Saturday, May 23, 2009

President Julie B. Beck -- Retro-Woman

There is an interesting discussion at the blog site Feminist Mormon Housewives here.

This is a comment President Beck was purported to have made at a recent women’s conference in South Georgia”

“…women shouldn’t be ashamed of being Home Makers- literally making homes where our families want to be; that we should use the times we gather our children around the dinner table (with tablecloths and nice dishes) as times to teach and share; that when our homes and lives are free of clutter and chaos, when we organize and prioritize we will be happier.”

After reading that comment, I reflected back on the talk President Beck gave at General Conference in October 2007. I believe most of my LDS readers will remember the talk Mothers Who Know.

Here is a portion of what President Beck said:

Mothers Who Know Are Nurturers

Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a "house of order," and women should pattern their homes after the Lord's house (see D&C 109). Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women. [Emphasis added]

I did some research on President Beck today. I found she was born in 1954. I feel I can better understand now why she focuses on homemaking. She is a product of the 1950s. Read this and you’ll understand where President Beck’s thoughts originated:

Being a Wife and Mother in the 1950s
During the 1950s, there was a revival of placing homemakers on a pedestal, with homemaking and child rearing being touted as a woman’s highest calling. The message was everywhere — from pulpits to politics. Television was coming into its own during that decade as more homes purchased TV sets; and programs like Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It to Beaver were popular. The image projected on television and in magazines was one of a woman who, while her husband was off earning enough to support the family on his one income, stayed behind to make their suburban home a refuge to which her husband and school-age children returned late each day from the demanding world outside. She was always impeccably dressed as she spent her days cheerfully cleaning, cooking, and caring for their youngest children in a suburban home equipped with the latest appliances and household products. The corporate world which offered those products adored her.

The model housewife, in this 1950s view, lived to serve her family and keep her husband and children happy, meeting their every need. Any aspirations or needs she had for fulfillment of her own beyond this model were considered “selfish.”

Work-Family Balance: 1950s and Now

Yes, President Beck is a Retro-Woman. I do believe we should cut her some slack. Don’t you?


Anonymous said...

I do agree that we should cut her some slack as an individual- but not as a woman in a position of power and influence over all LDS women and young women. She has a responsibility to ALL these women, not just the ones who are homemakers. This incredible pressure to not only become a homemaker, but the "BEST homemaker in the world" does serious damage to a lot of women's psyche and self-esteem.

I also agree that no woman should be ashamed to be a homemaker. It is a wonderful and necessary responsibility! But at the same time no woman should be made to feel ashamed to want something else for her life, such as higher education, a career, or even living single and childless. I believe that the church unfairly pressures girls to marry young and start families- and no attention is paid to women who don't desire (or aren't cut out for) that life. Conform or be an oddity and outcast! Shamed and pitied! I don't blame this solely on Beck, this is a systemic problem. But she is in a position to help shape a change in policy that would benefit the mental and emotional health of LDS women and she is making no effort to do so.

Kalola said...

Anonymous ~ Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations.

You wrote, referring to President Beck:

“But she is in a position to help shape a change in policy that would benefit the mental and emotional health of LDS women and she is making no effort to do so.”

While it may appear that President Beck is making no effort to change policy, I would point to these changes in the General Relief Society Presidency:

Sheri L. Dew (born November 21, 1953)

Between 1997 and 2002 she served as a counselor to Mary Ellen W. Smoot in the general presidency of the women’s Relief Society, the first non-married woman called to this position in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

In 2003, she was described as “the most prominent single LDS woman right now.”

Note: Sheri Dew is unmarried and childless.

Barbara Thompson (born June 13, 1952) has been a member of the general presidency of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) since March 2007.

Thompson is the second unmarried woman to serve as a member of the Relief Society general presidency, the first being Sheri L. Dew, who was second counselor to Mary Ellen W. Smoot from 1997 to 2002.

Note: Barbara Thompson is unmarried and childless.

The Relief Society is described this way:

Throughout the world, sisters in the Relief Society work with priesthood holders to carry out the mission of the Church. They support one another as they:

Increase their testimonies of
Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.

Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Dedicate themselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.

Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.

Delight in service and good works.

Love life and learning.

Stand for truth and righteousness.

Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on the earth.

Rejoice in the blessings of the temple. Understand their divine destiny and strive for exaltation.

Note the reference to "joy in womanhood." This, I believe, applies to ALL women.

I personally feel that President Beck focuses on homemaking because in today's world women who choose to be SAHMs are disrespected. I believe her goal is to uplift these women, and the mission of her Second Counselor, Barbara Thompson, is to uplift women who are unmarried and childless.

Is it possible that there is, in fact, a change in policy taking place?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your well researched and thought out response! I can see the point you are making, and hopefully you are right. I am glad that there seems to be some slow progress.

That being said, I still can not stand by Beck's talk and find it only intensifies the feelings of unworthiness that countless LDS women suffer with.

I also disagree that SAHMs are disrespected in today's society. It was mostly happening in the 80's and 90's, but I think that we are a bit more enlightened now and in most parts of the country women can work or stay at home and be treated with equal respect. You have to remember that you live in the SF bay area, and it is pretty different out there.

The bottom line for me is that I completely disagree with the gender roles that are embraced (and enforced) by many religions, so anything coming from that point of view is bound to be somewhat offensive to me. I did not want to bring this debate to your blog however- I just wanted to add a different point of view, respectfully.

Stephanie said...

Do you think she's as much a product of the 50's as she is of the 60's? My mom is almost exactly the same age as Sister Beck, and my mom has a lot of the same ideas. The church was going through a lot of consolidation during the 60's-70's and reacting to the feminist and other movements going on in society.

Kalola said...

Stephanie ~ I'm two years older than Sister Beck. I consider myself a product of the 50's and 60's. I read today where some SAHMs feel very lonely. Life was very different for my mom because being a SAHM was more the norm back in the 50's and 60's. The majority of women in our neighborhood were SAHMs so my mom had lots of women to get together with. I do feel sad for SAHMs today.

Elizabeth Richardson said...

When I set about having children, I assumed I would go back to work after their births. After all, staying home with them was mainly an outmoded cultural imperative that had left millions of women unfulfilled. Until my first child was born. Then something kicked in -- instantly and unbidden -- that said, "This life is YOURS to nurture and protect." The thought of leaving her with someone else was out of the question. And indeed, we are the only species who even considers doing such a thing. No, what I find instead is that there is an inborn drive that rearranges priorities in favor of parenting -- specifically, mothering -- our own children. Now that mine are largely grown, I am involved professionally in a stress management practice ( and I cannot tell you how many women I find who are stressed, even subconsciously when not overtly, to the point of physical illness from leaving their children in the care of others. I also find that children (even adult children) who were separated from their mothers in daycare and such generally carry a lot of stress and resentment from the experience. It is hugely traumatic for infants and toddlers to be kept apart from their mothers. Like it or not, these drives are natural and a good thing. And as for homemaking, it is indeed an act of love and service on behalf of one's family, and it creates a pleasant home. It is only a form of oppression if you choose to see it as such. Give from the heart to your family, and watch the personal growth you experience. Julie Beck is on target. Try what she suggests in a spirit of honest experimentation, setting aside your own cultural biases that her ideas are old-fashioned and irrelevant, and see if you don't find that it improves the lives of you and your family when that day comes for you.