Mormon Feminists: A Divided Allegiance?

I originally began this post as a primer on feminism–a post on feminist ideological inconsistences and boundaries, and what the term “feminism” means–but the discussion following my previous T&S post on feminism and the comments on this post on FMH have got me thinking about the issue of allegiances and how that seems to be the main sticking point when it comes to Mormon suspicion of feminism.

But let me back up just a bit.

Aside from being an ideological space, feminism is a social movement. Probably my favorite basic definition of feminism is: “Feminism is a social movement whose goal is to eliminate the oppression of women in all its forms.” (Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, eds., Women: Images and Realities, 1996). This definition puts at the heart of “feminism” not its discussion of the meanings of patriarchy or its interpretation of gender roles, but its status as a movement for change.

It’s really hard to work for social change without creating a group and developing a group identity. And typically, part of creating that identity is coming up with a label that you can use to identify yourself to your groupmates and others outside the group. I’ll be the first to admit that labels can have a lot of problematic consequences (which we’ve discussed elsewhere and can discuss again here), but labels are what we use to categorize the world. We cannot escape them, and I’m having a difficult time imagining a broad-based social movement that can attain any kind of coherence with no identifying marker such as “feminism” or “socialism” or “Civil Rights.”

Despite the various complaints people may have about feminism (many of which are justified), over the past hundred years it really has worked hard to end sexual violence, get women more equality in education and the workforce, set up shelters for battered women and children, etc. And it’s achieved many of its goals. Many women self-identify as feminist because at a point in their lives when they were experiencing problems related to their gendered position in society (i.e. sexual harrassment, feeling pressure to meet an idealized standard of beauty, etc.), they encountered feminism. And they recognized in feminism a
movement that would address and try to rectify these problems.

My introduction to feminism came at a point in my life when I was beginning to recognize my dissatisfaction with gender inequality in our society. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t the church that provided the answers to many of my dissatisfactions. In fact, the church was the source of a lot of the problems for which I found the answers in feminism.

Which brings us to the problems faced by Mormon feminists. As Rosalynde so aptly observed on the FMH thread,

This leads me to wonder about feminists’ oft-repeated complaint that mainstreamers put their faithfulness into question . . . it seems to me that a self-identifying, self-selecting feminist is, in fact, indicating in that act of identification that he or she experiences a divided allegiance of some sort; indeed, it seems to me that that’s ALL he or she is indicating.

While I disagree with Rosalynde’s final claim, she is correct to point out that being a Mormon feminist raises the question of allegiance.

Most of the people I know who self-identify as Mormon feminists use their feminism to critique the church. I can understand the suspicions this raises in those within the church who oppose feminism or who are uncertain about it: are feminists allowing a philosophy of man (or, more precisely, woman) to take precedence over obedience to the Lord’s prophets? Does their use of feminism to critique the church mean that their allegiance to feminism trumps their allegiance to the church? Are their feminist commitments more important to them than their religious ones? These are important questions for us all to ask, feminists included.

Thinking about these questions, made me wonder: what is allegiance, and how exactly does one measure it? Then I asked myself, what if push came to shove and I was forced to choose between the church and feminism–what would I do? I played out the following scenarios in my mind: if feminism required me to no longer associate with the church or to renounce my religious beliefs, I would choose the church over feminism. If the church required me to no longer associate with feminism or feminists, it would be difficult, and I would struggle, but I would probably do it. If the church required me to renounce my feminist beliefs, I honestly don’t know what I would do. Choosing between my feminist moral convictions and my membership in this church would tear me apart.

This realization returned me to the question of ideology. In the FMH thread, I wrote that I had adopted the term “feminist” to describe myself “because it allows me to associate myself with a history and network of others who have worked for and are working for women’s rights and equality.” In the end, however, I’m a feminist because I believe a lot of the stuff about patriarchy and the social construction of gender. My feminism encompasses more than the idea that women have equal value to men; I believe that there is not equal treatment of men and women in our society, and my feminist moral convictions tell me that this must change (point of clarification: for me, “equal treatment” does not mean “treated exactly the same”). Accompanying this is a belief that “all is not well in Zion”: that our church faces some of the same kinds of problems faced by society at large.

On a recend thread at ZD, Lynnette discussed the links between feeling the love of God, one’s attitude towards the church, and one’s attitude towards change:

I like your point that a personal witness of God’s love doesn’t necessarily entail acceptance of the status quo. I can see such an experience going in at least two different directions: 1) I’m convinced that God loves and values me (and all his children)-therefore, even if I don’t understand all the practices of the Church, I can trust that they are good. 2) I’m convinced that God loves and values me (and all his children)-therefore, I’m going to critique Church practices which seem to suggest otherwise. Whether you opt for #1 or #2 might largely depend on how closely you believe God is involved in the Church, and to what extent you see the Church as a product of its culture.

I generally fall into Lynnette’s category #2, which means that I see my feminist moral convictions working hand in hand with my belief in God’s love for me, and my allegiance to His gospel and His church. I realize that it may be difficult for some to imagine, but my feminism is so closely tied with my allegiance to the church, I cannot separate the two. Because I love the church so much and how much it has enriched my life, I want to see it change to reflect ideals of equality more fully. I’m not sure what exactly this means, or how best to bring this about. And I am prepared to be open minded about what the Lord has in store (which will probably be different than what I think is best). But, nonetheless, I hope and seek for change. In the meantime, I will continue to demonstrate my allegiance to this gospel by keeping my covenants and striving to live a righteous, Christian life.

When it comes to the term “feminism”: perhaps labeling myself as a “feminist” turns others off (and I have reemphasized my resolve to be sensitive to this), but is the best word I have that encompasses this aspect of my beliefs. Additionally, I have loyalties to women outside of the church who are associated with the feminist movement, and I want to align myself with the good things I see them doing. Lastly, I’ve found that “feminist” is the best word for finding other like-minded souls in a church where I am in the minority.

In the end, I know that I will always be a little suspect because I want to see change in a church where many (most?) others are happy with the status quo. I hope that I am able to read the suspicion of others as their love for a gospel and a church that they think is perfect (or nearly so) and are reluctant to see altered. Concurrently, I hope that they are able to see my commitment and allegiance to this church and this gospel as a real, meaningful commitment, and that my feminist beliefs stem from my conviction that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

(Note: in discussing this post, I’m hoping to stay away from debates on particular feminist issues–women and the priesthood, gender roles, etc. I’m hoping to have a conversation about what allegiance is, whether being a Mormon feminist means you have a divided allegiance, why one might or might not want to use the term “feminim,” how best to exercise faith and commitment to organizations you hope will change, etc.)

70 comments for “Mormon Feminists: A Divided Allegiance?

  1. Ah, what an excellent post! This is exactly how I feel. I am a convert, and don’t have these lifelong ties with the church that others here do. Yet the gospel has changed my life drastically for the better, and I have a firm testimony of it. I want to dedicate my life to working for it, to building up the kingdom, and the Church is God’s instrument on earth. I have no doubt of that either. Where I may differ from other LDS is that I don’t believe the Church is perfect. It is humans following God, doing our best to be led by God. We are imperfect, perfectable beings. A principle we see again and again in the scriptures and in history is that we aren’t given revelation on certain points unless we seek it. There is room in the church for differences of ideas between different members. We’re taught correct principles and told to lead ourselves. We are using our own moral compasses, and our own revelations as a guide. There’s room in Latter Day Saint theology for different points of view.

    The company I work for, Southern Company, actually does a better job of this than the Church. I can write an email to anyone in the whole organization, expressing a point of view or making a suggestion, and get a polite and interested reply. Our president regularly has dialogue sessions with smallish groups of employees to find out their issues and concerns. This is a rich and important source for them of good ideas and feedback. They are grateful and excited when they get information and ideas from us that help them in their job. It’s really awesome! I would love it if the leadership in Salt Lake had something similar. Of course we sustain them! They are the people chosen to lead our church! Their jobs are really difficult and we want to HELP them. If they don’t know about our concerns, how can they know all the things upon which they should ponder and pray? How can they receive revelation if the subject has never occurred to them, and never come up?

    God’s church has the enormous advantage over secular institutions of divine guidance. Why is it that God’s church can’t be pioneering morality for society rather than lagging behind in fairness and just treatment of others? As a recent post pointed out, Christ didn’t speak out against slavery in his time. God’s goals aren’t primarily political. Yet in his church there is no, and should be no bond and free, rich and poor, fashionable and unfashionable, heard and unheard, people who matter (men) and those who don’t (women). If we think there are, we are mistaken. It’s impossible for the CEO of my company to be aware of the problems of the operators and engineers on the front lines of the day to day life of his company if he doesn’t listen to them. He can’t listen if they aren’t talking to him, either. We workers have a responsibility to tell him our experiences, to let him know what are our problems and concerns, to help him in his job of leading us. Feminists in the church have a similar responsibility to let The Brethren and all the leadership of the church down to the ward level know what the problems and issues are. Otherwise, if there is no mechanism for TWO WAY communication, the only way we have to vote is with our feet. If the leadership is concerned about (another recently discussed issue here) lack of retention of children raised in the church, and of new converts, then they have to find out BEFORE people leave, what are the concerns, and then ask humbly in prayer what direction the church should head to prevent it.

    See, I know that God is leading this church. One of the ways he’s doing that is by prompting feminists to join the church, to speak up, to be the reason his church leaders have for asking for and receiving directions which are outside their ability to find on their own.

  2. S., you cite the definition

    “Feminism is a social movement whose goal is to eliminate the oppression of women in all its forms.�

    According to this definition, virtually all Mormons are feminists. We all support the elimination of oppression in all of its forms and we all like to think we play at least some part in the broad movement against such oppression. But then you write,

    “I’ve found that ‘feminist’ is the best word for finding other like-minded souls in a church where I am in the minority.”

    Do you agree with the statement that virtually all Mormons are feminists? And if not, what is it, in your view, that makes us “non-feminists” (besides a reluctance to self-identify with that particular word)? Is it a question of how we interpret the term “oppression”?

    It seems that if you aim to rigorously define “feminist”, it is necessary to clarify what it means to not be a feminist. Do you agree?

  3. “Despite the various complaints people may have about feminism (many of which are justified), over the past hundred years it really has worked hard to end sexual violence, get women more equality in education and the workforce, set up shelters for battered women and children, etc.”

    A lot of groups that do not consider “feminism” to be a primary allegience have also contributed to those efforts. Including our church. It took my breath away when I found out that an elder’s quorum in a nearby town was allowed to do some renovations at a shelter for battered women, since they keep the location secret. I was amazed that they trusted our priesthood brethren enough to let them come help.

    Let’s also be clear that a tenet of modern feminism has been a woman’s right to abortion on demand. That’s kind of a hard one for faithful LDS to dance around. In 2005, I wrote a newspaper column about pro-life Democrats, touching on Harry Reid’s elevation, concillary comments by Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton, new polling data and the beliefs of the group “Feminists for Life.” There were several outraged letters to the editor.

    The one from the local NOW board (considered a mainstream feminist organization) said in part, “With respect to a ‘feminist’ organization that would denigrate the personhood and moral agency of women: The most concise definition of “feminism” is the radical notion that women are human beings…..Frorcing any woman to continue a pregnancy and bear a child against her own free will and despite her own bwst judgement is no more a ‘feminist’ value than a democratic or American one.”

    So when you choose to affiliate yourself with a movement, it is a movement that has, at least for the last 100 years, been pro-abortion. You can’t pick and choose which parts of the movement you get to affiliate with–that’s part of the package.

    I like Feminists for Life and totally agree with their stand, but they are not considered mainstream feminists.

  4. S. — Your basic definition isn’t as basic as you want it to be. Any cry for “change” has to define what needs to be changed, and why, and by whom. When it comes to a cry for change in the church, there’s the added question of just who needs to be changed: the church, or the would-be changer?

    This is why I cannot identify myself as a feminist (or as a Republican, or as a member of any other political or philosophical body, for that matter). Because of the gift of faith and the vast number of times I’ve tested individual tenets, I’m willing to submit to some church doctrine or policy that I may not yet understand, and work toward a more mature acceptance of it. I’m not willing to surrender even temporarily to feminism or any other political or philosophical school — the gospel hasn’t failed me, but politics has; prophets and revelators haven’t led me astray, but mayors and presidents have; I know where faithful men and women draw their inspiration, but I mistrust where secular leaders get theirs.

    Insofar as allegiance involves trust and a reliable track record, then yes, it WOULD be, in my case, a division of loyalty to sustain a movement as if it were in a position to teach the church where the church was going wrong.

  5. There is a problem with self-identification as a feminist in Mormonism, I believe, because someone in a high eccesiastical position identified feminists as one of three enemy groups (the others being “so called intellectuals” and homosexuals.) Though the talk was not given in an “official” setting, it has certainly gotten spread around. I see my work with African American Latter-day Saints as very much a cross-over into feminism–just abolitionism and feminism crossed paths in the days of Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. But I know that I would never be invited to give a talk at Women’s Conference on the complexities of the race issue–though I might be asked to tell something faith-promoting about Jane Manning James. And I doubt anyone will be asked to talk about the challenges of being a Mormon feminist at Women’s Conference either, though they might be asked to talk about someone like Susa Young Gates or Ellis Shipp–who would surely qualify as a feminists. The term itself is now so loaded that we who would fall under the umbrella of feminism (and happily so) might avoid the word itself, or qualify it simply to prevent a fight. I remember the early days when the term was “women’s lib” and lots of Mormon men referred to it as though it were a plague: “I had a happy marriage, and then women’s lib got my wife.” Even Mormon women, in those days when the Church came out against the ERA so strongly, felt duty-bound to distinguish themselves from the bra-burners. (As a side note, bra burning presented a great dilemma to my grandmother, who had been raised to believe that bras were symbols of vanity and so should be avoided by all modest women. So when the Brethren came out telling the sisters NOT to burn their bras–well, what do you do if you don’t even have a bra? Go buy one so you can pointedly not burn it?) I wish we had other words to describe what we Mormon feminists do in our social missions, some word which would not itself divide us from our sisters.

  6. >Why is it that God’s church can’t be pioneering morality for society rather than lagging behind in fairness and just treatment of others?

    Because, among some other things, you and I disagree on what’s fair and just. I have never felt marginalized in church because I’m a woman and issues like women and the priesthood are non-issues for me. If God feels it is necessary, we will be given it. Until then, I trust His judgement. So as far as I’m concerned, the chruch is just and fair; there is no need to change what is not broken.

  7. I’m trying to imagine a GA using the word “bra” in General Conference… my mental power fail me.

    S., thanks for the post, particularly since it gives me the opportunity to clarify my quoted statement. The Church values loyalty highly, and always has, but I don’t want to leave the impression that I think faithful membership must preclude affiliation with any other political or social organization. Conflict only germinates when competing affiliations actively work against the Church as an institution or against its aims: in some cases the conflict of interest is very clear, in other cases, like feminism, reasonable people reach different conclusions.

    In the case of feminism in particular, I think mainstream American liberal feminism’s dogged pursuit of abortion rights and its (tragic, in my view) embrace of the excesses of the sexual revolution are problematic, at the very least, for self-identifying Mormon feminists; however I don’t think the towel must be entirely thrown in.

    If one wishes to (mostly) avoid the difficulties with the notion of progressive change in the Church that Ardis sets out above, one can approach feminism as a set of intellectual tools with analytical aims rather than as a social movement with expressly political aims. As we discussed on the FMH thread, these two approaches overlap, for sure, but might leave a more coherent position for a Mormon feminism. On this view, one might define feminism thus: gender is a special kind of knowledge about sexual difference, and a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated; thus attention to gender is a useful way of understanding history, surveying the present-day cultural field, and accomplishing certain kinds of ideological and material work.

  8. “There is a problem with self-identification as a feminist in Mormonism, I believe, because someone in a high eccesiastical position identified feminists as one of three enemy groups (the others being “so called intellectualsâ€? and homosexuals.)”

    I never heard of that. When/who was it?

  9. Rosalynde,

    You’re right; a quick search turns up:

    Search Results
    No Documents Found
    Your search did not match any available documents.
    Your query was: [Rank 500]([Field general conference:bra])

    However, the New Era did run an interview with a fashion designer that discussed (among other things) the disadvantages of the “no-bra look.” That seems to be the only search result in LDS magazines. (And it’s one more than I was expecting to find!)

  10. “Despite the various complaints people may have about feminism (many of which are justified), over the past hundred years it really has worked hard to end sexual violence, get women more equality in education and the workforce, set up shelters for battered women and children, etc. And it’s achieved many of its goals. Many women self-identify as feminist because at a point in their lives when they were experiencing problems related to their gendered position in society (i.e. sexual harrassment, feeling pressure to meet an idealized standard of beauty, etc.), they encountered feminism. And they recognized in feminism a
    movement that would address and try to rectify these problems.”

    Yet pushing women into conformity in body type and looks is not at all going away–and often pushed by magazines that tout feminist philosophy, articles and plenty of supermodels.
    I’m not sure “the movement” has done nearly as much as we would like to think in this regard. And while some steps forward have been taken to end the gross hyper-sexualization of both women and children, the pandemic sex trade is not only thriving, but increasing. And many women who claim to be feminist, and believe that by right should have legal ability to prostitute themselves–also support the ever-growing porn industry as not degrading to women, but the empowerment of women. So I think we should be very careful when we associate ourselves with a movement without question.

    I really like post #2. Surely those in the church who wish to end the suffering of women, establish better representation in the work force and equal pay for women, etc– etc–are the majority in the church. And I would definately call that feminism. I think you would be hard pressed to find many ( a lot) that truly believe woman inferieor.

  11. Naismith,

    It was a talk given by Elder Packer. It’s not in official publications, that I know of. However, you can find the talk’s text discussed on the websites of both strongly conservative Mormons (who use it to support an anti-feminist position) and anti-Mormons (who use it to suggest that the church is officially anti-feminist and anti-intellectual).

    One link to the talk’s text, on a site hosted by conservative Mormon John Redelfs, is here.

  12. LOL, Kaimi, that was too funny! That must be the only instance of “freak” on, too.

  13. Tatiana, thanks for those thoughts. Ziff actually made a post awhile back on ZD about having more direct methods to communicate with church leaders.

    sr, according to my basic/simple definition of feminism, I would agree that most Mormons are feminists. However, aside from the issue of people not wanting to use the term “feminist” to describe themselves, I do see differences between myself and the average Mormon (which is why I said I’m in “a minority”). As I described in my post, my version of feminism entails lots of beliefs that other church members would not agree with (I think there are structural inequalities related to gender in the church that are problematic, I don’t like the idea of divine gender roles, etc). As for your last question, I agree that clarifying what it means to not be a feminist is important, but in the end, I think it’s up to people to choose their own identification in relation to the term. I think it would be counter-productive for feminists to walk around saying “you’re a feminist” and “you’re not a feminist.”

    It seems that if you aim to rigorously define “feminist�, it is necessary to clarify what it means to not be a feminist. Do you agree?

  14. Naismith (#3), you are definitely right to point out that when picking a label (such as “feminism”) to identify with, you are also choosing to (in some sense) adopt all of the associations. And in some cases, this can mean fundamental beliefs that you don’t agree with or have questions about. While I don’t want to get into a discussion of abortion, it’s probably one of the issues where I’ve struggled the most reconciling my religious beliefs and feminist associations.

    Ardis (#4), I guess what I’ve done to mitigate the disloyalty issue is to try and incorporate my feminist beliefs into my belief that the gospel embraces all truth (i.e. the gospel embraces the belief that women should not be treated unfairly). Of course, that gets me onto dangerous ground because who can say that my version of truth (i.e. how we should ideally treat women) is more right than someone like Proud Daughter of Eve for whom many of my issues are non-issues. Especially since Proud Daughter of Eve’s version is the one currently taught and accepted in the church.

  15. Margaret, thanks for pointing out the importance of history when thinking about the question of Mormonism and feminism. While many of us weren’t around during the ERA era (myself included, which is why I didn’t directly discuss it), from what I can tell, the conflicts between the church and feminism from that era still heavily influence how “feminism” is understood and discussed in the church today.

    Rosalynde, thanks for the clarification and your additional comments (and for initially raising the issue of allegiance). I definitely agree with your supposition that there are varieties of feminism that I think would be appealing to church members, though I can also understand why people would not want to self-identify as feminists (for the reasons you stated, and for others).

    mami, you’re right to point out there are many issues the feminist movement has not made a whole lot of progress on. And I would never argue that one should “support a movement without question.” I have a lot of critiques of the feminist movement and various feminist positions. As for your last point, I do not think there are many in the church that believe women are inferior (as sr said, most Mormons agree with the fundamental ideas of feminism).

  16. I think part of the problem of allegiance is that the feminism is actually two different things: 1) do no harm to women and 2) elevate women. 1) Requires no positive action on anyone, so it is somewhat easy to have allegiance to this, it is a fundamental part of most religions. 2) On the other hand, requires positive action and it is this part where allegiance is tested.

  17. At the bottom of it, my beef with feminism has always been how exclusionary it is. The heart of the matter has always seemed to about how some women think that they’re better than other women. Whether it’s because they claim to recognize pro-choice profundity in the commonplace notion that women are “human” or because their ultra-obscure literary criticism licenses ridicule of unschooled detractors.

    And non-Mormon feminists generally scoff at Mormon feminists, much as pro-choice feminists scoff at pro-life feminists and irreligious feminists scoffed at Christian feminists for decades. The ugly subtext of feminism is that non-feminists aren’t worthy.

    In Mormonism, the things that we use to set us apart can be especially pernicious. I recently spoke with a man who (with his family) fled Utah for the East Coast, because all the jet skis, big cars, big houses, and budgets on the brink of bankruptcy were all just too much to stomach. For some Mormon feminist women, feminism is their status symbol.

    But this is too simplistic an analysis to apply to Mormon feminists in general. General authorities regularly decry status symbols, and people don’t generally profess to be wounded by that.

    It’s safe to say, also, that feminism is not merely a philosophy, a group of beliefs, or a general approach to a group of issues. Evolution is all these things, and no evolutionists seriously profess to be wounded by the attacks on organic evolution.

    What is it about feminism that leads women to claim that they are wounded by attacks on feminism? It can’t possibly be that they want it to be beyond criticism–that would be intellectually dishonest. My guess is that feminism becomes part of their personal branding. A tool that they use to help to portray themselves to others that also assists them with tackling the obstacles they face–sometimes as an armor, sometimes as rules of thumb. Like a nice suit and 7-habits rolled into one. Is this a good enough guess?

  18. I love the label feminist. It makes me very happy to have the label for myself, and I do feel a lot of loyalty to that label. I also love the label Mormon, and I feel a lot of loyalty to that label as well, and being labeled a feminist Mormon makes me super duper happy.

    (Which is an entirely different matter than how I feel about shareing those labels with other people. Which I don’t do often frankly, not in real life, much too exhausting.)

    One of the main motivating factors behind my creation of fMh was that I wanted very much to have both labels. I felt that I NEEDED them both, for my sanity and to remain loyal to my most true self. But I could not on my own, without the help of expressing my opinions and feelings and faith, and without the feedback and education I could gain from others, learn a way to reconcile the often competing loyalties of those differing labels (I’m trying to type while wrestling a two year old, so this may not be very coherent). If I had to choose, I think I would go crazy, I don’t know what I would choose, but I would lose a very important part of myself. And I think that loss would be both unneccessary and tragic.

  19. DKL,
    I hope you’re not implying that I should not feel loyalty towards entities that do not tolerate dissent easily. You’re not are you?

  20. fMhLisa: I hope you’re not implying that I should not feel loyalty towards entities that do not tolerate dissent easily.

    fMhLisa, not per se. I certainly don’t think there’s a difference between being exclusionary and squashing dissent. For example, country clubs have members with a variety of dissenting opinions. (btw, brilliant use of the triple negative!)

  21. oops, that preceding comment should begin: “I certainly think there’s a difference between being exclusionary and squashing dissent.” (omitting the word “don’t”)

  22. That was a brilliant triple negative, the finest of my life, if I do say so myself!

    As to your example of country clubs as a bastion of social dissent, color me skeptical. Out of morbid curiosity, how would you rate the tolerance for dissent in LDS circles? That is more to the point, don’t you think?

    If you can convince a single living soul that feminists are less tolerant of dissent than Mormons, I’ll crown you king and wash your socks with my tears (and a good dose of 1000 mule team borox).

  23. Re #5, 11
    I have a hard time believing that this talk was so influential churchwide since I just missed any reference to it. Perhaps it made a splash in Utah, but us rank-and-file folks in the hinterlands just missed it.

    Re #19
    “It makes me very happy to have the label for myself…”
    Just curious about how you handle it when people tell you that you are NOT a feminist? That is the main reason I do not use that label anymore, because I was repeatedly told that I was not a feminist if I was pro-life, because I didn’t have a ‘career’ and so on. It did not seem worth starting a fight over. Much easier to avoid the label.

    Although I resented very much when younger women told me that I was not a feminist, because I was one of those 1970s pioneers who sued to keep my job when I was pregnant. I had performed a great service for them, yet I was cast out of their midst for wanting to nurse my baby and support my husband in his career for a brief season of my life.

  24. #24, Naismith, The talk was indeed widely known, especially the Lions and Tigers and Bea… oops, I mean “Feminists, Intellectuals and Homosexuals” part of it. I don’t live in Utah, but heard about it on email lists and in local LDS discussion groups.

  25. I feel a tendency to circle the wagons against uncalled agents who feel they have a mission to change the church. It seems to me a form of counseling God. Not that I would call for such a circling.

    I’m very interested in environmental issues and in years past I belonged to several environmental organizations. One by one, I ended my membership in all of them as they took positions I did not feel were right. I still vote and act on behalf of issues that seem important to me, but I won’t accept the label “environmentalist” because it resonates with meanings that don’t accurately describe me.

    My whole life I’ve witnessed things good and true attacked by people flying the flag “feminist.” I’m against oppression. I favor freedom and equality before the law.

  26. fMhLisa, isn’t your criticism of country clubs a bit heavy on stereotypes? As long as you pay your dues, pay for the activity quota, and don’t abuse the facilities, they’ll let you stay. Dissent is never an issue. Yet there may well be some country clubs that still require their members to be a either man or the widow of a deceased member. But why the poor opinion of rich people? Do I detect a hint of exclusion?

    I think that the difference between dissent and exclusion is pretty easy to illustrate. Take, for example, racism–the typical example of exclusivist bigotry. Unless you want to assume some Platonic unity-of-the-virtues type position, there’s no reason why a racist who wouldn’t sit at the same table with someone of a different race cannot tolerate dissent.

    Thales, for example, was the first thinker to create a school of followers that advanced theories that disagreed with the schools founder (for example, Anaximander’s theory tried to correct problems with Thales theory; cf., the Pythagorians, who supposedly threw Hippasus overboard when he discovered a flaw in their master’s teaching). Thales encouraged dissent, and in doing so invented what we call “western thought.” Nevertheless, there’s no reason to suppose that Thales didn’t share the racist outlook of his day.

    By the way, I think that your statement “it makes me very happy to have the label [feminist] for myself” is exactly the kind of thing I’m struggling to understand and explain when I refer to using feminism for the purpose of personal branding.

  27. The talk in question was given to CES employees about a decade ago and did not have wide circulation–at first (though as soon as word of it got out, it did indeed make a splash in Utah). And now that you know the three groups Elder Packer identified as enemies, you might start noticing little references to it. Any Mormon text which uses the words “so called intellectuals” is referrring to that talk. (I’ve heard oblique references to it all over the place.) And surely it wasn’t the only thing said about feminism which provoked women into taking sides against each other, but it did contribute–and I do believe we have a great need of healing. We had a sweet General RS Conference yesterday (Saturday), but I really have a hard time being put on a pedastol. I remember a summer Bruce and I spent in Boston where the RS teacher told about how she saw herself as a little china doll her husband kept on a high shelf. (She also said she needed a father’s blessing before her wedding night because the whole thought of sex seemed so “icky.”) There’s something really unfortunate in that view–the “I’m far too precious for you to touch” idea. It helps neither gender. Feminism–or whatever we choose to call it–lets women wear a man’s clothing for awhile in the sense that Rosalyn (sp?) or Portia wear men’s clothes in Shakespeare’s plays (_As You LIke it_ and _Merchant of Venice_). In both plays, the women teach their boyfriends/husbands that they are equals in all ways–neither to be absurdly elevated nor rudely trammeled.

  28. Naismith,
    I handle it the same way I handle Mormons who question my Mormonness (my loyalty, morals, righteousness) because I’m liberal.

    First of all, in my experience there aren’t a whole lot of those type of people (neither Mormon nor feminist). Most people have better manners than that and either don’t think it, or keep their opinions wisely to themselves.

    Second, depending on the situation, I either ignore them (if they’re dumb) or I weigh their opinion (if they’re thoughtful and appropriate) according to my own understanding of the terms in question and adjust or dismiss as appropriate.

    I don’t feel it is necessary for all feminists to embrace me any more than I think it is necessary for all Mormon to embrace me. But I do get the sense that for the most part, both groups would rather have me around than not.

    I have no knowledge as to the situations you have been in that caused you to dismiss the label as feminist, so I can’t know how I would have reacted in those circumstance. You must have some interesting stories though.

  29. Upon rereading my comment #27, it’s not entirely clear what I’m getting at. My answer to your question, fMhLisa, is this: since intolerance of dissent is logically independent of exclusionary views (this is what I was trying to establish in #27), the question of whether Mormonism is more intolerant of dissent that feminism is a red herring. I think it’s pretty obvious that Mormonism is less prone to exclusionary than feminism; hence missionaries. That’s my point.

  30. DKL,
    I hope it’s okay if I have very little interest in this debate with you. Especially as you rarely answer the question put forth, nor stay particularly close to the topic at hand, (not to mention turning my turn bare statement of skepticism into rampant stereotyping and a hatred of the rich)(I do actually hate rich people of course but getting there ‘call me skeptical’ is an astounding feat of extrapolation). I can’t even really read your reply, it makes my head hurt. wha?

    As far as branding, do you take no pleasure in calling yourself Mormon, or American, or A Big Ol’ Meanie? Me thinks you do, big guy.

  31. Sorry we posted about the same time DKL, and let me say this to #30, (as my father would say) poppy cock. (I’m not sure if there is any other appropriate use of that latter word, but it is fun to type, no?) Mormons have missionaries ergo we’re less exclusionary? Seriously!?! That’s your argument? I don’t think even you believe that, it’s so full of holes that I’m going to go now and watch Xena Warrior Princess and fold my laundry. Good night.

  32. fMhLisa: Which is an entirely different matter than how I feel about shareing those labels with other people. Which I don’t do often frankly, not in real life, much too exhausting. (#19)

    This made me laugh. What does it mean when you love and identify with a label when you think about it in the quiet of your own mind, but you don’t like to share your identification with that label when talking to others? If I were to hazard a guess, it would be that the label means something much different to you than it mean to all the people you don’t want to share it with, and you find it exhausting trying to correct their faulty understanding of the label “feminist” (hence the exhaustion). Am I way off the mark here?

    After reading this post this morning, I started doing an informal poll with people today, asking them to name the first five things they though of when they heard the word “feminism.” So far, negative things like “abortion” are outnumbering the positives like “women’s sufferage” pretty handily. I think this is the uphill battle a Mormon feminist faces. “Feminism” carries a lot of baggage with it and it is not going to be easy to offload the label.

  33. “I think it’s pretty obvious that Mormonism is less prone to [being] exclusionary than feminism; hence missionaries.”

    Nah, it only seems that way because Mormonism is more affordable than feminism–tithing and all. It’s all about free market, man.

  34. Jacob, how many of the folks you talked to were Mormon? And how many did you talk to? Although you’re probably correct that the term is too baggage-laden these days, I think that an LDS sample would skew your data pretty badly.

    It would be interesting if you conducted the same study with the word Mormon, and non-LDS participants, who also didn’t know that you were LDS…. Paula

  35. Because I love the church so much and how much it has enriched my life, I want to see it change to reflect ideals of equality more fully. I’m not sure what exactly this means, or how best to bring this about. And I am prepared to be open minded about what the Lord has in store (which will probably be different than what I think is best).

    What I think gets sticky for those who think feminism is problematic in a Church context is that phrases like “ideals of equality” viewed through feminist eyes usually translate into something different than what our leaders teach and define. What if what the Lord has “in store” is what we already have — gender roles, priesthood and all? It’s a love that sort of appears to be holding back: “I love you but you need to change in order for me to really love you.” (Not the ideal relationship, wouldn’t you agree?)

    I have even heard the term “revolution” used by feminists who want to gather their forces to change the Church. Can you see how that might not go over well with people who believe our leaders receive the revelation necessary (with no revolution necessary) to lead us in the way God wants us to be led?

    So, you say:
    In the end, I know that I will always be a little suspect because I want to see change in a church where many (most?) others are happy with the status quo. I hope that I am able to read the suspicion of others as their love for a gospel and a church that they think is perfect (or nearly so) and are reluctant to see altered.

    Two thoughts in response:

    1. What you may feel from others (or at least some) who resist feminism isn’t just a love of the gospel. I have said this before, and maybe it may never be believed, but it is also because of a love for the woman who doesn’t feel that love, equality, value (whatever might be lacking in her view) that is already there. I said to my friend last night as I listened to the RS broadcast that if I could package that love and assurance and give it away, I would. But I don’t see how that assurance can come if one is constantly waiting for changes before believing what the prophet says.

    2. Last night, our prophet, the mouthpiece of God, stated (again) that we as women are not second-class citizens. And yet, most feminists insist that we are somehow slighted, that changes need to be made in order for things to be “fair.” This is an example of why there is such resistance to feminism, I believe. There is simply a radical disagreement between the prophets and the feminists on basic issues like this that relate to the worth of women. It’s not a generic resistance to change that causes resistance to feminism; it’s a resistance to the idea that the prophets somehow have it wrong. That strikes at what most consider a foundation of the restored gospel.

    I believe this reminder from our dear prophet lets us know that he is aware that some women feel they are second-class citizens, and yet, he lets us know — because of his love for us — that that point of view is simply wrong. (That should be good news, because who wants to feel less valued, less important, less loved?) Do we believe him? Pres. Hinckley and our other leaders (women included) desperately want us to know of God’s love, right now. We don’t need to wait for changes to know of our worth in God’s plan. Why not try to leave the feminist glasses aside and try to see through gospel glasses? (Sigh — I’m sure that statement seems to minimize the struggle it is, and I don’t want to do that. It’s just so hard for me to understand how these prophetic messages seem to be set aside for the sake of loyalty to “feminist principles,” creating frustration, angst and feelings of less-valued-ness.)

  36. There is one thing to be sure, that the most radical feminists that want to overthrow the”patriarchy” haven’t a prayer of success except God be behind them (or theoretically they persuade Him to be behind them). Who can fight against God?

  37. Thought this might be relevant, from Pres. Faust:

    “Continual revelation will not and cannot be forced by outside pressure from people and events. It is not the so-called ‘revelation of social progress.’ It does not originate with the prophets; it comes from God. The Church is governed by the prophet under the inspiration, guidance, and direction of the Lord” (from a Church Educational System fireside talk given September 8, 2002).

  38. Paula (#35),

    I agree with your point that “feminist” will have a different associations depending on what group of people you poll. As you suspect I was asking LDS people, but that was on purpose since in my original comment I was hazarding a guess as to why fMhLisa would enjoy identifying herself with feminism but not want to share that identification with others (I assumed it was LDS members that led to her exhaustion, but that was just an assumption on my part).

    As to your point about associations with the label “mormon,” I don’t get to choose the label “mormon” for myself. I get the label (or not) based on my decision to be a member of the LDS church (or not). The label is inextricably tied to my church membership and participation, which is a much bigger question than whether I want this or that label. That is very different than the label “feminist” which anyone can easily extricate oneself from by not calling oneself a feminist. So, I am willing to fight the good fight to get people to understand what a “mormon” really is, but I would feel it more of a waste of time to convince all the members of the church that feminism is really a good thing just so I can openly label myself a feminist without people questioning my allegiances.

  39. “I think it’s pretty obvious that Mormonism is less prone to exclusionary than feminism; hence missionaries. That’s my point.”

    Maybe (hopefully) things have changed since I got married in the 1970s, but back then, many Utah LDS families treated missionary work the way some rich folks treat charity work: We do this to be nice and christian, but we wouldn’t want our children to actually marry one of them.

    It was a source of great angst and sadness when my returned-missionary husband fell in love with a convert.

  40. While it’s wonderful that the church teaches full equality between women and men, and while I would not have joined if that were not the case, there’s still a rather large disconnect between the rhetoric and the actual situation in the church day to day. I think that is the message that needs to get through. Are women taken seriously in the church? Are our concerns heard? It seems to me that it’s built into the very structure of the church hierarchy that we aren’t. In every case, the extent to which we can see our ideas implemented is the extent to which we can convince the priesthood holders, at the local level, that our ideas have merit. That is often an uphill battle, it seems. They tend to focus on the “real” business of the church, don’t they? Meaning the men’s business?

    For instance, The Relief Society has no internal hierarchy. We aren’t connected vertically into our own organization. I don’t know the reasons for that, or if it needs to change or not, and yet it definitely limits the power that the RS has to do good in the world. At one point in the history of the church, we could collect our own funds, and launch our own projects. Not now.

    I definitely know that in my work as an engineer, I am taken a thousand times more seriously than at church. In other words, society is changing so that women are heard. This may be because the role “engineer” is defined, and by stepping into that role, I automatically gain the authority that comes with the role. In the church, womens roles are strictly defined, and those roles mostly lack authority. Certainly there is almost no situation in our church in which a woman has authority over men. Regardless, whether for this or whatever reason, the church is definitely lagging behind society. This is rather a large moral issue which involves over half the membership. It should be a major, critical concern of the leadership.

    However, just as the lifting of the priesthood ban didn’t come until society had changed to the point that the church was in a very uncomfortable position without it, so in issues of the equality of women, is the church once again being dragged reluctantly behind society as a whole. We should be in the forefront of moral issues. We should be teaching society about human equality, connectedness, and respect for everyone, not reluctantly learning from it, decades late.

  41. I must clarify that the priesthood ban had nothing to do with social pressure, which so many people seem to think is the case. Rather it was because a temple was being built in a country where most of the members came from African heritage. Who was going to use that temple? Who would be able to work in it? I don’t think the social pressures in the USA had nothing on what was going on the world at large, between the growth in Brazil and those waiting for membership in Africa, there were far pressing reasons for the priesthood be extended to all worthy male members.

    We need to start looking at “Why are things the way they are, and what is God trying to teach us?, not the gee God needs to do this so “I can feel completely happy”.

  42. There is definitely a problem in the Church with men not taking women seriously enough. By the same token, there is the same problem with presidents in councils of all types not taking their counselors (which is a somewhat misleading name) and council members seriously.

    The Quorum of the Twelve does nothing of significance except by common consent. This should be a pattern unto the whole Church – from the council of husband and wife, to stake and ward councils, to quorums of all types. The ideal is that all become worthy of the same inspiration that a council may truly act of one accord. There is nothing less like the gospel of Christ than a bishop who treats his ward council as a nothing more than a group of counsellors or advisers.

    That may be the fallback, exigent mode of the Priesthood, but it is not the ideal by any means. And those who make a matter of occasional or temporal necessity into a matter of eternal ideal do not understand the doctrine of the Priesthood at all, where common consent is the greatest ideal.

  43. I must respectfully disagree with the reasons for the lifting of the priesthood ban which Tanya presents. I won’t go into detail about my own opinions on this, because the subject of this blog is something else, but I think the parallels between inequality of Black Latter-day Saints with white and female Latter-day Saints and male is stretched. There will be no revelation in the temple requiring a change of policy in regards to women–unless it were to extend the priesthood to us (which I doubt will happen), or perhaps to return to us the permission once taken for granted that we could administer blessings. There is no church-wide “policy” about how women should be treated except the counsel already given in the scriptures, though the subject of abuse and of Church leaders failing to listen well to women (see two talks from Elder Ballard in recent years) will almost certainly keep coming up. It is unquestionably true that “there is almost no situation in the Church in which a woman has authority over men.” I agree that the balance is off and I hope it will be corrected. I should add that in my family, on my mother’s side, the great family secret has always been that the women PRETEND the men are in charge just to feed those stereotypically big male egos, but we women are always at the helm. This goes beyond “The hand that rocks the cradle…” to the idea that for generations, the women of my family have quietly directed the men while letting the men retain their sense of power. I wrote a story about that, published in my collection _Love Chains_, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what I called it.

  44. “As for your last point, I do not think there are many in the church that believe women are inferior (as sr said, most Mormons agree with the fundamental ideas of feminism).”

    “Lastly, I’ve found that “feministâ€? is the best word for finding other like-minded souls in a church where I am in the minority.”

    So which is it? Are you in the minority, or are most Mormons in agreement with feminism?
    You say you don’t want to talk about fiery issues [ “in discussing this post, I’m hoping to stay away from debates on particular feminist issues–women and the priesthood, gender roles”] like women having the priesthood, and male church hierarchy, etc–but then you bring it up. It seems to be the main point of your concerns. So if that is how you define feminism, then you are in the minority in the church. [“As I described in my post, my version of feminism entails lots of beliefs that other church members would not agree with (I think there are structural inequalities related to gender in the church that are problematic, I don’t like the idea of divine gender roles, etc)”]

    This is obviously the problem for you, so talking around it is ridiculous. There is no way around it–we can’t have a conversation and pretend you are talking about one thing– and the Mormon majority being with you about basic feministic principals–while in reality you are talking about a very specific, as you see it, problem.

  45. mulling&musing noted that during the RS broadcast, the prophet reiterated that we are not second-class citizens and wondered why we have a hard time believing the prophet. I, personally, have no problem believing that I am not a second-class citizen in the eyes of God, or even in the “ideal” church that Mark Butler spoke of. However, the current structure almost guarantees that women’s ideas have less chance to be heard and do not carry much weight.

    I feel that as a Mormon Feminist I am not going against prophetic counsel, I am trying to bring fullfillment of the prophet’s words into my own life and into the lives of my sisters and brothers. I don’t see the conflict there. We can see that church structure and hierarchy changes all the time without any fundamental change in the doctrines of the gospel. These changes have often come as a result of individuals making proposals. I have had some success in making suggestions to the bishopric in my own ward as to how women’s voices could be heard more or small administrative changes that have made a difference in how I feel valued as a women. Many women are asking to be heard on a more general churchwide level and many of them do this becasue they identify with feminism – how is this different? How could this be fundamentally against the gospel?

    As a church, we have a long history of being open to personal revelation and of valuing truths wherever we find them. I have found great truths in the feminist movement and I am glad I can bring those good things into my life and to share them with others. I identify myself as a feminist (even though I am not in agreement with everything everyone does in the name of feminism) for the same reason I identify myself as a member of my political party (although I don’t agree with everything in the platform) and as a Mormon (although I do not support everything that has ever been done in the name of Mormonism). It is because I believe in the basic ideas and banding together with others who believe similarly (not necessarily exactly) helps me to be able to work for a better world.

  46. mami (#45), I think you are misunderstanding me. I am not trying to avoid all mention of these issues–I just don’t want to get in yet another debate about whether or not women should have the priesthood. I am okay discussing how one’s ideas about various issues may affect one’s relationship to feminism and/or the church. My point is (and I think we’re in agreement here):

    1. If we define feminism very broadly (feminism is about empowering women, or feminism is about eliminating the oppression of women), I would say that all (or most) Mormons are in agreement with feminism.

    2. If we start looking at generally accepted ideas in feminism (patriarchy is bad, we should question and/or reject gender roles, there should be equal power between men and women in societal institutions), many fewew Mormons would be in agreement with feminism (or at least these particular positions).

    Because I tend to be a feminist that accepts more than just the broad definitions of feminism (#1), others (i.e. other church members) wonder about my allegiance.

  47. fmhLisa (#19), I’m glad there are places like fMh in order to figure out how to negotiate these competing loyalties/labels as well. So, thanks.

    Naismith (#24), I like what fMhLisa had to say, but I just wanted to add that I can see how your relationship to feminism must have been greatly complicated by experiences like these. I’m not sure when these experiences occurred or who they happened with, but I would say that I think the most recent generation of feminists (Third Wave feminism) has a greater flexibility than its predecessor on at least some of these issues (Kaimi had a great comment on it in my last thread).

  48. Jacob (#33 and #39), “feminism” carries a lot of negative baggage with it both inside and outside the church, though I think the baggage is slightly different in each case (for example, I think the associations with abortion are a much bigger issue for women inside the church than outside of it). What I think is interesting is that I did some reading by a woman who has done some questionaires about feminism (I think mostly on college campuses). She said that when she asked about “feminism,” most people wrote that it was about equality for women. But when she asked about “feminists,” most people had images of crazy, radical women who were extremist in their views. She found the disconnect between people’s ideas of “feminism” and people’s ideas of “feminists” interesting. While I know that many people have had negative run-ins with feminists (take Naismith’s stories, for example), what I wonder is to what extent is the negative associations people have with feminism are a result of negative stereotypes they get from the media, anti-feminists, etc., and to what extent are they the result of run-ins they’ve had with real feminists? (I have no idea what the answer is to this question. Any sociologists out there who might know where to find data on this kind of stuff?)

    m&m (#36), I think Tatiana (#41) and Markie (#46) have summarized what I would say in response. For me, someone merely telling me that they love me and that I am valued is not enough for me to feel it. For example, if a mother tells her daughter every day that she loves her but simultaneously ignores her most of the time, the daughter is going to end up really confused about her mother’s love towards her. While I appreciate statements made by the prophets about my worth (and the worth of women), when they are accompanied by actions and policies that leave me in question about this worth, I end up confused. (Still, thanks for the clarifications on why church members feel threatened by feminism.)

    Tatiana and Markie, thanks for your thoughts.

  49. 46
    I appreciate the desire to give feedback at the local level. I have done this as well. I still think it’s self-defeating to not take the prophets at their word that the structure and such are the way God wants them to be. I also disagree that the structure guarantees that women’s voices will not be heard. Women’s auxiliaries have a great deal of impact on a ward, they get to contribute to ward and other councils and that gives them a voice. They have the most impact on the children (huge!) and all the females in the ward (and, if you think about it, have an impact at home with the husbands as well). Any priesthood leader worth his salt sees that. I refuse to believe that all priesthood leaders ignore the women in their wards who head up and participate in the various organizations led by women. I understand that some may have had bad experiences, but what I disagree with is making sweeping generalizations about the Church and the structure, etc. That’s basically saying “the prophets have it wrong.” Additionally, if most women are fine with the way things are, generally speaking, that says to me that most women feel they are valued and heard and OK with the structure. Even our general leaders give feedback once in a while about ways to hear women more, but they never imply that the structure is flawed. (!!)

    Again, don’t misunderstand me; I totally understand the desire to give feedback at the local level, for there is room for improvement for all of us (sometimes we as women need it from the men, too, right?). Sometimes, however, what we think is wrong really isn’t. (This is human nature, so I can apply this to myself about things I struggle with in life or relationships or whatever.) Sometimes our perspective can be skewed if our assumptions are. That is my concern about generalizations about Church structure, etc. Of course we will be unhappy if we think the whole structure is wrong. On the other hand, if we go in trusting that this is the way God wants things to be organized, I think we will be able to contribute even more positively .

  50. S., your comment #47 appears to answer your own question — Mormonism and your form of feminism are indeed incompatible. If you accept the feminism that pretends to know that patriarchy is inherently bad, it’s obvious that feminists would resent a male God who doesn’t let his wife speak to her children, resent God for sending a son rather than a daughter to save us, and resent that son for inviting only men to be his leading disciples and excluding women from his last supper altogether. Because the church believes God and Christ are perfect, the church necessarily rejects this feminist assumption. Ditto regarding God’s creating man and woman, instead of person and person.

  51. S.,
    A thought: I think it would be helpful to hear more of what you love about the Church and gospel. At least for me, when the focus is on complaints or concerns about the Church, it’s harder to feel a shared allegiance. This gets to your earlier post, too. If we can focus more on views that we share than on where we differ, that can help bridge the breach as well, IMO. (Don’t know if that would be off topic, but I would love to hear sometime what it is that you love, since you did mention that, too, in your original post.)

  52. The question of labels is interesting. More than one commenter, on this and the other feminism thread, have said “why not ditch that label — it brings too much baggage.”

    There is a similar, perrennial debate about the label “Mormon.” Does Mormon bring too much baggage? Too much “Mormons aren’t Christians” rhetoric, too much “do you guys worship Mormon” confusion? Should we ditch that label, and insist on Latter Day Saint? We hear the topic discussed from time to time. Yet despite some moevs in this direction, most members are still very attached to the label Mormon.

  53. It is not so much that the Eternal Father does not let his wife speak to his children but rather that each heavenly mother is a member of the Eternal Father. It is not so much that our heavenly fathers and heavenly mothers do not participate in this process, it is a matter of convention that when addressing a body we speak as if addressing the presiding member though all are listening, because they bear His name.

    Is the voice of the Eternal Father solely the voice of a bunch of men? Hardly. The body of the Father, as well as the body of his Son Jesus Christ, as well as the body of the Holy Ghost each consists of a comparable number of men and women, whether in a pre-mortal, mortal, or exalted state.

    Didn’t someone comment recently on how the term brethren was not intended to imply that all were males? Same with many other collective terms in the gospel. The first body and bodies created were male, but presumably a society of all males was pretty pathetic, and so the plan was changed so we had an equal number of males and females. But without marriage, that didn’t work either (mankind fell again), so the plan was revised to require eternal inter-personal relationships, of which eternal marriage is the most fundamental.

    Remember in Abraham 2:10-11 the Priesthood of Abraham is his seed or his posterity. And Abraham can have no posterity without the participation of his wife. So by virtue of marriage, Sarah is given the role of mediator between Abraham and his posterity, a role comparable to the role of Christ. But as a matter of formality we pray not unto the Son, but unto the Father, the Eternal Father.

    It is no accident that the scripture saith “she shall be saved in child bearing”. Fathers are saved in child bearing too, just a different kind. Bearing their infirmities, providing for their needs, ministering unto them throughout time and eternity, until they rise unto the same station, as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. This is the ministry of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God, infinite and eternal.

  54. Mark – I’d like some back-up for some of the doctrine you are stating. Christ’s body being made up of many male and female? What happened to single individuals each inhabiting their own eternal body? If gender is an eternal characteristic that we will have now and throughout eternity, how is Christ (the individual) made up of many both male and female (unless you mean He has male and female characteristics, whic is not what I got from your post)? I am highly confused and curious.

  55. S. Snyder–
    The problem is we are trying to discuss this without an accepted definition of what feminism is and what feminist is or isn’t (something we can not agree on in the blogosphere). If we do continue this discussion on it’s current course, then this conversation is really not about feminism and reconciling it with our Mormon beliefs at all. It goes from:
    “I’m hoping to have a conversation about what allegiance is, whether being a Mormon feminist means you have a divided allegiance, why one might or might not want to use the term “feminism,â€? how best to exercise faith and commitment to organizations you hope will change, etc.)”
    To becoming:
    “I’m hoping to have a conversation about what allegiance is, whether being a Mormon means you have divided allegiance, why one might or might not want to embrace certain doctrines( i.e. divine roles), how best to exercise faith and commitment to organizations you hope will change doctrines.”
    As much as you would like to side step the issue, it is one of the basic assumptions in true debate that we can at least come to an agreement about definitions of things we are talking about.
    It would be pointless for me to argue the principals of Christianity with someone who tells me I am Mormon, and therefore not a Christian–and don’t get it.
    When it is obvious your definition of feminism is very different from my definition, then how can it be discussed between us how I reconcile being feminist and faith and how you reconcile faith and feminism?
    It absolutely can not. Because I will have no problem reconciling the two, and you will.
    This thread could only work the way you want it to if everyone has your point of view with regards to feminism.

  56. “Certainly there is almost no situation in our church in which a woman has authority over men.”

    I haven’t found that to be true. My son was a Primary teacher for some years, and his president was a woman. He also served on the activities committee (chaired by a woman) and sang in a choir directed by a woman. His mission president’s wife also had a profound influence on him, by assigning him to do certain things.

    So “almost no situation” seems a bit hyperbolic.

    My local church leaders go out of their way to listen to women’s concerns. At every tithing settlement and temple recommend interview, they always (through at least five bishops) asks me about any concerns I have about the ward. And they always listen attentively and do change things. I thought that was pretty standard practice, since it happened with so many different bishops (but all here, so maybe it’s just a local tradition).

    At our stake RS activity on Saturday, the meal was cooked and served by priesthood, including the stake high council and an Area Seventy. And they kept my water filled much better than many professional waiters, I thought it was nice, and perhaps symbolic.

  57. Markie,

    Of course Jesus is male. However (the body of) Christ has many members. The most direct scriptural reference is from Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians:

    For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
    (1 Cor 12:12)

    Now if you read the New Testament carefully, you will see that doctrine all over the place. It is the turning point on which the doctrine of At-one-ment rests. I posted on this subject today at Millennial Star:

    (If the underscores do not come through, please insert them before and after “of”, or browse from here: )

  58. Very interesting post, and I think it points to why the breach won’t be healed. That’s because its not just the term ‘feminism’ which has become suspect through some strange alchemy. Its that the majority of self-identified Mormon feminists have a program of change for the Church.

    I think the difference between being feminist and being politically liberal or conservative or Republican or Democrat is that it doesn’t require one to agitate (first word that came to mind, insert less loaded term here) for change in the Church.

  59. Matt (#51), I think you are reading my statements injudiciously.

    m&m (#52), before my guest-post stint at T&S is over, I’ll make a post along these lines. Thanks for the suggestion.

    mami (#56), I think as long as people are willing to say “this is how I personally define feminism,” we don’t need an agreed-upon definition. And I’m willing to listen to other perspectives of feminism and how others have reconciled their beliefs with their own variety of feminism (including rejections of feminism). Just because personal experiences differ, doesn’t mean we can’t converse. And just because I have a certain perspective on feminism, doesn’t mean that I don’t want others to disagree with me or share alternate perspectives.

    Adam (#60), I don’t think that feminists’ desire for change necessarily precludes the chance for healing, but I agree that it makes it more difficult. Compounding this: our church structure doesn’t really have an outlet for dissent, which I think tends to amplify tension.

  60. Matt, (#51), your argument seems to be that if one thinks patriarchy is inherently problematic, then one must believe God is imperfect. That’s certainly one conclusion that a person could draw from that starting point, but it’s hardly the only one.

    My sense is that a lot of the disagreement boils down to the issue that m&m raised in #50: if you see church structures as precisely reflecting the will of God, a feminist critique of them is— at the very least— kind of pointless; we’d be better off searching for ways to live with the existing order. However, if you see God’s involvement in the church as a bit more hands-off, such a feminist critique doesn’t necessarily imply disloyalty to/rejection of God, which is why Mormon feminists (or more specifically, the type of Mormon feminism which Seraphine is here discussing) don’t necessarily see their feminism and their faith as being in conflict.

    When it comes to labels— if I asked five random people where I live what they thought of when they heard the term “Christian,” the chances are high I would get highly negative responses: “intolerant,” “bigoted,” “hateful,” “smug,” etc. The word doesn’t necessarily imply a tie to any particular organization, and there are vast differences of opinion about exactly what it means, and who should get to be included. Despite all that, I refer to myself as a Christian— even though I’m wary of some others who are calling themselves “Christian,” and I might even want to distance myself from some of what they’re doing.

    I personally like the term “Mormon feminist” because I see the words as qualifying each other: my view of the church is clearly influenced by my feminism—but at the same time, my approach to the broader movement of feminism is influenced by my Mormonness,

  61. S., thanks for a thoughtful post on the question of divided allegiance. (And I think it’s worth noting that every Church member likely faces similar questions of divided allegiance, large or small, over some issue or other at some point or other.)

    FWIW: Both my feminism and my Mormonism have undeniably shifted around over the years, both in general and in relation to each other, and I’m sure they’ll continue to. But at this point I understand my feminism largely–maybe entirely–in terms of my Mormonism; I wouldn’t even identify as a feminist outside of a church context because only in a church context could I be considered liberal. (In any other context, I am politically very mainstream and middle-of-the-road, but to a disturbingly high number of Mormons, I’m some kind of revolutionary. I can only conclude that these Mormons are sheltered and have never met any real revolutionaries.) Personally, I’m not terribly interested in feminist theory. It’s not that I think feminist theory is bad; it just turns out that I like to read dead white males and think about their aesthetics more than I like to think about their politics.

    My major point of departure with what we might call, for lack of a better term, “mainstream” American feminism has to do with the sexual revolution, which I would critique both as a Mormon and as a feminist. I suspect the sexual revolution has, in a sense, resulted in the widespread masculinization of sexuality and has on the balance been terrible for women, but that’s another topic for another day. I consider my feminism, at root, part of a broader spiritual commitment to the gospel ideals of justice, of mercy, of Nephi’s promise that “all are alike unto God.”

    I understand that terms such as “feminist” and “liberal” are loaded, and they are most often flung around in contexts of debate, often contentious debate. But I think I owe my fellow Mormons some truth in advertising. This was again brought home to me as I ventured into gospel doctrine last Sunday for the first time in over a year (just got released from nursery) and listened to the vast majority of my classmates express their desire to meet George W. Bush and various Republican luminaries, and to the teacher interpret Isaiah to mean–if I understood him correctly–that we owe “our religious president” our support. (And this has to do with the gospel, the scriptures, or anything that should ever be discussed in a Sunday school class how? OK, rant over.) In that sort of context, there comes a point at which I need to signal to my fellow Mormons that I do not understand the gospel to lead to the political and social conclusions to which they understand it to lead. Identifying myself as a feminist, as a Democrat, or as a liberal–all of the Mormon variety–seems the only responsible, the only honest, thing to do.

  62. Mark – thanks for the link – the terminology and paradigm you are using are much clearer now. Still not sure I’m in total agreement, but I will have to ponder a little while longer. I guess if I were a more frequent visitor I would be more familiar with your ideas/ways of stating things. Thanks,

  63. Markie,

    I have only started writing my own posts at Millennial Star as of a couple of weeks ago, and most that I have talked to think the concept quite strange. One of my friends told me once – “You must be one of those people who is going to be deceived in the last days” (smile).

  64. ‘Mormon feminists’ might do better to call themselves ‘feminist Mormons.’ A thought.

  65. Lynnette (62),

    The problem with the “God’s more hands-off than you realize” answer, to those defending “patriarchy,” broadly defined, is that there is no basis for feminists to think God is more gender-neutral than the church is. “Feminists” pull that notion out of the air. Those places we can see God’s will suggest he’s at least as “patriarchal” as any feminist argues the church to be. God created the trinity being either 2/3 or 3/3 male, God sent his son, not his daughter, to save us, God called twelve men and no women as his disciples, God chose to primarily call men to speak on his behalf. And of course the Mormon belief that God has a wife, or wives, but Father does all the communicating with us, his children, doesn’t suggest he’s gender neutral, either.

    Because Mormons believe God is just, and loves women equally with men, most Mormons believe it must not be inherently unjust to have a presiding presidency be exclusively or primarily male. Because they know men and women are equally precious in God’s eyes, but that God treats men and women differently, they correctly deduce that equality is not incompatible with gender difference.

    The challenge for Mormon feminists, it seems to me, is first, to offer a basis for suggesting that God is more gender-neutral than the church, and second, to explain how it is that the diverse group of Bruce R. McConkie, Boyd K. Packer, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, all of whom are agreed that Christianity is inherently “patriarchal,” are wrong. Who are Mormon feminists to oppose that foursome?

  66. Eve, we’re doing women’s sexuality in my women’s studies class this week, and this is definitely one of those classes where my confused thoughts get pushed way back in my head and I just teach the material. But anyway, I really like what you say at the end of your comment–about feeling that you need to signal to other Mormons that you religious convictions have led you to particular social and political convictions.

    Adam, thanks for the thought.

    Matt, the whole issue of patriarchy is very complicated. I think it’s possible to critique certain aspects of a patriarchal structure while being okay with others (for example, I’ve never really had any difficulty with Christ being a male). My main response to your comments is: my hope is that in the afterlife we will understand more fully the roles that women have played in our own Plan of Salvation (i.e. our Heavenly Mother, etc). I wonder that if women were given more understanding about the role of women in the processes of creation, salvation, etc., if they would have fewer difficulties with the “you’re different but you’re equal idea.”

    DKL, thanks.

  67. Matt (#67),

    I think the kinds of events to which you refer can be interpreted in different ways. Yes, it was God’s son who came to save us, not a daughter. But does this necessarily imply anything about gender? In other words, was it necessary that Christ be male for him to accomplish his work? That’s probably an unanswerable question— but I’m not convinced that Christ’s maleness in and of itself tells us something fundamental about gender.

    Likewise, it’s true that in the New Testament and in the modern LDS church, only men serve as apostles. Is this a divine communication that only men are suited for such roles? Possibly. But I think the situation could also plausibly be read as nothing more than God working within the context of male-dominated cultures. Likewise, we can use our scarcity of knowledge regarding Heavenly Mother to draw conclusions about eternal gender roles— but another possibility is that male leaders have simply not sought out revelation on that particular subject.

    I’ve chosen to see God’s equal love for and valuing of all humans (women and men alike) as primary, and to use that as a measuring stick for other things. I realize that’s a choice, and one could start elsewhere— but I think it’s a defensible choice in the context of Christianity, and it’s certainly one that accords with my personal experience of God. That’s my basis for thinking (or at least hoping) God is more egalitarian than the church. But do I believe that God can (and does) work within imperfect and sometimes unjust human organizations? Absolutely.

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