Just watch me

I know it’s well-intentioned. I know that people are trying to be kind, trying to offer counsel based on life experience, trying to provide a more mature adult perspective. And there’s truth in it. Not all dreams are realistic. But there’s a message our young people, and especially our young women, in Mormon culture and also in American culture, are being taught. It’s a message of limitation. It’s a message of can’t, a message of don’t try. It’s a message that says that your dreams aren’t achievable. It goes like this: ‘you have to be realistic. It’s going to be impossible to balance what you want to achieve against the realities of family life. You can’t have it all. It isn’t possible. No matter how hard you work, no matter how smart you are, no matter how disciplined, you probably cannot do all the things you want to do.’

You want to be a cardiologist. You probably won’t be able to. You want to move to Los Angeles, and act professionally. That’s not a responsible, reasonable dream. You want to go to graduate school, get a PhD, make a scholarly contribution. That’s probably not realistic. You want to go to law school, get a job in a law firm, sue big corporations, argue cases in the highest courts. That’s not likely to come true. Why are you majoring in construction management? That’s not really a good major for a girl. Switch to something more sensible.

You can’t do it. You can’t balance marriage and career that way. You can’t spare the time, the many years of professional training and preparation required to succeed in that field the way you want to. You can’t do it.

And more and more, young LDS women I know are responding to that advice, that kindly intended, so reasonable, so rational advice. And here’s what I hear them saying:

Just watch me.

If you can’t help me, then at least get out of my way. I can too do this. And you can’t stop me. Nothing can. Nothing will. Just. Watch. Me.

And also, by the way, some encouragement would be nice. Not that I need it.

I taught at the university level for over twenty years. And while I certainly don’t claim to have had a lot to do with it, I look back over the young women I had the great privilege of teaching. And they’re doing it. They’re doing what our culture has tried to tell them they shouldn’t even try. They are achieving.

I have a friend, a former student, who is in medical school–in fact, I know several doctors and doctors-to-be. One’s an oncologist: one is currently in a cardiology residency. Young women who are going to change the world. I know a whole bunch of lawyers. Smart, capable, hard working young women who have no interest in a culture of limitation. I just got a wonderful Facebook message from an actress who I once worked with in a show. She’s at Harvard, getting her PhD. She’s a brilliant young woman, with a joyful, positive, optimistic confidence in her own ability to write and research and change the way we understand the world. I know several young actresses, women who have carved out successful careers in what I think is probably the most difficult profession in America. They’re not movie stars, but they’re able to support themselves, they’re always working, they’re accepting professional challenges, and they’re succeeding.

And yes, I know a young woman who is majoring in construction management. She’s generally the only woman in her classes. And she’s excelling in her program. She knows exactly what she wants to do with her life, and she’s going to make it. I can also say that her parents support her goals one hundred percent. I can say that with confidence, because I’m one of them.

This is the future of Mormonism. This is where we are, and where we are going. And more and more, equality is going to be part of it, because these young women, these remarkable and motivated young women, simply won’t settle for anything else.

And what about the young men of Mormonism? Well, they’re going to have to keep up. They’re going to have to bring it. The women of Mormonism are simply not going to be interested in second-rate, or second-best. I’m honestly a bit more concerned about the guys, to be honest, because our culture coddles them, a bit, and they haven’t had to fight as hard for support.

But the women. Man, the young women of Mormon culture amaze me. Let’s stop trying to hold them back. Let’s stop well-meaning messages of limitation-acceptance. Tell these women that they can’t, that they won’t, that they never will. And listen to the response.

Just watch me.



7 thoughts on “Just watch me

  1. Shantel

    I go to school, do research for my University, and etc…. and am also a mother to six children. It’s not about doing it all, or proving you can do, when everyone says you cant. That is for other people. It should be about yourself. Are you doing what you should be doing with your life? Whatever is it. The answer to that, is personal, cannot be judged by other people, and brings the deepest joy. It’s not a gotcha phrase like *just watch me* it’s *I. Will. Do. This.*

  2. Michelle

    Just 20 minutes ago I was helping Matt blow in insulation, shortly after making dinner for family, which was preceded by me changing outlet and light switch receptacles in our living room while helping my daughters with their homework. No, I can’t do everything I want to do. But I can sure do a lot of it and I’m still raising happy, healthy, confident daughters while finding time to do all the other things I do. When I think about all I have learned and accomplished in the years since I became a mother, I’m amazed! motherhood and achievement CAN go hand in hand. Continuing education (whether formal or not) helps me prepare my children better with life skills as well as broadening my own horizons. We can and we will!

  3. juliathepoet

    My daughters will know that they can, because I went back to school despite divorce and in a wheelchair, and am at the top of my class. They will see me in Honors robes, but more importantly, they will watch me create something new in the world, because it is needed, as I create an interdisciplinary PhD. I have been told that a Masters degree would be more than adequate, but I don’t want to have to go back later.

    I will not quite be 40 when I graduate. My daughters will be undergraduates when I finish my PhD. I don’t want them to let anything hold them back. One wants to be a vet, and one wants to be a mathematician. I am glad that they are planning to go to my university. We have a great institute, where 70% of the students are female in the institute classes and most of the Mormon Honors students are women. I love the running joke in those classes that the smart girls stay in Alaska, (and out if the Book of Mormon Belt) and the smart guys know where to find them.

  4. W

    I’m so with you through the point where we’re talking ending the culture of limitation for women.

    But when we arrive here:

    “I’m honestly a bit more concerned about the guys, to be honest, because our culture coddles them”

    I’m far less sure.

    It’s certainly true that the preconceived role of stable providerhood that we encourage young men to step into has little conflict with the pursuit of high-status careers. A Mormon man who wants to be an oncologist, cardiologist, or lawyer (despite the now problematic odds) may face challenges and competition along the way, but they’re likely find encouragement rather than opposition from the blueprint.

    If you’re going to argue that young men who are interested in pursuing a dream like acting (or perhaps being a playwright) aren’t quite frequently on the receiving end of lectures on practicality, reasonable expectations, family responsibility, and more subtle penalties… all I can assume is that you’ve had an unusual experience. Perhaps even privileged.

    And… “they’re going to have to bring it.” Bring *what*? And against what cost to how they’re valued if they don’t?

    There can be a fine line between dreams that grow out of a desire to use the gifts that we’re given, and the pursuit of status because that’s ultimately where and how we assign value. I’m completely behind the practical expansion of our doctrines of divine potential to every one of our daughters and sons, but in the process I hope we don’t sacrifice the assurance we offer to those who “only” find themselves employed in modest labor and family life that their lives are meaningful, and valuable before their people and their God.

    (And in fact, if people like Gloria Steinem and Ursula Le Guin are right, keeping the later values honored may be an essential part of making the former possible for anyone…)

  5. Robin S


    I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. During those years I also did things like re-roof my house. (Everyone was aghast–“Get the elder’s quorum to do it!”–but why? It was so much fun.)

    I now have a Ph.D. (graduated at age 43; by the time I finished, I had 3 kids in college) and am teaching at the university level.

    I was always a bit frustrated by the contradictions I heard in church–“Stay home with your kids,” but also “Develop your talents.” How do you do both when you’re gifted in an area that requires being out of the home? My children are still a big part of my life (and they know it), but I’m also trying to succeed professionally as a single mother. I’ve been struggling to find that balance.

  6. S

    I’m one of your former students and while you likely wouldn’t recognize me on the street you made a huge difference in my life in a cute little class called TMA 114. I vividly remember the Monday you came in and warned us you were going to say “the F word” and suggested anyone who didn’t want to hear it cover their ears. That is the day I solidly began identifying as that big “f word”: feminist. I’m now a mom of 4 strong-willed, smart girls, dental professional, coach of an award winning high school team and I’m not done yet. There’s a rough road ahead for my girls and the fight is just beginning!

  7. P

    Nice writing about escaping limitations, but really unfortunate turn toward prestige. The “just watch me” attitude leads toward arrogance and them versus me. Also disturbing to me was the idea of setting women against men, and suggesting that men have to earn women by achieving positions of rank. How about this: live a Christian life, one in which you place loved ones over achievements. You place the soul over accolades. You recognize that the answer to gender inequality is not pitting genders against each other, as you have done, but rather loving each soul for who they really are, and what they want.


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