Sunday, January 22, 2012

The complexity of being a woman with a degree.

Sorry, this may be more of a venting post than a spiritual one. But maybe someone else feels the same way.

Today I decided to read an issue of the Clark Memorandum that I found lying around. The CM is the journal for the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, to which I am associated by virtue of graduating from the school of the same name. I read an article about gender bias in law practice, written by a wonderful LDS lady, mother of 6, and presiding judge of the Riverside Superior Court, Hon. Sherrill A. Ellsworth. She talked about how she faced a lot of criticism from other women in the Church because of her decision to practice law and pursue a career. She hired her mom as an assistant and kept her baby at the office with her until she felt he was ready for pre-school. She made sure to keep her kids a priority. And she became a very successful, respected judge.

I have a lot of internal reactions to this kind of article or discussion when I come upon them. Here are the main ones:

1. Wow, she did so much while still being a good mom. Every time I think about doing something for just a few hours a week from home, I get overwhelmed and give up. Not to mention that I am seriously intimidated by the idea of trying to jump into practice when I haven't so much as looked up a statute in 2 1/2 years now. I am such a lazy coward with no life management skills. I am inadequate because I am "only" staying home.

Wrong reaction.

2. I don't think I could go to work full time with young kids. At times I've probably been one of those judgmental women who made this hard for people like her. I do believe that it is best for the mother to stay home with kids. I feel like I am doing the right thing by staying home. How do I reconcile that her decision was right for her and mine is right for me? Isn't there one right answer?

Wrong answer.

3. Why did I get this law degree in the first place? I am just proving all those lame guys right who made remarks like, "You are taking the place of some hard-working father who needs to provide for his family." I would joke sometimes that I wasn't going to study as hard, "I'll leave the top ten to the guys who really need jobs." That was self-defeating and I knew it. But was there truth to it?

Wrong again.

Even though our circumstances are very different, I think judge Ellsworth and I are struggling against the same thing. After I returned from my mission, I went to Japan for the summer to spend time with my grandparents and do some genealogy research. When I told a couple of ladies in the ward that I would be starting law school in the fall, one said, with a completely straight face, "Why don't you want to get married?" Seriously? Are those things mutually exclusive? (Also, hello, why do you think I'm going to BYU?) Why should I have to explain myself? Because we are women, and especially because we are mothers, there is some expectation that we have to explain ourselves for doing anything that is not directly associated with traditional motherhood. As she points out, women generally don't get criticized for getting a degree in education or nursing--things more typically associated with women. Yet she has to explain why she practices. I have to explain why I got a law degree but am not practicing. We somehow have to justify ourselves to everyone else's expectations or standards.

And yet, the only thing that should matter to me is what the Lord wants me to do for my family right now. If that means I get a job, so be it. If that means I stay home, so be it. It's between myself, my husband, and the Lord. Judge Ellsworth has done a great work, opened doors, and garnered a lot of respect for LDS women. I can appreciate her contributions without judgment or comparison. I have no place interjecting myself into whatever conversations she has had with the Lord about her choices and her path. And I can ignore anyone who tries to interject themselves in mine.

Of course, that is easier said than done. You can still guarantee that I'll go through this whole process in my head every time someone asks me about my 'legal career.'

p.s. I love this article. So true.


  1. Thanks for sharing. It's a good reminder that the Lord has different paths for each of us - different patterns of influence that he wants us to have over the course of our lives.

  2. Meg, this is so on target. Recently (over the past year and a half) I have been totally boiling over the debt of grad school. But in the past couple of days I have kind of felt the spirit directing me to embrace an idea that never occured to me - which is to work (gasp) after having a baby. So much unforseen peace has entered my life since I made the decision to be okay with that alternative. I never thought that it would be right for my life to choose that option (or at least choose to be Ok with it), but the Lord knows what is right for each couple. And, I'm speaking ahead of myself, because there is no bun in this oven. Still, great post! I love your deep thoughts!

  3. Oh if there were only one way to do things. If I would have guessed what I'd be doing at 33 it wouldn't be working full time with four small children at home. I have one in school and Daddy takes care of the others until I come home after picking up Sam from kindergarten. Daddy is finishing up his degree and that is very important to him, and myself, but we get a lot of slack from people who just don't understand. One day I hope to be home more often but for now it will just have to do and the Lord's okay with what we've decided and that is good enough for us. :D