Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Lisa Gabbert

Abstract

Like many Mormon women in America, I was told from the time I was a young girl I would get married, have children, be a perfect homemaker, and live happily ever after. At least that was the story presented to me at church and at home. From the time Mormon children are in Primary (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [or LDS church] children’s organization for children ages 18 months to 11 years old) they are taught the importance of family and the different roles of mothers and fathers through songs and lessons. In Young Women’s (the LDS church’s youth organization for young women ages 12-18) teenage girls are taught how to build themselves spiritually, but everything from the young women theme, weekly activities, and Sunday lessons reinforce the importance of their future role as a wife and mother. These teachings are then solidified in Relief Society (the LDS church’s women’s organization) as women are taught about their nurturing role in the family and participate in activities that teach homemaking skills and childcare. Throughout their lives, Mormon women are taught that “by divine design…. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” and are consistently prepared for their role as wives and mothers (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” 1995, 1).

In Mormonism, motherhood is directly connected to womanhood and is a divine role with lasting influence and importance. According to Mormon scripture and doctrine, the first woman, Eve (also referred to as the mother of all living), ate the forbidden fruit not because she gave into temptation from Satan but because she knew that she could not obey God’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth while living in the Garden of Eden (Campbell 2003). Mormons believe that Eve consciously chose to eat the fruit in order to take on the title of mother, and all women are blessed with the gift to nurture children and follow Eve’s example. This doctrine about the importance of families and motherhood provides a framework in Mormonism that places “motherhood…near to divinity” (Clark 1965, 178). Motherhood is compared to godliness in might, importance, and power, and Mormon mothers are seen as being in partnership with God (Holland 2014). Current LDS prophet Thomas S. Monson emphasized this point, “One cannot remember mother and forget God. Why? Because these two sacred persons, God and mother, partners in creation, in love, in sacrifice, in service, are as one” (Monson 1998). As a result, motherhood is at the center of any discussion about women in Mormonism and is revered as “the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind” (Clark 1965, 178).

The emphasis placed on motherhood isn’t surprising considering the strong focus on families in the LDS church. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (1995), an official proclamation of the LDS prophet and apostles, states that the “family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (1). However, the acceptable type of family within the LDS church follows “traditional” American gender roles, meaning that mothers stay at home to care for children and fathers provide for the family. This “tradition” follows a white, heterosexual, married, middle-class, and American ideal and has been criticized as a hegemonic view of family life that excludes the lived experiences of anyone outside those confines (Kawash 2011). A hegemonic view refers to the dominant perspective or representation in a given social or political context that benefits the rulers or the elite, and the problem with hegemonic views is that they relate the predominant view as the ideal or only acceptable way of being (Clayton 2006, Beasley 2008). So, although motherhood is experienced in many different ways, the acceptable hegemonic type of motherhood in Mormonism is for women to be homemakers; any other alternative is seen as less than desirable and acceptable only if necessary.

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