September 27, 2016
This weekend Mormons from around the world gathered for the faith's 186th General Conference. Spoiler alert: I didn't attend. But I did catch some news coverage of the event. And from what I read, it doesn't seem like much has changed in the last 186 years. I read the Cliffs Notes from Saturday's General Women's Session and sadly, they read more like a public service announcement to convince Utah it's still 1950.
For starters, Bonnie Oscarson, president of the church’s Young Women organization, told an auditorium full of young and impressionable women that, “We may also fail to emphasize the importance of education because we don’t want to send the message that it is more important than marriage.”
Here's the problem with that statement: Education IS indeed more important than marriage. Finding a husband is not a form of financial planning, and on no level is saying "I do" as important as being able to read. I realize as a never-married 40-year-old woman in Utah I'm a bit of an anomaly, but I've never felt incomplete or somehow less valuable because I file my taxes as a single person, and it's shameful for women (of any faith) to suggest otherwise.
Because I am educated, I have a job that allows me to support myself; I own a home; donate to causes I believe in; and have had the opportunity to see a good chunk of the world. Because I've been able to do those things, I am a more confident, independent and capable person. Being educated has taught me self-reliance, resilience and empathy. It's allowed me to leave an unhealthy relationship because I didn't feel trapped for lack of finances or resources or self-worth. It's brought people into my life I would have never met if I wasn't curious enough to jet off to Tanzania on my own. It's provided me with experiences that have created a sense of self-fulfillment that doesn't come with a diamond ring.
I'm by no means anti-marriage, and I do think you can have all of those things with the right partner, but I will never view getting married as some type of great accomplishment. I pretty much think of it as a continual series of prolonged pauses before one spouse asks the other, “Was that you or the dog?”
Aside from what I find to be an archaic insinuation, that being married is just as (if not more) important as being smart, Mrs. Oscarson delivered a few other gems that are as baffling as they are belittling.
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She said: “We avoid declaring that our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being between a man and woman because we don’t want to offend those who experience same-sex attraction."
The LDS Church doesn't want to offend? Did she forget about the church's highly offensive policy stating members in same-sex marriages can be excommunicated and that their children must wait until they're 18 and disavow homosexual relationships to be baptized?
Aside from that, people do not “experience same-sex attraction.”
Cliff diving. Heli skiing. Getting a new job. Adopting a puppy. Those are experiences. Sexual identity is not an experience. It's an innate part of one's genetic makeup. Calling it an "experience" trivializes a gay person's very identity.
Mrs. Oscarson went on to say that sensitivity should be used when discussing such topics, but encouraged attendees to be “bold and straightforward” in their faith. In other words, being sensitive to others is important but those people need to accept they’re wrong.
But perhaps my favorite statement came from Jean Bingham, the first counselor in the general presidency of the children’s Primary organization. She said, "[We are] encouraged — and even commanded — to continue in the pursuit of improvement and, ultimately, perfection.”
And they wonder why Utah women have an astonishingly high rate of depression, suicide, and addiction to prescription drugs. Just end the sentence at improvement. Improvement is always realistic. Perfection is an impractical pursuit.
While I spent a lot of time shaking my head at these "highlights" from Saturday's convention, ultimately, I do think there is an increasing number of educated women, single or not, who know their self-worth and are not offering discounts. They define success for themselves and don't nod their heads to "because this is the way it's always been" answers. They have goals and dreams of their own. Who knows? They might even become the second female president of the United States.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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