A friend of mine is doing a paper for her Social Policy and Feminist Legal Theory class at BYU law school and asked for my thoughts on women and education (particularly in relation to a talk given by President Hinckley - the text of which can be found below.)
This is my response:
I come from LDS parents who have always placed an emphasis on the importance of education. With a solid foundation and a fairly healthy self-esteem (again, thanks to parenting) I believed myself capable of achieving great things academically. However, in the back of my head there was always the thought – and religious teaching – the home comes first. My young mind interpreted this religious teaching to mean that being a wife and mother trumps education or vocational aspirations.
Trusting in my parents a great deal, I relied on their teachings and urgings to pursue academic goals. However, the comments, looks and/or perceived judgments that I received from fellow LDS women were (and are) ever constant. These perceived judgments often left me feeling the need to justify my decisions to church members, casual associations, friends, etc.
While I do not recall hearing President Hinckley’s talk as a youth, I believe my father gave it to me, or I came across it, as a young single adult preparing to take the LSAT and apply to law school. It was everything that my mother and father had taught me but was now coming from the words of a prophet. I felt empowered, uplifted, and vindicated all at once. No longer did I feel the compulsion to explain away my decision not to go on a mission and to pursue a legal education. No longer did I feel a pit in my stomach when the nosy onlooker would inquire if I wanted children and how I expected to make that work.
We as women must empower ourselves for so many reasons. We need to have the means to support our family if the needs arises. We need to set an example to our children that we value education. (I heard somewhere that the amount of education children pursue is often based off of the level of education of their mother – not their father.)
All of this being said, a career has followed my legal education and, while I forever stand by my decision to go to law school, I have begun to experience the guilt that comes with being a working LDS mother/wife. At times I feel plagued by feelings of inadequacy, guilt that I am not in the home full time, and fear that I am falling short in my duties as a wife and mother. However, when I begin to experience these negative feelings from the adversary, I am reminded in the quiet contemplation which accompanies prayer that I am on my path. The Lord is pleased with me for enlightening my mind, improving my family’s situation, positioning myself to help others, following the Spirit's promptings, and setting an example for my son. I may not be the perfect mother – but my son is a happy, well adjusted, bright, loving and nurtured two year old. I may not be the perfect mother – but my husband feels loved and supported while having a companion who walks in even step with him. I may not be the world’s most accomplished lawyer, but I have made a difference in the lives of my clients and I receive great satisfaction in knowing that I have followed the Lord’s promptings in pursuing an education and maintaining my career. Oh, and there is nothing like the pleasure received from an in-Court victory.
Do I think that every LDS woman should go to graduate school and work outside of the home? Not necessarily. I believe that each of us have a path that we are to follow. However, we should each educate ourselves (whether formally or informally), empower ourselves, and feed our minds and souls with both Gospel knowledge as well as some form of knowledge that will enable us to meet the temporal needs of our families.
I feel supported my church leaders in pursuing an education and career. However, I think that LDS church membership as a whole needs to catch up with the teachings of prophets and, when coupled with the gift of personal revelation, realize that an LDS wife/mother can pursue and education and/or work while still living a life in accordance with Gospel teachings.
I love being a wife, mother and lawyer and will forever work to achieve the perfect balance amongst the three.
This is the talk from President Hinckley: