Friday, August 8, 2008

Firestorm Breaks out at Sunstone!

The panel on "Mormon Motherhood, Choice or Destiny" was a response by five women to Julie Beck's Conference talk, "Mothers Who Know," which was so controversial in the bloggernacle last October.  I was interested to hear their thoughts on Julie Beck's official pronouncement on women's roles in the LDS Church.  I thought Margaret Toscano's talk was particularly cogent--expressing dismay for the presentation by our General RS President of only one approved way to be a mother, but also for the dismissal by many LDS women of Julie Beck's words as a leader but not of Russell Ballard, or Russell Nelson's subsequent talks which basically presented the same view. Interestingly, the Bloggernacle's own fmhJanet presented the most defensive view of motherhood, though she did note the dangers of letting our children become our whole world.  "It's too much for one person to stand," she said, "being someone's whole world." 

If you want to hear more about what the speakers said, order the Sunstone tape, 'cause I lost my notes!  But the most interesting part of the session were the comments following the speakers.  As soon as moderator Janice Allred opened the floor for discussion, a woman leaped to her feet and marched to the microphone.  She grabbed it off its stand and, agitated, stated, "I am so offended that I was not asked to be on this panel!"  Not all LDS women's views had been represented, she explained.  The panel had not expressed the views of the many Mormon women who feel their greatest work is in the home.  She particularly targeted Margaret, questioning if she would be welcome in the Toscano home because she did not have a Masters degree or a PhD. 

Another woman stood and expressed how alienated she felt in her LDS ward because of her decision not to have children.  She related the many inappropriate questions that were asked of her and the condemnation that was placed upon her by her gospel sisters.

Sitting in the back row with the Zelophehad's Daughters, I marveled at the outpouring of emotion, not only at this session, but at the original talk given by Sister Beck.  As was mentioned by the panel, this came from a wide range of women, from stay-at-home moms to the most radical.  Its seems that SAHMs were overwhelmed by the image of perfection presented, which they felt they could never live up to.  Working women saw the talk as presenting only one pattern of faithful womanhood.  Nevertheless, the opposition to the talk has been perceived as being largely from feminists.  Feminism has as its goal the championship of choice for all women to decide how they will structure their lives.  It seems to me that among the mothers who stay at home, they cannot feel their choice is validated unless all women are urged to make that same choice. 

How did you react to Julie Beck's conference talk?  Why do you think this polarizing talk still has the power to stir up a hornet's nest of LDS women?


Mark IV said...


Admit it. It was you, right? lol.

Our ongoing inability to even discuss issues like this is certainly discouraging.

zehill said...

"It seems to me that among the mothers who stay at home, they cannot feel their choice is validated unless all women are urged to make that same choice."

In my experience, the same could be said about working women. I love the feminist goal of choice and I wish both sides of the fence - and everywhere in between - would respect the choices of others.

lma said...

Why is it so polarizing?

I think that is because that talk, and all talks like it, are perceived as perpetuating the limiting "one fit for all sizes" (as opposed to the more inclusive "one size fits all") view that many in the church have concerning which roles are appropriate for which gender for the "good" Mormon.

This perception of the talks...and of the church's stance...might or might not be correct, but the perception remains, and some folks who don't fit very well into the paradigm are made to feel quite uncomfortable, while others who fit the paradigm become uncomfortable (and perhaps a bit defensive) when they, in turn, perceive that what is comfortable to them is being stretched by those who are not so comfortable.

While I was one of the ones who didn't fit particularly well in the paradigm when I was in the church, I can see how those with both points of view could become aggravated and upset by views they feel impinge on their comfort levels.

madhousewife said...

I liked Julie Beck's conference talk, but I didn't interpret it as saying that an immaculate house equals righteousness, or that it's unrighteous to work outside the home. I thought it was supporting those of us who sometimes wonder if our sacrifices are worth it and if our efforts are sufficient. The message I got was even the mundane tasks have value. She also said "mothers who know do less." That sort of got lost in the firestorm over her talking about freshly laundered dresses. The most offensive thing in the talk, as far as I was concerned, was the use of the "mothers who know" refrain--because it was somewhat cheesy and also, I hate when people turn the stripling warriors story into a Mother's Day parable. But, you know, I was willing to overlook it. Perhaps it was just that I liked that talk so much better than the one she gave at RS conference the week before. Maybe I didn't have PMS that week. Who knows.

I think a lot of women tend to be judgmental of others if they feel insecure about their own choices.

tracy m said...

I was able to take it much better once I was able to read it in print. I was livid the morning of conference, though.

mccoy said...

my wife, a medical doctor, has on occasion worked 90 hours a week. she however, was not raised in the american version of the LDS church. her experience was in south america, where, despite what return missionaries think, are quite different. she really like the talk, and found that it didn't ask her to stop being a doctor. she explained it to me like this: for some reason in the USA, LDS women, sometimes, take being a mother and working outside the home as mutually exclusive. in other parts of the LDS world this view is not shared.

she really enjoyed Beck's talk, and it reminded her of the importance of being a mother. she also stated that she can't understand american lds feminist, but that is a different topic. she would write this for her self, but alas, she is on call, and i am home with the kids


Pattie S Christensen said...

"I think a lot of women tend to be judgmental of others if they feel insecure about their own choices." I agree with that. I did not attend this session and am not really interested in listening to it because I find the whole argument irritating. I don't care what you do as long as you do your best at it. Raise children who are able to function properly and assimilate into adult society and how your particular family went about that task is your own business.

Paula said...

This was not the "What Women Know" panel. It was Mormon Motherhood, Choice or Destiny. The "What Women Know" panel happens in about an hour from now.

SilverRain said...

I would have to say it is because some people, whichever "side" of the issue they are on, allow their own personal agendas to color their perception of what was said. When they feel so strongly about something that they define themselves by it, they become unable to view it with the least degree of objectivity. This talk speaks on women and motherhood, very hot-button issues on both "sides" of the political fence. People chose to hear what they wanted to hear, not what was actually being said. (And what they wanted to hear in most instances either way was negative.) Many replaced Spiritual guidance with agenda-driven guidance. And I feel that some hide behind claims of a goal that is simply not reflected in actual behavior.

Additionally, most LDS confuse striving for perfection with the attainment of it. We are not supposed to be terribly concerned with the latter.

I'm Cute said...

Don't anyone listen to my presentation, please please please. I was unbelievably sick and wound up in the hospital all night, so I was practically incoherent. You could sum up what I'd meant to say by cobbling together portions of other people's presentations, seeing as how most of my notes consisted of quotations and arguments others used before me.

I would disagree with Margaret about there being no substantive difference between Julie Beck's talk and Elder Ballards--and I'd add some of Elder Oaks' and Holland's remarks from Leadership Conference as being different as well.

The concluding 3 minutes or so of Margaret's talk were absolutely increcdible. I thought she was going to get a standing ovation. I didn't agree with all she and the other (or possibly I) said, but if the whole session had contained just the last bit or Margaret's talk, it would've been entirely worth it. She spoke of the importance of constructing/recognizing subjectivity for a woman as herself absent contingent identities, except that of a person created and in like God. It rocked the house.

I'm Cute said...

Hmmm, "I'm Cute" is "Janet". Don't know why the computer is doing that. I don't especially feel cute right now.

I'm Cute said...

Also, I would NOT characterize my talks as the "most defensive of motherhood". If any of those women felt actual *motherhood* were threatened, we'd all figh to the death to protect it. The four of us who are mothers bent over backwards to make that extremely clear, and to further underscore that happy women make better mothers, that motherhood--while essential to society (as is fatherhood) is not an adequate descriptor of female identity.

I was the most defensive of the church, not motherhood. And that is because I addressed not just whether the church provides an architecture for building identity besides motherhood WITHIN the power structure of the church, but without it as well. THe latter is true---the church does provide some quite good pedagogical impetus for helping females see themselves as smart and strong (though not enough--no where does enough of that). It helps women build an identity outside the doors of the church if not within. My further argument was that while that extra-maternal identity may not be debased when you stop inside the church doors, it is, quite often, erased. And that's deeply problematic, especially in light of the power structure as explicated by the other speakers.

Stephanie said...

My answer to this question: How did you react to Julie Beck's conference talk? is that I stood up and cheered. Literally. I heard her speaking and was so glad that someone was finally saying it like it was. Finally we have a RS President who doesn't pussyfoot around the issue of motherhood. I listened to it thinking, "I am a mother who knows! I get it!". I LOVED the talk. I also loved Elder Ballard's talk this conference. I didn't think it was a repudiation of Sister Beck's talk at all. He supported what she said and added how we (and our husbands and children) could lighten the load a bit.

Bored in Vernal said...

Janet, you ARE cute! I concur with what you said, and I stand corrected about the defense of motherhood comment. Yes, you were the most defensive of the CHURCH. And your remarks were amazing, although zoned out at times. (My baby is sooooo cute!) :)

Stephanie, I need to respond to you, but I gotta run--symposium is too great, too many people to see and have lunch with, I'm having a rockin' time.

JustRandi said...

I had a similar reaction to Stephanie. I was SO happy that we finally have a GRSP who is willing to tell it like it is, and not talk around the issues, or just keep telling us we're doing great no matter what.
I think those "cheerleading" talks get tiresome after a bit. "You're doing great! Just be yourself!" doesn't really give one much to strive for, does it?

I didn't go as far as to call myself a "mother who knows", but maybe a "mother who knows what direction I'm babystepping toward".

I'm Cute said...

BiV--Hah! Of course, my baby IS soooo cute :). I think at some point he absconded with the computer and that's why my byline is this way!

Bored in Vernal said...

OK, Stephanie, let me respond to your comment now. You said,

I listened to it thinking, "I am a mother who knows!"

The problem with the talk is that there were so very, very many women who listened to the talk thinking, "I am NOT a mother who knows." Women who don't have children, who aren't married, who have already raised their children, who work outside the home, who brought their children to sacrament meeting in wrinkled shirts last Sunday, who don't have marble coutertops to polish and shine, all felt they were deficient in some way. I am sure Julie Beck did not mean to give this impression by her talk, and I am glad that SAHMs were given some much-needed validation. But now our General RS President needs to reach out to and validate others in her world-wide organization.

Paula said...

Can someone give me the exact titles of the two later talks that supposedly presented the same ideas? I don't recall them, at all. Or links at .

I think that the biggest problem with the talk (out of many) was the "Mothers Who Know" theme. It made my friends who are trying their darnedest but still have significant family problems to feel that they were not "mothers who know". Personally, I was disappointed that when there are so few talks from women in GC, she chose to give a talk on a topic that's so overdone, and only applies to part of the women, leaving out the folks who aren't mothers, yet again. I thought we'd moved on from that.

Kiskilili said...

I agree completely with SilverRain when she said that when people "feel so strongly about something that they define themselves by it, they become unable to view it with the least degree of objectivity." I didn't feel that the exception the first commenter took to the panel was fair--she seemed to think the panelists opposed motherhood and shunned mothers, which they clearly DID NOT. I felt like she was responding to her own ideological demons and not to what Margaret Toscano actually said. And I'm not sure her request that the panel be more balanced necessarily makes sense: after all, most Church venues promote the idea that motherhood is women's all-encompassing identity; the situation is already seriously unbalanced in a direction that validates her.

As I remember, she stressed the idea that motherhood is NOT a confining role at all at the same time she advocated that all women stay home with their children. I'm not sure you can insist everyone behave in one particular way and simultaneously insist that's not confining.

Margaret's point that it's ridiculous to defer living her life so she can raise daughters and teach them to defer living their lives so they can raise daughters to do the same, all to no clear end, was brilliant! I had the exact same worries as a Young Woman--that I was expected to sacrifice my personhood to raise children so I could stress to my daughters the importance of sacrificing their personhood. This is the point the first commenter took exception to--maybe I understood Margaret differently, but I didn't hear her saying motherhood should be entirely renounced, merely that motherhood is not an all-encompassing role. And as Janet pointed out on the panel, I don't think it's healthy for children when mothers are exclusively invested in their identity as mothers and have no life outside that--no child can bear the weight of being their mother's world!

Bored in Vernal said...


Daughters of God by Elder Ballard in last April's Conference. I believe the other talks came from the prerecorded Area Conference. Will try to find something more specific

Bored in Vernal said...

btw, his talk is VERY different from Julie Beck's.

"There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family."

Dave said...

I think Margaret's argument that Julie Beck and Elder Ballard's talks didn't substantially differ rested upon their shared support of an overall patriarchal structure in which women are accorded no partner-level responsibilities in the organizational structure. She's right about that, certainly. But I agree with BiV--other things in the talks differ substantially, and thank goodness.

Paula, you might also look at the round-table discussion from leadership conference. Elder Oaks and Elder Holland certainly maintain conservative ideals, but they also go out of their way to make it clear that circumstances differ from family-to-family (Elder Oaks was raised in by a single mother) and that fathers, not just mothers, need to make family life central to their identities. I don't mind the argument so much when it is extended to both men and women.

Paula said...

Thanks for the information about the talks. I had seen the roundtable discussion, and I, like others, thought it was influenced by the controversy over Sister Beck's talk. I was familiar with the Daughters of God talk, by Brother Ballard, but actually thought it was so different that it wasn't the one Margaret was referring to. Thanks for the clarification.

I wasn't at Sunstone Thursday, but will obviously have to buy this mp3 when it's available

Bored in Vernal said...

Paula, thanks for the correction of the title of this panel, here and elsewhere. I have edited my post to reflect the change.

mormons4 said...

Thanks for fixing that BIV. We did end up getting a lot of new signatures at whatwomenknow thanks to the Deseret News article, even though this wasn't our panel, so I suppose that's all good.

The mp3 of this session is available now, free, at: