The Lifecycle of Mormon Feminist Hope

I can still hear myself say, calmly bearing witness, “There are gender problems in our church…. It will be very interesting to see what we, as a church and a people, do about it.” 

That girl, Me From The Past, was calm and sure of the veracity of her claim, but also confident that once The Church saw how much we all need to address these problems, how much room for further light and knowledge there is, how much we longed for answers from On High, things would change. She was full of feminist hope. People would understand, things would change; you would see. 

That girl hadn’t lived through public excommunication of LDS liberals, feminists, and scholars. She had experienced blatant sexism within the organization of the church (and areas within its’ influence), and so she thought she knew. She thought she was so tired, ready for a miracle. 

Today, I am wiser than I was before. I am bolder. What I have gained in confidence in regards to myself and my position, I have lost in trust that things will get better. 

I have seen and heard older, more experienced feminists converse in the same begrudging despair, grasping their roots like a falling grizzly bear throws her talons into the mountain. 

It makes us weary, this life of closely held values that should not conflict, but somehow do. 

The girl I used to be would be surprised at today; she would be glad of the brave, hopeful women advocating for ordination. She would be encouraged by their persistent faith. I think she would be glad of the progress that has been made by the church in the last few years; she would be delighted that women now pray regularly in General Conference, as though they had always been there. She would be enthused by the #mormonwomenwant and #mormonwocwant discussions. She would marvel at the books being written, and that people are buying them – at Deseret Book, no less! 

But she would also be discouraged by how hard we fought to get here; so much for so little. In return for both courageous acts of faith and minor acts of transparency, our people have faced discipline, divisiveness, and scapegoating. Honest pleas – thousands of them, have been treated with scorn by other members of our own church. And The Church, itself, has done little more than extend token gestures, which we celebrate as generous when they are merely equitable. 

Yes, that girl would also be discouraged; for in all her wildest dreams, she never imagined that what The Church would actually do to address institutional and cultural gender inequality would be…  practically nothing. 

And she would return to her life, a little less hopeful than before. 

Feminist Awakenings

I have this amazing walking buddy who introduced me to the folks over at The Exponent. I’d been a dedicated reader of the blog for quite a while, but now I have know and love several members of the community. In all my conversations with them, it occurs to me that I rarely ask about how they became feminists. 

Now, hardly anyone is born a feminist, let alone a Mormon feminist. I didn’t come late to the party; we MoFems are still in the minority, and I started identifying as a feminist in the middle of my BYU Idaho years; nonetheless, I tend to assume that most everyone’s feminist awakening is ancient history.

Except for this: I’m not convinced that a feminist awakening ever really ends. I think that it has a limit (or an asymptote, if you want to think about it mathematically). I think there’s a point where the depth of your feminist convictions change so little over time that it can’t really be considered an awakening anymore. But it doesn’t really stop happening. 

I became a feminist when I realized there was a class system in the young, single LDS world that was based heavily on a person’s sex, priesthood status, missionary status, and marital status. I saw how the boys in my ward would disregard the opinions, thoughts, and questions of the women in my ward, based on the assumption that the girls didn’t know anything. 

I became a feminist when my home teacher at BYU Idaho consistently told us that we would understand “when we went through the temple”, disregarding the women present who had served missions, and all the study and prayer we had done (note: the temple didn’t address these particular concerns at all).

I became a feminist when I felt out of place in science classes that felt like rowdy Elders quorums. 

I became a feminist when I realized that it didn’t matter what I said if I didn’t also look good when I said it. 

I became a feminist when I couldn’t find a job in large part because I was a woman and newly married in an environment that expected me to not need a job as much as a man (because I had a husband to take care of me).

I became a feminist when I found myself depressed and judged by other women because we had been married several years and had no children. 

I became a feminist when I saw a male member of our church call a woman a c*** for wanting to wear pants to church. 

I became a feminist when I felt the Holy Ghost whisper to me that I should try to emulate Heavenly Mother, and I had no idea what that meant. 

I became a feminist when I married in the temple and heard unequal language. 

I became a feminist when I started liking every picture in the recent Ordain Women campaign.

I became a feminist when I discovered and devoured every word on Ask Mormon Girl, hungry for more. 

I’m still becoming a feminist, but I think I have to pinpoint my awakening to the day I posted this quote on my Facebook wall:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

It was later that I realized that not everyone feels that way. 

My feminist awakening has been a million different things; moments, experiences, conversations, memes. I stand on the asymptote; the limit as x approaches infinity. I’m forever changed by it; proud to be a feminist, because it makes me strong. A million thanks to the women who came before; you are my heroes. 

Exponent Retreat and #MicroblogMonday

Hello, World,

It’s #microblogmonday, and I feel inspired to write. Those seem as good of reason as I need to publish a new post.

It turns out that I really love to write. I miss it, and I truly believe that by exchanging stories, feelings, and thoughts through a written medium, people have and will continue to change the world.

Life is very different than it was the last time I posted (#notpregnant). I’ve started school. I’m going back to do Cool Stuff (*cough* science *cough*), and it’s only partly because I want a new story for my life. I don’t want my story to be “she wanted children, and spent her life trying to have them, but it never worked out. And then she died. It’s too bad she didn’t know that starting out.” I want more, and so I’m creating options for myself.

And also, there’s the sneaking suspicion that unless I invest part of my soul into other things, it will break under pressure if (and when) treatments don’t work out. I need my life to be bigger.

I’m going back to school to be a scientist. I chose that field because there are incredible things happening in the world and I want to be a part of them. I’m doing this because I want my life to mean something bigger than myself; because scientists change the world in tangible ways, and they get to do incredible work. I’m building this kind of career because I have been blessed with an amazing intellect, and I feel a responsibility to use it to better the world. I’m going to study the natural world for the rest of my life because someone once told me that scientists are the modern mystics, and I want to see the face of God.

It feels good to hold your own fate in your hands; to turn it over, and manipulate it until it resembles you, your dreams and aspirations.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In other news, I spent the weekend in New Hampshire at the Exponent II Annual Retreat.

You guys. I love Mormon Feminists. I left rejuvenated, inspired, and hopeful. So many people there were understandably pained and discouraged by the recent actions (and lack of actions) by the LDS Church, but encompassed by my sisters I could feel nothing but hope. I am enthusiastically optimistic for the future – surrounded by such powerful women, how could I feel anything else? There was no room leftover for anything but hope.

Contrary to my best laid plans, I did actually bid on (and win) something at the silent auction. It’s a necklace with a quote on it from Alice in Wonderland —

“… Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I left Retreat feeling that way – that impossible things do sometimes happen, and there’s a special kind of joy reserved for those who let themselves revel in the prospect of beautiful impossibilities. This is a very hopeful time in my life, this time of transition and new beginnings. “To everything there is a season”, and I am soaking in the sunshine of optimism.

To any women who were there – thank you for an incredible weekend. I will savor it for years to come.

An Open Letter to the First Presidency

First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dear Presidents Monson, Eyring, and Uchtdorf,

This week, Kate Kelly was excommunicated. I’m sure you know about it, since it’s been all over the news. She has been active and engaged in the church all of her life, and a little over a year ago began to lobby that the three of you consider and seek for revelation regarding the place of women in the church – particularly on the question of ordaining us to the priesthood.

Kate Kelly, Founder of Ordain Women

Kate Kelly, LDS Activist

In the near future, she will surely be appealing her excommunication to you. Her future will be in your hands; and while I want to trust the three of you, whom I admire and look to for guidance in matters that affect my life and my family, I am afraid. So many people that I love, admire, and respect have expressed unkind and poorly reasoned opinions of her fate that give me cause for alarm; people who think that excommunication is not a big deal, that she asked for it, that she deserved it, that she lost her testimony, that she is crazy. None of these are determinations that an ordinary person is qualified to make; indeed, there is a fair amount of evidence to the contrary. So much of their reasoning would be taken offensively if it were applied to another extreme minority group – like us. Yet, I see it used against a stranger who was once one of our own without thought or scruple.  When I see such things in people who are otherwise exemplary, I cannot help but wonder what your reactions will be.

I hope you will be fair. I hope you will look at her situation with clear eyes and kind hearts. I hope you will carefully consider what excommunication means in the course of her eternal growth, and I hope you will make a decision that will truly be an act of love.

I hope that as you sit in judgement over her, you will not be inclined to easily dismiss her case. I hope that you will not allow your trust and loyalty to the good bishops of the church to lull you into complacency. They are, by and large, good men, and all good men make mistakes or judge poorly sometimes.

I hope you will not allow surprise or disagreement with her methods to interfere with your assessment of her testimony. I hope you will be understanding. I hope you will make a ruling that is appropriate both to her individually, as well as to the hundreds (possibly thousands) of women who relate and identify with her.

I hope that the delicate balance between the individual decision and the inevitable precedent you will set with your decision does not hold too strong a sway over you.

I hope you will remember that excommunication is a big deal; that it is not something to ever, ever be handed down lightly. I hope you will understand the value of a proportional response, and that you will weigh the annulment of her covenants and sealings against her actions, words, and intents. I hope you will be able to see the desires of her heart, and the way she has carefully navigated the fine line between dissent and apostasy. It’s a hard line for all of us who ask questions, and she has done it with a grace and loyalty to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is admirable.

I hope that you interact with her personally as you come to a decision about her fate. I hope you will respond with both charity and humility. I hope you will be earnest in your attempts to understand and pass righteous judgement. I hope as you consider this case, you will remember that Christ often defended the woman who was shunned by her community. He didn’t berate or belittle her; he inspired her to be more than she was. I have a powerful faith that you gentlemen are capable of similar acts of clemency.

I hope you will remember how many of us look to you in hope, faith and trust that you will be discerning and kind. The three of you have a beautiful history of “going after the one”, and embracing those who are lost or alone. I hope that this instance doesn’t give me reason to doubt your legacy – it’s something I lean on in times of sorrow, when the church seems broken beyond repair.

I hope you will be inspired to talk to us, all of us, about how to communicate with you effectively. Whether she was right or wrong in her actions, she may never had felt the need to take them if there had been a better way. There must be a better way. We love you and trust you; we want your insight, and long for your ear. We need a better line of communication; one that is less susceptible to interference from well-meaning saboteurs and saints alike.

I hope, after all, you will, pray earnestly about women’s places in the church and in eternity. I hope you consider the beautiful vision of a church where men and women are equal in power and influence; it’s not what we are used to, but it is a breathtaking sight. I hope you will ask the Lord for something better; something extraordinary. There is a pain in our family of saints that is caused by The Way Things Are. Maybe He, like us, is just waiting for you to ask. Maybe He has wonderful things in store. I think He does.

I hope you will continue to consider how motherhood and priesthood relate to womanhood and manhood. I am barred from both, and it pains my soul deeply to feel that there is no place for me; that God does find me worthy of his two most important roles. There is more light; there must be more, and I am waiting for you to bring it. I hope it is soon. It’s been too long already.

I hope that the voice of God speaks clearly to you; that you are able to hear what He says, and to share it with the whole earth. I hope you are not hampered by the things of this world as you seek for things of a better. I hope that Joseph Smith’s dream of a beautiful place is realized in a church where there really is room for everyone; where no one feels left out or forgotten.

I hope that you are not daunted by the work there is to do here in our Nauvoo – we are still raising Zion out of a swampy, diseased land, and we need your strength and guidance to do it. There are strong shoulders here – we can do so much more.

We must do more.