This post originated as a thread on Twitter, which you can read here:
This week I listened to a woman (we'll call her Jessica) share one of her hardest trials. Jessica's grandmother reinforced over and over again to her daughters — until they had completely internalized it — that a woman's worth was dependent on her being a mother.
— Arianna Rees (@AriWRees) September 30, 2018
This week, I listened to a woman share one of her hardest trials with a group of Latter-day Saint women. (For the sake of her privacy, we’ll call her Jessica.) Jessica’s grandmother was a very traditional woman who reinforced over and over again to her daughters that a woman’s worth was dependent upon being a mother. It was a message her daughters in turn internalized.
Jessica’s mom got married and had eight kids, seven boys and one girl. As the only the daughter, and because of what her mother had been taught, Jessica was told her whole life that her greatest value as a woman would be found in motherhood. Jessica married and soon after, she and her husband tried to start their family. They tried for month after agonizing month until they eventually decided to see a doctor. That doctor informed Jessica that she was infertile and they would never be able to have their own children.
I listened to this woman weep as she shared how she has spent years feeling broken, inadequate, and worthless because she couldn’t have children. She felt that way because of what her grandmother and mother had repeatedly said to her.
As I listened to Jessica’s story, I went from feeling heartbroken to angry, angry that this is the narrative that many of us women have been fed; angry that there are people teaching and convincing women that our worth depends on external and often uncontrollable variables. I especially get frustrated by this because even though we spend years teaching young women in the Church that the worth of SOULS is great in the sight of God, they’re still being convinced by ward members, family members, and some leaders that that worth has exceptions and limitations.
It doesn’t. It’s inherent and infinite, and we need to change the way we talk about the worth of women.
When I was a young woman and a college student, these limitations and expectations were everywhere. The moments I remember the most clearly are the ones that hurt deeply.
I was almost 21 when the mission age was lowered for sisters. I had spent the previous months agonizing over whether I should serve, and the answer I kept getting was, “Not now.” It never felt like the direction I should take, though I’d look at pictures of my friends on their missions and ache for it. When the age change happened, the pressure associated with that choice mounted.
I remember sitting in the back of a half-lit Institute classroom the next week and feeling my heart sink as several boys shared that they were grateful for the age change for sisters. As one of them said, it would weed out bad dating partners and “improve Church stock” with RMs marrying RMs because both would be at the same spiritual level. In an instant, I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I was less than. It was devastating.
One of the biggest areas where women in the Church can feel inadequate is in marital status. When I was a kid, there were members of my ward heavily pushing that getting married and being a stay at home mom were a woman’s crowning accomplishments. I convinced myself as a young woman that if I did everything right, I’d meet my husband in college at age 21, probably drop out, and start a family while supporting him in his education. Now I’m a 26 year-old, single college grad and talented writer who wants to make a career of it but still_ _frequently feels inadequate because married girls my age tell me there’s nothing I’m doing or I am that is of equal value to the world than what they are doing. Piled on top of that is the worry about when or if I’ll have a family of my own. If that doesn’t happen, where does that leave me?
We’ve been taught, and rightfully so, that marriage and motherhood are incredible things, but when we teach that a woman’s worth is found in marrying a great person and giving birth to great people, we discredit and discourage women who are being great people outside of the sphere of marriage. Messages like these hurt, and there are many of them. We teach girls who have broken the Law of Chastity that they are ruined. We tell career moms within the Church that they are not living up to their correct role. We teach sisters that their greatest contribution is in giving birth, not in giving back. We teach young women about agency and individual worth, and then we tell them the thing that makes them valuable lies in something that is often beyond their control and choice. We tell women that their worth is in having kids, being beautiful, being fit, the clothes they wear, how much Instagram influence they have, having a spouse or a boyfriend while we teach in Sunday school that God looks on the heart and the soul. The disconnect there is loud.
These messages are frequently sent unintentionally, but we need to be far more intentional and aware of the way we treat worth, because there are women within the church and out of it who struggle to feel of any worth because of the things we are teaching them.
If you are a woman who feels inadequate, know that your Heavenly Parents adore you simply because you are. You are Their “great I Am.” You are important and worth it, no matter what your body or your life or your family looks like. The divine nature in you does not hinge on marital status or motherhood status, whether you’ve served a mission or are “serving looks.” It is inherent because you are a Daughter of God, and that worth is fixed, no matter what kind of daughter you choose to be.
Please internalize and teach that. Every woman deserves to know it.