Mormon womanhood is fairly easily defined. A Mormon woman is a mother. She is in charge of ”nurturing” her children, according to The Proclamation on The Family. She is also generally submissive, quiet (heaven forbid that we slam purses or speak in a shrill way!). She gently offers her opinion — when asked. She doesn’t criticize her leaders openly. And of course, when I was growing up, anyway, she had certain skills: sewing, cooking, canning, finding bargains, helping with homework. She also wears a little bit of makeup (even an old barn looks good with some paint on it),and she tries to look good, so she continues to attract her husband. But she doesn’t have any sexual needs/desires of her own.
I didn’t always feel comfortable within the box of a Mormon woman, but at least I knew what I was supposed to look like. I was good at baking and was a good mother, did crocheting and knitting, even if it was sometimes at church and made some uncomfortable. I had a degree, but didn’t work full-time and didn’t demand people call me “Dr.” I thought I’d figured out how to be an individual within the Mormon box. I’m not sure that was really true, though, or that it was ever accepted.
Now that I’m a post-Mormon woman, I find myself struggling with my identity. A lot. My career is, well, one that I thought would work well with child-rearing. But writing doesn’t really pay the bills. My PhD is in German Literature, which even if I could find a job offered after twenty years of not teaching, I wouldn’t be qualified to do anymore. I can still type 100 words a minute. I can use Word. I know Facebook and Twitter. I can do podcasts and write blog posts (like this one). None of these are really marketable skills.
My identity was primarily as a Mormon wife and mother. Even my writing was Mormon — young adult “clean” romances, then Mormon mysteries. Now what am I going to do? And who am I now? I catch myself doing very Mormon things constantly. In particular, I’m used to deferring to men, to using a Primary voice, and to that thing that I really didn’t think I do — talking around the subject instead of meeting it head on. In some ways, I’ve had a perfectly normal life because sexism is everywhere (one of the things I learned at Princeton) and most people don’t admit it exists, especially the people it benefits.
But in the post-Mormon world, I see us all falling back on our Mormon habits. We look to male faces, voices, and male suits to lead the way. We look at post-Mormon men as the “experts.” And guess what? They often are the experts. Ever listen to them talk about “going down the rabbit hole” for twelve hours a day? Ever think to yourself that post-Mormon women don’t have the chance to do that?
I hear it, too.
That scratchy, nasty complaining voice. The one that says it’s not my fault. The one that plays the “victim card.” I don’t want to be that person.
Yet, here I am. This is the world I live in, and in some ways, it turns out it’s not actually that different than the world I used to live in as a Mormon. The truths we talk about are different, but the shapes are all the same.