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.