Posted below is a lesson discussed in the Family Relations (Sunday School) class in 1947, from The Latter-day Saint Family, by Harold T. Christensen. This comes from the same book as the post Lonely, Bitter, Maladjusted, Highly Disagreeable, Sour, Gay and Insane: The Unmarried Saint in the Pew Next to You. (I point that out because while we had a good time disagreeing with him and picking out the flaws in that lesson, Christensen was a respected sociologist and his writing on other topics may very well be right on target. It’s fine to disagree with anything in this lesson, but it’s also fine to agree with anything, too – please don’t let our conclusions about that lesson interfere with a fair reading of this one. Thanks.)
1947 was just about the time that my mother and the other adults who shaped my early church life would have been getting their first adult lessons in modern women’s issues and “scientific” theories of women’s roles and nature. Lessons like this must have shaped my world in profound ways. It’s one thing to assume what women were being told in church or in the wider culture; I think it’s very helpful to have concrete examples of what they were in fact being taught.
What do you think about the questions asked here, and the answers that were proposed? Does it explain anything about your mother or the women you knew from an older generation that may have puzzled you?
Note: Be aware that in the jargon of the time, “women’s adjustment problem” doesn’t have a negative connotation. It is used in the same sense as “math problem”: a puzzle to be solved, a challenge to be faced.)
Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman
Most discussions on personal maladjustment deal largely or exclusively with the male. Yet in many ways, the adjustment problems of modern girls and women are even more difficult than those of boys and men. In this rapidly changing world, with its new roles and its confused goals, many more women than men are left bewildered and floundering. Since this is so, and since also family stability depends so much upon strong and moral womanhood, we shall devote an entire lesson to this subject. Let us proceed by means of questions and answers.
1. What is the evidence that women’s adjustment problems are greater than man’s?
Answer: There is no way of measuring this exactly, and certainly one must recognize many individual cases where the reverse is true. But on the whole it does seem that modern woman has the more difficult time, and for these reasons:
(1) Social change is greater on her side; that is, in regards to the roles she performs. To give but two examples, more women are taking over men’s jobs than vice versa, and, in reaching for a single standard of morality, women too frequently have been lowering themselves to man’s level rather than lifting him up to theirs. This is still a man’s world, it seems, and woman to be equal has had to do most of the changing. Change always involves confusion.
(2) The emancipation of women has been so recent that, though many of the customs and ties of yesterday have lifted, they have not yet found rootage in modern soil. Though woman has invaded man’s world, the world has yielded only in part; prejudices and discriminations against the fairer sex still hold her back. This is a day of transition and contradiction, particularly for women.
(3) These factors of social change for women, both the magnitudes and the recency, make for contradictions and dilemmas beyond those that man is required to face.
Does family stability depend more upon woman than man?
Answer: Yes, as a whole, and woman’s recent confusion and demoralization incident to her emancipation is a major factor in family breakdown. To answer thus is not to shift responsibility but only to face facts. Family stability, as we have seen, hinges primarily upon the personalities and characters of those who marry. Women, as mothers, are much closer to the developing child during his most impressionable years, and hence are in a better position to mold him for the future. Women, as sweethearts too, are in an equally favorable position so far as moral control is concerned. Regarding some of the follies of the flesh, man might more accurately than woman be called “the weaker sex.” The influence of woman over man is tremendous; all through the ages she has been the moral balance wheel of society, the ethical stabilizer of mankind. Men who have risen to great heights have almost always had the inspiration of good women to spur them on, and, conversely, those who have sunk to the depths have usually been lured downward by women who were bad. It is primarily to the mothers and the sweethearts of men that we must look for the balance and guidance in morals so sorely needed in the world today. though both men and women are responsible, it is when womanhood degenerates that morality suffers most, and family disintegration becomes greatest.
3. Is woman justified in reaching for equality?
Answer: Certainly, but she is not justified in many of the means she uses to obtain it. The inequality of opportunity, the discrimination, and the injustice that woman has had to endure throughout history are a disgrace to both democracy and Christianity. Woman has come a long way in her struggle for equal rights, but she is not yet there, and she has made many mistakes in the process. One of these is to confuse equality with identity. Wanting to be equal with man she has striven to be like him, aping him in dress, speech, and mannerisms. This masculinization of woman has only led to confusion and sorrow, for she cannot go the full way because of biological conditions, and she very frequently feels misfitted and frustrated because of it. Furthermore, as research reveals, men like best those women that are feminine, and marriage succeeds most where husband and wife play the traditional personality roles of their respective sexes. The personal and social relationships of men and women should be supplementary and complementary rather than duplicative; cooperative rather than competitive. It is entirely possible for men and women to be equal and still be different; they can be equal, each within his own field.
Another mistake has been for woman to accept man’s vices more readily than his virtues without raising him to her level. Woman’s standards have always been higher than those of man, and they are now as a whole. Yet they are not so much higher as formerly. The trend toward moral equality has meant a lowering of woman’s standards, unfortunately, rather than a raising of man’s. Too frequently, in their search for freedom, women have simply become coarse, crude, and vulgar. Emancipation for many has meant merely license and indulgence, when it could and should have meant opportunity and progress.
A third mistake that some women have made in their struggle for equality is to assume an extreme individualism and independence, an independence so strong that it ignores responsibility and precludes cooperation. This is not to say that woman should necessarily be more dependent than man, but neither should she be more independent. As woman finds her rightful place side by side with man, the masculine ego will have to adjust somewhat, and rightly so. But let the woman who is wise be neither too impatient nor too aggressive. Arguing, being obstinate, making demands, acting independently, fighting – these do not make one equal or free. Equality is more than the assertion of equality.
4. How can a capable woman protect herself against unreasonable masculine dominance?
Answer: Since male dominance is rooted in both biology and culture, and abuses in it are as old as history, it may take some time before male-female relationships become established on an equalitarian basis. Nevertheless, the trend is in the right direction. Women who chafe under this seeming, and in some cases actual, injustice have but two alternatives. One is to assert their rights openly or to react against the injustices aggressively. In which case their chances for marriage become less, either by their own choice or because their challenge to the masculine ego frightens away possible suitors. It is well known that bachelor girls, on the average, are of a much higher caliber than bachelor men, their very ability being a factor in their unmarriageability. If the rebellion against male dominance comes after marriage, the most likely results are either continual conflict in the home with the possibility of divorce or the acceptance by the husband of a “henpecked” status. Neither of these developments can be called ideal. The other alternative for the capable but discontented woman is to accept the situation and to play the game in the light of what is. In adjusting to man throughout the ages, woman has had to develop many subtle techniques for asserting herself, for getting her way without open conflict. These devices (known well to most women) are still available, and while they should never be abused, they can be used. Clever women can be equal with men, even superior, without letting them know it. While it may seem unjust to have to resort to such a method, the subservience is only surface deep, it should be remembered, and this is one way of solving the dilemma of “equality without equality” that some women face. Until men as a whole can recognize that women too have ability, it is probably the best way.
5. Is it implied above that women are justified in tricking their lovers?
Answer: No, only understanding them, and then adapting personally to make the relationship run more smoothly. This kind of self-sacrifice really requires love and bigness of character, but it is the way to harmony. The woman should be cooperative, as should the man also, but never be completely docile or servile. There is a difference. Marriage, to be successful, always requires a division of labor between husband and wife and a willingness of each to give in and sacrifice for the other. Never, however, does it require blind submission to an overlord. Woman should be man’s partner, never his servant or his slave. To make it so, frequently requires intelligent planning as well as love, but it can be done.
But women sometimes prostitute their special power over men by using it irresponsibly in order to gain some special advantage. Figuratively speaking, they want to have their cake and eat it, too; they want to enjoy the freedom that equality promises without accepting the obligations entailed; and to get it they are willing to sell their birthright for a “mess of pottage.” The selfish use of sex appeal is wrong, but it is done. Here are some of the ways:
(1) They resort to flattery, coquetry, and deceit to lead man on.
(2) They cry when they don’t get their own way or otherwise appeal to men’s affection or gallantry in order to control him.
(3) They wear clothes which accentuate the anatomical features peculiar to their sex, and they similarly use language and actions designed for erotic suggestion and stimulation. Sometimes these things are done innocently, with a simple desire for the attention of the elusive male. If so, the girl may wonder why masculine eyes follow her down the street or why her partner becomes so amorous. But at other times it is done deliberately, with the cause and effect relationships well understood.
(4) They “gold dig” in courtship, offering favors in intimacy as payment for the money spent; or they marry for money, exchanging sexual favors for a life of leisure or luxury.
(5) They enter commercialized prostitution, or they engage in one of the various sexual rackets whereby they seek to extort money from respectable citizens by threatening to smear their names. It is only this last category that is commonly referred to as prostitution; but actually all of these ways in which womanhood is used to unfair advantage could logically be so called, for in all of them virtue and right are “sold” for personal profit. This is debauchery, not equality, for it is divorced of both responsibility and morality.
Which is the more important for a capable woman, marriage or a career?
Answer: If she must choose between these two, marriage is the one that will usually bring her the greatest satisfaction. Most women feel that way, and experience demonstrates that they are right. Certainly it would be only the very rare and exceptionally talented woman that could make a better contribution to society than through motherhood, and a number of that kind have demonstrated that it is possible to make their contribution in addition to having a family. motherhood is a function that only woman can perform; if she deserts, it will be left undone. And motherhood is more than procreation, for upon the love and care it sponsors hinge the characters and actions of men. Women who are jealous of men err greatly in thinking that their own role is less important. Childbearing should be accepted in dignity by those endowed with the function, and homemaking should be regarded as the career supreme.
But in saying that marriage itself should be viewed as a career, we do not imply that women’s full time should be spent in the home. In an earlier lesson we showed how her personality might be enriched b moderate outside interests of the recreational, cultural, and service varieties. Here we shall apply this same principle to outside employment; some women are better and some homes happier when they have it. Studies seem to show that the best wives are those who have had some work experience before marriage. Outside employment of the wife after marriage, however, does frequently lead into difficulties of one sort or another, such as child neglect, an unkept house, irregular meals, fatigue, and irritability of members. There are some women who can successfully carry out their family responsibilities and work part time on the outside as well, but the strain is usually great. The woman is exceptional that can do justice to these two interests at the same time. Without laying down any absolute rule, we can say that employment and career activities are justifiable only if they can be successfully fitted into a happy home life; for every normal woman the home and family should come first.
With the proper planning it is entirely possible for the woman of ability to have marriage and a career. Some try to work the career in before marriage, which, unless it is for just a year or two, has the disadvantage of postponing family life too long and even risking spinsterhood. Others seek a career along with their marriage. This has the shortcomings listed above, which come from divided interests and neglect. The third and usually best method of harmonizing a career with marriage is having the career after the family has been reared. In addition to its avoidance of interference with the family, this scheme has the additional advantage of making vital the later years of life which are so often left empty otherwise.
7. Can man help?
Answer: Very definitely. Although we have been discussing the adjustment problems of modern woman, by implication many of these would apply to man as well. furthermore, since man and woman are complementary to each other, the welfare of the one is intrinsically tied up with that of the other. Many, if not most, of woman’s problems are over her relationships with man, and unless man understands these sympathetically and tries to adjust them cooperatively woman will continue to flounder and will pull man down with her in the process. That is the reason this lesson has been written.