Young Mormon feminists, frustrated with the limited role of women in the Church today, should be grateful they missed the rhetoric of an earlier generation. I was married in the ‘60s when the evils of birth control were preached loudly from the pulpit and “working mothers” was uttered with the same tone used for the word “prostitute.”
No matter that I returned to teaching when my kids were all in school and we needed health insurance and another income to fill five hungry bellies and shoe ten growing feet. The message I received from Relief Society lessons and General Conference talks was that I had given in to “worldly” values and was jeopardizing my children’s—and probably my own—salvation.
We don’t hear such strong rhetoric about family size and working moms anymore. Today, many Mormon women earn graduate degrees and enjoy professional careers. The admonition that ALL mothers needed to be restricted to the world of home and church was always tinged with a touch of fantasy. Ensign photos of the ideal Mormon family never showed that family kneeling on threadbare carpet, their arms folded upon chairs with ripped upholstery. The ideal family never arrived at church in a rusted-out car that barely held their large brood.
But reality prevailed. Most large Mormon families need more than one income in order to feed the kids and ante up tithing. Like their gentile counterparts, a majority of Mormon women now work outside the home at least part time—and Church rhetoric reflects the facts on the ground.
Unfortunately, a softened stance on working women has not been matched by an increased voice for women in Church decision-making circles. Unlike getting a job, this is not an issue where women can take the lead themselves. Apparently, what many women and men are doing is dropping out from a Church that doesn’t meet their needs.