In Mormonism, feminism is an "f-word". And I twisted and spun and bent myself in an attempt to not label myself as such. I've called myself a feminist-ally or -empathizer. Most recently I've come to most closely define myself as 'one who advocates for change and improvement of gender inequalities within my Mormon culture and Church - WITHOUT changing the principles and doctrines of the gospel'.
I looked myself in the mirror and said, "Self, sounds pretty much like the definition of feminist to me." And so I am. To think that all feminists are the same is rather simplistic. Like calling all fish only "fish" whether it be salmon, trout, angelfish, cod, sturgeon, goldfish, or shark. We have liberal, social, radical, militant (the feminazis), marxist/socialist, cultural, eco, and a peculiar mormon type of feminism. And amongst mormon feminists there are a thousand different types of us, too - just like there are marble, cut throat, rainbow, brook, and bull types of trout!
Because of this over-generalizing and stereotyping of the word and all it's negative connotations: It's terrifying to claim Mormon feminism. I grew up hearing about the 'evils of feminism' and the destruction it reigns on the family. Women were excommunicated for feminism. Mormon feminism is a dangerous place to be - we open ourselves for judgment and ridicule, as evidenced by a recent Sabbath lesson I ended up walking out of when the teacher claimed, 'those who wear pants to church don't understand the Plan of Salvation'. I mean, really, just because my friends wore pants means they don't believe in this?
But I know God lives and loves me. I know Jesus Christ is the son of Heavenly Father and Mother and that He is my Savior. I know my Savior walked the earth. He established his church here with apostles and bishops. He did not come to minister to the well but to the sick and lowly and in need. In His actions and teachings I see quite possibly the Gospel's first feminist, as I can only imagine his actions regarding females (including the adulteress) were groundbreaking in his cultural and historical context. I believe the priesthood authority was lost and the earth was in apostasy after the apostles' deaths. I know God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a young boy in 1820 to restore His Church to the earth. He restored the priesthood authority that was lost and organized a new dispensation of the Gospel with prophets and apostles, evangelists and bishops, priests and deacons. I honor the office of High Priest that my husband holds. I know Thomas S. Monson is God's prophet on the earth today. I know we have continued modern revelation. And I know it's through my Savior's grace that I am saved, after all that I can do. I know God has provided Plan of Salvation that allows me to return to live with him again and an opportunity for families to be Together Forever. I mean, does it sound like I'm close to apostasy? (I know my parents think so :-)
So what happened in my life to turn me to Mormon Feminism? Well, God did. I'm serious. Fifteen years ago I was about as culturally and religiously conservative as can be - the only hope in my life growing up was to be a Mother in Zion: barefoot and pregnant. I was taught this was my role, Heavenly Father's plan for me. This was God's plan for all women. As I chased this elusive dream, I faced years of God's plan of infertility for me instead, and I came to a realization: my identity and worth and role in this life wasn't limited by my ability to bear children, by my femaleness. God sent me here for MORE. I wasn't sent here to endure to the end of this trial so I could be granted motherhood in the eternities. I was sent (as we all are) as a Child of God with a unique spirit full of strengths and talents that God wanted me to use to build the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that includes being a mother and sometimes it does not. Heavenly Father gives us all personal revelation to help guide our path back to him.
Because I couldn't have children, I have earned a bachelor's degree in accounting; have had the opportunity to work full-time for an apostle, celebrity, and community housing agency; and have been exposed to so many types of people, ideas, and value systems to make my head spin. Heavenly Father's plan for my life has led me to have been close friends with millionaires, democrats, homosexuals, alcoholics, and tree-huggers. His plan has included 4 time zones, IVF, foster care, and acceptance of mother of a only child. Meanwhile I have served as Relief Society President, Primary President, Gospel Doctrine teacher, and a variety of other teaching and leadership positions. I've worked amongst the priesthood leaders and administration of the Church. I've witnessed miracles happen and prayers answered - and I've been the recipient of gender discrimination several times (enough that I have come to realize these incidents are systemic and not anomalies). All of these life experiences have changed who I am, how I think, and what is important to me. It has changed the filter with which I view the world and eternities. I have told Darik, "It's not my fault I'm a different girl than you married. Blame Heavenly Father, he did this to me and made me who I am today!"
So I'm different. And this different brain with different life experiences has led me to study prophets' words and church history that has given me different answers than what I learned growing up. The organization of the Church taught me a lot of things over my whole life. Most things were accurate and doctrine, and some things were opinion, cultural traditions, and good intentions gone horribly awry. Through my study my faith has been strengthened. I've learned that faith must be about the content of divine revelation, not the means or humans by which it is revealed. I do not believe in prophetic infallibility, that prophets can't make mistakes. We are taught prophets will never lead the church astray from salvation (has never happened yet) - and that's quite different than never making a mistake or mixing up their own opinions in teachings sometimes. Joseph Smith himself insisted he was subject to human error and should not be held to a higher standard than he holds himself. There are a lot of questionable things in our Church history, unexplained things. Because my testimony is rooted in the content of divine revelation, and not it's method it doesn't matter even if some of them are true!
Do I believe Joseph Smith had a vision for the women's Relief Society that has become unrealized? Most likely.. Do I believe the prophets and apostles have taught that God the Father has an equal in God the Mother who is His co-creator? Yes! ("A Mother There": A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven; David L. Paulsen & Martin Pulido. BYU Studies Journal 50:1)
Do I believe there are changes that can and should be made in our church's programs to equalize the funding and structure of programs between males and females? Yes!
Do I believe we need to change the conversation of shame and fear that surrounds our teaching of modesty and sexuality and causes more problems than it solves? Yes!
Do I believe there are some positions in the church that don't require the priesthood that can be done by women and have been done by women in the past (Sunday School Presidency, anyone?)? Yes!
Do I believe there should be more female representation in decision making boards and councils of the Church that are over mixed-gender organizations (Welfare, Church Board of Education, etc.)? Yes! The Church has already started making this change with the new organization of "Mission Leadership Councils" that have sisters equally represented.
Do I believe women should be ordained to the priesthood? Eh.... Now? No. In the future? Perhaps. After studying all the divine powers Heavenly Mother has and uses, all the words I hear in the temple and women I see administer, I believe it's a possibility that women are ordained and use the priesthood in the hereafter. Knowing what I know of my fellow saints and Church leaders - if this is to be a change of new revelation (Article of Faith 9, "we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.") do I believe that now is when it will happen? No.
Do I believe women who advocate for the priesthood now should be protesting and trying to gain admittance to Priesthood General Meeting? No. Why? One word: Contention. It produces a spirit of contention that I have seen generate death threats and scorn and everything that is opposite of love. IF this change is to happen - I personally believe it will not happen now.
Dear fellow Mormon Feminists,
I believe your protest hurts my chances of advocating and realizing change in all my other areas I'm concerned about. Don't things come line upon line and precept upon precept? If the answer to women's ordination is no (for now or even in the future), can we all just take a step back? Can we work on an outpouring of love for each other that breaks down barriers instead of builds them up? That makes the Body of Christ one?
Has God revealed everything there is to be revealed? About the Kingdom of God? About the Plan of Salvation? As I spend some time over at the Mormons and Gays website I get the feeling that, no, there is so much to this life that is a mystery. Even in the Plan of Salvation. And come October 5 I'll kiss my husband on the cheek, send him to Priesthood meeting with a heart full of love, and snuggle down for a girl's night. Not because I don't believe in your cause (it's a possibility), but because I don't believe in your timing.
A Mormon Feminist of a Different Stripe