Sisterhood Blog

The Real Husbands of Salt Lake City

By Naomi Zeveloff

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Mitt Romney

In my piece, published this week on Salon, I wrote about Mormon gender roles being highly prescribed, with men defining themselves “in contrast to women but also against other men in the secular world.” From the outside, Mormon family norms might seem like a throwback to the 1950s, and Romney certainly garners his fair share of “Leave it to Beaver” comparisons. In Mormon culture, men are the primary breadwinners; many women work part-time, if at all. Couples marry young and start large families early.

In Ogden, Utah, the heavily Mormon town where I grew up in, many of my high school friends have two children and several others are starting on their third. We’re in our late 20s.

But taking a closer look at Mormon families, the 1950s comparison seems utterly incongruous in some ways. Unlike the conservative, aloof, idealized man of the 1950s, Mormon men are taught to be gentle and to interact in good faith with “love unfeigned.” If a Mormon man must issue a word of criticism, he should be specific, and do it in a way least likely to drive the other person away. Family is central in the Mormon tradition. Women are supposed to be the nurturing, loving caretakers, and their husbands the providing protectors. In this way, both Mormon men and women have an enormous stake in the domestic sphere; ideally, both rule over hearth and home.

To be sure, growing up in Utah I witnessed enormous amounts of sexism. Mormonism is an explicitly patriarchal religion.

At age 12, worthy Mormon men attain the priesthood, the power and authority to act out God’s will. This role inaccessible to women. Mormon women are by no means barred from seeking work outside the home, but the Mormon emphasis on growing large families can delay careers for years. One woman I know recently began practicing law at least two decades after she first attained her degree; in between she had 11 children. A running joke in my high school was that certain girls planned on going to college only to obtain their “MRS” degree, to find a handsome returned missionary and settle down before graduation. (The student newspaper at the Church-affiliated Brigham Young University even publishes a bridal guide!)

But for every instance of internalized and explicit sexism, I could point to examples of feminism rooted in the Mormon faith. I have a Mormon female friends with Ivy League degrees and big careers. My best friend from high school has a marriage that is enviable in its seeming perfection — a picture of equality, affection and shared responsibility for their young son.

Now that I’ve left Utah and I write primarily about Judaism, I try to examine my own faith through the same lens that I applied to Mormonism growing up. Like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some strains of Judaism have similarly prescribed gender roles. Even the more liberal strains replicate the sexist modes of the secular world. As a religion reporter, my job is to locate the intersection of religious expectation and personal agency. To find the Mormon feminist housewives, as it were, and figure out what they’re about.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mormon, Mitt Romney, Gender Roles

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.