Back in October, I was asked to speak on a panel at Counterpoint. My panel discussed "Women in the Mormon Church: The Limits of Agency."
I felt honored to participate in the panel, and my co-panelists did a wonderful job discussing the role agency plays in the lives of Mormon women.
However, I still feel deeply conflicted about my comments. My initial reaction to the subject matter was very abrupt. Women exist in the church under the direction of men. That is how a patriarchy works. Their agency is limited to what men allow them to do, which, really isn't agency in the sense that they are permitted to choose for themselves. The one choice truly allowed women is the choice to remain within the patriarchal institution (either happily or with the hope that change is coming,) or leave.
I am beyond the point in my faith where I feel inclined to quibble about this. Yes, the church "honors" women and motherhood. We are incredible. That isn't agency. But our roles are equal, just different, we hear. Okay, but we still don't get to choose those roles. They were assigned to us by someone else. That isn't agency.
For a church that claims the ability to choose as the act that saved us from damnation, they sure are stingy when offering that act to women.
As you can see, I still have strong feelings about agency and Mormon women.
However, the last three years taught me to see and embrace the gray. I recognize that many Mormon women do not see things as abruptly (or as cynically,) as I do. So, responding to outside pressure from many to "stay positive" and offer a message appealing to both apostate and faithful alike, I wrote some remarks for my panel.
I tried to write honestly, but offer some ideas for how women could expand their agency.
In the end, I feel like I offered breadcrumbs to a starving population. I feel like many women interpreted my experiences about blessing Clara as a way to circumnavigate the patriarchal institution, and that was not my intention. I shared by blessing experience to show just how limited I was in my interactions with my child. Our problems cannot be solved by simply insisting on holding our children.
Furthermore, I have no business instructing women on how to stay in the church and exert agency. It isn't a decision I made for myself, after all.
Anyway, the true sign that I am unresolved on any opinion is my ability to write about it endlessly. I'm starting to do so here, so I will end by including a link to my original comments. (This is what I wrote, I made some changes in the actual delivery, but nothing major. I also stopped a few times to get emotional, because that's how I roll.)
I re-read my talk before posting it, and I feel better about it now. I can see myself more in my writing. But I am still reminded of the Anne Bradstreet poem "The Author to Her Book," in which Bradstreet regards her poem as "My rambling brat (in print.)" All I can do now is go forward.