Why Marriage Turned Me Into An Angry Feminist

I started this blog with a post called On Feminism. I wrote about how I never really thought about feminism or women’s issues, but how I suddenly felt compelled to talk about both of these things and had no one to talk about. I knew would talk about marriage. I knew I would talk about gender roles. I did not foresee that this would turn into a blog about Mormonism or lawyering.

When people ask me what I write about I say feminism, and work, and religion. I didn’t see these things as related, except that they are the most important things to me, and it bothered me that I couldn’t keep my blog on topic. It also puzzled me, why I turned into an angry feminist the day I got back from my honeymoon. (I suspect it also puzzled Robert.) It was also puzzling that, as a lifelong liberal, the rather obvious gender disparities in my church never really bothered me until recently. I mean, I obviously hated polygamy, and knew I would never be a housewife, and scoffed at the idea of female subservience. But none of those aspects of my religion affected my life at all, and so I largely ignored them. Even with all this puzzling about gender and religion, I separated the two ideas.

Maybe it’s clear to you, but it’s only occurred to me this week that these ideas are all wrapped up in each other. I figured this out when I listened to a podcast about being a young single adult in the LDS church. FYI, a “young single adult” is a person between the ages of 18 and 30ish who is not married. (A “mid single adult” is a person between 31is and 45ish, I think.) For Mormons, this is a formative time, during which we are distinctly aware of our single status. Even though I’ve been happily committed to Robert since I was 19, in the LDS church, I was classified as single, because I wasn’t married. So this podcast features three people discussing what it’s like to be a young single adult in the LDS church. I don’t know that I can reduce their experiences to a few sentences, but they talk, among other things, about how single people don’t fit into the traditional LDS narrative, which is all about families (and is none too open in its definition of family – for example, my heterosexual marriage to a person who is not LDS does not really fit into the narrative, either). It’s this in-between time where you’re often not seen as a fully formed adult or a full participant in the community.

Of course, lots of people increasingly don’t get married in their 20s and even 30s, and so a different narrative has formed. For women, the path is to go to college, maybe go on a mission, go to more college if you want, and then get a job. Heck, get a Ph.D. Get an amazing job. Your role is to make yourself into the best person that you can be. This looks nothing like the narrative that’s been established for married women, which is to finish school (maybe), wait a year or two (maybe), have kids (lots of them), and then take care of them. Support your husband, who supports the family. Work, but only if you have to.  I should admit that this path also involves making yourself into the best person you can be, but doing it through a totally different means.

There are lots of things to say about single people who don’t fit into the narrative set for them, and for people who don’t get married at all, but I don’t know what that’s like, because I got married. Like an increasing number of people, I got married well after I’d put myself on a solid career path. And that’s when I realized there’s no clear way to transition from the path of the single LDS woman (go to college, get a job) to the path of the married LDS women (quit your job, have kids). Wait, that’s wrong. The transition is clear: just quit your job. But of course it’s not that easy, because I’d have to change my entire understanding of what it means to be a successful person, and what it means to be me.

So now I’m faced with abandoning the traditional narrative, or abandoning my narrative. Giving up either would mean sacrificing a part of myself. But I don’t see anyone modeling how to do both. And the secular narrative doesn’t offer much help. I went to school and I worked and I put myself in a position so that I could do whatever I wanted, career-wise, only to find that it’s not apparent to me how to have a family. Why don’t working women talk about their family lives? About the logistics of day care and nannies and working from home and part-time and stay-at-home partners? I won’t presume to speak for them and guess why, but I have my suspicions.

I bought into the idea that getting married would make my life easier. In some ways it did. But it also complicated my understanding of my own identity. Not because I changed, but because the entire framework in which I operate up and changed on me. And now I need to figure out where I fit in. As a sort-of answer to the question that titles this post, I’ll also offer this: there’s nothing more angry-making than being stuck with two insufficient narratives, neither of which will help make you a whole person, and knowing that you’re stuck with those options because of your sex.

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8 Responses to Why Marriage Turned Me Into An Angry Feminist

  1. Ru says:

    Dude, I have a comment, but it’s way too long for here. I’ll email you.

  2. bradyemmett says:

    These thoughts about the “traditional narrative” vs a personal narrative are very interesting and make me think. I’m way off the Mormon traditional narrative for men, clearly, and it makes me uncomfortable for many many reasons. Leaving it behind altogether feels like giving up a part of myself, but not conforming completely to it feels wrong too. Interesting thoughts, and not just for the women.

  3. Christi says:

    I’m a long time lurker of your blog. love this post so much. I honestly agonize over these things every. single. day. And I don’t even have kids yet.

    “The transition is clear: just quit your job. But of course it’s not that easy, because I’d have to change my entire understanding of what it means to be a successful person, and what it means to be me.”

    This. So much this.

    I have a Facebook friend who has 5 kids under the age of 7 who works full time, and is basically amazing. I also work with a few people who work full time and have young kids at home. I think when the time comes, I will try to sit down with them and get their thoughts on how they did it. Because why aren’t we sharing this information? Why isn’t it talked about more?

    Awesome post!

  4. melanie says:

    Yes, I also really liked the discussion of narratives.

    There is a narrative of working women. As a nanny, I see the other side, and I ask the women how they do it. I talk to women about how they managed to get maternity leave, what part-time or work-from-home work they did, day care options etc. There’s a lot of different ways to make it work. But, what I noticed the most, is that when it works it only works because of compromise.

  5. MEI says:

    So, like Christi, I’m also a long time reader/lurker. I’m also a woman who went to a high-falutin’ law school, got a prestigious firm job in the Midwest, and left it for another law job recently. I also recently got married. I’m not LDS, but I did move to SLC, so to some extent, I sort of get the culture. All this is to say, maybe this just hit me in the gut really hard because my story is not so different from yours, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you putting this out there. It often feels to me as a woman in a field where role models are mostly men that any action you take regarding your family life is a political act. I, like you, don’t hate the work. In fact, I like it. But I also know to do it well, I have to devote more time than I am willing to give when I have small children (which will hopefully be in the near future). I’d like to think I could take some time off (the husband is also an attorney, so we could swing it financially) while children are young, and jump back in later. But I have literally seen no one who follows this narrative. So am I fated to be a “husband” that’s never home or another Utah stay at home mom? I don’t know. But I appreciate that there are others out there struggling to carve a new narrative.

  6. Pingback: Laura Burhenn and the New Revolutionists Project: Solidarity in Women’s Art, Part 3 « maggieseverythingblog

  7. Kara S says:

    Hi Sandy. I, like the others, appreciated your discussion of insufficient narratives. I remember reading this and thinking about having no map. I’m in the midst of a new post-doc position trying to figure it all out…and giving it all up just doesn’t seem like my favorite option right now, but figuring out what the other options are is also really difficult.

    • Sandy says:

      Thanks! That post was motivated a lot by that Mormon Stories podcast I linked to. The whole time I was listening to these young and mid-single adults in Utah talk about how hard it was, I kept thinking about the Hill Street Ward and how all you smart LDS folk are changing the dominant narrative, just by being you. I hope the post-doc is going well. I’d love to hear more about it!

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