What does it mean to be a woman?
This is a question I have been pondering a lot lately. I was talking to a friend the other day about how I believe things are black and white, but I am not very sure that I know what is black and what is white, if you know what I mean. This question about what it means to be a woman is a manifestation of that problem I have – not knowing what is black or white, but believing there must be a black and white.
I believe in God’s absolute truth (as opposed to relative truth) and I believe in prophets and I believe in agency. Sometimes I can’t always figure out how those three things work together.
But I digress.
In my heart of hearts I know that there is something to gender. There is a reason that we are male and female, beyond simple genetics and “chance” of nature. I believe there is something about men and women that is more than just our physical and biological attributes.
The prophets have said, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” and that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World) But that isn’t very clear, and while it does give the “primary responsibility” for mothers, it doesn’t really come right out and say what it means to be a woman, although I think the implication is maybe there.
As I have been studying and praying and asking Heavenly Father for more wisdom and understanding, I think I can say (with at least some conviction) that being a woman means being a mother. *
I have been reluctant to say it that way because of the women I know (and admire) who either have not had the opportunity to be married (like my great aunt Lavina) or who have not had the opportunity to have children (my neighbor and wonderful sister in our ward, Amy). As I have studied gender identity and womanhood, I kept resisting this notion, that being a woman means being a mother. I felt that it wasn’t a fair explanation. That by linking the two we leave out millions of women who will never be “mothers”.
And then as I was running with my husband the other day I realized that it doesn’t matter.
In God’s plan, the imperfections of this world do not matter. I don’t want to minimize the trial or heartache that I am sure is felt by those who never marry or never have children when that is the greatest desire of their hearts. That is hard, and it does matter – both to the person experiencing the heartache, and to God. He cares. He really does. And it is important to Him.
But all the imperfections of this world will never change eternal truth. And I feel like the eternal truth is that women are to be mothers.
If this explanation suddenly conjures up images of ignorant, oppressed women bearing child after child after child let me interject that there is no honor or glory in that, and that image is not God’s plan. After all, the glory of God is intelligence (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36).
This explanation is simply to give us somewhere to go – if being a woman means being a mother, then the real question is not “What does it mean to be a woman?” but rather “What does it mean to be a mother?” – which question is almost as difficult to answer as the first one. But we have something significant telling us what I means to be a mother, and that is the line from the proclamation I quoted earlier: “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
I would go into more detail about how I arrived at the conclusion that woman means mother but I will save that for another post. Suffice it to say that I have done a lot of searching, pondering, and praying about the priesthood, women and men in the Church, Eve, and mothers and fathers, and somehow from the middle of all the words and thoughts and feelings, this thought emerged, almost like silver from a refiners’ fire.
I want to go back to the image of the ignorant, oppressed, womanized, eternally pregnant woman.
That is not what God wants a woman to be.
What does God want a woman to be?
I believe He wants a woman to be intelligent and educated.
We want our women to be well educated,
for children may not recover from the ignorance of their mothers.
I believe He wants a woman to be strong, steadfast, and immoveable.
In order to do our part as women under the Lord’s plan,
we must stand strong and immovable in faith,
strong and immovable in family,
and strong and immovable in relief.
I believe He wants a woman to be a leader in her home and in the world.
It is not for you to be led by the women of the world;
it is for you to lead the … women of the world,
in everything that is praise-worthy, everything that is God-like,
everything that is uplifting and … purifying to the children of men.
I believe He wants a woman to have the power of the Priesthood.
The Prophet Joseph Smith put the sisters in the position to receive all the gifts, blessings, and privileges of the priesthood. We need never confuse the idea of those who hold the priesthood in trust, with the priesthood. The priesthood is God’s power. It is His power to create, to bless, to lead, to serve as He does.
Julie B. Beck (emphasis added)
Most importantly, I believe that God wants women to be mothers.
I will say the priesthood duty of sisters
is to create life, to nurture it,
to prepare it for covenants of the Lord.
Why do I say “most importantly”? Because that is the most important role we have as women. I love how President Beck put it – that the priesthood duty of sisters is to create life. It’s interesting that she did not say “to bear children.” It may seem ironic that our primary role as women is to be mothers, and yet President Beck did not include bearing children as our priesthood duty. She said our duty is “to create life.” Does bearing a child mean you are creating life? Certainly, in the sense that there is a spirit in a body and there is a heartbeat and all that. But let me take you to the orphanages in Romania and other parts of the world where lives sit in cribs their entire lives and become almost zombie-like. Is that a life? Is that life? Did the man and the woman who created that child physically also create that child’s life? I don’t think so. Creating life is so much more than bearing children (although I will add here that I do believe bearing children is important – and part of the duty to create life). Creating life is something that any caring, loving person can do, but it is specifically the duty of women.
I love that President Beck didn’t stop at “creating life”. Being eternally pregnant is not one of our duties as women. President Beck continues saying that our duty is to nurture life and prepare it for covenants of the Lord.
Being a woman means being a mother. And mother is in danger.
Mother is being attacked from every side in the world today. She is being attacked from the economy – a woman “has to” work to make ends meet (i.e. in order to keep up with the Jonses – I want to add that I do believe in some circumstances it is necessary for the mother to be in the workplace). She is being attacked from the “intellectual” community – a woman should travel, gain success in a career, and “live a life” before she “settles down”, gets married and has babies. She is being attacked from within her own home – it is so hard to be a mother, children are a bother, children are boring, children are ____ (fill in the blank with your favorite complaint – I already listed mine).
As I was running with my husband and feeling this impression that yes, being a woman means being a mother, I realized that the reason for all the confusion was because I didn’t want my identity to be defined by motherhood. But I am gaining a completely new perspective of motherhood. It is my priesthood duty “to create life, to nurture it, and to prepare it for covenants of the Lord.” Yesterday as I was doing chores with my little ones (five and three) and thinking about how difficult it is to teach them to work and help out around the house I was hit with a realization that I am raising people. I don’t know why I didn’t really get it before – back when I whined a complained about motherhood (it’s hard, it’s boring, I’m isolated, my children are whiney, etc etc). But I am starting to really gain a testimony of the sanctity of motherhood. I have always known that motherhood was sacred and that what I am doing in my home is the absolute most important thing anyone anywhere can ever do. But I just didn’t feel it. I dreaded it.
When I asked myself why? I realized that it is because mother is in danger. I grew up being loved and nurtured by a great mother who never complained about motherhood. In fact, right this minute I could not tell you her least favorite part of motherhood. Probably because she doesn’t have one. But the world attacked me. The world yelled at me from every side. Careers enticed me, media hypnotized me, my fellow mothers’ voices echoed “It’s SO hard. Children are SO hard. They are SO whiney.” Their bad attitudes and negative remarks slowly ate away at my soul.
In my heart I still knew what motherhood really meant, but my actions we contrary to my beliefs, and motherhood was hard. It still is. But a mission is hard too, right? Did you spend your whole mission complaining about every last little thing? Probably not. You just served the Lord and taught people the gospel. I have talked before about the Mission-Motherhood Parallel.
We’re doing the Lord’s work here in the trenches of motherhood, and it is hard work. But this work is God’s work.
And Satan hates it when God’s work goes forward.
So rise up women, mother.
Let’s fight the good fight.
* I would say the answer to the question “What does it mean to be a man?” is “It means to be a father.” So this isn’t about women and the priesthood, this is about how our most vital roles as children of God is to be parents to other children of God.