LDS leader's '07 address still causing controversy

Published: Friday, Aug. 8 2008 3:44 p.m. MDT

Emily Benton, who holds a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University, said she became less active in the LDS Church after marrying a returned missionary and then divorcing while he was in law school. "The Mormon map for women is limited and can sometimes leave you feeling lost." For her, "a lot of it came down to feeling that I didn't belong in a singles ward or a family ward, and my mother is worried because I haven't married and procreated like my sisters. My success isn't a grandchild."

She said that during the time she was away from the church, "I learned integrity ... After being away for a while I realized I missed the gospel," so she returned "with a new perspective ... Ultimately I'm at church to learn how to become a disciple of Christ." She said that while at church, she "would be better served if" the messages focused on love, compassion, service and personal worth rather than, as Sister Beck said, learning how to be the best homemakers in the world."

Janet Garrard-Willis, a Ph.D candidate and blogger for Feminist Mormon Housewives, said "motherhood really is meaningless unless there is a person being the mother in the first place." Her blog saw "an immediate firestorm following Beck's talk," and it was "not my liberal friends who were most upset — they just tend to disregard her.

"It was my deeply conservative friends who believe every word out of a church's leader's mouth came from Jesus Christ. They locked themselves in the bathroom and cried about it." Because she had great difficulty getting pregnant, Garrard-Willis said she had a "free pass to pursue a tenure track job. Once people in the church found out why I didn't have kids, they were very sympathetic and I was given a real place in every ward I've ever been in.

"I felt I was being incorporated into the structure with an identity apart from other women. That was fine, but I didn't realize that identity was contingent on my remaining childless." She said she experienced the "erasure of a significant portion of my identity when I became a mother."

She said the LDS Church does provide "a skeleton architecture for building an identity for women in the church, in part through its Young Women program, which emphasizes values such as faith, knowledge, good works and integrity. She suggested "a larger discussion about fatherhood" in the church, and "how traditionally female attributes are integrated into his role."

Following the presentations, Camille Aagard was the first to address the panelists.

"I wish I were on this panel. I'm the mother of five, I'm not a Ph.D candidate, and that's not in my future." She said she has "always had a very confident sense of self and I attribute that to being raised in the church. I feel powerful. I don't need anything more than what I do, but I want that mutual respect" that panelists had discussed for those outside traditional LDS roles.

"I want to know that if I were in the Toscano family, there wouldn't be little remarks about me behind closed doors. I feel so deeply respected when I hear motherhood is near to divinity. There are 96 pictures of me on my blog with my arms covered up to my elbows in vomit and (expletive deleted). I did have a five-year career, but this is a much harder game I'm in. I don't want to be in a forum where I'm with Latter-day Saints and feel under-valued. I heard words like 'confined' and 'mindlessness."' Aagard said she is raising four daughters "to emulate me, maybe, without letters after their name. It's not something small I'm teaching. I ask you to show the same respect for me."

Aagard was approached by several audience members in the hallway after the presentation, defending her right not to be offended by what church leaders say about her role. One man told her, "You're a slave and you don't even know it."

"I'm not a slave," she shot back. "That's pathetic that you would say that to me."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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