03 January 2008

A Heresy against Feminism

Why do I find myself unable to write about marriage?

I think this is the thing that killed my blog posting this semester. Although this semester was insane, it was no more insane than the others during which I did find time to blog. But something about being married has killed my ability to write candidly about my thoughts.

Sometimes I think it’s because I’m scared of bursting the bubble I’m in. Marriage has made me so insanely happy that it feels unreal. What if by analyzing it I burst that bubble and make things harder for myself? But that’s not really true—I’m not in some idealistic phase where I think my husband has no faults. He’s great and cute, but he has traits that drive me crazy. And yet they don’t drive me crazy. When I look from an objective perspective, they should bug the crap out of me, yet when I see them in him, they don’t seem as important. In fact, nothing seems as important as he does.

Another thought I’ve had is that it’s simply so new to me that I’d rather experience it than write about it. There are some experiences you just can’t write about when you're still close to them, no matter how amazing the insights you’ve gained through them. And that's okay. Because they’re so intensely personal, they are not meant to be shared. This was a huge temptation for me at the beginning of our marriage. At each discussion and resolution, I would think in my head, "This has emotional power! This would make an awesome essay!" (Seriously, this is how my life has always worked: I live in order to write about it.) I didn’t write about it though, not just because the experiences would be difficult to convey but because every time I tried to write them, or even think about writing them, I felt like I was betraying my husband, selling out my marriage for worldly gain, though nothing would have come of it. Perhaps there is no way to share these experiences vicariously. Perhaps they are like our most sacred communions with God, something that increases the understanding between us but that will be spoiled by the retelling of it.

But I think the most true reason is not that I hold myself back from talking about my life, but that there’s no one out there to hear it. Ironically enough, marriage appears to be a taboo topic in Utah County, otherwise known as the marriage capital of Mormondom. I can’t talk about my marriage experiences with my single friends, no matter how cordially they ask me “How’s married life?” Anything I say would sound either like bragging (that I’m married and they aren’t) or harassment that they should get married (look at how great it is!). Even if I could by some magic coincidence of tone and mutual understanding get past both of these barriers, what could we really talk about? They obviously have no experience with marriage, which is barely less than the one esoteric experience I have. It would be like two librarians discussing what it’s like to fly to the moon: profitless speculations and wild leaps of logic. And for what purpose would we talk about marriage? To establish what (in general) it is like and examine its purposes, characteristics, and flaws? A discussion too dispassionate and impersonal to be worth either of our times. To talk about the specific ins and outs of my own marriage? Of what usefulness could that be to them?

Perhaps I’m being too overdramatic. I suppose that discussion could be useful, for although marriage is the most intense relationship of my life, it is nonetheless a relationship, which means that no one is without some analog to relate to what is being discussed.

Maybe it’s not marriage as a subject but the attitudes of people at BYU about it that make it such a taboo topic. Perhaps the fact that it is so important to us causes heightened emotions and fear to discuss it. During my single years at BYU, I was desperate to get married. It’s extremely hard to admit, but I thought enough about it during those years to certainly qualify as obsessed. I knew it was important and much harder to do once you left college. I was absolutely frustrated by the fact that it was so unpredictable. You couldn’t tell if you were doing “well” on the road to marriage until you were actually married because before then, who knew what could happen?

But of course, there was no way I could admit to or discuss any of this. For one, there nothing less attractive in the world than a girl desperate to have someone, anyone, so she knows she is not a failure. So actually pursuing marriage was out of the question, because if you looked like you were looking for it, then it was certain that you would never get it. Secondly, I could not discuss the importance of marriage in my circle of friends. I was part of the intellectual crowd at BYU. We were supposed to be women who didn’t depend on men for fulfillment; getting married before graduating would be a sign of weakness to our liberated, feministic ideals.

Which I find an extremely interesting paradox: we learn and firmly believe at church that the way to happiness is not to follow worldly ideals of success, because in the end such things are illusory. But then what is the path of happiness? As soon as someone mentions family, you’re sure to have several liberated women in the room defy (at least inside their own minds, if not vocally) anyone who would “lock them up” in a house and forbid them to pursue self-fulfillment through a career.

I recently read a post on the bloggernacle responding to Sister Beck’s talk saying that they object to anyone who says that a woman’s fulfillment should come wholly or even primarily through raising children. Here’s a news flash for you: the Church doesn’t say that about women. It says that about everyone! Does the Church say that men should get a career for self-fulfillment? No, a career is clearly shown as necessary for the support of a family. Our leaders time and time again point out that men who focus on their career at the expense of their family will come out empty-handed. Why do women feel satisfied in saying they are an exception to this rule? Don't we want to be treated equally?

I guess this gets me right down to the reason I am afraid to write about marriage: I believe in it. Every last traditional gender role, anti-feminist part of it. I have come to receive a witness that the pattern of a father working and a mother running a household is not only a social necessity, but a divinely inspired pattern. This heretical thought came to me for the first time as I began going to the temple. I had read vague hints that many feminist women were less than satisfied with the temple, and when I arrived there myself, I could see why. My first time through the endowment, I noticed the gender differences with curiosity and wonder. In subsequent times, I could not keep myself so neutral: I felt a rise of resentment and questioning rise in me at those times during the ceremony. It poisoned my mind so I could not think of anything else through the whole two hours: why in such a progressive world did our church have to be so backward? Why couldn’t it just concede to the truths that were so obvious?

Then I came to wonder: why am I judging sacred things by the secular instead of the other way around? Why is the thought of the scholars of the world my standard for judging the gospel? If I really believe in God, shouldn’t I be able to trust His standards? I began to wonder if feminism—in the sense that women (and people in general) needed to seek fulfillment outside of the home and family—was merely one of the philosophies of men, one that I had been indoctrinated with since childhood, one guised under the mask of equality, but in reality having little to do with it. To me, it seemed that this movement was not so much about equity as it was about finding happiness. Women had forgotten how to find happiness. We saw the men in successful careers and said, “That is why we are not happy, because they don't let us have what they have.” Little did they realize that the men weren’t happy either. No one was happy because they weren’t looking in the places to find happiness.

And so I find myself at peace with the temple, but at odds with the world. How could I possibly justify or defend this position? It was so simple. I must be missing something critical if there were so many intelligent people who disagreed with me.

But maybe again that’s caring too much about what the world says. I for one agreed with the substance of Sister Beck’s talk, yet the only thing I could think during the whole thing was “Oh man, the girls over at Feminist Mormon Housewives are going to be livid about this.” And I felt guilty for agreeing with her. Guilty.

16 comments:

bawb said...

What a brilliant post. I applaud your courage to be unhip.

As Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (which I highly recommend) establishes and my personal experience confirms, nothing matches the satisfaction of a good marriage. Your "obsession" with getting married was sage and, as you note, brave in the face of culture and capriciousness.

Also, while I personally doubt God, I'm impressed by anyone who, as C. S. Lewis does, accepts how profoundly one's worldview and priorities should be defined by that belief.

Marisa VanSkiver said...

If it makes you feel any better Liz, I knew you wanted to get married . . . :P

alishka babushka said...

you. are. freaking. incredible. Seriously Liz! I loved this post. It was written from the heart, and that is amazing. I've been trying to do much of the same myself, write posts that aren't fluff, and you are my inspiration. Way to be Liz. I liked it.

ambrosia ananas said...

I hear you on the not talking about marriage thing. I feel like any time I bring up my marriage, people either think I'm bragging or think I'm bagging on Bawb. I don't mean to do either. I just like to discuss because I think best while my mouth is running. I try to just not talk about it now.

On feminism, the Church, and gender roles--the thing that has bothered me and (I think) my feminist friends isn't the idea that marriage is good or that raising a family is a Very Important Thing. (Family is, in fact, consistently the best thing I have going for me.) It's that it feels like what the Church is saying is that one is not a good or worthwhile person (or as good or worthwhile a person) if, as a woman, one does not get married and stay home with one's children.

My objections:

1-not everyone has the chance to get married or have children (the Church covers this pretty well, I think)

2-not everyone will actually be happier if they have a spouse/children (although I expect that most will be, those who won't be could save a lot of unhappiness by just not getting married/having children) and

3-there is no reason+ that women *must* stay home when possible and men *must* go to work when possible. children do need a parent at home. children and parents do need a stable, sufficient income. either parent can provide either of these things. and either parent can benefit personally from doing those things. it should be up to individual couples to work out who's the worker and who's the child care provider. (I know some men who'd rather stay home with the kids and some women who want more intellectually stimiluating environments, i.e. jobs)

+except the ubiquitous "God said so." which could just as easily be God saying so because of an unhealthy societal construct as because God really feels like women need to submit to their husbands and always give up careers for child care, even if their husband is better with the kids and makes a lousy income.

Anyway, I'm glad you're at peace with the Church's teachings. That always makes life easier. : ) And marriage is pretty great, isn't it?

Marisa VanSkiver said...

So I've been thinking about this today. And I have to say, in a perfect world where a woman is able to find a worthy priesthood holder that she loves and wants to marry, and he returns her affection of course, then what you've described is precisely what should happen. I think that feminism comes in with those women who will remain single for their lives, or, for when they are single. Too many women in the church focus so much on getting married that they neglect to get an education. Or worse, not finish the education they started because they found Mr. Right. That's not what should happen at all.

We all need intellectual stimulation. I'm not saying that women shouldn't stay home with their children, but while they are still single they should be able to be treated equally and go after those careers. Look at Sherri Dew, for instance. Is anyone going to fault her for being ambitious in her career? She is just one of the many women in the church who has never been married. I for one, am going to go after the career that I want. Should I get married, great! But I will be prepared to support myself should I not. And when and if I get married, I will figure out a way to finish my education and be a great mother to my future children. But in doing so, we shouldn't lose sight of reality. Women should get the best education they can, should be able to have a career, and when they marry and start a family, that decision of whether or not she should work as a mother should be left up to her, her husband, and God. I know that there were many blessings of my mother working part-time throughout my life.

And this, my friend, is where I think feminism fits in wonderfully with the church's teachings. The problem that a lot of people have is that they go from one extreme to the other.

(Sorry, I found typos. Repost!)

Amy said...

Liz, that was beautiful! Brilliant! I love your analysis of feminism, and your understanding of the gospel. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Liz, What a beautiful post. Being a wife and a mother IS a career. It is the best one and the only one with eternal staying power. I can tell you that there is more satisfaction and fulfillment in holding a sleeping babe in your arms than there is in having T.V. cameras film you getting off a plane to walk on a red carpet or in receiving a 6' tall trophy for being a champion (and I have experienced both).

Your post was brilliant. I look forward to exploring more of your blog.

Janet Walgren said...

Oh my goodness, I just published my comment as anonymous. This is Janet and I'm proud to be a woman in the very traditional God inspired way. Considering the issue, I didn't want anonymous to stay anonymous.

Bethany said...

Liz,

I found this post through Ben's comment of it (on Top of the Mountains). First of all, your writing is so lucid and flowing that it was like eating dessert to read it. Thank you for that delightful experience.
Second, what you had to say made it empowering as well as joyful. I am a "stay-at-home mom" and very happily married (in the other order, of course). So, as I followed your journey, I found myself relating to every aspect of it. From wanting to be married at BYU to not quite knowing what to do with the chasm of difference between the endowment and the atmosphere in some of my classrooms. In addition, I find it an unmentionable subject, akin to the joy of marriage to find motherhood stressful.

I love being a mom, and I love my son (my entire blog is dedicated to him). However, this is the hardest thing I have ever attempted. Bar nothing.

Anyway, I find it useful, at times, to let off some steam, compare notes with other mothers, and exchange ideas. But if find that more often than not, I am seriously misunderstood and my comments are taken for whining.

Okay, Liz, I didn't realize I had that all bottled up inside me. I guess I better go write my own post! :) Thanks for giving me a starting point for my thoughts and contributing so well to the world of well-written women.

If you are interested, my blog is at http://deardeuff.blogspot.com

Also, to ambrosia ananas: I am SO glad to hear that I'm not the only one who "thinks best when my mouth is running!"

James said...

Liz,

You indicate that getting married, or the desire to get married, is a big part of college. Is that just a BYU attitude? Is that now the goal throughout academia?

When I was in college in the mid-1990s, I knew of two married students -- one was married before he came to college, and the other got married during his last semester. For the rest of us, our engergies were devoted to the task at hand, though several students got married within a year of graduating.

Liz Busby said...

Marisa #1: Thanks?

ambrosia: My point is that I actually think your third point is wrong. I think there is something essential about a mother staying home with her children. In the past, I've always justified it from an economic standpoint: if you're going to have children, it doesn't make any sense for the primary provider to be out of commission every time you do so. Modern economics have eliminated this argument, what with maternity leave, baby formula, and sufficient surplus for savings. But I've grown to think it's more than that. I think there's more to the God says so than an economic necessity. I also think we're afraid to even touch that possibility because we want our doctrines to be in harmony with the world as much as possible.

Marisa #2: The problem with this attitude is of course when we use pursuing career as an excuse not to be seeking out marriage. I seem to remember the other day a certain someone *coughMarisacough* saying that she refuses to think about getting married until she's out of grad school. That is the wrong attitude, I think. Marriage and family should always be first priority for everyone; people matter more than careers, and certainly more than a secular education, which is after all mostly a fleeting thing. I'm not saying women shouldn't be allowed to get jobs; I'm not saying we shouldn't seek some economic security; I'm saying it shouldn't be anyone's first priority. Career (and even education) doesn't matter that much beyond a minimal standard. And face it, as a high school graduate in America, you really have fairly little to worry about so long as you are smart, which you are.

James: Yes, BYU is a little different than your average university. It's a private school sponsored by the LDS Church (aka the Mormons). Part of our religious belief is that family matters more than anything, and that in order to receive the highest degree of glory, one must be married in the temple for time and eternity. So, yes, marriage, and marrying young, is extremely important to us. However, I find that BYU doesn't quite live up to its reputation of marrying off 19-year-old freshman. But about 50% of the graduating class are married. And then there's the massive amount of babies on campus . . . But that's another story. :D

PinkyLunt said...

Liz, I know what you mean. Kinda, except the church bits, but I know that being a wife and a mother is a full time career, and it's not as easy as it looks. But I'm perfectly happy being a stay at home mom. :)

Cathryn said...

Liz.
I love you.
Do you ever read something and become incredibly jealous that you weren't the one that wrote it?
Yeah. It's like that.

Sally B. W. R. said...

I found your blog through Ben Crowder's blog and read this post first thing. It really impressed me! Thank you for sharing your views, even your testimony, on marriage, family, and even feminism.

I was at BYU as one of the intellectual English majors who could write an A+ paper doing a feminist/gender reading. I joked around with friends about being a fulfilled Old Maid. When secretly, or at least I thought it was secretly, all I wanted was to find my match and run away to the temple. It didn't happen at BYU, it happened post graduation, when I wasn't feeling the pressure, when I wasn't running around being a tad too feminist, and when it was supposed to happen.

Anyway. I couldn't express my feelings on this issue any better than you have. I applaud you. :-) Congratulations on your marriage!

Joni said...

Thanks, Liz. Considering some things that have happened in my week, this is more or less exactly what I needed. Thank heaven I know how to pick good friends :) Love you-

Michaela Stephens said...

First of all, I have to tell you that I totally understand what you said about not feeling able to write about being married just after being married. I had the same experience. I couldn't even write about it in my journal. My journal has an empty space of between 6 months to a year when it seemed like things were so great and grand that there were no words to express it.

See? Even when you felt there was nothing you could say, your very hesitancy had power and at least one person has identified with this experience.

I think that men get satisfaction from being able to do what it takes to provide. I also think that women get satisfaction from being able to do what it takes to nurture people.
However, I notice that when I have a part time job, I also get satisfaction from that, because I can help with finances. And my husband notices that he gets satisfaction from teaching his primary class. (We don’t have children yet, so this is the only exposure to children that he gets.)
It seems to me that there is room for some overlap of roles that will give us satisfaction, but that the main part of our happiness comes from filling our primary gender roles.

One thing that I think gets Mormon feminists wrapped around the axle is that they hear “Marriage is good and raising a family is Very Imporant” and they interpret it as “A woman is not a good or worthwhile person (or as good or worthwhile a person) if, one does not get married and stay home with one's children”. But if we were to all listen very carefully, we would understand that those two messages are not the same thing. The church makes no judgment that anyone is more or less worthwhile than anyone else. IT NEVER DOES. It only says what is good and very important. It is the feminists that jump to conclusions in some very strange logic –
“God wants us to get married. I am not married and I have no prospects. Therefore God does not like me.” The logic fallacy comes when the assumption is made that “not doing” = “lower worth”. This has never been true, and never will be true. We ALL have infinite worth all the time.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, comes from following the divine plan. I’m still childless after 7 years of marriage and I have to get my jollies from nurturing my younger siblings on long telephone calls and nurturing my cub scouts and nurturing college writing students (I’m a writing tutor). I’ll nurture where I can and be as happy as I can, even though my body seems to think it is immune to the plan.