An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Gender equity in marriage’

Into the 21st Century

Not surprisingly to anyone but ourselves, matrimony was more expensive than either George or I anticipated.  Paychecks that look huge to those living with their parents dwindle when they must cover rent, utilities, and food. And when we started looking for houses, I realized why friends and family settled for standard development-dwellings rather than the homes I’d admired on the pages of House Beautiful.

Eventually, we saved enough for a house down payment, crib, and washing machine. We were ready to start a family. I finished the school year before Wort was born and planned to be a stay-at-home-mom. We could watch TV and entertain guests on kitchen chairs for a while longer. We knew our charming, 70-year-old house needed renovation. With the innocence of youth, we figured it wouldn’t cost much since George could do the work himself. As expenses mounted, we postponed a second child and I returned to teaching when Wort neared his first birthday.

I found a baby sitter who gave Wort far wiser care than my inexperience allowed. But with a baby to pick up at 4:00, I could no longer spend long hours at school. I resorted to more worksheets and fewer hands-on learning experiences, and felt I was cheating my students. I quit teaching with a sigh of relief after two years. The house was livable and living room furniture could wait.

 Life moved on. We added four more kids to the family. I gardened, canned, and shopped thrift stores to stretch our tight budget. George is very good as his work, but it’s not a high-paying field. By the time our youngest hit school, we knew I needed a job to provide health insurance and retirement benefits as well as to keep shoes on five pairs of fast-growing feet.

Throughout my teaching years, my senses were assaulted by General Conference addresses and Relief Society lessons criticizing mothers who love luxuries more than their children and take jobs outside the home. The pervasive rhetoric even encouraged one ward member with an unemployed husband to ask for Church welfare rather than get a job herself—although her three children were in their teens.

But, I think the times are a-changing. At a funeral last week, a white-haired bishop in a rural ward began his remarks by praising the deceased woman for improving her skills and taking a job to help support the family. Hallelujah! I could have hugged the man. And I hope he conveyed this message to my elderly relative before her death. Her family, as well the Church, criticized her efforts to keep her kids fed, in school, and on missions.

Bishop Rural was a breath of fresh air. I hope he’s frontrunner for a new Church-wide attitude toward women. Mormons have long praised fathers who take an active role in child-rearing. Now, it’s time to honor mothers who help provide financial security for the family.

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Purdah–A Good Fit for Mormons?

Dreams of Trespass, Fatima Mernissi’s memoir of growing up in the seclusion of a Moroccan family, intrigues me. The cloistered life of these Muslim women—sheltered from the cares and threats of the outside world, all economic and public responsibilities on the shoulders of the husbands—sounds like a great deal to me. Who wouldn’t like a life without responsibilities beyond caring for the kids and seeing that meals get on the table? If the Moroccan women had just been allowed access to shopping malls and TV, it sounds pretty ideal. Actually, it sounds kind of like the Mormon poster family. Many Mormon women do pretty much limit their interests and activities to the confines of their own home.  

And I wonder—are Mormon men happy to shoulder all the economic responsibility? Or do they sometimes cast envious glances at neighbors with wives holding jobs that provide health insurance and retirement accounts?

And this leads me back to Mid-Eastern purdah.  How do they get the men to go along with it?  Mernissi’s father and uncle support a huge extended family. Besides their own wives and children, they are responsible for their mother, their unmarried sisters, and divorced female relatives and their children. Since the women can’t leave the home compound except for lady’s day at the public bath, the husbands make family decisions, enroll the kids in school, and do the shopping including picking the right colors of embroidery floss—all while earning enough to keep this mammoth family fed. And what’s in it for the men? Sex—children—a smoothly-running household.

Is that enough? Well, I guess that depends on the quality of the benefits. I’m not sure I’d want to bet my economic security on my ability to satisfy on those three counts. I did provide George with five offspring, but I don’t recall him leaping with ecstasy each time I whispered in his ear, “Honey, I think I’m pregnant again.” It’s probably a good thing I was able to help put food on the table. It was also a good thing George was willing to help prepare the food and clean up afterwards.

For us, purdah wouldn’t work except maybe in reverse. At his current age, George prefers staying home and wouldn’t mind being secluded from shopping, church or any other outside activity. And so long as I don’t have to choose embroidery floss, I’m okay with our arrangement.

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