Friday, March 9, 2007

Mormon Feminism

I think my best time for pondering and contemplating and thinking is while i'm in the shower in the morning. I sit there washing my hair, shaving my legs and i think. Today my thought process went something like this...

....oh man i'm tired. i want to go back to bed.
......should I take the time to shave my legs...naaah.
....I need to get back into school but i really don't want to take the GRE right now.
...what about this book idea? What am I waiting for? someone to tell me, that ain't gonna happen!
...ouch! soap in my eye!

And from there i got annoyed with myself. Why have I allowed myself to stagnate? What am I waiting for...a huge neon sign on the horizon telling me to get of my butt? For a while I thought that this idea would pass and that i would loose interest in it as i often do but it's stuck around and i keep thinking about it. I really think I need to do this.

"this" what is "this" you ask? what is this book, i speak of? I'm going to write a book about Mormon Feminism....somewhat predictable for those of you who really know me but i don't care. I feel like I need to write about my experience and the experiences of as many woman and girls that I can talk to. Feminism has such a negative connotation and it really shouldn't. I'm a feminist and I'm proud of it. It's taken me a long time to be able to say that but there is it. I'm a feminist, I'm also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I'm proud of that too. It is possible to be a strong, independent, intellegent, working woman (married or single) and still be a good Latter-day Saint. It is also possible to be a strong, independent, intellegent, stay at home mother and a good Latter-day Saint. These titles are not mutually exclusive and it's time that people realize that.

I would love to get your thoughts on this subject...whether or not you agree with me...male or female. If you don't want to post it as a comment, email me (those are L's and not 1's). Tell your friends, sister's, mother's brothers, fathers, cousins - I want to hear what you have to say.


Sue said...

I'll be the first one to buy that book Kelly. Mormon feminism is one of my obsessions.

A commenter on a blog I read had a great thought:

“Now that I have daughters, I am keenly aware of the hurdles she might face, and I want to do everything I can to help her have any opportunity she wishes. But I am also the mother of a son, and I won’t have any part of any movement that marginalizes or maligns men or the boys who will become men. What I am looking for is a place where all of my children can be lifted up and nourished without expense or detriment to the other.”

I think what makes me sad is the continuing suspicion/hostility of church members and feminists (and it happens on both sides). When feminists only see women in the church as subservient to their husbands and brainwashed by patriarchy, it makes me sad. And when women in the church see feminists as angry, hostile advocates for a single worldview (where motherhood is denigrated, and abortion is valorized), it makes me sad. I think both sides (the church’s position on women and feminism) are too complex to stereotype in these ways. And I think that both have truth to offer on the importance and value of women in the world and in our Fathers plan.

Wendy said...

I'd love to offer some views and thoughts. We should talk. What do you define as feminist? When I hear that word I definitely get a very extreme picture in my head, one of someone who in their quest to eradicate misogyny has become somewhat of a misogynyst themselves- emotionally and socially castrating men and trying to become so much like them that they piss on what is feminine and beautiful about being a woman. I know that a lot of women who identify themselves as feminists do not have this as their aim, so my question is still what do you define as feminist?

Sue said...

I'm pretty sure you were addressing your question to Kelly, but I had to ask - Wendy, what qualities are "feminine and beautiful about being a woman" that a mormon feminist could possibly eradicate?

For my part, I'm much more a mormon feminist than a feminist in general. I haven’t had the personal opportunity of being discriminated against much at all in the “real world” - socially or in business - and I suppose that informs my general lack of interest in real world feminism. Mainstream feminism has so many different facets, and few of them seem relevant to my life. I strongly feel the inequity of my position as a female in the mormon world however, and that drives my interest and concern. I'll spare you the details though...

Kelly said...

The purpose of writing this book, for me, is not to give the last word on what feminism is-give the penultimate definition. My purpose is to give women, feminists, non-feminists a voice. I'm interested in how all women feel, not just those who agree with my own limited point of view.

BUT since you asked, I'll tell you. It is not about completely taking over and creating a new world order where women control every facet of society. It's not about "emotionally and socially castrating men". I am a hopeless romantic and I want to be swept off my feet someday.

It *is* however, about respect. Mutual respect. As a mormon woman, especially in Utah, there is a certain lack of respect that just goes unsaid - it's almost expected. I want to be respected as a strong, intelligent, independent woman with virtues and qualities, though different from men, are just as valuable and important.

But like I said, this book isn't about what I think feminism is or isn't. It's about what you think feminism is, what Sue thinks, what your mother, neighbors and friends think. I want this book to be a chance to give all women a voice - to start an open, honest dialogue about the unique challanges we face as Saints and as women.

Wendy said...

I ask the question because the word "feminist" is so stigmatized in our society. As I said, it conjures up a very extreme picture in my head. What you're speaking of doesn't sound at all like feminisim to me- it sounds like common sense. I love that quote Sue posted. Leaders of the Church often speak of how women ought to be revered and respected by men and society as a whole and speak of how men and women are to share responsibilities in the home. As far as I can see, anyone who treats their wife (or any woman) like a second-class citizen is not acting in accordance with the gospel, and vice versa.

I'm not saying feminists are evil- I'm asking what you mean by that because what I equate with feminists doesn't sound like you, or Sue, or many women I know. Is anyone who wishes women to be equal to men a feminist? If so, I guess I am one. However, I recognize and appreciate that men and women can be equal and yet different, with different qualities, responsibilities and divinely given attributes and roles. Does that make me a feminist, or not one?

Anonymous said...

Kelly, as an "old lady" from another generation who has been both married stay-at-home mom and single, working mom, it is interesting to me to see the young women of the Church asking questions about the place of women in the Church and in society. I don't think the Lord sees us as any less vital to the progress of the world than men....where would they be without us? He expects us to be equal partners with the men of the Church in advancing His work. Much of the stigma some women feel comes from cultural traditions, not from the gospel. I see more emphasis on becoming accomplished, powerful women coming from the pulpit and Church publications now than ever before. That is no doubt because women are stepping out of their historical "meek" image and taking more control over their own destiny. But I would say that the women that I have know over the years in leadership positions in the Church have been strong, vocal, and highly respected by the male leaders.
I am constantly amazed by my daughters...did such independent thinking, determined, confident women come from my household?

Sue said...

Mom, what a lovely thing to say, that made me smile for a long time last night…

Kelly, I apologize if we are hijacking your blog comments…

“However, I recognize and appreciate that men and women can be equal and yet different, with different qualities, responsibilities and divinely given attributes and roles.”

I don’t think that a lot of the attributes that are often purported to be divinely given to women are necessarily so. Some women have them, some develop them, some lack them completely. The ultimate mormon woman, according to countless talks and lessons, is compassionate, selfless, tender, kind, loving, nice, sweet, spiritual, gentle, nurturing, etc. Those are wonderful qualities, certainly, but I don’t think they are primarily or inherently given to all women (I know I wasn’t born with a lot of them) and I don’t think they are the ONLY good qualities a good woman could have. There are other wonderful descriptors that we don’t hear anything about - confident, bold, decisive, strong, etc., because they don't fit with what our current mormon cultural idea of ideal womanhood is. I never meet women like I hear in general conference in real life, with the general conference lisp and 100 sweet stories, but it is usually held up as the ideal. There’s even an oft repeated quote about how the church needs more women who are tender, less who are tough. I hate that quote.

I also think that divinely given “roles” are not necessarily so. Motherhood and fatherhood yes, obviously. Motherhood and fatherhood as currently defined by the church, not necessarily. Families, and marriages, are made up of individuals, who all have different strengths and talents that can’t necessarily be so neatly split up along gender lines.

I don’t see a lot of scriptural basis for the gender roles that women are encouraged to take right now, and I feel strongly that the roles we currently point to as divinely given are mostly 20th century constructs. The full-time mother at home playing with the children while the father works model didn’t even really exist until the mid-20th century. Women never had the luxury of spending time with their children before the early 20th century, and children were too busy working on the farm to play with mom anyway. They were laborers. Was that a good thing? Well, no, not necessarily. My point is that parenting continues to evolve and change, and so does the church’s view of marriage and family. In the short history of the church, the role women have played in the family, in the church and as parents has continually changed. When you compare marital advice given by the church in Joseph and Brigham’s time to marital advice given now, you see a massive, massive shift. In fact, Brigham and Joseph looked almost progressive compared to some of our leaders from the 1950s on. (Brigham encouraged women to get an education and to work to suppport their polygamous families. One of his wives ran a boarding house, another was a doctor, another was out promoting women's right to vote, while other sister wives provided daycare, basically. I'm not promoting Brigham as a role model though - he said some crazy, crazy stuff.)

Additionally, women are primarily celebrated for and recognized in their role as mothers. I’m not knocking motherhood, it’s wonderful, but I’d like to see women seen as valuable for MORE than that particular contribution. I have a lot of single and infertile friends who are not quite sure where that leaves them as women in the church, other than extraneous.

I think we will continue to see change in how the church and our leaders address and define the role of women in the church.

“Much of the stigma some women feel comes from cultural traditions, not from the gospel.” I absolutely agree with this.

Sorry, that was WAY too long. Sorry.

Kelly said...

Sue, don't worry about "hijacking" my blog comments. This is exactly what I was hoping would happen. It makes me excited to hear what other women are thinking and feeling.

Aunt Linda, you said that you "don't think the Lord sees us as any less vital to the progress of the world than men". I couldn't agree with you more. Heavenly Father loves each and everyone of us but not because we're men or women but because we are his children. It's not the teachings of the Church that occasionally make me feel like a second class citizen, it is the people and the culture - usually the women.

As women, we should be supporting and bolstering each other, but often I find we are judgemental, harsh, unfeeling and cruel. (those things weren't on your list, where they Sue? :-) )

And in response to Wendy's comment on how do we define feminism - the 60's image of the angry, fem-bot out to destroy society is, unfortunately, the image that most of society associates with feminism. So where did this idea come from? Where did this image of the man-hating, angry woman come from? Most of it's propoganda. The women of the 1960's were challanging the patriarchal power structure of society...and much of what they said (under the passionate and inflamatory delivery) was valid. In creating this very specific, negative and "dangerous" image, those in power (men) were able to discount and discredit the valid points of their argument.

It is difficult to define feminism because it means something different to different people depending on their experiences and background. To a white, upper/middle class woman...yeah, feminism may not seem too relevant. But to an ethnic, lower class, working woman trying to support her family, it is extremely relevent.

Sorry...that was a bit of a tangent...please continue.

Anonymous said...