Virtually the only feminine role models when I was growing up in Provo, Utah were SAHMs and elementary school teachers. A few women in my blue collar neighborhood supplemented family income with part time jobs clerking at Woolworths or at my dad’s grocery store. Outside of books, I never met women professionals other than my teachers—those dignified women who wore church dresses and nylons every day and seemed not to exist outside my school. They inhabited a different world from my mother and my friends’ mothers whose lives revolved around stove, sink and washing machine.
No expectation beyond marriage and motherhood existed for girls in my world. My dad’s two maiden aunts lived in genteel poverty in Salt Lake. My divorced aunt lived with my widowed grandmother also in poverty. Women needed a man to provide for them.
Would I have chosen a different career path if other role models had existed in my world? Possibly. For me, just getting a college diploma and teaching certificate was a leap up from my cultural and educational heritage.
Certainly, I tried to expand my daughter’s opportunities. But while most of the women in our ward worked at least part time, few had college degrees, and none had professional level jobs. For better or worse, I and their high school teachers were my daughters’ professional role models.
Each of our girls graduated from college. Lolly is a SAHM who hopes to get a master’s degree in a social field such as public administration when her youngest starts school. Aroo talks about entering a master’s program so she can advance in her work. So far Jaycee, who runs a technical writing/editing business, is the only daughter with a professional level career. Being single, Jaycee has more motivation to succeed financially than her sisters. Jaycee also had a mentor. The marketing director of the company she worked for after graduation took Jaycee under her wing, taught her business skills, and encouraged her to start her own company. Capable as Jaycee is, I doubt she could have started her business without the know-how and encouragement of this mentor.
And that brings me to my granddaughters. Where will they find role models and mentors? Mormons in Utah are locked into wards with others of their same socio-economic bracket. Girls in lower middle class neighborhoods are unlikely to meet professional women at church. Barring a move, I suspect my granddaughters’ main professional role model will be Auntie Jaycee. And while I don’t think every woman needs a professional career, I do think every girl growing up needs the opportunity to make that choice. Maybe Mormon mothers need to expand their circle of friends to include role models and possible mentors for their daughters.