As moderate, liberal or radical Mormons, it is time to make our voices heard WITHIN Mormonism…guided by the spirit, liberal and radical interpretations of the Gospel and scriptures are just as valid as those made by Conservatives.
Cross-Posted at the Exponent
This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:
Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?
Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.
My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.
If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)
This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.
Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, hereand here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.
I saw this quote over at Feminist Mormon Housewives and thought that I would share it here to go along with my exploration of the different ways Mormon men are helping move the Church in a more progressive direction:
“The world of men is dividing into egalitarians and patriarchalists–those
men who are trying to learn the language and customs of the newly emerging
world, and those who are determined to keep that new order from taking root. The
former group welcomes these changes, seeing that though they are painful in the
short term, over the long term they provide the only route to intimacy and
peace. But the latter group sees only loss…. The patriarchalists’ world view,
shared by women as well as men, is battling the emerging egalitarian world view,
which is also shared by people of both sexes.”
~ Naomi Wolf
So what do you think? Also, go read the discussion over at fMh, it’s fascinating.
I got an interesting response to my post “Hope in Feminist Sisterhood” over at the Exponent from somebody calling themselves Holder86:
Mormon feminism? Why does it have to always be about women? Why can’t there
be Masculinism? Feminism is what women use to feel superior to men. There is no
need to be superior. Accept that men and women have different roles for a
reason. Mom’s and Dad’s. Dad works and Mum looks after the children. This is the
Mormon Culture. You can’t change the culture. You don’t like the culture then be
a feminist in another religion. There are many talks by Apostles about how there
is to be no feminism in the Mormon Church. Leave political beliefs to politics
and leave religion to religion. Be a feminist in politics if you want some
action but not in a religion…especially the Mormon one.
My first reaction was, “What? Are you kidding me?” I truly think that Mr. Holder86 was just trying to stir the pot and bring to boil the feminist blood. Seriously, who thinks like this anymore? Normally I don’t respond to people like Holder because, what’s the point? But then mr. mraynes made this excellent point that bears repeating here:
I guess holder86 has highlighted the uselessness of the term feminism. It’s
not useless because of its ideals, but because of the way a few have used it at
times to push a female superiority agenda. And the word itself does smack of
such a doctrine. But that is not its true aim!
Holder86, were I to extend your logic to its conclusion, I could argue that
our church does in fact practice “Masculinism”, better known as patriarchy. Men
run this church, especially its public face. I mean, it is 2009 and TWO women
share talks at General Conference alongside dozens of men. Am I the only one who
finds this ridiculous, especially when we already have an entire session devoted
to the priesthood? Couldn’t we at least hear from one woman at each of the four
At its core, feminism is no different than the set of teachings we call the
Gospel of Jesus Christ. Feminism, like the Gospel, espouses the fundamental
(spiritual) equality (rather than equivalence) of all souls, both male and
female. We all have the same value in the eyes of our divine Parents and
especially our Savior. All deserve love, respect, and happiness.
This is why I have called this week’s anti-woman wacko the hopeful edition because men like mr. mraynes exist and are thinking and saying things like this.
I think these two comments present an interesting illustration as to what is going on in the church today. Holder on the one hand, takes the traditional point of view and thinks that feminism is damaging and sinful, at least in a religious context. He believes that Mormon culture is just as true as Mormon doctrine and any questioning of that culture is an affront to our way of life. Unfortunately for Holder, those who hold his opinion are dying out. His understanding of marriage and the relationship between men and women is rich in its immaturity and lacks a complex world view.
Times are changing and I would venture to say that a large part of the church cannot follow the “Dad works and Mum looks after the children” paradigm, especially now in this time of economic crisis. In fact the apostles themselves have distanced themselves from this paradigm by using the convenient word, “primarily.” The previous paradigm was stifled in immaturity; women remained dependent and men were trapped in a dogmatic system. So yes, I believe culture can change; culture is no excuse for not becoming all that we can be. We are here on this earth to become like our Heavenly Parents and any step towards equality is a step towards them. The apostles and prophets are nothing, if not pragmatic and they understand that most men and women today expect equality. The fact that they have endorsed this kind of existence says to me that our leaders now expect men to be more mature and women more assertive. Though they may not explicitly use the word feminism, the apostles have increasingly turned to the rhetoric of equal partnership and shared housekeeping/childrearing responsibilities…all of which are primary tenants of feminism.
Mr. mraynes, on the other hand, recognizes the potential danger of feminism (like any ideology, it can be taken too far) but realizes that the true ideal of the word is something that is very much backed up by our doctrine and by the leaders of our church. You can find the gospel mr. mraynes espouses in our scriptures and in the words of our prophets. There are more and more men who recognize that there are inequities in our church structure and are open to ideas on how to make it better (mr. mraynes came up with a fantastic idea!). And there are more and more men like my husband who truly do want to be equal to women…Who want to be equally present in the home and to fully share in beauty and complexity of life with their partner. The good news that I see in this illustration is that it is men like my husband, feminist men, who are going to rise up and make the changes with women by their sides.
Over the next couple of weeks I would like to explore ways in which men can join the fight for true equality between the sexes. And to Holder86 and the other anti-woman wackos like him, you might want to start swimming because there is a tidal wave coming.
Cross-posted at the Exponent
I was sitting at my desk in the Smith Institute for LDS History back in the days when it was still at BYU, reading through a newspaper article that one of the professors I worked with had been interviewed for. And I remember feeling so alone. The article was entitled “Where Have All the Mormon Feminists Gone?” and it basically asserted that the Mormon women of my generation had no use for feminism. This was in the days before Feminist Mormon Housewives, back when VOICE at BYU had died a quiet death and a year before its softer re-incarnation, Parity, was born.
But I had a primal need for feminism; feminism was in my blood and in my bones and I felt isolated and assumed that I was alone in my concern for women’s space within a Mormon context. I had professors, both female and male, who nurtured my burgeoning feminism in the academic sphere but there was no one at that time, to gently lead me into the lonely road of being a feminist and a Mormon woman.
If somebody had told me then. that five years later I would be holding my baby girl at an academic Mormon feminist conference, I’m not sure I would have believed them! I, like so many others, thought Mormon feminism was silenced and dead, or at least softer. And maybe this was so for a while but it is certainly not the case anymore.
I have felt the ground shift and have seen the swell of excitement, creativity and thoughtfulness. Patriarchy, beware! We are making history just as Eliza and Emmeline, Laurel, Margaret and Claudia did before us. Mormon feminists are not just passive actors in our theological history, we have been a vital force from the very beginning.
Of course, Mormon feminists today experience a very different church from the one 2nd wavers influenced during the 60’s and 70’s. There is so much distrust and many open wounds still left unhealed. My feminists sisters are also probably less optimistic that things will change. But this new feminist movement has reignited in only five years; think of the change we can accomplish in ten years, twenty!
Being a Mormon feminist is inconvenient and lonely. Other members of the church will think that you are crazy or sinful/prideful/power-hungry/deluded. You will have hard questions left unanswered. You will think really painful things about your community and God. But there is room in Mormon feminism for optimism.
Even if the church does not change or the questions go unanswered, you will always have sisters at your side. They will be there to teach you how to crochet and giggle with you late into the night. They will be there to help carry the burden, to mourn and cry with you. They will be there to walk down the long road with you.
I have posted before how I worry for my daughter’s future as a Mormon woman. But today, I don’t worry because I know that she will have mothers and sisters who will always be at her side. And that is enough.
(The woman rolls her eyes and smiles to herself as she walks away.)
cross posted at The Exponent
As a feminist, I have been encouraged by the Church’s rhetoric on the equality of women and men, especially as it relates to marriage. I think that we can all agree that an increase in egalitarian language is a good thing and benefits both men and women. But language can only take us so far and I am truly afraid that the church’s language on equal partnership is just empty rhetoric.
Since the 1970’s, the Church has steadily become more progressive in its treatment of women…allowing women to speak in most meetings and giving them an increased presence in leadership councils. Church leaders also started promoting the idea of equal partnership in the home and then subsequently backed off draconian birth control restrictions and limits on women leaving the domestic sphere. But I have to wonder how much of this has been done out of political necessity; American women saw greater equality in mainstream society and so the church had to follow suit.
Before I go on, I want to say that I sincerely hope the church believes its own rhetoric and that it isn’t a ploy to mollify us Western women. I want to believe that our leaders have been inspired by God to reach for equality because that is the kind of God I believe in. Perhaps I am, as my brother-in-law lovingly suggests, a “fringe” Mormon but even so, I love my religion just as much as any true-blue Mormon there ever was. I have stayed a Mormon because I believe that progress is slowly being made and I want to be among the snowflakes that finally break the branch of inequality in our religion. Mostly, I want to live the religion of my heart.
But recently I have felt my heart break because I am not sure that I can continue to believe in the slow progress. Yes, we have seen an increase in the language of egalitarianism but the Church’s actions do not back it up. Until recently, most of us believed that the Church remained neutral in political matters, however Mormon activism to protect the traditional family around the world has been going on for at least a decade. Mormons have played a leading role in a global alliance of conservative Muslims and Christians who have joined together to defeat threats to their patriarchal tradition. Perhaps you have heard the now folkloric story of the BYU professor who attended a United Nations conference and gave a speech based on the Proclamation on the Family and changed the anti-traditional family course of the conference. Spurred on by this success, BYU created the World Family Policy Center, holding annual conferences for “pro-family” entities around the world. The Church also became involved with organizations such as United Families International (UTI) and the World Congress of Families (WCF). In fact, the Church is a major funder of the World Congress of Families and sent Bruce C. Hafen to speak at their conference in 2007. (As an aside, the WCF’s screed on feminism and the family is the funniest thing you’ll read all day).
It is the mission of these organizations to influence international policy in pro- traditional family and anti- gay marriage and abortion ways. I am not against protecting, supporting and promoting the family; generally I am pretty pro-family, as evidenced by my two children in three years, but families that do not guarantee an equally beneficial experience for all those involved should not be supported. These organizations have, unfortunately, targeted International treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which call on signatory countries to foster equality and make progress towards eliminating sexism in both national laws and cultural practices. CEDAW is basically the international bill of rights for women. As somebody who practically ate, drank and breathed CEDAW in college, I know the immense good this particular convention did for women around the world but also how ineffectual it could be because of the conservative factions of signatory countries that refused to follow all of the guidelines.
The executive director at BYU’s World Family Policy Center told a reportert hat the United Nations conventions are an issue because they “appeared to be a pretty concerted effort to shape customary international law into, essentially, the Equal Rights Amendment.” But is anyone else wondering if an Equal Rights Amendment for countries like Saudi Arabia and India would be such a bad thing? Would it be such a bad thing for female fetuses to be guaranteed the right to life or for little girls to go to school without acid being flung in their eyes? Is being able to escape an abusive marriage really a threat to the traditional family? The answer is, of course, yes; any gains made in the rights of women are a threat to patriarchal tradition. The question is now, does our church really want to follow this tradition?
It would seem that the lack of answers is really the answer. Of course our church leaders could change things if they wanted to. The preside language is incomprehensible and could be gotten rid of tomorrow without changing the majority of Mormon marriages. Likewise, the “hearken” covenant could be done away with without fundamentally changing the endowment. And yet neither is likely to happen; they are not likely to happen because their is no desire or impetus to change. Instead we have gotten into bed with facets of religion and culture that hold equal partnership between men and women in complete disregard. I am afraid that here, actions speak louder than words.
As for those of us on the fringe, all we can do is keep hanging out on that tree branch and hope that God sends an avalanche some day soon.
This is the sacrament talk I gave in my ward two weeks ago. I quoted from Chieko Okazaki, Joan Chittister’s Called to Question and Valerie Hudson’s Women in Eternity, Women in Zion but because I wrote it as a sermon, I did not include citations. I hope you enjoy it.
A wise woman once said that “vision is the ability to realize that the truth is always larger than the partial present.” It is easy to become enmeshed in the partial present, to be so concerned with our daily existence, that we forget that our lives serve a greater purpose and is part of a grander whole. Indeed, it is hubris to believe that we live our lives purely for our own sake, for we are all interconnected in the great plan of God. This plan connects us with every other spirit and intelligence in the universe. It connects us with God and makes the atonement of Jesus Christ operational on our behalf.
The plan of salvation is like a grand tapestry. Each of us is a small thread in this tapestry; intersecting, connecting, separating and intersecting again. Moving from color to color, dark to light. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to the great tapestry. We may not understand the pattern that our lives make, but God does. It is God’s plan that incorporates and connects us all. It is that plan that will bring us eternal happiness.
As Moses 1:39 tells us, God’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. No matter the time period and regardless of the culture into which a spirit is born, every life is infinitely precious because God’s purpose extends to every individual. In the pre-mortal existence, our intelligences were organized into individual spirits and we became the children of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In our primeval childhood, we were nurtured by the side of God. We grew and developed and desired to progress further. We desired the opportunity to discern good from evil; to prove to our Heavenly Parents our ability to become like them and live as exalted beings in their presence forever.
And so, in their great love, they came up with a plan that would insure our happiness and immortality. Each spirit child would have to leave the presence of God for a time. In order to fully prove ourselves, it would be necessary to withhold the recollection of our former friends and birth. As we sojourned through mortality, we would make choices based on our discernment of good and evil. Our Heavenly Parents knew the mortal weakness each of us would suffer, and so in their mercy, they provided us with a Savior. Because he first loved us, he desired to be the propitiation for the sins we would inevitably commit. Our older brother would be the door through which, if we entered, we would be saved.
We are told that at hearing this plan, the hosts of heaven rejoiced. Two-thirds of God’s children happily chose this plan. All of us are here in mortality because we chose the plan. Everybody who has ever been born, or ever will be born, chose God’s plan of happiness. This fact should be a source of great hope and confidence to us. We all trusted God. We all loved the Savior. We were willing to take the frightening risks of mortality because we desired to be like them. We assumed the burden of freedom because we loved Christ so much. And he assumed the burden of being our Savior because he loved us so much. Before we were born, then, we had become part of a web of love, part of the grand tapestry that is the plan of salvation.
The tapestry begins with the creation of the Earth. In order for the plan to commence, a place for mortal existence had to be created. As Moses 1:4 tells us: “And the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” A great Mormon poetess beautifully captures the primordial event in her “Song of Creation”:
Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas,
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home
Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
fire free from stones
and breathed it strong and dancing,
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.
He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
Her fingers flickered
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow
a waterfall of flowers
And if you live long, my child
you’ll see snow burst
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother and Father laughing,
listen to Mother and Father laughing
behind the locked door.
The first chapter of Moses tells us how the gods created the world; first organizing matter to create the bedrock that would form the hills everlasting. Then the gods divided darkness from light, creating the satellites of the sun, moon and stars in the heavens. The gods formed seas and fountains and then decorated the new earth with flower, fish, bush and beast. But their crowning achievement came in the creation of humankind; a man and a woman, fashioned in their own image.
Adam and Eve were the first to come to this earth, though the Garden of Eden was a transitional and paradoxical existence. They had the veil drawn over their eyes and yet, they walked and talked with god. Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence; they could not sin, they could not die but they also could not progress. They were given two commandments; the first was not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the second was to multiply and replenish the earth. But they were given the gift of choice, the first gift of heaven, to choose whether or not they would keep the commandments of God. This is where the beauty of God’s plan was manifest for it is not in God’s nature to expel his children from his presence. And so he designed a plan that would allow Adam and Eve the ability to choose for themselves whether they would progress or remain in a state of innocence.
As we all know, Adam and Eve fell that men might be. Throughout the ages, our first parents have been criticized for breaking the commandment of God. But the restored knowledge of the plan of salvation has given us the vision and understanding to know that their transgression was essential to the progression of all men and women.
Though underestimated and vilified throughout history, Eve understood the greater vision of God: that man must be that they might have joy. Her statement in Moses 5:11 is perhaps the most doctrinally profound in all of scripture. “And Eve…heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Eve knew that it was the perpetuation of life, the continuation of the plan of salvation that would bring true happiness not only to herself, but to all her children. And so Eve became the first agent of light, providing the way for God’s children to receive bodies and progress to immortality.
All members of the human race must enter mortality through birth. Those of us who accepted the plan were permitted to pass through the veil that shrouds mortal life. We know women play an important role in the passage through the veil; they escort every soul through the veil, even the soul of the Savior of mankind. In a sense, they serve as the gatekeepers to our mortal world. Presiding over those who pass through the first veil, they clothe each traveler with a physical body and introduce them into mortality and agency through personal suffering and sacrifice.
This is something that I have had occasion to think a lot about recently. My own experience with the birth of my two children has been sacred and I have reflected often on the power there is in bringing life into the world. There is a point during labor where one leaves the mortal realm and is caught between life and death; it is in this sacred realm that the veil is at its thinnest. As I labored with my beloved children, I could feel a godly presence, not only sustaining me through the pain but entrusting me with the lives of two precious children, charging me to nurture them and bring them back to light.
As latter-day saints, we have been given the vision to understand that it is our families that unite and exalt us. When a man and a woman marry, they are committing to life, to love, and the perpetuation of life and love. Their mutual love for each other, unites them in a sacred cause, the perpetuation of love and life in their posterity. Both men and woman are creators of new life. Both have an obligation to nurture that life. Men help in the nurturing and loving of new life, just as women do. Parents have the responsibility to teach those to whom they give life, that there is light and love in this world, and to seek it. In this way, young souls are prepared to recognize and be receptive to the fullness of the Word of God. Women and men jointly teach their children goodness so that they might return to the presence of God.
It is, of course, up to us children to follow the light that our parents have introduced us to. Mortality is designed as part of the gospel plan to bring us mingled experiences with good and evil; that we may learn from experience to make wise choices. And many of these experiences are painful because we fail. We know ourselves to be weak. We stumble along, being less than we can be, never living up to our own standards, let alone anyone else’s. We try to obey the laws of God. The more our actions are in accordance with those laws, the more blessed and God-like we will be. If we choose, if we even desire to choose, if we even hope for the desire to choose, we set in motion the powerful forces for life that are led by Jesus Christ himself. He responds to those tender tendrils of crippled life with the force and energy that will bring them to flowering. Listen to these promises of love and yearning desire for us. Feel the hope they bring that with Him we can overcome the world. “[I] am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for [his] sheep.”
A true vision of the plan, one that does not see the tapestry as a single finished point, gives us the right to grow, to progress. It implies not only a God who made us, but a God who is with us, in us, and in everything around us. Whoever we are, whatever we are, this God knows us, understands us, walks with us to the melting point where what we are and what God is become one.
We are God’s children and God knows our greatest potential is to live as He does. We know why we are here. We have been given a vision of the great tapestry, the plan of salvation, through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to that tapestry. We may never know how far the effects of our service will reach. By our good works we magnify what is mighty in us all, one step at a time, one day at a time. We can never afford to be cruel or indifferent or ungenerous, because we are all connected, even if it is in a pattern that only God sees. We are all part of the pattern; black, white, brown, male or female. We are all connected in the merciful plan of our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May we all have the vision to know the full truth of this plan.