“The things I choose now are not because the perfect path didn’t work out for me but because I want to do them,” she says. “The life I lead is primary. It is not secondary.”
The popular Matlin Mortensen podcast”This is not a backup planAcknowledges — and rejects — an instantly familiar message to women who grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this column, we discuss what the term “back-up plan” means in Latter-day Saint culture, why it needs to change, and how Mortensen uses her platform to help young women to financially empower themselves.
The following has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
What does the “Support Plan” mean for Latter-day Saint women?
Women raised in the Church are often taught that anything outside of being a wife and mother is a backup plan. Most women hear the term “support plan” applied to their education. The irony that people outside the church don’t understand and is hard to explain is that I knew I was going to get a degree – and never planned on using it. My reasons for obtaining the certificate were sad: if my husband could not provide for me, if he died, if my marriage failed. None of this was about my value. It was a backup plan for all the ways a husband might fail or not show up in my life.
When did you refuse to list the backup plan?
I was graduating with a Bsc [Bachelor of Science degree] He was working in a newspaper for six months. I felt like I did all these hard things that were really paying off. And I thought, “Oh my God. I’m starting the backup plan for my life. I’m out of the map. I’m graduated.” [from] High school. She was awarded the Young Women’s Medal. I graduated [from] the school. I went on a mission. I got my bachelor’s degree. I have never dated anyone. And maybe I will for the foreseeable future.” I had a wonderful life, but it was never really cool or exciting or valuable—nor was it something I could have imagined.
The things I choose now are not because the perfect path didn’t work out for me but because I want to do them. The life I lead is essential. It is not secondary. That’s not what I do while I’m waiting for the time to fill. it’s my life. my plan.
What are the emotional consequences of thinking about education and career backup plans?
I’m obsessed with the term coined by Dr. Julie Hanks: “Shame ambitious. If you’re not familiar with the term, it describes the shame Mormon women feel for wanting something that deviates from the script. Nothing describes my experience better. I was ambitious but inside a confined box I understand fit.
When I look back at my younger self, I am disappointed in some of the ways my dreams were young. I feel like I’m learning to dream in new ways as an adult. I don’t think this is a unique experience. I have benefited greatly from the work of women before me, but because of conversations in church I feel I have not matured with the full promise of what this era has to offer women in the United States.
How has the backup plan narrative affected your educational choices?
All my life I have been drawn to journalism, but I have never considered this path. Instead, I thought about what jobs he considered better “mom” jobs — like being an elementary school teacher or a tech writer. When people asked me what I was studying, it bothered me because I hated the answer I was giving them.
My father pushed me to study something that would keep my options wider. I took a journalism class from a professor who took me seriously and believed in me. He looked at my writing and said there would always be work if you were good at this, and had the potential to be great. I realized that I want to be a journalist.
I am so grateful I went to Utah [University]Because my teachers encouraged me to get a job. Every day I am grateful that I got the degree I really wanted because I have been in the business for so many years now. I expect that I will spend a lot of years in the business.
What are the economic implications of telling women their jobs are backup plans?
I deeply internalized that I would never work, and that has huge implications. One is the gender pay gap in Utah. People excuse it by saying Utah women choose low-paying or part-time jobs, but culture pushes women to make those choices. Women are told they can do whatever God wants by staying home and raising children or not following what God wants and does. When it’s put this way, is it really an option? We have turned a social issue into a spiritual issue.
Women Latter Day Saints are also taught to reduce their time and labor. They often don’t have a good frame of reference for financially negotiating their value because the basis they come from is that their time is free and they are church volunteers. But it has a lot of value.
I really don’t think women can think of their education and careers as backup plans in today’s environment. Work affects your Social Security, your lifetime earnings, and your retirement. Dual income is becoming more and more necessary for many families. Money allows you to leave hurtful situations. Money is not just a beautiful thing. It is necessary.
Your podcast will often explore topics like home buying and financial planning. Why do young women need to understand these financial tools?
My father encouraged me to buy a home, and I was lucky enough to buy a home in Logan when interest rates were very low. I also now own one in Salt Lake. Really nothing else would have affected my net worth as positively as buying a property. These are investments for the future that I would never have considered if people had not encouraged me to do so.
Everyone assumed I was married when I bought the house, which is quite revealing. While there are valuable debates about whether home buying is accessible or smart, more conversations need to be made about how single women can make the move themselves.
In our culture, young women don’t think about their net worth or financial future as much as they should. I want conversations that empower women to take care of themselves. Otherwise, it is the government and circumstances that decide what to do with you. A major support system in the church for women is the volunteering of their time by other women.
What advice would you give young Latter-day Saint women regarding their education and career?
I understand why motherhood is so important to so many people. It is also important to respect your own ambition. You do not yet know how you will feel in the future. Ideally, your lifespan is getting longer, and children are only minor for so long. Make your decisions in a way that leaves your path open and honest to you.
Mortensen holds a BA in Journalism and an MA in Political Science. She currently works in communications in Salt Lake City. Follow her on Instagram @ not.a.back.up.plan and on Twitter @tweet.
Natalie Brown She is a writer, scholar, attorney, mother, and Latter-day Saint in Boulder, Colorado, who writes in a personal capacity. Its opinions do not reflect the views of the church or its employer.
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