Sunday, August 31, 2014
Book Review: Women at Church by Neylan McBaine
Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact by Neylan McBaine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is not most mormon feminists' favorite book. You may think with how I've been promoting the things Neylan has been saying lately that she is my favorite person and that her views match mine. They don't. She may understand and empathize with my position, but she is decidedly traditional and conservative in maintaining gendered spaces and continued complimentarianism within the LDS Church. There are definitely some pages and sections that I was uncomfortable with and are not my favorite; so take heart, ye non-mormon-feminists, there shall likely be much you like herein.
The book's basic premise is this:
1) the policies and structure of the Church will not change anytime soon
2) there is currently a group of women struggling with the status quo
3) why you should care about them, why are they struggling?
4) do our practices match our doctrines?
5) why shouldn't we make small changes that would help women who are struggling? what can we do locally to improve church experiences?
My basic conclusion is this: Neylan wrote a whole book without using the word "feminist." She wants to be able to have a conversation about women in the church without triggering haterz. She's not on my same page but she gets me. I can handle that. I don't think most people in my sphere of influence "get me." I consider her on the middle of a bridge between Mormon feminists and True Believing (never having doubts) Mormons (She was given FAIR Mormon's Award of Excellence 2014). The past few years have been an attempt at these two groups talking at and past each other. There has been very little listening or willingness for either side to make concessions (seemingly, I know I'm oversimplifying, but bear with me). Here is someone who is asking both sides to just listen. Slow down first, and listen.
Some of Neylan's small changes she suggests local wards/stakes might implement include: providing equivalent opportunities for youth, allowing YW to have a female companion in bishops interviews, preparing YW for church service, reviewing the rhetoric of how we praise women in general (instead of individuals), empowering female leaders with appropriate titles, using female sources of doctrine, improve how men speak at and to women, and providing more service/relief opportunities. Each of these can be done without any directives from SLC.
I appreciate how she continually points out that to orthodox members, why wouldn't we want outsiders and even our own "currently investigating" young women to see improved optics? It would only help in the long run, right?
I'm a moderate Mormon feminist who advocates for changes via baby steps. If I had my druthers my top 3 immediate changes would be to:
1) equalize structure and funding of youth programs (activity days)
2) replace all "mother/wife/woman" day worship with RS study and teachings of Christ (ie don't celebrate mother's day at church but use it to speak abt Eliza R Snow, or stories of female disciples during Christ's time, or just Him); in addition have Teachings of the Prophetess Eliza R. Snow for a RS/PH manual
3) recognize not all our daughters/sisters/YW will be wives or mothers, and structure our lessons and programs to focus on discipleship in whatever form it may take, without valuing one type of discipleship more than another
I suppose I could fit all of these changes into her categories, but my desired changes require change from the top down. The opposite direction Neylan suggests, she uses as her "muse" church member and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen's "disruptive innovation" theory that in large bureaucratic institutions, needed change often happens from the ground up. As frustrating as it is to acknowledge I don't see any of my first 3 desired changes coming any time soon - the only option I have left is following the pattern of #womenatchruch.
1) use this book to have uplifting and constructive conversations with friends, family, ward members, local leaders
2) do what you can, then let it go
I fear this is my only option. Yet it still gives me hope.
By Common Consent Book Review
The Problem with Local Change, by Julie Smith
Forget Phood, some MoFems seek a middle way
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