Monday, March 28, 2011

Women and Education

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: 

Find purpose in your life. Choose the things you would like to do, and educate yourselves to be effective in their pursuit. For most it is very difficult to settle on a vocation. You are hopeful that you will marry and that all will be taken care of. In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary to do so.
Study your options. Pray to the Lord earnestly for direction. Then pursue your course with resolution.
The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.
I was in the hospital the other day for a few hours. I became acquainted with my very cheerful and expert nurse. She is the kind of woman of whom you girls could dream. When she was young she decided she wished to be a nurse. She received the necessary education to qualify for the highest rank in the field. She worked at her vocation and became expert at it. She decided she wanted to serve a mission and did so. She married. She has three children. She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases. She serves in the Church. She has a good marriage. She has a good life. She is the kind of woman of whom you might dream as you look to the future.
For you, my dear friends, the sky is the limit. You can be excellent in every way. You can be first class. There is no need for you to be a scrub. Respect yourself. Do not feel sorry for yourself. Do not dwell on unkind things others may say about you. Particularly, pay no attention to what some boy might say to demean you. He is no better than you. In fact, he has already belittled himself by his actions. Polish and refine whatever talents the Lord has given you. Go forward in life with a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face, but with great and strong purpose in your heart. Love life and look for its opportunities, and forever and always be loyal to the Church.
Never forget that you came to earth as a child of the divine Father, with something of divinity in your very makeup. The Lord did not send you here to fail. He did not give you life to waste it. He bestowed upon you the gift of mortality that you might gain experience—positive, wonderful, purposeful experience—that will lead to life eternal. He has given you this glorious Church, His Church, to guide you and direct you, to give you opportunity for growth and experience, to teach you and lead you and encourage you, to bless you with eternal marriage, to seal upon you a covenant between you and Him that will make of you His chosen daughter, one upon whom He may look with love and with a desire to help. May God bless you richly and abundantly, my dear young friends, His wonderful daughters.
Of course there will be some problems along the way. There will be difficulties to overcome. But they will not last forever. He will not forsake you.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. …
So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Look to the positive. Know that He is watching over you, that He hears your prayers and will answer them, that He loves you and will make that love manifest. Let the Holy Spirit guide you in all that you do as you look to become the kind of woman of whom you dream. You can do it. You will have friends and loved ones to help. And God will bless you as you pursue your course. This, girls, is my humble promise and prayer in your behalf, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.


  1. AMEN!!! Steph, this is Chantelle (Tycksen) Penrod. I agree 100%. Both my Mother (BS&MA) and Grandmother (BS,MA,and PHD) are both my role models, have been and always will be. Without their example and expectations they set for me and my siblings I would not have graduated with my BS from the U. I think that your comments are right on, thank you for sharing! xoxo

  2. Its amazing that the Lord is actually watching out for us and puts people in our lives to help us along the way. I was having the worst morning.. I was thinking that all was lost. I kept thinking to myself "what am I doing" "Why am I working, and being away from my children". Your words along with our beloved prophet have spoken volumes to me this day. You have helped me to realize that I am helping my family in a time of need. That what I am doing right now is not being selfish. I can do this. I got my education for a reason. The Lord knew that I would need to use it for doing good and for supporting my family. Also to enlighten my mind, to help others out, to uplift others who I come in contact with. I am truly grateful for good friends in my life that know what I need to hear, and when I need to hear it. You are an angel Steph, and I know that you were put into my life to help me. It is not easy working full time, being away from our families, but we can do this... We have been given a gift and we need to exemplify our abilities. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me these words of encouragement. Love, Kindra

  3. Kindra, I cannot tell you how much your comment means to me. It is so important that we support one another and lift each other up through good times and bad. This talk has done great things for me when I am struggling with being a mother. I really do think we should start a support group! We could have play dates at the park and have lunch while we watch the kids play or something. You are such an amazing example of what it means to sacrifice for your family. I think my best advise is this: When I am having a hard day and feeling inadequate, I look at Robby and Connor and remind myself that we are a happy family. The house may not be spotless and dinner might not be gourmet but everyone's needs are being met and we are progressing forward as a family. Hang in there. Your Heavenly Father is so mindful of you. Rely on Him, Casey, and the Gospel to carry you through. You are capable of anything and I am luck to know you. (Now if we can find time to hang out....I would LOVE that.)

  4. Love it! Could you post the link to Pres. Hinckley's talk so I can use it in the future???