In the current political climate, and in conjunction with certain personal experiences, it is relevant to have a blog post about “the woman question.” There has been quite the uproar especially with the leaked tapes and Donald Trump’s reputation with women and Hillary Clinton being the first woman to win a major party nomination. Heather Belnap Jensen wrote a fabulous post last winter on her relationship with academia. Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about women in leadership and professional positions.
Women in the workplace has been a controversial topic for a long time, especially within the Church. The traditional belief in gender roles separates women from the workplace or other leadership positions in favor of staying home to raise families. But this has been a constant battle for those who hold those beliefs as they do not then know what to do with, for example, spinsters, widows, divorcees, etc. Married or not, it is still difficult for a woman to assert herself as a respectable leader and professional.
As a single woman in the Church who has decided to devote my time and talents to graduate school and a career in the Humanities in academia, I have time and again been met with opposition. Regularly I have been told to withhold the fact that I am a Masters student and discouraged from exerting myself or sharing my opinions too freely to guys I date because it automatically makes me intimidating and therefore undesirable. It seems that if I am to be a wife and mother someday, I have to conform to a certain code of social conventions that make me the meek, submissive, flattering, and oftentimes dim-witted girl. In conversations with my peers, I know I am not a lone case. Not only is this scenario frustrating, it is flatly bunk.
Sister Ruth Renlund, wife of Elder Dale Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve, is an amazing example of someone who has successfully navigated her roles as a solid member of the Church, as a mother, and as a professional. After being diagnosed with cancer and having a hysterectomy, Sister Renlund was able to only have one daughter. While her husband was pursuing his career in medicine, Sister Renlund decided to go to law school and has become an important leader in her field. She and her husband have been called to many leadership positions in the Church as well including an assignment to preside over South Africa.
In an interview with The Mormon Women Project in May 2010, the interviewer asked Sister Renlund how people react to the fact that she has one child. Sister Renlund replied, “People can be very judgmental and it was often hurtful. People … would often ask, “How many children do you have?” When I responded, “One, and we’re so thankful for her,” they often looked surprised. Maybe this is rude, but if people started to pry I’d just tell them that it was none of their business.”
She concluded in affirming that, “One thing I’ve always felt strongly about is that there’s no one way to be an LDS woman. Each has a right to personal revelation and is expected to use that. It should be personal and we shouldn’t let other people’s comments shake our direction.”
I share this because I see so many women at BYU struggling to manage the several perceptions of the “right” way to live their lives as wives, mothers, professionals, and members of the Church.
Whether married or single, women and men in the Church need to stick up for one another and encourage each other to follow the revelation they get for their own lives, as Sister Renlund encourages.
This post is written by Holly Boud, Humanities Center intern