Thursday, May 3, 2012

Living With Meaning: Lisa Tait

Background: Lisa is currently teaching in the department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. In 2010, she received her PhD in American Literature with a certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Houston. Her work focuses on late 19th Century Mormon History and Mormon Women’s History. She is the mother of four children and when she is not busy being a mom, a teacher, and a wife, she enjoys making beautiful hand-crocheted newborn outfits which she often donates to charity events, debating literature, redecorating her home, and watching movies with a good supply of chocolate.

The Most Important Work
Yes, I believe that I have a work to do. My patriarchal blessing tells me so, and that has been a profound influence in shaping my life. My sense of what, specifically, that work is changes and evolves. The work I need to do might not be just one thing. In second grade, watching my teacher one day, I knew that teaching would be part of my life, and that has taken several forms already. I believe that teaching the gospel is part of my work in this life. During the last 20 years, I have spent most of my church service as a teacher. I believe there are ways that women do work because they’re women and ways that men do work because they’re men. But we need complete respect for both.

Living Without Regret
I wish I could have had more confidence, more sense of entitlement to what I wanted to do as woman. It was less culturally accepted for women to pursue professional goals when I started going to school in the eighties, but that is nothing new. It’s still not accepted very well to a large degree. I wish I had had more ability to claim my own life, to be more proactive, to be aware of my own opportunities. I saw life as an either/or situation—I had to choose either a professional career or marriage. I felt so divided between being a professional and being a mother, which I know many girls struggle with at BYU. Young women still struggle with this because as members of the church we do believe in the importance of being mothers, and our LDS culture can send some powerful, if sometimes inadvertent, messages about what we are “supposed” to do. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. We can convince ourselves, as women, and convince men that we can be both. There is room in our lives to be both a professional and a mother. There may be times in our lives when we have to choose one thing over the other. There may be some times of life when we might have to choose family over work. But there may be times when we need to put more time into our work, and we need to recognize that that choice can be okay, too. We need to progress in our work and sometimes that means letting it come first. But there is no one right way to progress forward. There is no universal. We can give encouragement to each other, to help each other keep moving, but we shouldn’t be prescriptive in how women’s lives should be lived. Telling each other what to do is a form of judging each other and we should allow women to live by what they feel is right for them. Go by inspiration for how you feel you should live your life. That is how you will know what is right for you. Learn to pray, because whatever the Spirit leads you to do is right. You will have confidence in your choices and know that what you are doing is right for you.

One of the biggest obstacles to women and men being able to claim their own lives and do the things they want to do is unconscious assumptions and unexamined traditions. It is the hardest thing in a marriage to navigate. All women, but especially girls who are unmarried and struggling through questions of working toward marriage and being a professional, need to be deliberate with their choices in marriage and beyond. Be aware of the assumptions you have about your work and the assumptions your husband has about your work. Saying, “I support you,” is different than supporting you (and that works both ways, for men and women). Life happens and it is easy to fall back into patterns you have imbibed. You fall back into the assumptions about roles and responsibilities, and both women and men can get stuck in those assumptions.

Claiming Education
LDS members theoretically believe in the value of education. We believe that the “glory of God is intelligence,” or in other words, light and truth. Education is about teaching you to learn how to learn, to value knowledge. An educated person continues to be engaged in the world, in ideas, in knowledge. It becomes a profound part of who you are. There are many women who don’t let education become who they are, perhaps in part because it feels “selfish” to them to continue pursuing their own interests. It’s hard because balance is hard. In this case, the unexamined assumption of valuing education can be a good thing because it can have a positive effect on children and future generations. As we continually pursue education and make it part of ourselves, we become more reasonable and responsible in the way we engage with the world. We become more skeptical of social narratives and the screaming that goes on in the political realm.

Defining a Life of Passivity
I believe that a passive life is lived reactively—it is waiting for things to happen and then responding to them rather than making goals and having a sense of purpose. Living passively is living according to “what you’re supposed to do” without examining if—or how—it is true to you. Being a wife and mother, for example, is a most wonderful thing, but that doesn’t mean that it has to follow the same trajectory for everyone. Likewise, there are many ways of being “educated” and “professional.” It’s a lot harder to actively figure out how to make and live out your own choices than it is to fall back into assumed patterns—but it’s a lot more rewarding

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