It's that time of year when many Mormon women despair of ever being treated like equal partners in church (hello, onslaught of Mother's Day pedestal rhetoric!). Here is the rhetoric and its accompanying subtext in a nutshell:
Women are wonderful (but we couldn't trust them to make important decisions, or even to be present when said decisions are made, so we'll just smile broadly and reiterate that they are wonderful).
Women are incredible (but for all their strength their Heavenly Mother is still too retiring and gentle a spirit to have her name mentioned in public, so please pretend she does not exist).
Women are uber-spiritual (but not so spiritual that they can still bless each other as their pioneer ancestresses did, so please don't mention historical claims of lost female authority).
Women have motherhood, which is equal to men having priesthood (and it is entirely irrelevant that men also have fatherhood, so please don't bring that up either).
In other words, it is the time of year when some Mormon women feel driven to demolish leftover Easter bunnies as they kvetch to one another about how unfairly women are treated in church, having been entirely shut out of ecclesiastical authority. And this is a legitimate complaint that I share, which is why I haven't attended sacrament meeting on Mother's Day in six years (except for the year they asked me to speak and received rather a mouthful). I prefer to spend the day with my family and eat the rest of the Easter bunny, who has retained all but his ears since Easter morning -- an oversight that must be rectified.
But I recently took heart from taking a walk down memory lane with a 1948 magazine article that reminded me how far we've come. In harvesting old ads from postwar issues of Woman's Day, I was particularly struck by the column "How to Be a Girl." Basically, this is the advice section of the magazine that is directed toward teenage girls, trying to prepare them to become the Woman's Day readers and enthusiastic pie bakers of tomorrow. It's entertaining enough that it bears quoting at length:
Feeling sorry for yourself is almost exclusive with girls. You rarely see it in males....And baby, how stuck you can feel if you indulge your self-pity! Since it does nothing for you except to make you feel bad, it might be a good idea to cement that weak spot in your psychology now....
There are, we think, three reasons why girls and women find the habit so easy to fall into. In the first place, you are born with the tendency, we'll bet. Centuries of being the weaker sex have given our side an assumed right to do nothing. Down through literature comes a train of pretty ladies famed for their beauty and wit and given to vapeurs in the face of extreme difficulties. Centuries of being the strong, protective sex have made men capable of doing twice as much work with never a thought of being imposed on by us!
[The second point is about how women complain because they are constantly interrupted, which is quite reasonable. So let's pick up with point #3.]
And in the third place, gals are unprofessional in their approach to life. Because they are not paid for the word they do directly, they have the feeling that they can do it or not, as they please. They don't feel any compulsion . . . . [But] they are paid -- they are supported by their husbands. To earn the right to be supported they have to do their end of the family work. And that is running a good, happy and successful home which everyone adores.
So here's the good news: It got better. In almost every sphere of life today, women's contributions are valued on an equal footing with men's. I am an equal partner in my marriage and a valued colleague in my profession. I've been encouraged to obtain all the education I possibly could, to vote and serve on juries, to write books on all kinds of topics, to teach university, to go toe-to-toe with a doctor who gave a too-hasty diagnosis, to manage my investments, to travel the world.
In fact, the only arena of my life where I am not treated as fully equal is in my religion. Yes, that is clearly an important arena, but let's take a moment and thank God and all the brave women who came before us that it's not 1948, or 1787, or 1692. And let's in turn become brave women who can pave the way to make the world, including the LDS Church, a place where women and girls can feel equally significant, equally beloved of their Heavenly Parents.
It got better. And it will continue getting better.
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