Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Mary Kay Women Know

I sat through a two hour Mary Kay sales pitch a couple of Saturdays ago. This is not my usual choice of weekend activities but I was cajoled into going under false pretenses. You see, I have been living in the wonderful world of bridedom this summer. My younger sister got married three weeks ago and I had forgotten just how exploited this particular population is. (Watch this video, I promise it will make your day). My sister "won" a free pampering session for ten people through one of those horrible bridal registries and invited me and our younger sister to go get a free facial and massage. Despite all of my feminist rantings about the superficiality of the beauty industry, I am not one to turn down a massage, especially at eight-months pregnant. So Saturday found me kissing my husband and baby monster goodbye and happily skipping away to join my sisters for a morning of pampering and relaxation.

I'm not sure what tipped us off first, maybe it was the "Think Pink" slogans plastered on the walls or the huge bouquets of frothy, pink tissue paper flowers that decorated the entire room but we quickly figured out that we had walked straight into a pink-colored Mary Kay trap. There was no facial or massage to look forward to, just a two hour presentation on the joys of being a Mary Kay consultant. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did have the "opportunity" to exfoliate half of my face with the dollop of microderm abrasion cream they gave me and massage some night time lotion into my hand so I guess Mary Kay played us fair.)

As I sat there listening about the wonders of pink Cadillacs and the free, over-sized gold jewelry, I couldn't help but compare the Mary Kay culture with the culture of women in the Mormon church. Of course there were the obvious comparison like the tacky floral arrangements and centerpieces, the be-ribboned favors and the smell of synthetic sugar and spice that hits you right in the face. But the deeper similarities went to the language used and the assumptions of what an ideal woman is. I swear the keynote speaker gave the Mary Kay version of President Julie Beck's "Mothers Who Know" speech. I took some notes and thought that I'd share them here.

  • Mary Kay women understand how important things like food, free stuff and fun activities are.
  • Mary Kay women know that appearences are important and always take time to look presentable.
  • Mary Kay women understand that their priorities have always been God first, family second and career third.
  • Mary Kay women know that if they have their priorities straight, they will be rewarded with beautiful homes, nice cars, expensive jewelry and good kids.
    Mary Kay women understand that because they know their priorites, other women's children (read working women's children) will call them mom and other women will be jealous of the magical life Mary Kay women lead.

Before some of you get too offended and start cursing my name, I deeply respect the mission of Mary Kay to help women have a career and feel good about themselves. I believe that all women want to belong to a group and have their choices validated. I was amazed when the Mary Kay consultants talked about how they appreciated their organizations focus on helping women achieve their priorites and become their best selves. These women became emotional when talking about the wonderful women they met through their work and how they would drop everything to help a sister consultant. I hear this same sentiment expressed every week in my Relief Society, and yet there are thousands of women who hate Relief Society and find being a Mormon woman exquisitely painful.

Mary Kay and the Relief Society are not that fundamentally different; both organizations exist to create a space for women in male-dominated institutions. So why is it that one group has a much higher satisfaction rate than the other? I believe the difference lies in choices. If I choose to be a Mary Kay consultant, I am choosing the culture of Mary Kay. If I don't like pink cadillacs, flashy jewelry and talking about make-up then I can choose a different career. Mary Kay women know that their choices will be supported because they have surrounded themselves with women who have made similar choices.

The same is not necessarily true for Mormon women; I may choose to be a faithful member of the church but I may not want to choose the culture of the Mormon church. I may not want to hear the overblown rhetoric about motherhood but if I want to go to my church meetings and interact with my fellow latter-day saints, then there is really no escaping it. This can be an incredibly isolating place for a woman to be and it behooves us as sisters and Christians to be sympathetic of that.

The controversy over President Beck's "Mothers Who Know" talk is the perfect example of this. Many women, both liberal and conservative, were hurt by this talk, not because they necessarily disagreed with Julie Beck's actual words but were pained by the implication of what those words meant to them. The latest "firestorm" at the Sunstone Symposium only proves further how deep the wounds are and how many have been wounded. The uproar that has ensued over the past ten months has left many scratching their heads and wondering why this talk? How is it any different from what has been said over the past thirty years?

Might I suggest that it is because the rhetoric of ideal womanhood and motherhood is no longer effective in a worldwide and rapidly progressing church. From what I understand, women outside of the United States don't get what all the fuss is about because they found the talk benign at best, irrelevant at worst. American women, however, have spent years fighting the Mommy Wars. The frontlines have been populated by members of traditional churches such as the Mormon church and women have been their best warriors. Both sides have exploited their women until there was nothing left to battle over and an uneasy cease-fire was called.

For Mormon women, that cease-fire was broken by President Beck. But instead of turning their ammuntion on the enemy, women turned their guilt and self-doubt on themselves. How many stories have we read of faithful women breaking out into tears because their deepest and most vulnerable fears were confirmed by the very woman who was supposed to be representing them? In the pain and anguish, some women have lashed out indiscriminately at women who should be their sisters and allies in the hope of validating their choices to a God who apparently sees nothing but their success as a mother.

A new war of ideas is needed, one that will ensure the unity of Mormon women. So this is my battle cry, the one that I hope provides me with an organization that I can fully choose:
It is time that church leaders and lay members alike retire the old motherhood rhetoric and refocus our efforts on what will make us all better children of God...becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. No one--no one--is excluded from the call of Jesus to "Come follow me." Not the working mother or the over-run stay at home mom. Jesus asks all of us, whether we are single or married, uneducated or educated, feminist or not, to be his disciples. He wants us to serve the poor and disenfranchised, to stand up against injustice in the world and demand that someone pay attention. We must love as God loves or we cannot call ourselves true disciples of Christ. That means we cannot judge other women on their mothering choices and expect to hit the mark of becoming perfect, even as our Savior is perfect. When we as individuals and a combined church focus on true discipleship--for all women and men--rather than perfectly-ironed white shirts and missionary haircuts, then we can claim the privelege of building up the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God.


  1. I don't really understand where you think you have the say over what the prophets "should be preaching" Mabey you don't believe that these leaders are chosen and inspired of God. mabey you didn't hear President Monson's very first talk as the prophet of the world at the worldwide leadership training meeting (where all adult members were invited) where he said that we teach the correct pattern, the pattern ordained by God. They teach the pattern so that we can follow it as closely as we can according to our circumstances. I think that is simply what Sister Beck was doing. I for one was grateful for her talk becuase I was able to again have the spirit witness to me that even though it is a sacrafice and the world won't recognize that what I am doing is of value that the Lord does. You are obvouisly frustradted with the members of your ward and/or stake. Remember just becuase the members of the church aren't perfect that does not mean the leaders are no longer inspired. I am not questioning your "standing with God" or even your theorizing about the solemn assembly becuase as you said if it is just tradition then sure mabey it could be rethought although I am thinkin it is something either Jospeh Smith or Brigham Young was inspired on (I am going to look into it just for fun). I just believe that is is dangeous to question the General Authorities of the Church. The Lord has promised us that he will not let the prophet of his church lead us astray and even though the talk in question were not his words he would have come forth and told us if something she said was not correct. He was in attendance you you know! I know there are injustices in this world toward women but please let's not critcize one of the Lord's chosen servants who also just happens to be a well educated and experienced women.

  2. Well-written points. It is an honest assessment of what some women have felt for many years as mormons.

    The only thing I significantly disagreed with in this post is the assumption that RS was created to make a place for women in a male-dominated world/institution.

    Point 1: RS was created and ordained as a women's organization to bring to pass the three fold mission of the church: basically to bring souls unto Christ and help us become disciples of Christ. Exactly your point. It was ordained and organized in a manner similar to the women's organization in the primitive church, meaning to me, that this organization transcends modern "mommy war" issues - in its ideal form it is a powerful tool for good, no matter what era we live in or what challenges that era brings.

    What has unfortunately happened through the passage of time, is that some women have hijacked the original purpose of RS by making it a gossip/socializing/craft group and have instituted practices that encourage others to think that is the norm (flower arrangements, clever handouts, etc.). Not it's original purpose.

    Point 2: it was created as a church wide oranization for the purpose of mobilizing women in a group effort to affect change and provide righteous leadership examples for women worldwide.

    What we suffer from, on a local level, when it comes to "mormon culture" issues, is the result of the frailties of mankind (or womankind). Men and women can choose to follow the guidance of the church handbook and the general authorities or they can choose to do things their way because they think they know better, and they have always done things a certain way (in steps that pesky culture issue again).

    What we have to fight for is the ideal of the organization, as it was meant to be, as ordained by God from the beginning. I know people get frustrated with how slow or backwards some church members can be - it can be like banging your head against a brick wall some days to get people to understand. But I truly do beleive that it is worth it to work within an organization like RS to affect the changes that are needed - if women abandon RS because they are frustrated or feel isolated, who is left to defend the ideal?

    It saddens me that women felt internal guilt and self-contempt after listening to Sis Beck's talk. I hope that in turn they will also listen to talks given by Pres. Uchtdorf and others who have spoken specifically to us women about our feelings of inadequacy. Satan would have us beleive there is no hope, there is no solution to our struggles - and that is a lie.

    The question is, are we strong enough, diligent enough, faithful enough, to see this mortal life through and help each other come closer to Christ and what He truly wants for us?

  3. And, to k green and others like her (I wish I could respond to you directly), Meghan's expression of frustration does not mean she is "disgruntled" or trying to tell the prophet what to do. This is a serious issue for some women who feel like they have no voice and do not feel like they belong within the greater RS organization, largely becuase of comments of women like you (k green)and how they are talked down to by some men in the church.

    What the prophets say is not the problem - we know that the primary guiding principle/doctine of the church is to become devoted disciples of Christ throuh his Atonement - but when it trickles down into a RS lesson where one group of women are bashing another group of women because of their choice to work outside the home or not, or to bear 10 kids or not, to have hobbies, interests, whatever that go beyond our role as mothers: that is not in the spirit of Christ and has no place in our organization.

    We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. Maybe if WE did that, as a sistehood, Sis Beck's talk would have been recieved as inspiring and energizing to ALL the women, mothers or not, instead of making some feel like they were worthless as women.