Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Damage of Mormon Mother’s Day Myths

Posted by Katya

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, which means that many (most?) American LDS women who attended Sacrament Meeting were told that they have a lot of innate qualities, such as being righteous, spiritual, pure, or nurturing.

Let us take as self-evident that, in reality, not all women are naturally pure or spiritual. Let us also posit that, even if the average woman is more nurturing or righteous than the average man (a hypothesis which remains to be proved), actual women surely exhibit a range of qualities such that some women are more nurturing and others are less so.

Are there any downsides, then, to telling women that they are naturally nurturing or spiritual or righteous? At best, what we’re saying is probably true of some women. At worst, we’re just encouraging other women to develop those qualities, right?

Carol S. Dweck is a professor of social psychology at Stanford University. In 2007, she published an article in Scientific American called “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.” The premise of the article is that children who are praised for having an innate ability like intelligence or talent are actually being set up to be fearful of challenges and unable to handle failure, while children who are praised for hard work and effort in any situation go on to be more brave in the face of challenges.

She cites one experiment, in particular:

In 1972, when I taught a group of elementary and middle school children who displayed helpless behavior in school that a lack of effort (rather than lack of ability) led to their mistakes on math problems, the kids learned to keep trying when the problems got tough. They also solved many of the problems even in the face of difficulty. Another group of helpless children who were simply rewarded for their success on easy problems did not improve their ability to solve hard math problems. These experiments were an early indication that a focus on effort can help resolve helplessness and engender success.

If telling elementary school children that they are intrinsically smart can set them up to feel like failures when they inevitably encounter a challenging situation, aren’t we setting women up to feel like failures by constantly telling them that they’re superhumanly good?

Imagine a young woman who grows up hearing that she’s naturally nurturing and believes it, perhaps because she enjoys babysitting or playing with other people’s kids. How will she feel when she discovers that being a full time mom makes her feel stressed out and tired and cranky instead of patient and nurturing and happy?

Wouldn’t it be better to take a page out of Dr. Dweck’s book and teach women (and men!) that they can work to overcome their challenges instead of expecting women to be naturally perfect?

My Mother’s Day wish is that, next year, no LDS woman will be told that she is naturally spiritual or righteous or nurturing or pure. Instead, I hope that everyone in the congregation will be encouraged to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him,” taught that “his grace is sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ,” and reminded that “ye are sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”

56 Responses to “The Damage of Mormon Mother’s Day Myths”

  1. 1.

    .

    You know, I kind of accept that what you’re talking about is true, but I haven’t been in a sacrament meeting like that for years.

  2. 2.

    I also think it’s important for people to understand that just because they’ve overextended themselves or are stressed out that they don’t have a certain quality.

    For instance, I do consider myself to be a very nurturing, but I have to take great care to nurture MYSELF in order to be able to nurture others.

    I’m a convert to the Church and am shocked at how much most of the women in our Church are expected to do without the help of their husbands. So many of them have husbands whose jobs require extensive travel and these women are left to be sole caregivers to several children. We live “in the mission field” so extended families are often not around to help these women out.

    I see so many of them overworked, stressed, etc. and it’s no wonder since they’re basically acting as single parents.

  3. 3.

    Amen.

  4. 4.

    You need to downscale your fears a little. Mothers day is by no means universal and falls in spring in many places outside the US.

    We usually hand out a flower to all of the mothers, a daffodil typically and tell them we appreciate them and that we’ll try harder to show it in the year ahead.

    Perhaps I’ve missed a beat somewhere but why would you object to being considered nurturing, spiritual or pure?

  5. 5.

    Agree. The pedestal for women is a recipe for guilt and self-hate. It makes them think there’s something wrong with them, just for not being perfect, just for being themselves and not some entirely false cookie-cutter ideal.

  6. 6.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org / wiki / Mother’s_Day

  7. 7.

    >6

    You raise a good point about Mother’s Day not being a worldwide holiday. I’ve edited my post to reflect that.

  8. 8.

    I’d love for our next Mother’s Day sacrament meeting to be the way you hope it is. I generally dislike sacrament meetings whose topics are determined by secular holidays.

    In my ward there was a little bit of the “being able to nurture is a divine gift” message in the talk given by one sister. But generally the messages in the talks were more along the lines of “it’s dang hard, but it’s worth it the effort”, and “there’s no one right way to do it”.
    It wasn’t perfect, but it was an improvement.

    And the primary children didn’t sing.

    And the Relief Society handed, to every woman at church that day, chocolates during the third hour. Hooray for not having to stand and be handed something in Sacrament meeting.

    Now if we can only eliminate directing children to awkwardly stand in front of everyone and be sung to when they are a visitor in Primary…..

  9. 9.

    Perhaps I’ve missed a beat somewhere but why would you object to being considered nurturing, spiritual or pure?

    I’m obviously speaking for myself here, not Katya, but the insult is not in being individually considered nurturing or spiritual or pure. It’s the reductive nature of gender stereotypes that is insulting. Combined with the harm that they can do. As Katya points out, it’s harmful to make assertions about an entire class of people possessing certain meritorious characteristics. If I’ve been told all my life (which I have) that as a woman I’m inherently compassionate and sweet-natured and then I struggle with actually being those things, then I’ve been set up to disparage myself.

    I don’t understand why we can make these kinds of paternalistic statements about women and think there’s nothing wrong with them, when doing so about other groups would be shockingly not okay. For instance, “Fat people are inherently jolly” or the Sambo stereotype “Black men are by nature a bit lazy, but also happy, laughing, and carefree.” It’s patently obvious that those generalizations are demeaning because they deny fat people or black men basic human complexity. The fact that they’re stereotyped as possessing good traits doesn’t mean the stereotype isn’t hurtful and destructive. And such stereotypes are constructed so as to dismiss entire categories of people as complicated, powerful human agents. So why on earth is it okay to do the same thing to women?

  10. 10.

    And the Relief Society handed, to every woman at church that day, chocolates during the third hour. Hooray for not having to stand and be handed something in Sacrament meeting.

    I guess it’s an improvement to hand every woman her “congratulations you’re a mother” chocolate or flower in RS instead of SM. However, the problem with the tradition, in my opinion, has little to do with its public nature when practiced in SM and more to do with celebrating every single woman as a mother, regardless of whether she actually is a mother. Doing so diminishes the work done by actual mothers and non-mothers alike. The fact that I have a uterus should not mean I deserve as much admiration and honor on Mother’s Day as my mother does. I’m not a mother. I haven’t risked my life seven times in order to bear and birth children. I haven’t spent countless hours worrying and praying and working to protect children. I haven’t celebrated my children’s victories and comforted them in their losses. I. Am. Not. A. Mother. And it is an insult to my own mother, who has given and struggled and worked for decades in order to be an amazing mother, to honor me as one for nothing other than the fact that I have a uterus and a vagina and mammary glands. And it’s an insult to me and to the things I actually have accomplished to continue reassuring me that I really am a mother after all. And it belittles my desires to be a mother.

    If they’re going to do Mothers Day gifts at church, they should leave them at the back of the room so that women who consider themselves mothers can take one. Or, if they insist on some public recognition whether in SM or RS, they should ask those who consider themselves mothers in the room to stand and be honored. They shouldn’t do the stupid “every woman is a mother” schtick.

  11. 11.

    amelia, I agree in principal that the “every woman is a mother” schtick is a big part of what makes Mothers Day obnoxious for me. If every woman is a mother, shouldn’t we come up with a new special term for women who actually have children — “uteral mother” or “legal-guardian-of-a-child-mother” or something?

    But if there’s chocolate at stake, then I’m happy to pretend I’m a mother long enough to get some. The fastest way around my scruples is chocolate. And I like the idea of just giving chocolate to everyone in RS: from the women, by the women, for the women.

    MB, your ward’s Mothers Day does sound like a huge improvement on many of the Mothers Day atrocities I’ve been to — “It’s hard but worth it” seems like the best thing we could communicate about parenthood in general. And I totally agree about secular holidays and sacrament meeting. How many wards have I been to that glossed over Easter but made sure we were on message for Mother’s Day? Come on! Mother’s Day doesn’t even have any good music for it!

    Anyway, I spent Sunday driving across the northern midwest, admiring the scenery (rural Wisconsin = whoa) and listening to Bach via the Hilliard Ensemble. I need to schedule the same trip for the same time next year.

  12. 12.

    Would it be harmful for me to assert that tall black men make the best basket players?

  13. 13.

    Yes. I know of no tall black men who even know how to play the basket.

  14. 14.

    You know any that play basket ball? Just a typo.

  15. 15.

    But if there’s chocolate at stake, then I’m happy to pretend I’m a mother long enough to get some. The fastest way around my scruples is chocolate. And I like the idea of just giving chocolate to everyone in RS: from the women, by the women, for the women.

    Yes, chocolate can overcome scruples. :) In one of the RS I attended, we got chocolate every Sunday but fast Sunday. I’m all for that. Also, in my scenario where women are invited to help themselves, you could enjoy your chocolate without the insult of having to publicly proclaim yourself a mother by virtue of having the correct sex organs.

    Your Mothers Day sounds lovely….

  16. 16.

    If it were regularly taught from the pulpit that black men play basketball, and we’re so grateful for how well the black men in our lives play basketball, and how we’re raising our young black men to be committed and diligent basketball players? Oh, and those black men are just naturally good at playing basketball, which is why they’re so good at it. White men can play basketball when necessary, but since they’re just not naturally good basketball players, they don’t need to focus too much on it.

    Yep, I’d say that was pretty damaging.

  17. 17.

    Would it be harmful for me to assert that tall black men make the best basket[ball] players?

    Howard, there’s a difference between observing a trend (tall black men often make the best basketball players) that leaves room for divergence and making sweeping generalizations about the nature of every member of a certain class (women are sweet, nurturing, pure, blahblahblah) that denies the members of that class their humanness. The problem is not with identifying trends; it’s with denying reality.

    And of course there’s the question of use-value of making such statements. I suppose that there may be a conversation in which it’s useful to identify trends in who makes the best basketball players. I simply cannot see the positive use value of making sweeping generalizations about the inherent nature of all women. Especially when the church wants to claim that gender difference is inborn and eternal. If that is true, there should be no need to constantly identify what those differences are and then train people to conform to them.

  18. 18.

    Melyngoch I understand the main point I was responding to amelia’s comment As Katya points out, it’s harmful to make assertions about an entire class of people possessing certain meritorious characteristics. and wondering if that is true.

  19. 19.

    Howard #18, Melyngoch addresses your question spot on. If you’re making your assertion about the entire class “tall black men” and doing so in the reductive fashion in which the church makes its assertions about the entire class “women,” then yes. Absolutely. That would be every bit as harmful. Just as Melyngoch points out.

  20. 20.

    amelia, Tall black men represent two classes tall and black. Mothers represent two classes women and mothers why do you call one a trend isn’t it generally the nature of tall black men to be better basketball players?

  21. 21.

    So it’s the reductive fashion that is the issue?

  22. 22.

    Howard, the OP explains what the issue is. Perhaps you could read it and respond to it, instead of pulling single sentences out of subsequent comments and trying to start incomprehensible arguments about those.

  23. 23.

    Perhaps I’ve missed a beat somewhere but why would you object to being considered nurturing, spiritual or pure?

    In addition to the reasons that have mentioned, it starts to make you feel like an alien when you go to church and hear that you are. I listen to those kinds of talks and think wow, these people have clearly never met any woman like me.

    Katya, I really like your point that even labeling people with positive attributes can turn out to be harmful. I’ve definitely seen this in my own life–if you’ve always had an identity as “smart,” and then you hit a grad program where suddenly everything is hard in a way that it hasn’t been in the past, you don’t have as much to draw on as you would if your identity were more along the lines of someone who could deal with challenges. That was definitely an adjustment for me. The compliment I got from a professor that possibly made the most difference for me, after I had kind of an academic breakdown, wasn’t that I was smart, but that I was tenacious. And that was actually a lot more empowering than being told that I’m smart, because it gave me a different perspective on the challenges, and my ability to get through them.

    I’m actually okay with mothers being honored, despite not being one (as long as I don’t have to pretend that I actually am one in some mystical way). But what if we honored mothers not for being nurturing and sweet, but for doing work that is sometimes really hard and might make you feel crazy at times–but still doing it?

  24. 24.

    No, Howard, Tall Black Men are one class; it just happens to overlap with several other classes (Men, Tall Men, Black Men). Think Venn diagram. And Mothers is the same way. It’s not two classes–it’s one class that happens to pull all of its members from a larger class. Again, Venn diagram in which the smaller circle (mothers) is entirely within the larger one (women).

    The point is that “Tall Black Men Who Actually Are Good Basketball Players” is yet another class–in this case it is a smaller circle inside of the larger circle “Tall Black Men.” Exactly as “Mothers” is a smaller circle inside the larger circle “Women.”

    It may be generally true that the best basketball players come from the class “Tall Black Men” but that does not mean it is okay for me to continue spouting on about how all Tall Black Men have the potential to be great basketball players and to reduce their identity to such. So I would say no–it’s not generally the nature of tall black men to be better basketball players. There may be a trend that leads to that conclusion; that does not mean it’s accurate to make the assertion of all tall black men, however. I have no doubt that there are plenty of tall black men of whom it is not at all true that it is in their natural make up to be better basketball players. What about the ones who are blind? Or who lack physical coordination? or who think spending their time shooting hoops is a waste and would rather pursue other things? Is it generally *their* nature to be better basketball players? No it is not.

    Look, you can make all kinds of trend statements about groups that might be true; as soon as you translate a statement about a trend into a definition of an entire group’s natural capabilities or identities, you are doing violence to all members of that group. 1. to the members of the group who don’t actually fit the trend because you’re trying to force them into conformity with something that isn’t actually their nature; 2. to those who do fit the trend because you’re denying them the particulars that make their accomplishments meaningful, you’re failing to recognize that any accomplishment requires much more than just the seed of innate ability.

  25. 25.

    I’m actually okay with mothers being honored, despite not being one (as long as I don’t have to pretend that I actually am one in some mystical way). But what if we honored mothers not for being nurturing and sweet, but for doing work that is sometimes really hard and might make you feel crazy at times–but still doing it?

    Amen, Lynnette! This is why the best talks I hear on Mothers Day are often about *particular* women, rather than about theoretical musings about the nature of “women” or “mothers.”

  26. 26.

    But what if we honored mothers not for being nurturing and sweet, but for doing work that is sometimes really hard and might make you feel crazy at times–but still doing it?

    This says it beautifully. Maybe we could honor mothers for what they do (which is not easy and not always fun and shouldn’t be done at the expense of mothers’ sanity and identity) rather than what they are (“angel mothers” who lack any needs or desires of their own and are thus able to perfectly fulfill all of their children’s needs.) And I’m happy to honor mothers while not being one myself; I just prefer not to be told I am one, when I’m not.

    Unless there’s chocolate.

  27. 27.

    I think there should be chocolate simply to honor those who got out of bed and came to church. (I realize that might sound like “bribery,” but I’m going to stick with “honoring.”)

  28. 28.

    Amen to the excellent points here on the counter-productive nature of stereotype reductionism, even if the stereotype is flattering.

    I’m okay with Chocolate for All in order to celebrate mothers, just like I’m okay with Cake for All to celebrate my birthday.

    On a related note, I’ve been musing lately that we should all be making it a tradition to give our mothers gifts on our own birthdays. Because, yeah, wow.

  29. 29.

    amelia, Ok I accept your Venn diagram model. By engaging you I wanted to see if harmful to make assertions was true but you seem to couple or conflate that issue with reductive fashion can you separate them? If so isn’t reductive fashion the real issue? Also please define violence as you used it in 24.

  30. 30.

    I’d assume that to “doing violence” as used above means “to inflict pain or harm upon.” Amelia can correct me if I’m wrong.

  31. 31.

    Howard, I’m going to point you back to Melyngoch’s comment #22. You can’t pull four word phrases out of a comment and address the phrase in the abstract without considering the larger conversational context. Of course it’s not inherently harmful to “make assertions.” But that is not the full extent of my original comment. And you can’t address my original comment without reading it in the context of the original post. When I look at my comment in its larger context, I would continue to say the same thing: it is harmful to make assertions about entire classes of people in regards to characteristics they must necessarily possess by virtue of membership in that class. The only justified assertion you can make about characteristics are the possession of the characteristic that defines the boundary of the class. In other words, I can say that every member of the class “apples” is the fruit of the apple tree and other traits that define “apple”; I cannot assert that they are all sweet or good to eat or pretty or etc. So no–you can’t separate out “making assertions about groups” and “doing harm” in the conversation we’re having. I suggest you try to engage in that actual conversation rather than nitpicking single lines of comments.

    And the definition of “doing violence” is pretty generally understood to mean “damage” or “harm.”

  32. 32.

    Perhaps I’ve missed a beat somewhere but why would you object to being considered nurturing, spiritual or pure?

    There’s a difference between assigning a quality to an entire group and assigning a quality to a specific person.

    There’s a difference between saying something nice but generic about a specific person and complimenting them in a way that shows you’ve paid attention to who they actually are as an individual.

    There’s a difference between complimenting someone for having an innate quality and recognizing the hard work they’ve put in to reach a particular point in life.

    Saying that all women are nurturing, spiritual or pure fails the first test. It’s either false or so generic as to be meaningless.

    Saying that I am nurturing, spiritual, or pure fails the second test. I have many wonderful qualities, but those aren’t qualities that my nearest and dearest would pick out as being particularly appropriate to me. Anyone who says such things about me hasn’t bothered to get to know me as an individual, which I find more hurtful than if they’d never tried to give me a compliment in the first place.

    As for the third, telling me that some quality I have is innate undervalues the work I’ve done to acquire that quality. It’s a convenient excuse to treat me as a passive receptacle of general goodness instead of an active participant in my own salvation.

  33. 33.

    Great post, Katya! I think you’ve really put your finger on something here that I’ve never seen articulated so precisely.

    Tangentially, the practice of assigning a quality to an entire group reminds me of other ways of lumping people together that come across as dismissive even when they’re superficially complimentary. Here I’m thinking of the common statement by returning missionaries that they love all the people of country X where they served.

  34. 34.

    Thanks, Katya. This is a really good post.

    There is another way in which stereotypically assigning qualities to groups is damaging. It inhibits individual repentance. One of the hardest things to do, at least for me, is to own up to my failings, stop making excuses, and repent. I’ve found that if I have any excuse whatsoever, I’ll take it. As missionaries, we were praised for being “bold, but not overbearing”. Looking back, I absolutely was overbearing. I was very often an insufferable, overbearing jerk. But I was able to rationalize my unrighteousness because I was just being bold.

    I see the same dynamic at play with LDS women sometimes. They are told so often and so repeatedly that they are wonderful that it appears to never occur to them that maybe they really do have a lot of things to repent of. Maybe the worst thing about the pedestal is that eventually you begin to think you belong there, above all those regular, grubby human beings.

  35. 35.

    Maybe the worst thing about the pedestal is that eventually you begin to think you belong there, above all those regular, grubby human beings.

    Agreed. It’s pretty disconcerting to watch Relief Society disintegrate into a festival of self-congratulation at the expense of the bumbling, incompetent priesthood holders.

    I’ve come to think effusive Mother’s Day praise is a cultural holdover from an implicit chivalric agreement of earlier times: men could have all the institutional power as long as they periodically bowed down and strewed rhetorical roses at women’s feet. And things get very dicey when women start refusing the roses. The (usually older) men of the chivalric agreement are uncomprehending and insulted. (“You’re so loved and cherished and marvelous and spiritual and divine! You don’t want the sordid power of God we mere mortal men are saddled with, now do you, honey?”) The women who’ve given their lives up to the chivalric agreement–which is, we’re frequently told, God’s will–feel understandably betrayed when it turns out that perhaps they didn’t have to sacrifice quite everything. But the chivalric agreement no longer holds in the secular world. Its graying and fraying inevitably makes inroads in our little religious world–always at a considerable delay, of course.

    I always wonder when women too visibly chug-a-lug the effusive praise: do they know about the patronizing aftertaste?

  36. 36.

    I remember reading about a similar study (if not the same one), and one of the major problems they found was not just that the kids praised for innate qualities didn’t improve or take risks, it’s that they became obsessed with image management- something I see a major problem with in LDS circles.
    If someone believes that they can’t get better at something through effort, then the best they can do is *look* like they’re what everyone expects. And so you end up with women who feel like they’re dying inside, while pretending like everything is perfect.

  37. 37.

    I guess it’s an improvement to hand every woman her “congratulations you’re a mother” chocolate or flower in RS instead of SM. However, the problem with the tradition, in my opinion, has little to do with its public nature when practiced in SM and more to do with celebrating every single woman as a mother, regardless of whether she actually is a mother.

    While I’m troubled by “every women is a mother” rhetoric, the practice of giving all adult females a gift doesn’t bother me. In LDS culture, childless women already garner less respect than their child-ful counterparts and I see no reason to pour salt in that wound by symbolically denying them yet another token of esteem. Perhaps if the gifts were specifically targeted at mothers (free babysitting coupons or “#1 Mom” T-shirts), I might feel differently, but I have no qualms about accepting a flower or a chocolate bar (although I’d vastly prefer the latter).

  38. 38.

    Katya (#37), while I’m sympathetic to wanting the church to make childless women feel more accepted and valued, I don’t think that making them feel that because of something they have not done (have babies) is a good answer. In fact, if anything it’s a terribly destructive answer because it underscores the notion that a woman only has value insofar as she is capable of producing children. This practice does not honor childless women for the hard work that they actually have done or the contributions they actually do make; it does nothing to authenticate their life paths and acknowledge them as valid and important. Instead it elides all of the things that make these women actually important in their world and communities, while reinforcing sleight of hand rhetoric meant to uphold an incredibly harmful status quo which actively sacrifices childless women in the name of shoring up the position of the “traditional family.”

    No matter the pain experienced by individual childless women not honored on Mother’s Day (and I speak as a childless woman), I just can’t believe that this practice is worth the associated cost of perpetuating such destructive and reductive notions of what it means to be a woman.

    I’d rather they make the gift giving self-selecting, so women who identify as mothers can receive a gift if they’d like to. That way, women who have tried to have children but struggle with infertility or something can still be recognized without women like me being insulted because our accomplishments are meaningless, but our genitalia make us valuable. And if they really want to honor all women qua women, they should celebrate something like international women’s day.

  39. 39.

    I used to not go to church on Mother’s Day when I was single. Now that I’m married with children I still don’t want to go.

    BUT.

    Were I asked to give a Mother’s Day talk, I would.

    I would make a graphic of how much a mother would make in a year if she were paid market rate for every service she performs that could be hired out:

    housekeeper
    cook/chef
    nanny
    urgent-care physician
    chauffeur
    gardener
    personal shopper
    event organizer
    concierge [24-hour, on-call]

    and then exhort the members to run to their nearest life insurance agent and get her insured, stat.

    Putting an actual monetary value on a mother’s workday might actually help some sisters (especially ones who don’t like not earning actual money).

  40. 40.

    As missionaries, we were praised for being “bold, but not overbearing”. Looking back, I absolutely was overbearing. I was very often an insufferable, overbearing jerk. But I was able to rationalize my unrighteousness because I was just being bold.

    This reminds me of linguistics exercises on denotation vs. connotation. (“I am firm. You are stubborn. He is pig-headed.”)

  41. 41.

    I remember reading about a similar study (if not the same one), and one of the major problems they found was not just that the kids praised for innate qualities didn’t improve or take risks, it’s that they became obsessed with image management- something I see a major problem with in LDS circles.

    That problem was also mentioned in the article. So it’s part of the same effect, if not part of the same study.

  42. 42.

    I attended sacrament meeting this Sunday to watch the kids sing, and was having similar thoughts during the talks. Except my thoughts weren’t so well stated. Also, I would proudly proclaim myself a mother if it got me chocolate.

  43. 43.

    Ben, I think you’re very motherly. Think how you mothered FOB!

  44. 44.

    I don’t understand why we can make these kinds of paternalistic statements about women and think there’s nothing wrong with them, when doing so about other groups would be shockingly not okay. For instance, “

    I do understand why some people personalize these things and get upset about them. What I have a difficult time fathoming is that a person might not say to themselves, “Well, that is a stereotypical image and it is not true of individuals. I am an individual and know myself well enough to know that just because someone tells me once a year that good mothers get the leaky umbrella and show love by eating the neck of the chicken doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them.”

    I think the research about children who are still forming their identities might not validly be applied to adults who have more experience and who would hopefully have enough ego strength to not be demoralized by this once a year ritual meant for each person who has a mother to honor her.

    It is not for everyone who is a mother to be sad because she wasn’t honored in the way she might feel most comfortable with. To grumble about how someone’s efforts to recognize your contribution is the same as rejecting a gift. At best, I at least have finally learned, it is discourteous.

  45. 45.

    Well, Yvonne, I’m glad you’ve taken the moral high road and stopped being discourteous. But I–I will continue to be discourteous. Precisely because this is more than a once-a-year issue. The reality is that this kind of training starts when women are little girls, so I think your complaint about applying this research to adults is invalid. When all the women at church are praised for being inherently whatever, their daughters are sitting there hearing the same thing. You think those little girls aren’t being affected while they’re in their formative years. And the reality is that this thinking shapes and informs Mormon attitudes towards women and girls and how they are treated every day of the year. At least in their church related lives.

    And what, exactly, do you base your assumption that I (the person you quote), as an adult, don’t dismiss these terribly destructive stereotypes internally? Rest assured, I do. And I dismiss them publicly. But that is inadequate. They must be combated, picked apart as the logically fallacious and damaging assertions they are in order to prevent them continuing to hurt girls and young women and adult women. Would you tell African Americans subjected to the Sambo stereotype I mentioned “get over it, be a grown up, dismiss it in your mind and go on and live your life”? That would be intensely heartless and ignorant in the face of the actual damage done to African Americans at the time such stereotypes were dominant cultural beliefs. It sure as hell wouldn’t do anything to correct for the cultural, social, political, and personal damage caused by the acceptance of the stereotypes. Why, if it would have been inappropriate and unfeeling and ignorant to apply that solution in the case of African Americans crushed and confined by stereotypes through the mid-20th century, why is it okay to apply that solution in the case of women?

    I don’t really take these teachings about women’s inherent natures personally in the fashion you’re assuming here. I think they’re bullshit and as much as I possibly can I dismiss them and do not allow them to shape my identity and my life. That’s not entirely possible, however, because I started absorbing them long before I was capable of examining them, recognizing them for the crock of bull they are, and dismissing them; they are ingrained in my psyche on some level and still cause some amount of cognitive dissonance no matter how consciously I attempt to dismiss them. But even that cognitive dissonance doesn’t result in my taking them personally. The reason I insist on debunking this kind of thinking is because I care about others. I care about my incredible nieces and other girls who are still subjected to this thinking and whose identities and abilities and happiness will be mutated by it; girls who are in their formative years. I care about other women in the church who struggle with the ideas and then blame themselves for doing so because they’re just not Good Enough or they don’t have Enough Faith or blahblahblah; women who were exposed to these ideas while in their formative years and now must deal with the aftermath.

    Is it possible that some women in the church don’t experience harm as a result of these attitudes? I suppose it’s possible. And if you are such a woman, I am glad. I have no problem with you resisting being discourteous and instead welcoming what is offered in the spirit in which it is offered. But my question is who would be harmed by jettisoning this rhetoric that treats all women as the same and reduces their complexity and nuance and value and instead acknowledging them as complex, wonderful, hardworking people with all kinds of diverse abilities and skills to offer? Who would be hurt by not prescribing what it means to be a woman? I just don’t think that would actually harm anyone.

    So I’ll take the risk of being thought discourteous and continue calling bullshit when I think it’s necessary in order to adjust our rhetoric in the direction of more compassion, more love, more kindness, more constructive influence.

  46. 46.

    In addition to the reasons that have mentioned, it starts to make you feel like an alien when you go to church and hear that you are. I listen to those kinds of talks and think wow, these people have clearly never met any woman like me.

    Absolutely. If you (a person or an organization) tell me I have some inborn nature to be patient or sweet or accommodating or good with kids or or faithful, then all I can figure is you don’t get me at all.

    I know that I’m here and I’m a woman and a mom, and now that you’ve said such things, what I know about you is that whatever your message is, it does not fit me. Your understanding of my life and values and skills and assumptions about my character are so off-base that whatever advice or principles you offer will not fit me.

  47. 47.

    Posted too soon!

    So, bottom line, preaching these generalizations damages your credibility, and effects my trust in the organization. Such loss of credibility lowers my likelihood to listen to you in the future across all topics.

  48. 48.

    I started absorbing them long before I was capable of examining them, recognizing them for the crock of bull they are, and dismissing them; they are ingrained in my psyche on some level and still cause some amount of cognitive dissonance no matter how consciously I attempt to dismiss them.

    Excellent insight very well stated.

  49. 49.

    I would like to state for the record that I had no such ideas about motherhood growing up, didn’t plan on being a mother, and that once I joined the Church I embraced everything I was taught as fast as I could. Perhaps there is such a thing as an adult-formative period that starts when one is exposed to teachings for the first time as well.

  50. 50.

    [...] churning out great post after great post. However, I was particularly impressed by this one: “The Damage of Mormon Mother’s Day Myths” by [...]

  51. 51.

    Thank you for being “discourteous” Amelia!

    Speaking of discourteous, as a childess woman, I hate Mother’s Day at church and refuse to submit myself to the pain of it. My husband and I celebrate at home, and my dog give me excellent gifts. Its is a personal holiday, and we celebrate it as a family and I love it. Church destroys it for me because of the twisted concepts flung at childess women.

    Consider this: I am supposed to be naturally nurturing for the purpose of motherhood, yet cannot have children. This implies that I am being punished, that I am not nurturing, or that I am evil. I don’t enjoy being reminded of this at church on Mother’s day.

    Consider this: I am constantly being told to adopt, as though there is some shop downtown that stocks babies for those who plop down a minimal fee. Well, sorry folks, there is no shop. I fact, if I pray for a child to become availble, I am VERY AWARE that I am praying for an unprepared woman to have sinful, unplanned sex, get pregnant and go through the turmoil of choosing to give up a child, pregancy, labor, etc. because I have prayed for her to do this. I feel very dirty praying for this BECAUSE I am nurturing. So think about it before you say what you think I should pray for, and what you think might happen if I am nurturing and righteous enough.

    Consider this: The “in the next life” life is horrible. This teaches that if I don’t have children in thsi life, I can start in the nect life, which implies I am behind. once again, I am second class, even in heaven. Sure I will still have to obatin celestial glory- but that is so I can obtain the same status as …well…. the majority of people in this life. I am therefore beging held to a higher standard, and with that, I am still second class because the majority of others assumed to be in the celectial kingdom will have already obtained earthly parenthood. I am still second class. So please quit tell me the “in the next life” line. It is degrading.

    While you are at it, quit Mother’s Day at church. Leave it at home, as a personal celebration. Don’t make a public mockery that reminds me that for the price of a piece of chocolate I get to be told that I am less than you, that I am nurturing enough that you are praying for someone to go through hell for me to be a mother, and that even in the celestial kingdom I will still be worth less than you.

  52. 52.

    Lucky for me, my ward has decided that the entire month of May must be dedicated to Motherhood talks in Sacrament meeting. That means I get to hear the tired old trite cliches about Mothers in several talks over an entire month. And not a single woman has spoken yet! So I get to hear about the mothers of the stripling warriors, the Proc. on the Fam., how mothers are more naturally nurturing and Spiritual than men, and the proper role of women 4,200 times. I finally had it Sacrament meeting today so I grabbed my fussy toddler and sat in the hall where I turned off the speakers so I didn’t have to hear the BS going on in the chapel. I don’t know if I can endure two more Sundays.

  53. 53.

    Wow, all I’m hearing is “Blah blah blah, I am the exception to the rule, I’m not loving, caring, sweet, motherly etc. so I think the Church should stop expecting women to be so.”

    No, these traits the Church espouses (and the prophets continue to teach every conference) are true. Women are innately more spiritual, pure, motherly, etc. Just because you deny it and fight against it doesn’t make it so.

    I am in awe at the cognative dissonance that people like this have, while accusing people like me of cognative dissonance. What is the difference between saying (paraphrasing) ‘women like me are not naturally loving and motherly etc.’ and saying that “The pedestal for women is a recipe for guilt and self-hate. It makes them think there’s something wrong with them, just for not being perfect, just for being themselves and not some entirely false cookie-cutter ideal.” That is generalizing just as much as saying that women are better child rearers. My wife agrees with me. You can quote social psychologists all you want, but there is nothing more damaging than blaming personal weaknesses that you aren’t willing to spend time to overcome on society. If you don’t want to become a mother? Fine. Don’t begrudge the vast majority who take no issue with Mother’s Day celebrations in church.

  54. 54.

    Stephen, first off, you cannot discount the personal experiences and observations of an entire group of women as being exceptions and anecdotal, and then back up your own position by saying, “and my wife agrees with me.”

    Second, the fact that all you’re hearing is, “blah, blah, blah,” is your own problem. Reading for comprehension, even when you don’t agree with what being said, is a worthwhile skill to develop.

    Ignoring the rest of the hatefulness in your post, if you have a different perspective, that’s valid. I’d like to hear more about it than just you saying so. Why do you think women are more nurturing, spiritual, etc.?

    No one is blaming “society” for anyone’s “personal weakness,” perceived or otherwise. Being more spiritual and nurturing is something for everyone, male and female, to work on. They’re good personal qualities, and I haven’t seen a single person here say they weren’t willing to try and overcome a weakness in that area. But can you see how saying that an entire group already is that way denies individuals ownership of either their weaknesses or their strengths? You’re saying in one breath that Women (capital W) just don’t have those same weaknesses, and that any individual woman who admits to them is, what . . . broken? Unwilling to overcome?

    Or, maybe she is an exception, and so what? Doesn’t mean she’s not a woman or that she’s inferior as one . . . just that she doesn’t have similar strengths and weaknesses to most other women. There’s a difference between acknowledging a trend within a group, and saying that trend is a characteristic that defines that group. (And where does that leave my loving, nurturing, patient, good-with-kids hubby? Guess it must be a trick, since he can’t be those things naturally, ’cause he’s a man.)

    There’s a difference between telling a woman who is struggling — for whom it is work to pursue virtues of patience, nurturing, and spirituality — that she should strive to be those things and that she should naturally be those things. The latter is out of her control, and making her feel deficient because she does have to work at it is cruel.

    It’s also cruel to ignore that effort and struggle. It’s unappreciative to treat the results as a given, to take them for granted except for when we get all poetical about the no-self, other-than-human being from which they spring. Oh, what a valuable resource is a woman, hmm? Aren’t we so glad they just naturally give and give…

    Let’s honor mothers, sure! Everyone owes a lot to their mom. (Like I mentioned earlier, I’m considering starting a tradition of getting my mom something nice on my birthday to say thanks. ‘Cause wow.) Let’s just be mindful of our particular rhetoric in doing so. After all, would you rather be honored for being born with man bits, or for something you actually accomplished or overcame in your real human struggles in your real human life?

  55. 55.

    I think this discussion has run its course. Thanks for the contributions, all!

  56. 56.

    [...] movement (hint: not this). Is it all somehow connected with all of the horror stories about Mothers’ Day? (Unless you didn’t go to Sacrament [...]