“We can’t afford it.” The most-often muttered sentence from my childhood.
Be it new shoes, a haircut, a trip to the fair, and often times, even a box of cereal. The answer was always the same. I learned by age 5 not to ask for anything. I was the oldest and had five younger brothers who hit the age of knowing after I did. I heard the phrase over and over and over. I watched my mom (who had 5 kids by the age of 26) calculating bills incessantly. Playing with the figures, dividing her bills into two payments instead of one, and I saw my step-father work had. So hard, it seems like I only saw him Sundays. For someone working so hard, it seemed like we should have had more money. When I was about seven, I asked my mom why things were always so hard for us financially. She said “we don’t have an education.”
Later that same summer, I was burdened with the constant status of our finances (such a great burden for a seven year old), and I asked my grandmother how I could make sure my children had enough to eat, to wear… she said “Get yourself an education. Do not drop out of high school. Go to college. You can be anything. With an education, you will be successful.”
The two responses I got made a deep impression in my seven year old mind. Suddenly, my mind became focused on “my education.” From that time on, I stood out as “smart.”
I was the first in my family to graduate high school in the “normal” way, with no children, or other major distractions. I graduated with honors, the sash felt soft and cool on my cheek during graduation.
I was not done though. Although high school was a great feat for my family, it was “nothing” in the “real world.” To be really set, I needed a bachelor’s degree.
I filled out all the paperwork, and was accepted to college. No one in my entire family had ever been dropped off, and left at a college before. During college, I was inspired by all those teaching me. So many of the influences in my life were strong, articulate women. These were women who served to mentor me in my quest for better. Better life. Better me.
At the end of my freshman year, I got married, and was pregnant. I was scared- this was not in the plans I had made for myself. I thought over and over “but I am going to medical school! How is this going to work?” My professors were kind, my classmates- mostly judgemental, but my family- FURIOUS. I was “the one” who was going to change things. For my life. For them. For me. My mom told me over and over again that I needed to get an abortion and continue with school. She “knew” I would drop out. That summer, the only job I could get was at a convenience store. I made $7 an hour and worked 11-7 am. I was sexually harrassed, cussed at, and threatened. It was not worth it. THAT was my future if I did as my mom predicted. I was very motivated to prove her wrong. Not for her, but for my baby. For me.
The rest of collage was a blur. My last year- 4.0. I was a success. I was the only one in my entire major to get into a graduate program.
I had no idea (literally) what I was getting into, but I went to a very well-known school (public Ivy) and again, I found myself. The people in graduate school were more like me than those at college. I was no longer “the smartest,” nor was I an anomoly, but I was happy.
I was surrounded by success. Successful men. Successful women. Articulate people well-read in many areas. I learned the ropes of academia, and set the goal “to teach.” For my students. For my daughter. I loved teaching. I loved inspiring the less- inspired. I loved it. I wanted THAT to be my job.
It was at the end of graduate school that I joined the church. Sure, I was cute. But I thought the best things about me were my mind, my thinking, my ambition, my ability to thrive as a (now) single-mother, scientist, and good person. I thought the fact that I had put myself through school (and LOTS of it) and supported myself and my daughter- NEVER with the help of welfare, that I would stand out. I thought those things would be attractive. They were, in fact, what I valued most about myself. I was, in my own mind, a very good catch.
My first year in the church, I had one thing on my mind: Live so that you can attend the temple. During that first year, no one asked me out in the church. I was not asked to teach. I felt silenced time and again in open “Sunday school” classes. It was ok though, I knew I was smart. Besides, I did not know nearly what the old white guys in ties in the front knew. They must have been studying much harder and much longer. I followed the model to defer to them. I did not protest.
I was freaked out by the temple. Sure, it was wonderful to be fawned over. It was wonderful to be in such a revered place, but I was freaked out. I was a single mother. As such, I still covenanted to hearken to my husband. What husband? Hopefully not like the awful, mean husband I caught on the sofa laying on top of my best friend. Why would a loving Heavenly Father do that? Why was I touched through a curtain by some phantom man on the other side? Why did I have to touch him back and “lean in” to him? Why did he hold my hand “like that” and look at me “like that” when he “pulled me through” the veil? I was freaked out. My best mormon friend told me the best thing I could do to feel better was to go and go and go back until I was no longer freaked out. My second trip, was 5 days later. I went with my same best mormon friend. When I walked into the endowment room, I was approached by an elderly man “Heaven knew we needed you.” I blushed and looked at my white slippers. The bow was crooked. “Will you be part of the witness couple?”
“oh, no. No. I have only been here once. No”
My best mormon friend stared at me with wide eyes and open mouth. She recovered ” It is a great honor. You will be blessed. He KNOWS you are supposed to do this.”
Me “no, I… I don’t know what I am doing.”
“I will show you. Just follow my lead”
And so it was. I remember feeling somewhat violated as we knelt together at the altar. I could not look at him. My elderly “adam,” so I looked at my fingernails. My polish was sparkly and silver. The lights set it glistening. I felt very vulnerable, and worse, extremely threatened.
I did not feel better.
I went 7 days later, I was still scared. The feeling was that something was very, very wrong. I was supposed to feel blessed. I was supposed to love this place and it felt so creepy. After 2 months of this, I called the first counselor in the bishopric as I exited the temple and entered the DC beltway. “People keep telling me I will feel better! I will have answers! Keep going! and I hate it! I don’t like it! I don’t have answers.”
His quiet voice, like he was reading a bedtime story “You are asking for the wrong things. You already know the answer. The temple is of God. It is right. Keep going. Don’t let Satan tempt you. He has no power over you unless you give it to him. Don’t let him have anymore power over you.”
Any more? He thought I was feeling this way because I was allowing evil in my life?
note to self. never ever ever again admit to not liking the temple. EVER.
It was after that first year that I noticed somethings. I was 29. I was the oldest “girl” in the singles’ ward. I did not mind that so much. It was the age disparity that was so alarming. Most of the other girls were 18-20. Most of them fresh out of high school. I started noticing that the “boys” were always calling every shot. There were no women at the front of the chapel. A man ALWAYS gave the last talk. The girls would go out with ANY guy who asked, even the doofy ones were treated like they were special because they (tear) held the priesthood.
I started feeling really badly about myself every Sunday. During the week, I was doing microsurgery on embryos, and setting up time-lapse photography under an inverted Nikon scope using phase contrast. I was analyzing cell motility and tissue morphogenesis, relating it all back to the effect of the midline on neurulation. I was actively engaged in Monday lab meeting, sparring with the brilliant post-docs, and our fearless and revered PI. I was leading the Graduate/Post-Doc association, attending the library meetings, and part of student senate. I had just had an interview with a researcher at another top-notch instituion. I was finally at the point that I was very proud of my accomplishments at work. People knew me, and even sought me out at professional meetings. I was doing what I came to do.
But Sundays were killing me. It all became clear one Sunday, when the new guy in the army said something like this: “Let me guess- you will do whatever it takes to keep your daughter safe, and you look to yourself before you look to anyone else for providing for her?”
“OH, definitely, I don’t have anyone to depend on in my life.”
He continued “Do you think your husband will be ok with you having more education than him? “
“Well, I don’t think it matters much… I just wanted to learn all I could, and get a good job”
He finished up, “You are going to have to learn how to support and sustain men in the church. The patriarchy is God’s plan. You need to show humility and give up your career goals. Your role should be wife and mother first. A career makes you a less-good mom, and everyone knows that no man is going to want a wife with career ambitions. “
I stopped attending the singles’ ward, and joined the family ward. I felt just as isolated, but at least all my undesireable ambitions, educational and career goals were not on full display in that ward. Also, I noticed, I was in a ward with a lot of medical students, business school students, law students, graduate students. My age, my ambition… but they were all male. Every one of the ones “in school” was male.
The wives all talked about “we are in medical school” though. They stayed at home and had babies, living on welfare and told me that it must be so sad to “have” to work. I started feeling like the one thing I valued most about myself (my education and career goals) was a major liability in the LDS church.
I realized most of the women my age did not work. They had at least 3 children (most 4 or 5), and the only time they “got out,” was for church-related things, or for play groups with other women from church. I started wondering why they viewed their circumstance so much better than mine. One day my Visiting Teacher told me, “I could have a job teaching too. I could be using my teaching certificate and we would have enough money for a decent car, but I “know” my role is here at home. I know that I will be blessed. It is in the Family Proclamation. My sacrifices will be rewarded. My children are much better off with me here.” Speaking of her children (mine was at school, we had met for lunch), she was not paying a bit of attention to them, and there had been several bangs and cries, but she just ignored it all totally. I thought about what she said a lot though. “My sacrifices will be rewarded.”
HER sacrifices. She dropped out before she finished her degree … she DROPPED OUT BEFORE she finished her degree.
My sacrifices were viewed as selfishness. Selfish? Being selfish sure is a hell of a lot of work, not to mention, absolutely exhausting. I had a baby, took GREAT care of my baby, took classes very early in the morning, rushed up to care for my daughter, and was up after she went to sleep doing what I needed to do for class or lab the next day. I cleaned our home, I cooked excellent dinners for my husband and daughter and I. I had THREE jobs so help pay the bills. THAT is sacrifice. I fail to see how it is selfish.
Outside the church, I feel admired, respected. 20 year old female college students ask me for advise and how I did what I did. They share with me goals and dreams like the 20 year old me. They have made plans for themselves that are ambitious. They like to see a kind, caring faculty who does a good job with her career, and who makes them feel inspired.
In church, I always felt ashamed. People took to making excuses as for why I “had” to work (it absolutely has become a necessity in my life. Thank GOODNESS- NO! THANK THE SEVEN YEAR OLD ME!!!!! for all my education). I feel like I am less because I am a career woman. I feel like I am a threat because I hearken to no one above myself if it feels wrong. I feel ashamed because my children went to (**GASP**) daycare and I pumped my milk (in addition to nursing) and somehow, that has made me less.
I am sickened that a woman who puts in a great deal more effort into her life is considered less. I am sickened that women really do believe their entire worth is through a man and the children she bears. I am sad that a woman without either gets excuses made for her (oh, you will find your man in the next life)… and that we don’t recognize the patriarchy for the dictatorship that it is. Women feel “equal, just with different roles” than men because that is what the men in charge tell them to believe. They have no recognition of the abusive relationship they are part of.
Finally, my last lesson ( I WAS eventually called to teach) as a mormon was on the subject of using one’s mind. It spoke to me DEEPLY. However, when I tried to relay my experiences to the women in relief society, the only book they could figure worth reading, by and large, was the Book of Mormon.
I think it is remarkable how little we allow our intelligence to flourish when we are under the control of a cult.
I find the quotes fitting. That is what they say, of course, but when it comes to practicing intelligence, only correlated intelligence is considered glorious.