If you follow Mormon news you’ve most likely heard about the talk given at the October 2007 general conference by Julie B Beck General Relief Society President “Mothers Who Know” (see a transcript of the talk here: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-775-27,00.html).
Here are her characteristics of “mothers who know”:
– they desire to bear children and they don’t postpone having them
– they honor covenants and ordinances by making sure their children are well groomed for sacrament meeting (apparently this is an example of the ‘great influence’ mothers have?!)
– they nurture through housekeeping, they should be the best housekeepers in the world
– they help plan alongside their husbands their children’s spiritual activities including Family Home Evening and future missions, they are ‘selective’ about their own activities which might interfere with their role devoted to home and family
– they are teachers through their everyday activities with their children a “pre MTC”
– they are immovable and strong in their desire to do the above
Not surprisingly this talk, the only one given by a woman in that General Conference, generated a lot of heat in the aftermath. Type in “mothers who know” into your search engine and see for yourself the number of blogs for and against Beck’s talk. The reason I’ve highlighted here on this blog is because it deals with an issue I know a lot of non Mormons are curious about: the role of Mormon women. The reality is, it’s a confused one. On one hand, there are a lot of working Mormon mothers out there, and they’ve even been encouraged to get a college education from the pulpit… yet, on the other hand, they are encouraged as the ideal to stay at home and be an influence for the good from their roles at home. On one hand this confusion allows for women to have some freedom to chart their own paths with the blessings of the leaders (depending upon which talks you want to focus on as your guide) but on the other hand it creates just that, confusion especially when a talk like this one comes out and seems as if whatever progressive steps were taken by the (male) leadership to widen the circle of women’s influence are denied.
If you were to read this talk in isolation from any other statements about the role of women, what would you think Mormon women were like? I have some ideas, including boring, limited, provincial, stilted… they’d have to be to come up with an example of women’s power and influence over the next generation as making sure their children are immaculately groomed for sacrament meeting or that nurturing has as a central role immaculate house cleaning. With such a limited imagination representing Mormon women in the church as Relief Society president, is it any wonder that this talk has generated such comment?