A Mormon Feminist on International Women’s Day

Courtney and Carina and me
My pals CJane and Azucar, speaking at BYU today! If you’re in Utah, you still have time. Go catch them talk about work/life balance and having it all!

I had a craft tutorial all lined up to share today, but once I logged on to read the news this morning and realized it was International Women’s Day, I knew I had to talk about something completely different.

I don’t make it the focus of this blog, but it’s important enough to me that I’m sure it’s bled through here and there: I am a feminist. And I am that special breed of feminist known as the Mormon Feminist. A wild and unruly group of women dedicated to their heritage, their community, their God, and each other, as we work and hope and pray for greater gender equity. This often means something different in each of our lives, which is wonderful. It means we’ve gotten big and strong enough as a movement to support diversity of thought. It’s a thrilling time to be engaged in this work.

From both inside and outside of the church, I often experience a great deal of resistance (read: people calling for my excommunication and/or telling me I’m a manhating harpy). People inside of the church often misinterpret my efforts as being critical or condemning of church leaders. I’ve been accused of being apostate, being dangerous for young minds, being selfish or prideful, that I think I know better than the men called to lead this church, that I’m on a swift path to hell. Those reactions say so much more about the people reacting than they do about me. I believe the scriptures when they say that “all are alike unto God,” and I know enough about church history and structure to know that even the best and most righteous of us get it wrong. Each of us are human beings fumbling our way along to progression, and it doesn’t need to change anything about how we view authority to acknowledge that there are times when we can’t help but be blinded by our experiences and prejudices.

The people who react so viscerally to me are reacting out of those experiences and prejudices. They are reacting out of fear. Fear of not having someone in charge who is always right. Fear of change. Often just fear of being wrong.

Religious people want to do right. And they want to be right. And often that desire can make them believe that there is only one right answer to this mortal condition. One way to be, one path to take, one choice to make. But that just doesn’t jive with reality, or, for that matter, scriptural precedent.

I have often described myself as a “red-letter Mormon.” Meaning that what moves me and calls to me and most informs my choices are the words of Jesus Christ. And Jesus was about love. Not the law. So I get frustrated at the people who think that I’m dangerous while they complain about people wearing leggings or sleeveless sundresses, they gossip and judge, and show such deep unkindness. And of course that’s just the most benign example. That doesn’t even touch on the behavior that really keeps me working. The times when women experience abuse and don’t have someone who can help or understand them. Those hopefully rare but still extant occasions when a leader grossly oversteps and commits spiritual abuse or even commits assault. All the women and girls in this church who don’t have a voice in the power structure. I know they have a voice with God, and I know he wants us all to do better.

The secular critics roll their eyes at me and say that if I just left the church I’d have no more of these problems. They blame religious institutions for every problem in humanity and shake their heads at efforts to change them as if I was Don Quixote tilting at windmills. To them I shake my head right back. Religion certainly has its problems, which I can probably enumerate better than most since I’m the one here in the trenches, but it is just naive to think that leaving a church will end the problems of sexism. There is no feminist utopia. Anywhere. Any institution from the government to corporations to the media will still repeat these same problems. It’s systemic. And since religion isn’t disappearing, at least in our lifetime, this is something I can contribute that has the potential to affect millions of lives.

Many more people wonder why we need feminism at all. They have the freedom to vote, get an education, work at a job they like, they feel like we’re all good now and people like me who want to keep up the fight are just whiners. Those people are the luckiest people on the planet. They’ve been surrounded by people who didn’t hurt or neglect or assault them, they’ve never been denied opportunity because of their gender, they’ve never faced the problems of poverty that disproportionately affect women or needed to take control of their fertility and been denied. Because of their great fortune, they just don’t see all the other people around the world and on their doorstep who still struggle with the same things we’ve been struggling with forever. If you think there’s no need for feminism today, it means that you’re not paying attention to the people who don’t have it as comfortably as you do.

Last night I got together with some of my favorite friends and we talked about the people who are mean to me or judge me or work to limit what I can do at church, and even in that discussion I realized how lucky I am. I sat with these wonderful women who genuinely care about me and support me, who understand that I do what I do out of love and loyalty to the church, out of love of God and my fellow woman, who reassure me and buoy me up as we eat frozen yogurt and laugh and laugh and laugh, and I am so grateful that I get to experience all the best parts of sisterhood. There are costs to doing this work, but so so so many more benefits. So I’m going to keep it up until women all around the world get to experience that same feeling.