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6/19/13

Short Lessons on Mormon Feminism



          So I liked THIS article on Mormon Feminism in City Weekly and not just because I was quoted in it, or because my friend wrote it. But I have some thoughts on some things, as one does. Here they are:


1. I agree with the premise of Ordain Women. I think the church should move toward full-equality yesterday and I think it is a good thing to ask for female ordination directly.

I also think small victories and gradual changes in thought dynamics should be celebrated, because life is short and celebrate what you can. I think the two strains of activism need and thrive off each other in positive ways. We don't need to create artificial divisions in the Mormon Feminist movement, for instance, suggesting that you either support small, gradual changes OR you only advocate for full and complete equality. Welcome to 2013, you can have both. This is feminism vs. patriarchy, not feminism A versus feminism B. I can say this now because I used to think this way, and I realized it was wrong.

(I'm not suggesting that was what Kate Kelly meant, but it is an argument I hear frequently, and I don't agree with it.) 


2. I admire Laurel Thatcher Ulrich immensely. I grew up reading Ulrich, and her works shaped my perspective in many ways. So naturally I was a little put-off by her dismissive response to the current strain of Mormon Feminists:

"I don’t think many of the Mormon feminists I know worry much about what they wear to church on Sunday or even whether women pray in General Conference."

Maybe you need to get to know some more Mormon Feminists, Ms. Ulrich. I run a facebook group of about 800 of them who care very deeply about what they wore to church on December 16th. Their feelings are just as important and valid as yours. 

I also refuse to accept that a person who won the Pulitzer Prize doesn't understand the significance of visual imagery (It wasn't about what we wear to church, and everyone, including Ulrich knows it,) or the significance of seeing a woman in a leadership position for the first time in our well-behaved history.

In regards to this quote from the article: "Ulrich knows feminists who are “lawyers, college professors, CEOs, politicians.” These women “raise their voices often and well in local settings where they are usually heard,” she says, adding that they “are too busy trying to make a difference in areas where they have significant responsibility to worry a lot about what is happening in SLC.”

I think it is wonderful that there are female, feminist "lawyers, college professors, CEOs, and politicians" who have avenues in which to express themselves and change the world. But there are also Stay-At-Home Moms and teenagers and college students, and under-employed writers and artists and dreamers who also need to have their voices heard. For those people, Wear Pants to Church Day afforded them the right to express their views in a small and meaningful way. I think it is disrespectful to those men and women to suggest that the only place to be a feminist is the work-force. I also think it is strange that Ulrich wouldn't include church as a place where women "can make a difference." 

I also respectfully reject the idea that it is somehow superior not to "worry about" things that seem "beneath you,"  or which happen in SLC. I believe our Heavenly Father is a feminist. I believe our Heavenly Mother is a feminist. I believe Jesus is a feminist. The same Jesus who counts the hairs on my head and watches sparrows fall worries about what happens in SLC. Small people, and small things, matter. Our Heavenly Family celebrates the victories of both CEOS and young mothers who dressed their baby girl in pants back in December. 

There is also something deeply important about having your voice heard at home. I'm a teacher, I have a wonderful career that I value, and where I feel my voice is heard and appreciated. Not just with my students, but with my colleagues as well. 

But I wanted to hear my voice heard at home. For all of my life, the LDS chapel has been my spiritual home. It is where I was raised to talk to God. I may move away from home, explore new avenues, and talk to God in numerous other places, but for me, wearing Pants to church was a test of the old adage, "you can never go home again." I wanted to know that if I went to church as my true self, my wandering-hearted, angry feminist self, if God would still hear me. Turns out God was listening. 

Which, in the end, means I guess it shouldn't matter (and I will repeat this to myself over and over until I believe it,) if a childhood idol dismisses my actions as less than those of a CEO or politician. It was never about making history anyways. 



54 comments:

Mungagungadin said...

Amen.

Kristine said...

That really doesn't sound much like things Laurel usually says, and I'm certain "indifferent shrug" is not an accurate reflection of how she feels about Mormon feminism or feminists.

If the position attributed to her exists, though, I generally agree with your arguments against it.

Stephanie said...

@ Kristine, that is a valid point. I also should try and remember that people have a myriad of opinions that change daily. :)

Like I said, I immensely admire Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Obviously, PANTS was important to me, so I myopically think it must be important to everyone else too.

Ru said...

Ditto, friend. I really admire Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and I was pretty saddened by her quote in the article.

Granted, I understand the perspective that pants was sort of silly. I dismissed it at first. But once I realized the level of opposition to something "silly," I realized it's actually quite significant on an entirely different level.

Holly said...

@Kristine:

That really doesn't sound much like things Laurel usually says, and I'm certain "indifferent shrug" is not an accurate reflection of how she feels about Mormon feminism or feminists.

If the position attributed to her exists, though, I generally agree with your arguments against it.


Are you suggesting that I made up a statement and attributed it to Ms. Ulrich?

Unless someone hacked into her email account, that was indeed her statement. In fact, that was only part of her statement. It was pretty harsh, and I thought "indifferent shrug" was actually a mild way of characterizing her thoroughly dismissive response.

Meredith said...

I love you Stephanie.

AshCall said...

This was an excellently written post! Thanks for writing and speaking up. I'm so glad that this discussion is finally happening.

Stephanie said...

I'm just curious, since you've openly stated that you no longer believe the tenants of Mormonism, why do you care anymore whether or not there is "equality" (in your eyes) in the Church. There are countless organizations out there that demean women far more than the Church does. Why spend so much energy focusing on changing an organization you no longer believe in? I'm not trying to be critical. I'm just genuinely curious.

Stephanie said...

@Stephanie

I don't believe in the tenants of Mormonism that are man-made and reflect antiquated notions of Gender. I also don't believe in Mormonism via correlation.


I do think there are many aspects of Mormonism that are beautiful and worth fighting for. I believe in improving an institution so that it benefits many instead of the few. There are many Mormons who love their faith but feel lonely and isolated, I think the movement towards a more accepting and Christ-like church is something worth advocating for.


And as I said earlier, Mormonism is my spiritual home. Wrestling with my place in this world is my birth-right.


Thank your for your question. Please let me know if you would like clarification.

Stephanie said...

quick add- I am aware there are institutions and practices that are far more demeaning to women. I can care about both things. This blog happens to focus on Mormonism frequently, but doesn't limit my ability or desire to participate in social change elsewhere.

Holly said...

There are countless organizations out there that demean women far more than the Church does.

Like what? Name some. And then tell me: What's your point? Can you possibly imagine that Mormon feminists who no longer believe in all the doctrines of the LDS church are equally invested in or familiar with the "countless organizations"?

Let's take commercial major league American sports, for instance, with the whole cheerleader thing and the way women are depicted in the ads that support it. Some might say that whole business demeans women more than the LDS church. But I never cared about major league sports. I never invested in it; I have little familiarity with how it works. I certainly have no particular authority when I discuss it.

So how likely am I to be able to effect much change there? And should I even try to do so? After all, there might be countless organizations that demean women even more than commercial major league American sports. Why should I try to change something I never believed in?

If people question the appropriateness of my trying to improve the church I grew up in and served a mission for, the organization that shaped my life perhaps more intimately, directly and thoroughly than any other on this planet, even if I no longer believe in all its doctrines and practices today, how can they suggest it might be better or more appropriate if I or women like me were to try to change institutions and organizations I/we never believed in?

So what are you really saying and asking, Stephanie? I'm genuinely curious.

Claire McKinnis said...

curious to see if you have seen this video circulating: http://www.qideas.org/video/the-evolution-of-the-swimsuit.aspx

Linda said...

I love reading about the struggles of Mormon women. I live in a small town with a big church and I have been fascinated by the endlessly smiling moms chasing huge broods of children, polite dads, nice kids. So imagine my surprise when one mom of 8 (!) children confided in me that her husband bought her an exercise bike after twins 7 & 8 were born so she wouldn't get fat. Never mind that she was completely overwhelmed. Or the young gay student about to begin at BYU who told my daughter that he could never tell his family his sexuality; he thought of suicide.

I'm Jewish, though it's more of a cultural connection than spiritual. What I'm beginning to admire more and more as I grow older is the basis of Judiasm is to question everything. Authority. God. Laws. Struggles are welcomed, embraced. Throughout history, rabbis have openly argued every law written. Except in the orthodox movement (like all extremes) women are rabbis, cantors. Our cantor is gay; our rabbi officiated at his wedding. I know as many Jews who are atheists as I know Jews who are theists. No one takes the bible literally.

There is no prostlytizing-- in fact it's very difficult to convert.

I guess my point is there are plenty of unhappy Jews-- we just don't worry about being excommunicated if we don't follow the rules.

Stephanie said...

@Linda

I recently read something very similar to your comment on another Mormon Faith/Feminism blog: http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/06/12/on-questioning-2/

I think that endless questioning is a really beautiful way of defining your relationship with God and religion.

Thanks for reading

April said...

Wonderful response. I am sorry one of your (and my) feminist heroes made a dismissive comment about your activism. You happen to be one of my feminist heroes too. Thank you for all you did to make pants happen.

April said...

Wonderful response. I am sorry one of your (and my) feminist heroes made a dismissive comment about your activism. You happen to be one of my feminist heroes too. Thank you for all you did to make pants happen.

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Linda said...

Interesting article in the NY Times about Mormons searching the Web and finding doubt. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/us/some-mormons-search-the-web-and-find-doubt.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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I admire your courage, and your strength, women are wonderful and many men don't 'get it', not just Mormon men! It's human-nature to be suspicious and distrusting of what you don't know/understand which is at the root of misogyny IMHO.

When my wife and I joined the Church I felt like I had finally found my real family - we were welcomed unconditionally by all. Fast & Testimony Sundays became a tear-fest for me.

My wife has always been a strong, self-sufficient woman (we're now 60) - but never aligned herself with organized feminism. When she questioned the Missionaries that were giving us the Discussions in the early days about women being excluded from the Priesthood, they told her something that always stayed with me: Women don't need the priesthood to have the Power of The Holy Spirit - they are born with it. Men must exercise the aspects of their feminine sides in order to be worthy of holding Priesthood Power: Contriteness, Forgiveness, and most of all, the Charity of Christ. I believe it was this interchange with the Missionaries (Sister Missionaries btw!) that encouraged me to join the Mormon Church, something I never regretted.

Keep on keeping on - you're a Special Spirit :-)

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