Neylan McBaine | The Mormon Women Project

Neylan McBaine attended Yale University.  She currently lives with her husband and three young daughters.  Neylan has been published in Newsweek, Dialogue:  A Journal of Mormon Thought, Meridian Magazine, Segullah, and BustedHalo.com, among others.  She is the Personal Voices editor of Dialogue.  Her collection of personal essays, How to be a Twenty-first Century Pioneer Woman, was published in 2008.  She blogs regularly at www.neylanmcbaine.com.


Mcbaine_head I'm a born-and-raised New Yorker.  A Manhattanite at that:  I went to one of those Gossip Girl schools, the one Jackie Kennedy attended as a girl.  I am the daughter of an opera singer and lawyer, and that makes me a bohemian with a Wall Street sensibility.  My educational pedigree continued at the Julliard School where I studied piano and Yale University where I majored in English.  But there is one label that defines me more than all of these fancy designations:

I am a Mormon.

Not just any Mormon, a Mormon woman.  Which means that people I meet, when assaulted with all the brand names and movie-set locations of my childhood, get a very confused look on their face when they also find out I go to church for three hours a week, sustain a living prophet and believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.  “But aren't you a thinking person?”  their look seems to ask.  Or, as one of my dearest New York friends revealed one tipsy evening, “How did I become friends with a freaking Mormon?”

If left merely to the impressions of the media, one might understandably think that a woman with my background couldn't possibly be affiliated with an organization that — as it is so often presented — funnels its women into wifely and motherly servitude and has some sort of relationship (no one's quite sure) with polygamy.  But Mormonism's best kept secret is that intelligent, engaged and proactive women are legion in our culture.  Why does no one know about us?

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Part of the problem is many Mormon women themselves don't recognize that these intelligent, engaged women are in our midst.  Many are afraid to admit they are one of these women.  “If I were a ‘good' Mormon, I wouldn't have gotten my master's degree.  I wouldn't be working, and I wouldn't want to work so much.  I'd want to be a mother and have kids and stay home,” one young filmmaker said to me recently.  How did we get to a point in our culture where our free agency — the ability to choose that our doctrine holds as the most ennobled quality of our human condition — has been disparaged to the point that a young, talented woman feels ashamed of her pursuits?

The importance of marriage and motherhood is never in question among faithful Mormons, but my own youth was filled with female role models who remain true to themselves, their talents, their interests and their families.  With the help of prayer, faith and a hard-won understanding of our unique missions in life, this balance is not only possible, it is demanded by a doctrine that celebrates individual worth.  But this balance is not widely practiced:  as I've grown older, I've seen many Mormon women feel ostracized and sometimes leave our church altogether because they're not sure how their choices fit into “the mold”.  These experiences have prompted me to share some of the role models from my own life and search out others who have made thoughtful, considered choices about who they want to be.

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I recently founded The Mormon Women Project to shed light on the immense strength and variety of the 7 million Mormon women throughout the world. The project, housed at www.mormonwomen.com, is a digital library of interviews with Latter-day Saint women.  My hope is that by profiling women who have made proactive choices in their lives, while still remaining committed to their faith, the Project will broaden the definition of what it means to be a Mormon woman today.  Faustina Otoo, a convert to the Church in Accra, Ghana, is just as “Mormon” as a young full-time mother in Utah.  So too is Myrna Castellar, a recovering heroin addict in New York.  Karen Bybee is no less a mother to her three sons because she has managed a successful international sports management career planning World Cup and Olympic events.  With single women making up the largest single demographic of church membership, single student Jenny Reeder should be lauded for her pursuit of a doctorate, not left out because she hasn't yet married.

My goal with this project is not to get Big Love stripped from the airwaves, nor is it a gimmick to show potential converts how cool we can be.  It is simply an effort to explode the internal stereotypes and judgments that hinder Mormon women from maximizing our own potential.  When that potential is realized, we won't need a TV show or media campaign to discredit the harsh caricatures of us so prevalent in the popular consciousness. The confidence, good works and productivity of our women will be effective enough.


What labels define you?
Do you know any Mormon women?
Are you a Mormon woman?
Does Neylan's essay and/or project resonate with you?  Why?  Why not?

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: College, Culmination of Childhood Dreams

If you are here for the first time, you may want to skim through Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Of Childhood and Christmas before reading further.

Important music during my 20's seems to largely represent the culmination of childhood dreams, prior to pursuing different dreams.  I've tried to capture this experience in a children's book which Mallika Sundaramurthy has illustrated; I will share the book with you at a later date.

Clip 1:  I am playing Lizst's, Concert Etude in D-flat Major, “Un sospiro” as part of my senior piano recital (for my posterity — entire program is below).  This recital was a significant milestone: it allowed me to be the hero of my story, rethink my competence, and tell an audio story for my posterity.  It was also a stepping stone, as I symbolically closed the chapter on a childhood dream, prior to starting my career chapter in New York.  I owe a debt to Dr. Paul Pollei for pushing me and preparing me to pull this off — a huge debt.  A reminder of the importance of our mentoring others.

Clip 2:  I am playing the piano, but this time as part of Brigham Young University's big band Synthesis performing at the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival.  Even a short listen will reveal I don't have the same confidence playing jazz as I do classical.  But in some ways, I am even more proud of this recording because it signalled a departure from reading music to improvising, providing me with another opportunity to rethink my competence.

Two more lessons learned as it relates to ‘dare to dream'.

Saying our dream out loud — As a freshman classical piano student, when I heard Synthesis perform which included Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor, I later made the pronouncement in front of a large group of women at my church (the Relief Society) that I was going to play in Synthesis.  Given my skills at the time, the pronouncement was pretty laughable.  What dream do you need to utter out loud?

Mentors were key to achieving this dream — Without my piano teacher, Steve Erickson, who now plays with the U.S. Air Force, and the encouragement of Jeff Campbell, an amazing musican who now teaches at the Eastman School of Music, who was gracious enough to never remind me just what an amateur I was.

Clip 3:  Nancy Wilson with Cannonball Adderley performing The Old Country.  This was the kind of music I aspired to play, and still love to listen to.  You can buy here. And listen below.

Clip 4:  I've written extensively about my Wall Street story, but I haven't spoken much of my spiritual/personal life during that decade.  Eternal Day was set to music by D. Fletcher, performed by D. Fletcher on piano, Alison Eldredge on cello, and Ariel Bybee, vocals.  When you hear it, perhaps you'll understand how church every Sunday was always complete with D. Fletcher at the organ with nary a word spoken.

Do you have spiritual or secular stories that need to be told?  And better yet, stories that marry the two?

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P.S. Thank you to Neal Robison for helping me with the clips. Check out the blog of his darling wife Macy.

Related Posts:

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Pre-Teen – Stevie Wonder On the Scene

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: High School, Cheerleading and Finding True Love

Giant Baby Steps – Feeling Our Fear and Doing it Anyway

Telling My Wall Street Story


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