not in Primary anymore

my male mormon feminist awakening

by Derrick Clements

I am a feminist in progress. I come from a traditional Mormon home, and only in recent years have I begun to look at my growing up with a skeptical eye. Even as I question the exclusive “rightness” of my family’s structure, I do not doubt (or take for granted) that mine was a loving, functional home.

I always saw my parents as equals, even though they divided their parental duties along pretty clear, traditional gender lines: Dad went to work outside the home, Mom went to work inside the home. Mom made the food, Dad made the money. I think Henry Ford would have been proud of my assembly-line patriarchal family.

And so was I. I was grateful to my parents for setting up the “ideal” environment in which to raise my siblings and me, and I was skeptical of what I saw as society’s efforts to make men and women the same. I saw firsthand how gender roles could be divided benevolently, not out of dominion but out of maximum effectiveness. Separate roles, but always equal.

When I was on my mission in Brazil, I found myself taking mental notes about couples that I thought were good role models of traditional-but-equal marriages. One day while eating lunch in the home of a young power couple in the ward, I saw that they were reading a book called Casais Inteligentes Enriquecem Juntos (“Smart Couples Get Rich Together”).

The title made me very excited. It conveyed a sense of equality (they get rich together), as well as high function and success (they get rich). And it even had an acknowledgement that not all couples will follow the advice (only “smart” couples would divide their roles). I made a mental note.

Every grand marital revelation I had on my mission would wind me up like a rubber band launcher, getting me ready to propel myself into my own happy marriage after my mission. I knew that separate roles were the way to go, and when the day would come, I was ready to fulfill my role faithfully.

I just needed someone who would fulfill hers.

Found Her

In 2009, I met MacKenzie, a woman in my ward who I really hoped would fill that role. (She would be slightly disgusted to hear me say that. I can say now that I am too.) I kept that view to myself, and we shared what may go down in history as the best of all first dates that have ever happened in Provo (which, by sheer numbers alone, is no small distinction). We talked for hours, we laughed, we shared our views of the world, and I felt, more than I ever had before on a date, a connection that seemed “grown up.” Our conversation topics were weighty, and yet it was still fun. Soon after that, we started “officially dating.”

We continued our deep conversations and shared a lot of fun times. She and I would wow all our friends with our relationship maturity, like a party trick. I could go on, but since this is a post about my feminist awakening, just imagine a 3-minute montage of romantic vignettes set to the Hall & Oates song, “You Make My Dreams.”

The smoothness had an expiration date, however, and I don’t know if there’s a way to talk about my conflicted feelings about MacKenzie wanting to go to medical school without compromising my claim to believing in gender equality. It sufficeth to say that once the montage was over, I found myself standing on her front porch one night in tears of deep frustration.

We had just come back from TJ Maxx, and I had for the first time seriously pressed her on her desires to be a working professional and how they jived with her plans to be a mom. She, surprisingly to me, seemed offended that I would ask.

My worldview of clearly marked gender roles was beginning to shatter. MacKenzie was actually put off by me, and I was the one in line with Church teachings! We both left each other that night feeling hurt and frustrated.

After tempers cooled, I realized something big about my relationship: I could either see MacKenzie as a role, or a human being, but not both.

I took a hard look at my motivations and realized that more than wanting to “have a wife,” I wanted to be with her. And if that meant imagining my future family without traditional gender roles, or not rushing into marriage, then that’s what I wanted.

And I thought our relationship was great before. Seeing my significant other as a human individual, rather than as someone to fill a particular role, did wonders to what was already a wonderful thing.

Who Makes the Bread?

Last summer, in 2011, I went to visit MacKenzie’s family. I had already met her parents many times before, but this was the first time I actually got to see firsthand her turf, where her worldview had been constructed. Her household ran smoothly, like mine did, but it was built with completely different materials. Gender roles seemed completely irrelevant. Both my girlfriend’s parents have careers outside the home, and they both are equally invested inside the home.

To illustrate, MacKenzie makes great homemade bread. And when I was at her house, her family taught me how to make it myself. Her mom showed me how to make the dough, but later her dad explained the next step, and then her brother took me through the final stages. The person to show me the next step from dough to completion was simply whoever happened to be around, because when it came to bread making everyone was equal.

This applies to breadwinning, too. I do not mean to say situations where one parent has a career and the other parent spends more time raising the kids are always bad. I respect my family and my older, married siblings who have settled into similar frameworks as we had growing up.

But I came back to Provo last summer incredibly grateful for a tangible image of what role equality can look like. And when I make my own family, whomever I do that with, I want to draw from both my upbringing and MacKenzie’s. I’m also grateful to have been in a dating relationship in Provo for as long as we have, but that’s another topic.

Since my feminist awakening, I have begun to see through a feminist lens, but I recognize that I still have a lot to learn. One thing is certain: separate but equal is never truly equal. I claim to be a feminist in progress because I look forward to moving towards a more complete understanding of myself as a man, a Mormon, a boyfriend, a future husband, and a feminist.

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17 Responses to “my male mormon feminist awakening”

  1. cbsmith82

    I agree with some of what you are saying here but one question that I have is how often were your girlfriend’s parents around since they both worked? My wife came from a family where both parents worked and she wouldn’t see either of them until 6:00pm or later at nights, and they never went on family vacations. She hated it. The value to the more “traditional” approach with a stay-at-home mom is that the children always have a parent available to help them when needed.

    Reply
    • Derrick Clements

      It’s tricky; families are so much work to begin with that we can suffer from confirmation bias when we try to see what works and what doesn’t. In other words, all families are difficult, and those problems can be falsely blamed on the structure of the family sometimes. But you raise a good point that having a parent (either one, I would say) at home most of the time seems like a good way to go. On the other hand, I can see that having two examples of career paths can have a positive impact as well.

      Reply
  2. tim

    I too feel conflicted. I think that having a career as a woman is something men have a hard time understanding. As a man, we are told that we can both have a career and a family and there is no conflict. We know from the time we are kids that we will have a career, an education, and a family. On the flip side of the coin, women are told to get an education, but as soon as they find a man, they are expected to become house wives. I personally think that you have to face the reality of the fact that children need a parent at home while respecting your spouse to help them develop a career and find something that works for your situation. There is no simple solution that everyone can follow.

    Reply
    • Alex

      The simple solution is to just strive to do what God wants you to. As Elder Bednar would say: “Just be a good boy or a good girl.” Every family is different and God has never said “All men must work” or “All women must stay home. Its a case by case thing and PERSONAL revelation is the only way to know.

      Reply
  3. Beatrice

    Thank you so much for writing this. As a female BYU student and later graduate student, I loved school and wanted so much to continue following my academic passions after I was married. I worried a lot about whether I would be able to find someone to marry who understood that. I was lucky enough to find someone who supported me and was willing to work on creative solutions that were the best for everyone. I think the main point is that both members of a couple need to have time with their children and both members of a couple need time to develop their talents and abilities. Often women feel that they must give up their own dreams and passions in order to serve their children and advance their husband’s career. After my husband and I graduated from graduate school we both applied for jobs. My husband was the one who was offered a job so I opted to be the primary caregiver for a while. However, while I have been home I have been actively working at staying current in my field which involves some outside childcare and some part-time work. Although I spend more hours at home with our child, my husband has been fully involved in childcare from day one. Children’s needs should not be sacrificed for the needs of the parents, but neither should one partner’s needs be sacrificed for the other. This is difficult given the current employment situation in the U.S. (at least one parent must be full time in order to get health and other benefits). But, we need to approach these problems with more creativity and flexibility than we currently do in order to best fulfill the needs of the whole family.

    Reply
  4. Victoria Cays

    These are the Mormons my Mom must have found! What a refreshing article. Good luck to Derrick Clements and to MacKenzie in their search for their equal.

    Reply
  5. sara

    Why must we look at life in an either/ or kind of way? There are many ways of ensuring both adults in a relationship get what they need as far as education and career are concerned and that children received the attention and care they need too. What needs to be addressed is consumerism and materialism. If we are more realistic about what income provides and make the sacrifices so that our values are prioritized then how we go about that is up to us. An example is both parents working three days or part time in their fields and thus the children are receiving both parents attention and care as the work time over lap is reduced ensuring one parent is available. Its team work people, equally yoked. Get creative, don’t always look to established models of how things are done. We are all unique so we need to come up with ways of honoring that in each other and ourselves. Individual feminism is closer to what is needed here. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ifeminists i

    Reply
  6. Erin

    I found this blog through a friend’s comment showing up on Facebook, and I am so glad that Facebook just decided to let me know that she commented. I can’t thank you enough for writing this. I appreciate your perspective, your willingness to learn from your girlfriend and her family, and your eloquence in explaining your position and standing your ground in response to others’ comments. The ideals you are opening your mind to are what we should be teaching our young men and women. That women aren’t just a role to be fulfilled and men aren’t just a piece of meat to make babies for. We, women and men, are human beings and should treat each other as such. After all, this is how our Heavenly Father views and loves us. Again, thank you so much for sharing, this made my day. I wish you and Mackenzie the best of luck in life!

    Reply
  7. Pete

    In all seriousness, was your “feminist awakening” before, or after, you realized you were attracted to men?

    Reply
  8. Risa

    My mom was a SAHP until I was in 7th grade when she went back to work out of necessity. She worked in town so she was there if one of us got sick, but also our retired grandparents helped out with doctor’s appointments and things if she couldn’t take off. Her going back to work taught me responsibility. There were a lot of nights that I got dinner on the table because I knew my parents would be exhausted by the time they got home at 5:30/6:00. But once they were home, they were home. I had to take care of m younger brother after school and during the summer, which allowed us to build a close relationship and taught me to take care of a child. My parents were there every weekend and we did take vacations together. The point is, you can stay at home and be a crappy parent and you can work and be a good parent and the opposite is true. What’s best is what’s best for your family and the individuals involved.

    I’ve always had to work and people have tried to make me feel guilty about it like I’m letting someone else raise my kids. BS. Right now we’re in the financial position where my husband makes the majority of the money and I’m able to work just part-time, so most days I am home. I also work in a really family friendly environment where I can adjust my schedule to accommodate my family’s needs. If only all places of employment were like this. The best thing is the husband works from home most days so my children have very accessible parents and yet we’re both employed.

    Good luck on your journey, Derrick. You’re right, separate but equal does not work and it never has.

    Reply

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