I’ve decided I’m not going to give my journey chronologically. My journey was way more of a puzzle, with different pieces sliding together about different topics and issues, each coming together here and there than it was a step-by-step process.
Today I want to focus on the part of my puzzle that dealt with gender roles. It was a long, long process of learning. My mind definitely had to incubate on this one.
In the beginning, where was my mind at: girls can do anything boys can do. Right? Well, it was more: girls should do everything boys can do. That was my real mantra. I was a tomboy of all tomboys in elementary school. By high school, I had at least shed the boys clothing, but I removed myself from anything girly-girl. Period. My mantra was deeply rooted in my opinion of myself. It’s a mindset that seemed to be promoted all throughout the society around me. To think that there were things in a family that were meant to be done by the mother and different things to be done by the father was an idea that didn’t fit that mantra. Such an idea seemed old fashioned, ignorant, and unhappy.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that gender roles do exist and that those roles are part of our divine nature. I’ve never been one to reject the teachings of the prophets, but when it came to gender roles, I just tried not to think to much about it because internally, I wasn’t ok with it all. The Proclamation states that husbands “are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families” and wives “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” Ok, that’s clear. But then it says, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” As a feminist, “equal partners” was all I heard. See, we are to be equal? What I didn’t realize then, but that I realize now, is that I was so caught up on fortifying equality that I failed to put any effort into actually understanding what it meant that my role was to nurture. I didn’t know how to fulfill that role or what nurture really meant. I was so focused on my husband’s role as the provider and what I thought it meant to be an equal partner to him in that role.
And you really can’t blame me. Just look at the message this world teaches to little girls. The focus of the entire education system is to turn each student, boys and girls, into providers. I was always seeking to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, what career would fit me best and to pursue the education that best afforded that opportunity. I wasn’t focused on having a family or on being the mother in that family. Now, do not misunderstand: education is a wonderful and crucial thing to any woman. But my educational experience didn’t promote the idea that being a mother is a career. I graduated high school with the dream of becoming a physical therapist, which quickly changed to a high school English teacher once I realized I couldn’t even handle hearing people’s injury stories let alone look at injuries. But that was my focus all through college: my career.
So when I heard that it wasn’t the woman’s role to provide for the family, it was hard for me to understand. It went against everything I had lived for my whole life. Yes, as a youth, at church they talked to us about the role of a wife and mother, but do you know what I did during those lessons? I counted the ceiling tiles. Those topics were awkward to be interested in. How could I talk about marrying a boy and having children and raising them when I couldn’t even muster up the courage to talk to boys. No, boys made me sweat. And feel innate. I wanted one to love me, no doubt (ha! thats about all I thought about besides soccer), but to admit that I was interested in boys at that time in my young life was out of the question. Besides, I was going on a mission for the LDS church. That was my focus, not marriage or children. I had to do what the boys were going to do. Looking forward to marriage was a girly-girl thing, and I couldn’t have my reputation at risk. So all the teaching I would have received at church to offer any truth about gender roles went unheard.
There were three things I had to overcome in order to understand the truth behind gender roles and more particularly, my role as a woman: my distaste for the idea of homemaking AND my lack of understanding of what womanhood and motherhood meant AND my unwillingness to surrender my pursuit of a career. Up next.