Usually, my posts and thoughts on Mormonism are pretty sympathetic, but the conversation on Mormon feminism has left me feeling a bit tired. I mean the following post to be somewhat sympathetic and generous but I also wanted to express a bit of my tiredness and frustration.
I never considered myself a feminist as a kid, because I believed that feminists were angry women intent on disrupting families and free sex. I became liberalized, if not radicalized, bit-by-bit. In college, I read Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf and realized that the loneliness and alienation I felt as a smart girl who liked to read and envisioned herself as a future intellectual was not just me. De Beauvoir had felt it. Woolf had felt it. As had scores of other women. After college working in an inner city school in Las Vegas as a Teach for America corps member, I realized that feminism was not just limited to the concerns of white women but needed to include those of African, Latino, and Asian women as well. It had to think about poverty and about domestic abuse. And, in graduate school, I realized that my views of feminism were quite conservative and I needed to think about my views on sex and gender identification.
Many of my Mormon friends could tell a similar story. There’s one major difference, however, between my story and theirs.
I never had to engage in any hand wringing about what it meant to be a member of my church and a feminist or if such a dual identity was even possible.
If I wanted to find a feminist who self-identified as evangelical or Protestant, all I had to do was think back to my high school textbook. I had both Beecher sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anne Hutchinson as forebears. My own mother had told me that the Bible had been written by men and as a result, said some nasty things about women that God and Jesus had never intended. If I had questions about what it meant to be a woman, Christian, and feminist, I could just ask my female pastor.
As a result, all the hand-wringing concerning feminism in the Mormon Church seems a bit odd to my Protestant ears. Part of me just wants to say, “Come on. Be feminist or don’t. But, if you are, let’s get on with the work.”
Another part of me realizes that do so would be a bit cruel and misguided. There is the real threat of excommunication or censor and all the pain that brings. Women who announce that they are feminist can’t just switch to another church or ward the way that I could if my beliefs were met with chilly stares. And, there is skepticism among feminists about Mormons that I as a Christian don’t have to face. Although some feminists don’t believe in God and are skeptical of religion, the campaigns of the United Church of Christ to include homosexuals in the Christian community and the writings of radical feminist theologians like Mary Daly have bought Christian feminism some purchase within the feminist community. The Mormon Church, on the other hand, is seen as inherently anti-feminist and patriarchal.
I can understand why the conversation happens, even if it seems a bit odd to me. This doesn’t mean that conversations about Mormon feminism don’t still sometimes leave me scratching my head or feeling exasperated. I try to approach as something I can never quite get as a non-Mormon and thus, have to approach with a sense of compassion and a recognition of my own outsiderness.
One thing I will say, though, is the conversation about feminism within Mormonism sometimes seems a bit insular. It focuses on the issues that women face within the church – whether their talents are being fully utilized and whether it’s a radical act to be a mother. These are important questions and I don’t want to suggest they’re not. But, I wonder if there is also a place within Mormon feminism to discuss intersectionality and the particular difficulties that black women might face in the church. I wonder if there is room for a discussion of the fact that the overwhelming number of single mothers and their children are poor. The discussions come up – sometimes – but they do so far too infrequently.
And, one final thing, accepting and building spaces for queer men and women is an important part of modern feminism. Any Mormon feminism that is going to be taken seriously by the outside world is going to have to deal with that issue and that – rather than anything else – may be the final sticking point.