A Conversation: On Being a Woman, part 2

“Did you have a boyfriend in high school, Sister Cruz?”

I froze. I can put on a smile, tell a lie that makes me look perfect or — be honest.

She looks at me in anticipation.

“Yeah, I did,” I say with hesitation. “I had my first boyfriend when I was 15. And some more after that. I kissed too many boys. Most of them were dumb.”

She laughs.

“Well, not literally dumb — just not the best idea for me to be with them, dumb. I hurt myself in the process. I focused on all the wrong things.”

She’s silent.

I awkwardly stumble over myself as I try to explain how it can be hard in high school if you don’t have a boyfriend — feeling left out and all — but how waiting is just as good of an option. And how not kissing until you get married wouldn’t be so bad. Wait, back up, how if that’s what you want to do it’s not so bad. But uh, well, it’s okay to kiss someone if you feel like you want to kiss them — just don’t go crazy.

She smiles. She laughs. And I feel like an idiot.

When I was asked to be the second counselor in our ward’s Young Women, I was immediately excited. Then I felt terrified. I’m 22 — I don’t have the answers. I certainly don’t feel like a role model. Shoot, I could have been a Laurel when this girl was a Beehive. That’s scary.

I don’t know this girl very well, but conversation flows easily. We chat about everything — school, growing up, her ambitions, family, what marriage is like — whatever.

She is freely asking me questions, and though I’m answering honestly, I find myself constantly hesitating. I’m analyzing. Is this appropriate? Am I projecting the right image? Is this what an adult woman in the church is supposed to be?

Then the topic turns to the Young Women broadcast we just watched.

“I’m sorry,” she says, “but I don’t like listening to the sisters of the church speak.”

I laugh, surprised by how forward she is.

“Why’s that?”

“I just feel like they’re being fake,” she says. “They’re so cheesy. Even when they’re talking about something sad, they’re smiling. Why do they do that?”

I don’t know. And that’s what I tell her. Maybe they smile because they’re ugly criers.

Dumb answer. But I don’t care. I feel relieved. I can abandon being overly self-critical. Fake smiles are not a requirement to quality church leadership.

I think back to myself at 17 — the same thing bothered me, too. I wondered if I had to fit a certain mold to be considered a faithful, strong woman. Now I realize how wrong that is.

There is no requirement that we be duplicates of each other. Individuality, even in righteous womanhood, is real and good. We demonstrate our divine attributes differently, but each is just as beautiful as the next.

How do you define being a faithful LDS women? When it comes to being a woman, how do you decipher the difference between godly expectations and cultural expectations? What do you think God expects from us as righteous, individual women?

17 thoughts on “A Conversation: On Being a Woman, part 2

  1. It seems weird to me now, but I remember as a young woman (teenager and young adult) feeling that being a wife and mother was all I should want to do, and if I didn’t want those things, I didn’t belong in the church. I didn’t want those things–I don’t think I knew what I wanted, exactly, except I didn’t want that, and I resented that that was the only scenario for my life being presented to me. The thing was that I still went to church, I had something of a testimony–in the sense that I was afraid everything they were telling me was true–and I felt shackled by this image emotionally, even as I rebelled against it intellectually. I don’t think I was even aware how much I felt shackled by it until one day I was talking with my father and he basically gave me permission to want something else for myself. (Not a great feminist narrative, waiting for a male authority figure to tell you you’re allowed to want something for yourself. :) ) It was like my eyes had been opened. And oddly enough, from that point forward I was a lot more open to the idea of being a wife and mother because I knew it would be my choice, not something I was “supposed” to do.

    I think that the secret is having a personal relationship with God so that you feel confident that the path you’re on is acceptable to Him, that you’re doing His will in your life, even if it doesn’t fit the prescribed narrative. God wants us to be good people and use our God-given gifts to serve others, and God knows that we are all different because He made us that way.

  2. How do I define being a faithful LDS woman? Very simply–just like President Monson said in the YW General Meeting “Believe (in Christ), Obey (his commandments) and Endure”. The rest is open to WIDE interpretation and personal revelation. I think there are as many ways of being a righteous woman as there are women in the church.

  3. I think we could make it a lot easier for women. I am really grateful for women who have made it easier for me: Elaine Jack, Sherri Dew, Julie Beck. I wrote about this very subject just a bit ago myself, and I sympathize with this young woman about the weird smiling when telling sad stories. When I watched the YW broadcast with my daughters a couple of weeks ago, I was glad to see that there was less of that. I sometimes wonder if they do that because they think YW are tender and fragile. I’ve attended the leadership trainings and seen those very women speak and they aren’t happy-happy-smiling-scary one-one-one. They’re awesome. When I was a YW leader I told the girls that.

    To me, the problem is that we need to be tougher as women. I’ve had some danged rough experiences that would have folded and crushed a fragile girl that needed happy-happy-smiling. 6 inches of sewer in the basement that I got to clean up several times would have run all over “fragile.” I don’t think Eve was fragile. I don’t think the world will have much tolerance for “fragile,” no matter what type of woman we are intended to grow into.

    Kudos to you for being brave and being real. No image is going to save any of us.

  4. I am with your young women. the fake happy happy voices and smiles used by women speaker not just at conference so turns me off that I do not hear what they are saying. Often when I read what I didn’t hear, what they said it is just as flat and meaningless. I agree we need strong women who say what they mean and mean what they say.

  5. Turning from a child to a young woman was filled with trauma for me. I didn’t want to be a woman. I didn’t want to be married. I didn’t even like most children. To me they had runny noses and vacant brains.

    I joined the church and loved everyone, but didn’t see myself as fitting the expectations, like Rebecca J.

    Visiting General Young Women leaders talked to us about not wearing too much makeup or open toed sandals. It was winter then in Finland, and we all wore warm boots. The leaders were the only ones with makeup in that meeting.

    I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I wrote a letter to a friend and tuned everyone out. I stayed because i loved the Lord and didn’t want to hurt his servants -even silly ones.

    Now, I am the first one happily married in four genertations, with six living children and two in heaven. They never had vacant brains, and they were clean. they didn’t bite either. Their spouses are rather lovable. I love every one of our 24 grandchildren too. I am glad not to be a man.

    President Benson talked to me alone,telling me to be myself. He told me to develope a sense of humor. I laughed at him – me with humor? I am glad I didn’t have my early choises in life. The Lord has a sense of humor and loves us through our youthful anger.

    Thanks for sharing everyone.

    Maj-Lén

  6. I agree that individuality is so important, but sometimes it makes those of us who are okay with being perceived as cheesy or a ‘smiler when talking about something sad’ think there is something wrong with us. I feel like I am a very genuine person. And I’m a little unique, but I’m also very similar to the typical mormon woman. And I’m okay with that, but sometimes people who need and want to break the mold make me feel bad that I don’t need or want to, too. Does that make sense?

    That doesn’t really answer your questions…

  7. I think being a faithful LDS woman means being true and faithful to the covenants you have made and to the person who you truly are. I understand what Carrie is saying too. I cook and sew becuase I LIKE to cook and sew, not because I think that is what Mormon women are supposed to do. Thank goodness we all like/excel at different things. I am in awe of my friend who runs marathons and the one who served as PTA president and the one is such a fun mother to her children–and my friends love me when I show up with homemade baked goods. We benefit so much from being different and still having things that bind us together.

    Keep being honest with your YW. You are young enough to really remember what is was like to be in their shoes and for them to take what you say seriously. I see nothing wrong with admitting to some youthful foibles as long as you balance that with what you have learned through (sometimes painful) experience and the perspective we get with time.

  8. Not that I think this actually is relevant in the discussion of YW broadcasts (I’m not sure why some of the female leaders tend to be so overly smiley, and I do tend to prefer the ones like Sister Beck who are willing to just unapologetically tell it like it is!), but I have found that with many people who seem “fake” or unsubstantial, that exterior is their way of dealing with their own life struggles. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, but not everyone is like that. I’m trying to learn not to dismiss people right off the bat just because they are too “cutesy” or “smiley” or seem “fake.” I’ve been genuinely surprised when somebody who I’ve dismissed as being shallow and having an easy life has come out and told me about their experiences.

    Now some people… just don’t have a brain in their heads. ;) But they are few and far between, I think, thank goodness!

    And I completely agree that being a woman of God is living righteously and fulfilling OUR personal divine roles and expanding OUR personal talents. (Actually I recently wrote a whole blog post about this!) That does not always look the same, but it is always wonderful.

  9. I remember being a teenager and thinking I’d have to figure out how to give talks with a sing-songy voice when I was an adult because that’s what they did at the YW broadcasts. I’m glad we’re moving away from that, on average, with our female GAs.

    I used to feel a lot of angst about not wanting to be the stereotypical mormon woman, but then I got into Mormon women’s history. I learned God has asked different things of Mormon women in general as the generations have gone by, and even more diverse things of individual women. FWIW, my definition of a righteous woman of God is someone who listens to the prophets with an open heart, prays like mad to understand what God wants for her personal path, and follows that path, no matter how close or far it goes from what is expected by anyone else. It took time, but I’ve discovered that if I’ve done the work to be confident I’m doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter if others do things differently.

  10. As I read through the post and comments I keep thinking of Neylan McBaine’s Mormon Women Project (http://www.mormonwomen.com/), which she started precisely because, having grown up in NYC with a variety of different models of faithful LDS women, she was troubled talking to young women who couldn’t see themselves in the most common model presented by the church. I’ve found reading the different interviews there inspiring, precisely because the emphasize the point: there’s no right way to be an LDS woman, as long as you’re focused on following God.

  11. I can relate to Carrie that “sometimes people who need and want to break the mold make me feel bad that I don’t need or want to, too.” I feel that same way and appreciate that she put my feelings into words. I may appear to be a “typical Mormon woman” but I am that way by choice and am completely happy and fulfilled by it.

  12. I have enjoyed all of your comments so much!

    I think having a bubbly/smiley personality naturally or being a natural homemaker or someone who enjoys cooking/crafting, etc. is GREAT if that’s who you are and want to be — part of me is exactly that! It’s only a problem when you are forcing yourself to be that way because you think you’re “supposed” to.

    In the car yesterday I was talking to another one of my YW. I asked her what she was interested in doing after high school. She told me she felt conflicted because there was her dream and what she felt was more practical for being a mother. Her dream is to be a movie director or be a photographer. It bothered me that she thought being a mom meant having no talent or no ambition for her own personal goals, dreams or talents. We had a good talk about not worrying what seems like the most logical answer or fit, and worrying more about listening to the Spirit and following the Lord’s will.

    So amen to all you sisters who said being a righteous LDS women is simply following God. Hopefully, our sweet girls can learn that — and learn it quickly!

  13. I don’t think the Lord ever intended us to fit a mold and be as if he created us on an assemblyline. He blesses us each individually.

    We all need to have our very own relationship with the Lord and learn to apply the atonement into our lives. Liking the same things does not take away our uniqueness.

    I find that being able to air some old frustrations from my youth is refreshing me in dealing with my grandchildren. I am no longer that rebellious youth. I can shew, bake, cook for a hundred people, run a clean home, have food storage etc. but that is not me. Those are just some of the things I do, some because they need doing. I do a lot more that are different, and I do them my way.

    I am a daughter of my Heavenly father. I am one of a kind, and that is all right. Not everyone is going to like me, they didn’t like my Savior either. I am a deciple, mostly obedient willingly, sometimes struggling.

    Readding the comments of challenges my sisters in the gospel have makes me feel that I belong and am not out there all alone.

    Thank you for sharing…all of you.

    Maj-Lén

  14. Hi there it seems to me that what we are all expressing, is that we have a problem with mormon culture versus the actual gospel. Jesus Christ was all about empowering women, giving women a choice and letting them know that they could have there own individual relationship with God. He taught women that we could serve and be vauable in his kingdom, which at the time was huge news, that we can be his handmaidens in many different circumstances. That might look like making a quilt sometimes, or it could look like a phone call, or campaigning for something you believe in, there is no limit to what we can do. We can all know for ourselves God’s will for us, and also there is no requirement for you to check your brain at the door to be a good LDS woman. In fact it is imperative that we don’t do that, it is vital that we ask the hard questions, and be willing if it fits with us to give the hard answers. That is what our youth need or how will they be prepared to face the tough decisions that life will bring up. How will we be prepared, it was always required that we were supposed to question and be curious about things, otherwise we wouldn’t have free agency. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean blind obedience that is not what the Lord wants, it is good to question and take the time to really know things for yourself and to find out who you are. Because once you know no one can take that away from you and it will be yours to keep forever. That is what real discipleship and empowerment for women is both in and outside of the church.

    I have come to realise that I have some pretty feminist views that are just ingerently who I am. I have often felt like I didn’t quite fit at church, and I’ve tried doing the whole card making thing and it bores me to tears, but I can appreciate for other people it gives them lots of pleasure and I do really admire the beauty of what they create. However, get me talking about make up, glittery shoes, hair or clothes and Im yours. I find anything that uplifts and inspires women to further themselves and create self esteem a wonderful thing to behold. I am so grateful to live in a time where there are so many choices for women, i guess we just need to give ourselves the permission to go ahead with whatever we feel is best for us so we can fulfill our divine roles. I look forward to life without limits and trusting in God that as i follow him my desires will only ever be what he already wants for me anyway.

    I think that is probably the single most thing he would tell us if he was here now. Trust yourselves, I made you this way, you are unique for a reason, you have so much to give and recieve and so much joy to be yours, go get the life you want and it will always be acceptable to me. I love you in unquantifiable measure, no one else can be you, find her heal her hurts through the atonement and be free.

    Lets look upward, with a light heart and hope, here’s to our Goddes Rising.

  15. I was recently feeling depressed with some of these same issues weighing me down. Then I was inspired to read “Lighten Up!” by Sister Okazaki. It was exactly what I needed. She had such an interesting perspective on being a mormon woman, a wife, a mother, and a leader in the church. Though I don’t share most of her experiences as a Japanese American, full-time working mother, or incredible leader, I could relate to her spirit of acceptance. It is okay to be different! Righteous womanhood certainly isn’t exclusive.

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