, whatever your circumstances, the Wedding doesn’t seem to crowd every other desire out of life anymore. As I mentioned, a couple of my bishops have questioned the need for me to get any more education, but I’ve heard single women get similar questions, so I don’t know that their questions had to do with my marital status or just my gender.

    Good luck and best wishes, S, and I do hope you don’t encounter too much of the attitude you describe.

  22. 22.

    EmilyS, if you’re still around, I know what you mean about the mountains and the aspens. My first summer in South Dakota, I taught a lit class and we did Raymond Chandler’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” the opening paragraph of which describes aspens. I remember staring out at the sea of students who had grown up in what Adrienne Rich calls the plains’ enormous spaces, none of whom had ever seen an aspen, and feeling such a pang of homesickness as I tried to explain the way their leaves move in the wind. Although in time I came to love the plains and miss them now, the landscape of home is written into the body. Its absence is physical.

  23. 23.

    S,
    Congrats on your engagement! I think how people view your studiousness/childlessness depends on where you are. Here in NYC, I have definitely experienced less of a disapproving vibe than in SLC. Actually, I think that there is less disapproval than…perplexedness (not a word..?) nowadays. Which I think is progress, right?

    Eve,
    I was hiking an Alp once in twilight (doesn’t that seem dramatic? It was, actually…), and I was looking out over this very foreign place and wondering why I felt so much at home. I thought it must just be that I was in the mountains, but then the tiniest of breezes stirred the trees–I was surrounded by aspens, and it was like hearing home.

  24. 24.

    I definitely think that perplexedness rather than disapproval is progress; at the very least, the former would be easier for me to deal with than the latter.

  25. 25.

    Ah, this is something that I never considered about the church. When I was investigating I only read about how everyone is strongly encouraged to get all the learning they possibly can, for its own sake. I loved that about the church, that it wasn’t anti-intellectual like so many religions. Then when I read Brigham Young’s statement that everything true is part of our religion, I was delighted and felt right at home. I can’t embrace a lifestyle or culture that doesn’t embrace learning, for I too (despite never having gone to grad school) hunger deeply to know.

    In my first ward, several of the stay at home moms that I knew had advanced degrees. I didn’t realize it wasn’t common in Mormon culture yet for women to do that. I hope that changes soon. I think it probably will, because it took me several years after I converted to even realize there was any unspoken or spoken cultural pressure for women to limit their education.

  26. 26.

    [...] the young women, beautiful daughters of God, to become educated (because education is good)…clearly, they should not be taken by worldly ideas about careers. The career of a woman of faith was in the [...]

  27. 27.

    Eve, you are gifted writer! I appreciate what you are going through, although my only constraints to graduate school are money and occasional self-doubt (I have been out of college for several years, raising children). I am glad you made the decision to pursue graduate school and I know what it’s like to have a real hunger for all things academic. Several years ago, my grandmother, a French-Canadian Catholic, made this statement to me, “I was raised to get married and have children and that’s what I did!”. She clearly resented her cultural and religious limitations–I’m sure it was a long-term, internal struggle. Thank you for sharing. Good luck to you!

  28. 28.

    Choosing the best plants for almost any occasion is difficult. When I had been getting plants regarding Mother’s Day it took me above an hour to pick exactly what arrangment my mommy want greatest.

  29. 29.

    I think the arrangement mommy want greatest is one where the spammers stay in their cages.

  30. 30.

    On the bright side, the smapper got me to read a very good article from years gone by. :)

  31. 31.

    Whoa- glad the spambot brought this to my attention. This is totally my life…okay not the South Dakota part. More the part about being drawn to learning and trying to squelch the evil impulse and settle for something more culturally acceptable. I wish I’d figured out how to thumb my nose at cultural backwardness earlier!

  32. 32.

    Just stumbled on this post. I am amazed with how much resonates with me and the similarities to these thoughts and those that I expressed in a recent Daughters of Mormonism interview (even down to Chaim Potok books!)

    I particularly liked this quote:

    But I often felt frustrated with that sacrifice and resentful of my husband’s intellectual adventures, partly because few besides my long-suffering husband seemed to see it as a sacrifice. In the LDS community, moving for a husband’s schooling or job is what women do, what many of the other women in my ward had also done, and it seemed routine, scarcely worth comment.

    That is where I am now. LDS social scripts say that women should move onto motherhood and be completely happy with it, but there are many women who long for something more in silence.

  33. 33.

    I’m a little late, but I loved this post. I’m preparing my application to grad school right now,

    I was most surprised at the reaction I received from my peers in married student wards. I have found that many older women and men have been plesently surprised at my plans and incredibly supportive. But I get a lot of flak from other college age women, particularly those who are married and following the prescribed “plan”.

    I have also been surprised at the reactions my husband has gotten. He is not considering furthering his education at this point (he’s quite dyslexic, so research is his least favorite thing, and he prefers to learn by experience) and he has gotten some blunt comments on how he is not fulfilling his duty to provide because his wife is seeking higher education and he is not. Or somehow he is a failure as a man because he is not keeping ahead of his wife.

    I think this is an excellent example of how our sexist culture does not only create frustration and misrepresentation among women, but also forces men into a proscribed box as well.

  34. 34.

    Betania, I am so sorry about the sexism your husband is experiencing. I find this infuriating. People do the same thing to my husband, because he chose to work part-time so he could be a full-partner parent instead of working full-time.

    Congratulations Eve, on that degree you probably have earned by now. When I was in college, I was a little jealous of women who only wanted to meet the right person and drop out of school–not because I had any desire to do the same thing, but because it seemed so unfair that they could so easily get into Heaven. It seemed to me that an ambitious woman had a much more difficult road, since everyone told me that God thought more of stay-at-home types than advanced degree types. I now believe that people don’t know as much about what God likes as they think they do.

  35. 35.

    Isn’t it more important for the person who stays at home to be better educated than for the person who goes out to work?

    I’d like to think we live in a world where either person can stay at home while the other provide the necessary cash.

    That people may still raise eyebrows is less important.

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