Guest Post- Why Mormon Feminism Matters to Me: Melodramatic Edition

by Kiskilili*

What Mormonism purports to offer is a unique relationship to deity (of a quality said to surpass what’s available in other denominations), the authorization to act on God’s behalf, and a personal self-understanding as inchoately and potentially divine.

I would argue these are some of the most breathtaking aspects of the faith. God values, validates, trusts, and acknowledges us, even in our weakness and inability, and he provides us the means for constructing a self-concept as a subject in relation to deity, both personally and existentially. This is what, for a Mormon, it means to be human.

Or, stated more precisely, this is what it means to be male and human.

For some of us the Church offers the stupefying prospect of becoming an eternal nothing, insignificant or nonexistent, cut off from the possiblity of relationships and from the raison d’être of the eternities: nurturing human progeny. Some of us are asked, as a religious act, not to accept the authority to act in God’s name but to defer it, to construe ourselves as objects rather than subjects and our value as contingent rather than inherent. We’re given scant institutional means for constructing a religious self-concept as beings in communion with the divine. Instead, our personal relation to deity is compromised by the presence of male intermediaries, and our existential relation to deity is nullified by Heavenly Mother’s profound absence.

Female Mormonism is a sort of negative space, an irreligion, not an opportunity for acknowledgment from God but a denial of it. If religion matters, and if women matter, this is a travesty.

[Some] raise the possibility that patriarchy (and correspondingly, I assume, androcentrism) may represent God’s will.

This could well be the case. It’s also why I left the Church. Not because of doubt, but because of faith: in God, temple, scripture, and priesthood. This is the searing irony: that my faith led me to give up on God. In the Church’s holiest spaces and most sacred texts I failed to find compelling evidence women are people in any meaningful sense. It’s the Church itself—not just disgruntled feminists—that insists gender matters. If the Church is right about what it fundamentally means to be female, I have no reason to stay; what I do hardly matters. If the Church is wrong, I have no reason not to leave.

Of course, the clear gendered implications of liturgy, scripture, and policy—that God endorses the blatant marginalization of females at every level and in every age—is simply unsayable in today’s political climate, and the Church has obligingly thrown us a barrage of palliative sops about women’s superlative value (often in reference to men), statements with painfully little reference to practice, rituals, or sacred texts and even less awareness of women’s experience.

I concede that many—maybe most—women are happy with the situation. I would argue it’s in spite of, not because of, these theological implications. Women are happy because they’ve trained themselves not to notice or they’ve found a way they’re comfortable rejecting it.

For those of us who can’t not notice and who can’t find an easy way out from under it, it matters because religion is about who and what we are and can be. And what some of us are is apparently appendages, afterthoughts, and auxiliaries.

And, quite likely, this will never really change in any way deeper than the cosmetic. Because the people with the power to change it—maybe human men, maybe a male Godhead—are, exactly because of that power, the very people who will never understand why it matters.

*This post is reproduced with the author’s permission. It originally appeared here.

Call to Action: Starting Halloween Boycott Nestle

Guest post by: Courtney Cooke lives in Boise, Idaho with her three strong willed daughters, infant son and highly supportive husband. Courtney blogs at The Exponent Blog as CorkTree. She is passionate about science and natural health practices and hopes to merge those with her feminist vision by going into practice as a midwife when her children are all in school.

Women in impoverished countries have little that provides them autonomy or allows them the ability to care for their family and children outside the influence of men.  Many of them do not have choices in birth control and whether or not to breastfeed their children.  So it would seem benevolent of a company to come in and provide them the means to give their infants nourishment outside themselves.  Formula can be a blessing, when made and used properly and for the right reasons.  But what if that company took advantage of these women?  What if it paid other needy, untrained women to dress up as health care workers and pass out free samples of sub par formula?  And what if they gave only enough free formula so that the milk of the nursing mothers dried up and they were forced to purchase more formula, but had to mix it with unclean water and dilute it to make it last longer?  And what if many of the children that fall victim to this malicious scam were actually dying while their mothers stood by helpless and dry, all because they were no longer able to breastfeed as nature intended, and were unable to see how they were being exploited?  Would you be outraged at such a company?

This is what was happening prior to 1977, when the world launched a boycott against Nestle for these unethical and immoral practices.  After a brief hiatus, the boycott has been continued to this day because of continued aggressive marketing campaigns and violations of the WHO code that protects women and children.  It is estimated that 13% of the deaths of children under age five around the world could be prevented by increased breastfeeding.  That’s 1.4 million children that would otherwise die due to the interruption of the natural nursing relationship.

Support is still needed to send Nestle the message that we as women of the world will not stand for our sisters and their children to be undermined and threatened in this way.  Regardless of how we may feel about breastfeeding in our own lives, it is not empowering to women in third world countries to have a bottle put between them and their babies.  Promoting artificial feeding where no reason exists for its implementation is damaging to all and causes needless suffering and death.  Nestle is one of the largest producers of baby food and formula as well as a variety of other products.  Please do not support them with your money.  And this Halloween, choose your candy wisely.

For more information and to register your support, please visit; http://info.babymilkaction.org/nestlefree .  A list of all products and brands from Nestle can be found at;  http://www.nestle.com/Brands/BrandHome.htm , and for an independent listing of all products associated with the Nestle label, visit;   http://crunchydomesticgoddess.com/2009/10/07/the-updated-nestle-product-boycott-list/

My Mormon Feminist Journey

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, there was no reason for him to speak to her. In fact, there were a million reasons for him not to. Despite these things, he offered her so much more than the water with which she filled her pitcher.  At the well, Jesus demonstrated that not only is he the living water, but that he values women and treats them far better than required by his culture.

It’s the example of how Jesus treats women in the New Testament that gives me strength to  be a Mormon feminist.

Jesus was the first feminist. He treated women as individuals worthy of dignity, respect, and love. Part of understanding feminism is acknowledging the systematic ways that women are not treated equally in our culture.

I haven’t always been a feminist. I even remember thinking that it was a harsh  word when I was growing up. Feminism was a title claimed by power-hungry, testosterone-filled, bra-burning, can-hardly-be-called women. Ha! How wrong I was. (The feminists I know are kind, generous, brilliant, open-minded, thoughtful, and brave. Remarkably, most of them garden and knit, too.)

Of course I believed in equality, but I never saw a systemic problem with the way women were treated anywhere, in society or in the LDS church.

My feminist awakening came about four years ago during a discussion with my husband. During the conversation I remember asking my husband, “What women do you see as your spiritual leaders?” In the moment he took to think of an answer, I already knew.  No one. He didn’t even see his mother that way, and he really admires her.  In that split second, my worldview cracked and I found myself on the other side of the looking glass, staring in at a church that felt oddly lopsided and male-heavy.  I sensed the feminine wound (though it took me years to name it) and the absence of a divine feminine influence in my life and the life of men like my husband.

In the ensuing months and years, I’ve found myself learning more about what it means to be a woman and how I am entitled to name my own experience and give it value. Blogging has been a godsend for me as a way to share my story and also read about the stories of other women. I’ve also been moved by Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Mormon Enigma, Strangers in Paradox, and Mother Wove the Morning. Writing at the Exponent blog and working on the publication have been rewarding for me and I believe they make a difference in helping women feel that they are not alone on their spiritual journeys.

After online connections, I began to develop real-life friendships with women I knew from the blogs. Soon, we’d formed a playgroup, a book group, and combined with a more established Mormon feminist lunch group. Our social network in Arizona is quite developed, so if you know someone who could use our support, please let me know!

It was after years of listening and being heard through blogs and in social groups, that I decided to organize a group to move into the realm of advocacy.  As an insular group of self-identifying Mormon women, we can talk, listen, validate, and talk some more, but until we recognize and take steps to make our voices heard by more church members, including those who can affect change, then nothing will change.

My hope is that LDS WAVE is the very beginning of something bigger. I hope it’s the beginning of women recognizing that their voices are as important as men’s, that sometimes they haven’t been heard and that they should be. I hope that women and men who identify with what they read at WAVE will be motivated to participate in our Calls to Action, write their experiences for the HOPE blog, or contribute to the Women’s Service Mission.

I understand that not everyone who reads this will agree with me, and that’s just fine. I only want to be heard, to have someone say, “I acknowledge that you’ve had these experiences and I respect your right to act on your feelings and values.”  It’s the way I try to treat people I disagree with. And considering the way Jesus treated women in his life, it’s the very least we should expect from each other.

I’d love to hear from readers, what would you like to see from WAVE. How can we best help you to advocate for women’s voice and equality in the LDS church?

KRCL: RadioActive! Oct 20 LDS Wave (2010-10-21)

Check out our recent interview on KRCL radio. Let us know what you think. We’d love any further questions, elaborations, clarifications, and new topics. Please send your questions to: askafeminist@ldswave.org

KRCL: RadioActive! Oct 20 LDS Wave (2010-10-21).

WAVE Statement of Compassion for Homosexual Brothers and Sisters

The Women’s Service Mission recognizes the struggle and hardship of members of the church who experience same-gender attraction. The hand of fellowship is extended to these, our brothers and sisters. In recent weeks and years, the topic of homosexuality in the LDS church has been a divisive one, leading to much heartache. We recognize this heartache and mourn together.

To those gay Mormons who are striving to remain faithful, the WAVE Women’s Service Mission offers encouragement to continue your efforts. Please know that we welcome you in our congregations and value your presence and contributions to our wards. We admire your faithfulness and humble submission to the commandments.

To those who are not keeping the Church’s standards in regards to homosexuality, you too are welcomed in our congregations and we value your presence and participation in our wards. For those who are trying to abide by the church standards, we hope that you will find what is right for you and continue to seek the guidance of the Spirit in your actions. We pray with you that answers and the peaceful assurance of the Spirit will be forthcoming to you.

There is much we still do not understand about the role of homosexuality in our heavenly parents plan in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” [and woman] but we have hope all that will be revealed and God’s will be done.

In honor of Spirit Day, instituted yesterday October 20, 2010, and acting in accordance to the counsel stated in the October 12 press release issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we join with the Church and many others who decry bullying and cruelty to our homosexual brothers and sisters. We appreciate the reminder: “Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex.”

We know the compassionate response is never to harass or belittle the efforts of others but to support, encourage and love them as they are. Gay Mormons deserve the respect from others to make decisions for themselves.

WAVE and the Women’s Service Mission invites readers and sympathetic church members to join with us in our message of support and encouragement to gay Mormons. Please add your name and location (ward and stake if you are comfortable) in the comments. Anonymous submissions are welcome though personal expressions of support are encouraged. You may also email service@ldswave.org to be added to the list of signees.

A Window When The Doors Are All Closed

by Kylee Shields

I have wanderlust and ADHD and so I struggle with staying in one place and doing one thing. As a result I struggled many times in my life to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even when I graduated from BYU with a degree in English and Linguistics I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be and do. I was raised in a family (thankfully!) where we grew up as kids who were “jack of all trades–king of none.” In other words I loved doing everything and was never really good at anything one thing.

While serving my mission something amazing happened to me. I realized I was really good at something. I was good at memorizing scriptures, finding principles, outlining lessons, and making connections. I discovered my passion for teaching the gospel! As a result when I went back to BYU in my last year (b/c I fought the idea) I took the two semesters of Seminary Teaching Classes.

It was here that I felt the heavy burden of inequality but not just me as a female. We were told that most likely none of us would become seminary teachers. We were told that males who were married by the time they were up for hire, would not be hired. I was told that if I was actually (by some miracle) hired that as soon as I had a child I would have to quit my job. Even with all this negativity I felt the spirit very strong and confirming that this is what I was meant to do.

So I began my student teaching and I LOVED it! I loved my students and they loved me. I made a point to raise the bar in my classes and expected the kids to reach it. They did and then some and I saw miracles in my classes and in my students lives. The thing I didn’t see was the male leaders who were suppose to be coming in to see my teaching and evaluate me.

I watched as they came on a regular basis to the male teacher in my same seminary building who was up for hire and engaged. And half way through my year I was told that I would most likely not get hired so if I wanted to quit that would be okay. I chose to finish out the year for my students. I wasn’t visited again. I was actually teaching full time at this point b/c two of the teachers had health issues so I taken on their classes. The Seminary Principal believed in me, my students loved me, and I felt the support of the Lord and the spirit. Yet, I wasn’t hired. I know that there are a gazillion teachers up for hire each year and the likely hood that I would get hired was a shot in the dark but I
wanted my shot. I wanted an equal chance to show my love and passion for teaching. I was devastated by my unequal treatment and failure.

I was confused by the spirit’s assurance and the contradictory knowledge that certain men had power over my ability to do what I love and was good at!

I actually tried again in Boston while teaching early morning seminary to 11 dedicated LDS kids from 7 different high schools. I was made promises by males in power that they would come out and evaluate my teaching. Again they never came. I realized I didn’t have the stamina to fight this losing battle and I stashed my teaching files far away in the back of the storage unit my family owns.

Then I battled. I wrestled with the Lord, I talked to everyone I knew, I made lists, etc.  I did anything I could think and even some things others thought of to figure out what to do with my life. I was so angry!

Slowly over time the Lord opened a window where He had closed all the doors and I discovered that while I may not be able to teach the gospel to kids I could find ways to work with them. Besides, I had always had an affinity for the punk kids anyway. Through much prayer, fasting, schooling, frustration, heartache, and joy I became a child and adolescent therapist! I love what I do, I love listening to broken kids, I love being a part of the process of change in their lives, and in a small way, I love helping them know they are loved!

Men in power may have kept me from being a seminary teacher but they couldn’t keep me from teaching the gospel (I’m currently a sunday school teacher) or working with adolescent kids. The Lord and I found a new path, a new plan, and a new found faith!

Ask a Feminist

Dear Ask A Feminist,

I’ve spent some time reading your website and these questions and answers. I guess I just don’t really feel that strongly about the issue. I mean, I know I probably should, but I just don’t really care that much. I think that people are doing the best they can and that the Church is the true. The Lord will work everything else out when we’re all in heaven. I think your time would be better spent reading the scriptures or trying to do something uplifting rather than complain about “women’s issues.” That’s just my take on everything.

Sincerely,

All is Well in Zion

Dear All is Well in Zion,

Thanks for taking the time to peruse our website. I think that there are many members who think exactly as you do. I too hope that the Lord will work everything out when we get to heaven. However, I follow after the admonition of President Thomas S. Monson who said “Pray as though everything depended upon God. Work as though everything depended upon you.”

I agree with that statement. I believe I was sent here to earth for a reason. I believe that my passions, my desires, and my abilities are unique vestiges of a divine heritage. I believe that the Lord has given me this inspiration for a specific purpose and that I am following His plan for me when I seek to make the church a better place for more than half of his children. In fact, I can relate to the verse in Joseph Smith History which says: “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (JSH 1:25). I know that I have been inspired to try and make a difference in the lives of LDS women and the future daughters who will inherit this gospel. I know that God supports and inspires me in that mission. I cannot neglect that calling and fear the consequences of what would happen if I do. To me, it is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:21-29. We are given specific talents to magnify. The repercussion comes to those who do nothing.

I do not assume that your talents are the same as mine, nor do I necessitate that you feel as passionately about women’s issues as I do. That said, I find it disconcerting to think that anyone “doesn’t really care that much” about inequality. Such complacency reminds me of the scripture in 2 Ne. 28:20–21 which says that “others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell”. Most people don’t recognize that this scripture is talking about people in Zion. Not outsiders. Complacency is dangerous. All is not well in Zion. We each have a role, nay a responsibility, in changing that.

The main goal of LDS WAVE is to uplift others. We do so faithfully and feel our time is well spent.  Scripture reading, temple attendance, personal and family prayers, church attendance, fulfilling our callings, nurturing and providing for our families, and WAVE activities are all a big part of that.

Sincerely,

Ask a Feminist

Action Opportunity: Acting Now to End World Poverty

Last month, our family went on a cruise to Alaska. It really was an enjoyable trip but as I was thinking of the luxury of the experience I also thought of the life situations of many around the world that is so opposite from what I was experiencing. I’ve become more aware of global poverty and my role in being the change I want to see in the world that I knew if I could afford a trip like that that I could also afford giving more to alleviate the poverty of many through out the world. I started thinking about what I could give. It really was a vague thought while on this trip and one I knew I wanted to continue pondering.

Then this last week, like an answer to a prayer, I heard on NPR an interview with Peter Singer who wrote “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty” which is his call to the people of the world to give a portion of their income to causes working to address global poverty. The website The Life You Can Save provides a calculator where you can find out what 1% of your income is (since I assume most WAVE readers earn less than $105,000 USD a year) as well as a list of organizations that are addressing poverty in a sustainable and community building way.

It was a bit of a wake up calling knowing that 1% of my income is less than what my family spends in eating out at restaurants each year (blush…) and yet its also a good lesson that giving to causes that actually make a difference in the lives of people is more possible than I had thought.

One of the organizations named on The Life You Can Save website is the Worldwide Fistula Fund which helps repairs physical damage to a mother caused by prolonged labor and lack of access to emergency maternity care in poor countries. The documentary A Walk to Beautiful highlights what is like for a woman who becomes completely incontinent as a result of childbirth and how she becomes an outcast in her community as a result. The treatment is estimated to be about $450 to restore a woman where she is able to rejoin her community.

Another organization that has come highly recommended to me is The Hunger Projectbecause it assists an entire village for five years. This one is highly attractive to me as it focuses on an entire community rather than an individual or family.

I am also familiar with the humanitarian work that the LDS Church does and I know that in addition to providing immediate emergency relief in natural disasters, they also work on community building in poverty stricken areas around the world. I look forward to the day when my husband and I can serve humanitarian service missions. Perhaps I’ll be able to put my midwifery training to use in this way.

In taking a look at my finances, I know this is something that I can do even in addition the tithing that I pay on my family’s income to the church. In viewing the comfort and opportunities available to me and my children, I know that it is something I should do.

I took the pledge on The Life You Can Save and used their calculator to figure out what the guidelines are for my income level. I am encouraged by the stories of the people on the site who report that they can comfortably give more than the recommended guideline even on low incomes. One man from the UK makes the equivalent of $25,000 a year and finds he can donate 5% of his income to global poverty efforts.

Have you heard of this idea of widespread societal giving? What do you think? Will you take the pledge? Which organizations do you feel drawn to support? How have you worked with other Latter-day Saints on humanitarian efforts?

As always, WAVE invites readers to submit their own experiences with volunteer and charitable efforts. Please share your stories of being involved in efforts to relieve global poverty by emailing service@ldswave.org.

Primary Singing Time: Deborah Was a Prophet

I’ve been in the Primary presidency for about four years now.  During that time, I have tried to figure out a place for my feminist ideals.  I think I’ve come to a pretty good place.  While I don’t think I should do a lesson on the three waves of feminism, I do try to bring in examples of underrepresented groups of people whenever I can.  Every sharing time I present has a story with a strong woman or girl in it.  With a little research, it hasn’t been too tricky.

But, I sometimes struggle with the songs.  The tune to “Follow the Prophet” is so catchy and educational, but it makes me sad that every person we’re singing about is a man.  So, I loved Mary Ann’s guest post on FMH for new verses to “Follow the Prophet” posted in 2007. 

It took me about a year and a Primary Singing Time emergency to get up the courage to teach Mary Ann’s verse about Deborah:
Deborah was a prophet—
she judged Israel.
Led them into battle,
triumphed with Jael.
God will guide our leaders,
women can lead too.
They will show the way to
God for me and you.

Our Singing Time leader called in sick about 2 hours before Church, and I was in charge of music time that day.  I’m not particularly clever when it comes to teaching kids songs, so  I had no idea what to do.  After a prayer for inspiration, I felt like I should go over “Follow the Prophet” with the kids and teach them Deborah’s verse.  I was nervous.  I asked my husband how I should do it.

His response: “Don’t act like it’s a big deal.  Just teach the verse like you would teach all the other verses of the song.”

So, I did…I brought costumes for Noah, Daniel, and Deborah and picked kids to dress up for each one.  Then, I walked into Primary.  It was the middle of the summer, and I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of people.  Of course, when I got there, I see a few outside substitutes and a member of the bishopric.  That unnerved me a bit, but I felt like I had done the necessary preparations to make this a successful singing time.

I took my husband’s advice to heart and talked about each verse, telling the story of the prophet and why he/she was important to sing about.

The kids loved it.  I’d like to think I saw a glimmer in a few girls’ eyes when I told the story of Deborah and had one put on the costume.  I didn’t sense (or hear) of any concerns that I taught this Deborah verse.  In fact, people wanted to know where I found such a gem.

This experience made me wonder how often I hold back just because I fear how I’ll be perceived.  In my ward, I’m not secretive about my feminist ideals, but I do try not to force them on others, just as I hope they will be respectful of my interpretations of the Gospel.  Still, sometimes, I think it is necessary for me to get out of my comfort zone.  This experience taught me that with the aid of prayer and a pure intent, we can often be guided to the best ways to make Primary (and other classes) more inclusive.

Ask a Feminist

Dear Ask a Feminist,

Part of the reason I stopped going to church was that I felt like I had to bite my tongue every time a sensitive topic (political, race, gender, or homosexuality) came up. What most members would say just felt so wrong to me, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I felt like I was being criticized, labeled and judged if I even attempted to think outside the box. Family and ward members try to talk to me about it now but they don’t really care about my concerns, just that I return to the church and think like everyone else. I appreciate this forum but I just don’t really have any hope that anything will ever change. I don’t really have a good question besides what is the point? Most mainstream Mormons are never going to “get it.”

Sincerely,

Left

Dear Left,

First of all, I’m so sorry you had such a negative experience with the church. We at LDS WAVE want to acknowledge how difficult it can be sometimes to make your voice heard in a homogenous ideology and we seek to support all of our sisters who feel like they are alone. Our desire is that by creating this online action-based forum we will give more women hope that things can change and provide them with links, articles, stories, answers and contacts that will support them along the way.

The most troubling thing to me about your question was that you heard things you disagreed with and felt like you “couldn’t do anything about it.” There have been times in my life where I have also felt silenced by the majority. Often, these prevailing attitudes and sentiments are not doctrinal, scriptural, or canonized. Many polarizing topics are culturally, historically, and/or politically relative. The gospel is made up of many people from many backgrounds and each of them has every right to be at church and to participate fully in the lessons and activities.

A friend of mine taught me how to feel confident in my voice even if it was different than the people around me. She strengthened and encouraged me by telling me her story. She was from a part-member family and from a minority political group. When she heard politically-charged statements at church it often made her feel like her ideas were wrong or less valid. Her status as a “part-member” family contributed to her feeling like “half a Mormon” and like she wasn’t supposed to rock the boat by offering a dissident opinion. There came a time when she was sitting in the back of the classroom fuming over the latest foray into politics and wondered if she should just leave when it occurred to her that “I had prayed to know if this church was true. I had received my answer. I had every right to be there. I had every right to stay and to enjoy and to offer my opinion every bit as much as everyone else offering theirs.” She taught me that if only one voice is spoken, only one voice will be heard.

I hope that we can provide a place for you to feel like your voice is valued. Please share your story with us by sending your own HOPE blog entry to hopeideas@ldswave.org

Sincerely,

Ask a Feminist