fmhLisa Guest Posts on Abortion

Lisa is the founder of the blog www.feministmormonhousewives.org. She recently blogged about how as a Mormon, she found herself embracing the term feminist and pro-life. She outlines her reasons for why.

When I was in my early teens I found out my neighbors had a dark secret.

They were Democrats.  Obviously, my first question to their daughter (who is a few years older than me, and whom I greatly admired because she is both kind and beautiful) was . . . “So you believe in abortions?  Don’t you care about the babies!”

She responded “it isn’t that simple”, gave me a look that made me feel shame deep in my bones, and went to talk to someone less ignorant and self-righteous.  Go figure.

(And as Karma would have it, I get this response [though often worded more delicately] on a pretty regular basis.  And really it isn’t something I feel I can respond to in a sound bite. )

Shortly after this dark discovery, when I asked my mother about the Jones’ being (whisper) “Democrats”, and how could they! She told me this story:

When she was pregnant with her third child she really felt that she could feel the spirits of her children, each of them somehow felt distinctly different.  She could sense them as people far before they entered the world.

And she was agonizing over the issue of abortion (though she didn’t tell me why, more on that later), wondering what would happen to all those spirits whose lives were cut short,  wondering about the women who took that step, could they ever be forgiven?  She said it was just eating away at her peace of mind, and so she prayed and prayed.  And she received a very strong answer, “Be still and know that I am God”.

She didn’t feel like she knew any more, but she was filled with peace that God was a God of Justice, and a God of Mercy, and that the babies would be okay, it wasn’t her place to judge the mothers.

And from that story I think I built a kind of rough gist of a (personal) Mormon doctrine of abortion, basically, that pre-mortal souls would get another chance to come to Earth.  Now my mom still labels herself as strongly Pro-Life, and so did I back then, in fact, it was abortion that was one of my big sticking points as I made my awkward transition from a conservative orthodox to a liberal heterodox kinda gal.  As I was deciding if I should label myself a feminist or not . . . abortion really was the issue that weighed on me more than any other.

I was starting to understand how important it is for women to have control over our own bodies.  I felt great pain and sympathy for women who found themselves in impossible situations and chose abortion. I’d read about the horrible pre-Roe days when hospitals had whole wards for botched abortions where women died in droves.  I knew all that, but I just couldn’t get over the babies!  The poor innocent babies.

I never could convince myself that I could just switch sides, call it a fetus,  forget about the moral ambiguity of the whole situation.  I never could find again the comfortable moral certainty of willful ignorance.  It took me a really long time to realize that I didn’t have to.

One of my first steps along that path was rooted in the Church’s own public stance on abortion, namely where it states in the handbook that in the case of rape and incest, abortion is considered a viable alternative.  Surely abortion could not be “murder” if there are instances when the Church itself says it is a viable (if probably regrettable) alternative.  Because the church would never (I hope) say that a mother could murder her two-year-old child, not even if the child had been conceived during rape or incest.   It seemed clear to me that there was, there had to be, a material difference between abortion and killing a living child.

And then there was the huge nine-month gray area of pregnancy itself.  I had had a hard time believing (in the black and white mindset) that every time a sperm and an egg meet up, that fertilized egg is morally equivalent to a fully formed infant.  Just for starters, six cells in a petri dish doesn’t look like a baby.  If I ran into a burning building and had to pick between saving six-cells-in-a-petri-dish or a baby, I’d pick the baby, every time.  And even if given the ideal environment to grow into a baby, over half  of fertilized eggs simply never could become a baby, too many mistakes in the chromosomes.

But neither can I say I think a fertilized egg, or a zygote, or a fetus, is a meaningless glob of cells. At the very least it is potential life, and something deep in my bones says that is sacred and special and not to be dealt with lightly. Plus there are all those cute little ultrasound pictures with tiny toes and itty bitty penises and precious thumb sucking.

And it seems to me that most logical people, regardless of their specific beliefs about the sacredness of human life, or the point at which “potential human life” becomes “a person” with legal and moral rights of her own, that while there is no magic line that everyone can agree upon when that transition occurs, most of us will still agree that there is a huge moral difference between three weeks and thirty weeks.

And there just is no easy answer, not anywhere, to these dilemmas. So since the ambiguous morality of the whole situation didn’t seem to help me at all, how does one label such jumble of contradictory feelings?  I guess I’ve taken a more pragmatic approach.

In the end, I knew I had to label myself as a feminist, because I just cared too much about women’s issues to be all wishy-washy with the title.  I know that some people have bought into the backlash of the 80s and 90s with all the negative man-hating/wanna-be-a-man connotations of the word, but I have some of the same problem with labeling myself  Mormon, lots of baggage with that label as well.

And in the end, I decided to accept the label Pro-choice as well.  Not because I love abortions, I find them deeply disturbing in fact, but only because I can’t think of any practical advantages to making abortion illegal. I don’t want to return to the bad-ol’-days of hospital wards filled with dying girls.  And in strictly practical terms, making abortions illegal does very little to reduce the number of abortions, all it does is make them more dangerous to procure.  So it seems to me more logical to focus on things that actually do reduce abortions . . . sex education, easy access to birth control,  and financial/physical security for mothers.  All, issues deeply important to the feminist cause.

It was not long ago that I found out the reason my mother was agonizing over the issue of abortion when she was pregnant with her third child, after all, it was the 1950s, and my mother was a financially secure, happily married Mormon woman, it wasn’t like she was in a situation where it made a huge difference in her own life.

But . . . it turns out it was personal, deeply personal.  My mother’s mother had found herself in rather desperate straights, a young mother with two small children, divorced from jerk, and pregnant, far away from family in the middle of the Great Depression.   She was a deeply devout Mormon woman, but she had an abortion. An illegal abortion. She went on to remarry, and have two more children (my mother and my dear aunt) and live a happy but tragically short life.

My mother was only 13 years old when her mother died.  Mom never had a chance to talk to her about that choice, or to know her own mother as an adult. And when my mother faced having her own third child in radically different circumstances, she was heart sick that she would not see her mother again in the next life, that a sin so great would keep them apart. And when she went to the Lord, desperate to be reassured that she would still have that connection to the mother she lost so young, the answer was crystal clear, “Be still and know that I am God.”

What has been your experience in thinking about the morality/legality of abortion? What are ways that you can or are in involved in efforts to prevent abortions from taking place and serving women in need?

THARCE-Gulu: Helping Former Child Soldiers

I have been looking forward to spotlighting THARCE-Gulu on the Women’s Service Mission since I first heard about it. It was founded by Boston Stake Relief Society President, Judith Dushku, who is a university professor of political science. She took her students to Uganda after learning about the political upheaval in the region and met survivors of the conflicts there–women who had been child soldiers and sex slaves. In her work in Gulu, Uganda, Judith has already helped to coordinate the building of a house to the women there. Her current effort is to create a Trauma, Healing and Reflection Center to support the women there as they overcome and process their traumatic experiences.

Along with her daughter Eliza Dushku (former cast member from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer), Judith is trying to raise $30,000 to build the land for the center at THARCE-Gulu. They are about a quarter of the way to their goal and hope to achieve it by Dec. 30, in time for Eliza’s 30th birthday.

Two of our WAVE board members also serve on the board of THARCE-Gulu and will traveling to Uganda in 2011 to continue the work on the center there. To learn more about Judith and their work, read the article “Mormon feminism meets global challenge” from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Feminist Mormon Housewives is hosting an online raffle to support this worthy effort.  You are encouraged to donate via Paypal but you can also send a check (see fMh post for details).  To be entered in the raffle click “special instructions to seller and mention fMh, Exponent II, By Common Consent, WAVE or any bloggernacle blog).

A large donation is not needed, so please do what you can. Its wonderful to see these humanitarian efforts inspired by feminist consciousness and by the faith and love of Relief Society sisters a world apart.

A Christmas Wish from the WAVE Women’s Service Mission

Our prayer this Christmas season is echoed in the lyrics of the song, “O Holy Night:”

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord!

Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

May we join together in the coming year to relieve the suffering of women around the world and join together as sisters in this work.

Merry Christmas from WAVE. We wish you a happy and safe holiday and that the spirit of Christmas will be with you and that your season will be bright.

Women’s Service Mission Responds to Bethany: Christmas Donations?

This week’s pre-Christmas post is a question originally asked to Ask a Feminist that was referred over here to the Women’s Service Mission.

Bethany writes:

Dear Ask-A-Feminist,

My husband and I decided that instead of giving gifts to our families this year, we want to donate to a charity in their names.  I know I probably waited too long to ask, but do you know of any good, legitimate charities that support women and/or their families?  In the past, we have given to a couple of places and then subsequently gotten piles and piles of fancy mail asking us to give more.  It makes me wonder if they spend all their money on mailings.  Any ideas are welcome.  Thanks so much.

Bethany

Bethany,

Thank you for writing in. Ask a Feminist bumped this over to me at the Women’s Service Mission. You’ve asked a great question and thank you for thinking along these lines for your Christmas giving this year. For years, my aunt gave gifts that were donations on behalf of her loved ones so I can tell you from experience that I really appreciate the thought of a gift like that in my name.

You are absolutely right to suspect charities of wasting money on frequent and expensive mailings. My husband and I have lamented the same thing of some charities. I will warn you away from The Ocean Conservancy for this reason.

The idea I am most excited to tell you about is gifting Kiva donations to your family members. The authors of Half the Sky are highly complementary of the Kiva effort to fund microloans with money loaned by people around the world. Recently, Groupon has offered a discount on the minimum loan amount where you can purchase a $25 loan for $15.  This may be just the right price for you as you gift this holiday season.

The beauty of the Kiva loan is that the donor is repaid so their money can be loaned again and again. Your relatives will have a choice in receiving a gift like this: after their loan is repaid, they could collect the money via Paypal and use it for their own purchases (like a deferred gift from you) or they could get into the spirit of giving and continue to re-loan the money thereby continuing to help people.

The authors of Half the Sky also provide a helpful list of organizations that are working to support women and their families around the world. This list is organized by the area of need in women’s lives: education, violence against women and sex trafficking, maternal health and reproductive rights, economic development, women’s rights and gender equality, and humanitarian relief efforts. To learn more about a particular organization, you can look it up using Charity Navigator.

Another helpful site or platform you could use as a gift idea is to invite your relatives to pledge to The Life You Can Save which is dedicated to encouraging everyone who can afford to give to efforts to alleviate global poverty. You could make a pledge on behalf of each of your relatives to give an amount to one of the suggested organizations (and you will find a great deal of overlap with those recommended by Half the Sky). Your gift would then bring your relatives to an awareness of the concept of charitable giving and perhaps they too would make the pledge to give between 1 and 5% of their income to global aid organizations.

Lastly, I will recommend Heifer International, which is the organization that my aunt donated to on my behalf for a number of years. They make holiday gift giving easy because of their nicely packaged gift cards that are given to inform the recipient of a gift given on their behalf. Donations to Heifer International provide livestock or seeds to families in need of a way to provide for themselves in developing countries. The family is then expected to give the offspring of that gift to another family in their local community, which then gives another family a start at providing for themselves economically.

I hope this offers some good information to you and that you find an organization that helps you accomplish your goal. By gifting to charities at Christmas, you are exemplifying the love of our Savior and assisting others to also do the same.

I’ll also open the question up to other readers:

Do you have experience giving to charitable organizations as a Christmas present? Which do you recommend based on your personal experience?  Please share in the comments so that we may all learn from each other.

Courtney Critiques Birth Locations Advocated by Half the Sky

Guest post by: Courtney Cooke.

Courtney lives in Boise, Idaho with her three strong willed daughters, infant son and patiently 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.

I recently finished reading the movement-inspiring Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn.  No review can ever do it justice.  If you haven’t read it yet, do what you must to get your hands on a copy.  We all must learn to see the world’s social, economical, political and moral problems from this perspective.  For me it has bestowed a brand new lens from which to filter my world view, and it contains powerful ideas that I believe will truly change the world if enough of us work to implement them.

That said, I found it unfortunate that the authors’ ignorance of the potential benefits of certain practices (or elimination thereof) came through in regards to issues that I believe  can have more positive outcomes if viewed with more information.  With no intention to take away from the momentum of the movement, I would like to add a word of caution alongside a small handful of the issues that the book raises.  As a new midwife student, my natural focus is on the descriptions of maternal morbidity and mortality, and what we can do to turn the tide on the numbers of women that are falling into these categories around the world.

The authors of the book repeatedly caution against indiscriminate or unnecessary use of exaggeration in arguing one’s point of view and rallying people to your cause.  Yet they (unknowingly perhaps) do this themselves in over-generalized descriptions that arise from being misinformed on issues such as what constitutes safe birth locations and qualified attendants as well as the false necessity of male circumcision.

To be clear, however, I blame the providers of care and the leaders of western medicine that perpetuate these untruths and push an agenda of medicalizing and co-opting childbirth, not only in our own country but abroad as we spread our ideal views of civilization.  They have convinced such a large portion of industrialized society to accept these terms that the facts are rarely questioned and labor and delivery is still falsely seen as inherently unsafe; something which even the power of education has had difficulty dispelling as myth.

As a feminist with interest in action and not just adoption of a term, my goal to become a midwife has equipped me with a passion to work toward all women everywhere having the ability to choose their ideal birth and to be educated enough to make an informed decision.  Naturally I tend to view my own birth choices as ideal in general, and I try to support others in making similar decisions for their own health and that of their babies.  But as a feminist, I recognize the need for options and the ability to choose what is right for each of us.

The sad truth, however,  is that in many of the countries mentioned by the authors, the ability to choose how, where and with whom a woman births is not reality.  The concern over high rates of medical intervention becomes secondary to the issue of women not having any options to choose from other than what is imposed upon them by circumstance.   In reading the book, you will see many examples of labor gone wrong in rural communities, and care providers who have either become jaded and lost compassion for patients, or are unable to help them as they could if they had resources and support.  But this does not mean that homebirths themselves are unsafe or result from lack of education.  Nor should the numbers of women who die around the world in childbirth be used to scare women into hospitals.

The reality is that it’s most often the relatively young age and sub-optimal health of the mothers that makes homebirthing appear dangerous.  Yet instead of focusing on these as the issues that need improving, the initiative is directed at getting women to hospitals and exposing them to western medicine, where most of the women in these countries will rarely be exposed to such again.  It is another example of pathologizing childbirth and treating it as something that it inherently is not.  Childbirth is shown to be overwhelmingly safe when women are given adequate nutrition and are developed enough to handle the work and effects of labor with a qualified (not necessarily certified) attendant at their side.  The midwifery model of care is shown to be effective, safe and desirable when a woman is able to choose it as an informed decision.  This is the truth that we need to spread and encourage as we support our sisters around the world.

In seeking ways to improve the lives of women and their children, we need to be careful not to push our own views and fears onto them, and instead support efforts that improve their nutritional reserves, promote safe and clean housing,  advocate for later marriage (along with extending education) and get qualified labor attendants out to rural areas.  It is even suggested that cesareans be taught to rural midwives to lower the cases of obstructed labor in women that are really too young or not built well for childbirth, but who’s culture has pushed them into marriage (or sexually dangerous situations) before they are able to handle the consequences.  It is my opinion that this needs to be the focus rather than getting women to hospitals because the medical community is still telling us that a home birth is not as enlightened or safe.

We need to make sure as we set out to provide aid and support of local, grassroot efforts in empowering women, that we are truly considering what is best for them in their environment, and not what we view as superior by our standards.  I believe Half the Sky does this quite effectively in almost all areas relating to empowering women, except for this.  And this is simply the misinformed view of the authors as I see it.  Not wrong, but not morally or medically superior either.

Guest Post: Caring, Sharing, and Improving

by Sandra Jergensen

Sandra is a friend of several of the WAVE members and lives in Baltimore with her family. She was invited to share this story to illustrate how she helped create awareness regarding young women’s issues in the church.

Two months or so ago when Kathryn Soper’s article, “Why Standards Night is Substandard: Teaching Sexuality to Young Women” was published on Patheos, I read it and was really impressed. The article touched on things I experienced growing up but had never heard addressed in any standards night or lesson I attended. I then linked the article and posted it to my facebook account to share it with friends and family. The ideas were too important to keep to myself and I wanted to open a dialogue about a topic that I feel is really important and easily overlooked.

A few weeks ago I got an email from my dad asking for the link again, he had remembered the article and wanted to pass it along. My father is on the high council in his stake and works directly with the young women’s presidency, and they were planning their stake standards night. At the meeting when they, along with the young men’s presidency and stake presidency were deciding what to tailor their messages to fit, one person asked what do the young women need? It was quickly piped in that the girls are fine, and just need to watch themselves so the boys aren’t distracted. And that is when my father spoke up, recalling the article, saying that the young women shouldn’t be passed over in that fashion, and could he have everyone read an article his daughter had linked.
All agreed to read and reconvene.  My dad told me that everyone, the entire high coucil, stake presidency and young men and young women’s presidencies, had nothing but positive feedback. They were receptive, impressed and surprised, seeing the way sexuality and young women from an entirely different standpoint; something that was irrelevant at the last meeting.  And that was going to change the plans for the evening, something address that there is more to teen sex than just taming desire of volatile male libidos.
I was blown away; by my dad’s interest in something that concerns me, by his shared belief when he took the time to read the article, and his desire to pass the knowledge of the too often omissions in the way we teach chastity standards in the church. I am happy for the youth that will get the updated, improved and more applicable message in their standards nights.
I wish I could say I was responsible for all of the good that will come of this, but I’m not. I only did a simple thing: I shared something that mattered to me. It was a little thing that has meant so much.

Ask a Feminist

Dear Readers,

I am using the Ask a Feminist column to respond to some questions brought up in the recent “Mormon Feminism: A Patheos Symposium”. In Melissa Proctor’s eloquent argument “A Source of Social Capital” she mentioned WAVE directly and asked some great questions.

At the end of her statement, Proctor argues, “WAVE explicitly identifies itself as “feminist,” by virtue of a stated commitment to gender equality, but also asserts that being feminist and faithful are not mutually exclusive. The website indicates that WAVE hopes to “make changes to policy and practice that do not require doctrinal variation” and that its primary purpose is to “uplift,” and “support” women. Such a gentle, almost pastoral Mormon feminism seems unlikely to evoke outrage or result in ecclesiastical discipline. No doubt, this gradual, incrementalist approach to increased gender equality in the church has strategic advantages compared with outright defiance of church leadership, but as it is described, one wonders what concrete goals the organization hopes to achieve.”

“Furthermore, the dubious assumption that gender inequality in the church is primarily a policy issue and not a doctrinal one comes across as wishful thinking. It seems likely that WAVE will ultimately find itself committed either to a loose version of “faithful” or to certain compromises of equality.  As Kathryn ably points out, “the issue of primacy is unavoidable for those who are Mormon and feminist.”  If WAVE’s first commitment is to the church, where exactly will it compromise on equality? If WAVE’s first commitment is to gender equality, where will it draw the line with the church? WAVE seems unaware of the inevitable impasse, as though it will somehow, inexplicably, get right what earlier Mormon feminists got wrong.”

Ask a Feminist Response:

Thank you for your interest in WAVE and your thorough reading of our mission statement. We appreciate people who think critically about these issues and help us to do the same. We would love to have you be a part of WAVE and help us continue to find ways to make changes for gender equality in the church. Your ideas would be welcomed.

In response to your questions, I think you are correct in being skeptical about the limits of Mormon feminism in general and specifically in an organization set on instigating change. I’ve isolated and highlighted your main concerns below.

What concrete goals WAVE hopes to achieve? I know you asked for concrete goals, but I have to start with some abstract goals. Wave wants to 1) instigate, promulgate, inculcate, and aid positive changes for greater gender equality in the church, 2) last a long time, 3) function as the action based arm of the LDS feminist bloggernacle, and 4) support women of faith in their struggle with religious gender discrimination by providing a place for action, interaction, discussion, and education.

More concretely, WAVE is an organization that facilitates actionable change. We are not a “movement”. We are not a program. We are not a check list. We are the tool that people can use to communicate, organize, connect, and publicize their ideas. Think of it this way, others are interested in the theoretical or nomothetic course of LDS feminism. We are interested in the praxis, the method. We realized that there were a lot of blogs out there talking about the issues affecting women in the church but none dedicated to doing anything about it. WAVE’s most basic goal is to do something about it!

We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are fantastic LDS feminist blogs out there creating excellent content and discussion. We want to be the place where all of the blogs converge to DO SOMETHING! For example, in a recent discussion on FMH entitled, “On being the change (and sometimes being to tired to be)” there were 119 comments about the inappropriateness of bishops being alone with and interviewing youth about sexual topics. In fact, some of the comments even mentioned ways to ameliorate the problem. It was a wonderful discussion, but that was all it was, a discussion. There was no challenge to encourage people to go talk to their bishops, no letter writing campaign, no call for action, no solicitations for Ensign, New Era, Mormon Times, Dialogue, Sunstone, or Patheos articles about the topic, no petition to sign, no pamphlet to pass out, no step in the direction of real change for that particular topic. Enter WAVE. We can do that.

We are in our relative infancy and are just beginning to promote activities and organize Calls to Action. So far we have created monthly Calls to Action, distributed petitions, highlighted informational articles, answered questions, facilitated discussions and personal stories, and promoted service opportunities. We are working on a quotebook of LDS women’s voices to accompany church literature and we maintain an active presence on facebook and twitter. Most of our content so far is created out of the board’s interests but as we grow we hope to transition away from content creation to action organization.

This is where you come in. We need content creators, blog writers, and people from the various LDS feminist blogs to find topics that their readers are interested in and pass the discussion on to us. We will transform that discussion into steps for actionable change. Thus, bloggers can continue creating content, facilitating discussions, educating readers, and piquing interest, and we will worry about how to apply that information to real world change.

In a sense you are WAVE. Everyone is WAVE. Your participation changes the direction we take, the challenges we promote, the calls to action we support.

This is a long response to basically say that we don’t have ultimate goals for the future of LDS feminism, you do. We are the resource capable of proximate changes to bring those goals to pass.

Do you think gender inequality in the church is primarily a policy issue and not a doctrinal one? It is both. But as an organization whose primary goal is to promote change for gender inequality in the church we have no  power to do anything about doctrinal inequalities. As such, we have two choices: give up now or do something about the things we can change. We choose the latter.

Unfortunately, there is enough policy based gender discrimination to keep us busy for a very long time. We hope that as these policy issues change the “doctrinal” ones will become more apparent to the people with decision making power. For now we are hoping that continued revelation means more revelation for women as well.

Are you unaware of the inevitable impasse between a commitment to the church and a commitment to equality? We are aware. Every board member has struggled with these two sometimes contradictory commitments. This battle has fueled the creation of WAVE and all of the subsequent (volunteer) hours, late nights, debates, frustrations, stigmatization, and criticism that comes from heading an organization inevitably failing either the church or the feminists. We are more than aware of this, we live this every day! What is the solution? Do tell. We would love to know the perfect balance. Until then we are trying to maintain a faithful feminist approach. We don’t want to have to give up the church or our commitment to equality. Will we eventually have to choose one over the other? Realistically, it is a constant question in the back of our minds. Ideally, we hope not. If we can create changes that have positive effects for greater equality for women in the church that impasse might not be as inevitable. We might never live to see equality fully realized, but change however small gives reasonable doubt to the inevitable.

As such, will you compromise your faith or your commitment to equality? To some being a member of a patriarchal organization or church is already counterintuitive to equality. To others, being a feminist means our faithfulness is lacking. For most of us, it undulates between the two and being in the middle often means compromising on both sides.

However the word compromise means very different things to different people depending on its intent. For theoretically based arguments, compromise connotes lacking integrity, selling out, and not being fully committed. In applied settings compromise is the currency through which change occurs. From marriage to negotiation, compromise is a tool people use to take positive steps in the right direction. It is the quickest way to benefit both parties. As an application based organization, WAVE views compromise as a resource for going beyond talking points to actually changing behavior.  Ultimately, we need both the uncompromising theory of content creators and the practical applications of WAVE to accomplish our goals.

Do you assume you will inexplicably get right what earlier Mormon feminists got wrong? There is nothing inexplicable about it. We very clearly state our goals and mission and are open to any ideas, criticisms, and feedback that anyone wants to offer. We are a free open source resource that anyone can use and see ourselves as an appendage to and tool for all internet based LDS feminist content and bloggers.

We are very concerned with learning from our LDS feminist foremothers and carrying on their torch. We don’t think they “got it wrong,” more accurately, we think they laid the foundation on which we are all standing.

Sincerely,

Ask a Feminist

Women’s Service Mission Reviews Radical Homemakers

I come from a consumer family. My father’s mother was the 1950’s housewife who sought after the newest and greatest gadget promising greater convenience and my mother’s mother was the career woman who outsourced housekeeping, childcare and food preparation. Between my two parents, I didn’t learn many homemaking skills.

And then I joined the church.

My mother warned me that I might have a hard time assimilating into Mormon culture and embracing the role of a stay at home mother.  After my college training as a preschool teacher, I embraced and enjoyed the role of mother and greatly appreciate that I am able to stay home to care for my babies. I struggle, however—and not surprisingly, with the role of homemaker.

The book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture introduced me to the name of my struggle, as well as provided a solution for it.

I, of course, had heard of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique and I’ve heard it called the book that started the feminist revolution. From what I had heard about it (I still haven’t read it), it inspired all the aspects of the feminist revolution that I disagree with and would not aspire to.

The author of Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes, introduced Feminine Mystique to me in a new way. Hayes disagrees with Friedan’s conclusions though accepts that housewife syndrome truly does exist (an in my experience it certainly does!). Instead of supporting Friedan’s solution of sending women into the workforce to escape the lack of fulfillment at home, Hayes points out that a generation later, women have not found the fulfillment they were seeking and instead are struggling under role strain and the stress of raising families, making a home and being employee. Instead they are finding the lack of fulfillment that comes from being a slave to a consumer culture. The solution, then, is for women and men to embrace equally the role as homemaker and live simply, each family becoming a unit of production rather than unit of consumption.  The outcome, according to the 19 families and individuals she interviewed for the book, is that men and women are able to work less, earn less and live more while protecting the environment, building communities and taking steps to solve the problems plaguing our world.

Radical Homemakers is not really a how-to book on how to go about becoming a radical homemaker (which generally involves backyard homesteading or urban gardening) but readers learn the stories of those who made the transition from full-time employment to opting out of the job market and embracing domesticity.  The first half of the book is a description of the history and reasons why a shift from consumerism is needed, while the second half tells the stories of families who adopted the radical homemaking lifestyle. The author has created a Radical Homemakers website where resources are being compiled.

The intersection between Mormon values of self-reliance, thrift, living simply, valuing family and community and eschewing consumption while, at the same time, embracing feminist values is fascinating. I also find it immensely validating as it shows me that the ideals of the gospel can be lived while honoring women as people with skills and interests that lie outside of motherhood and homemaking. I’m inspired by the women described in the book who after their hearths are reclaimed extend their focus outward to their communities through civic involvement, advocacy and mentoring.

Do you live any aspects of radical homemaking? Do you know any Latter-day Saints who embrace aspects of radical homemaking? How do you try to minimize the effects of consumerism in your daily life? Do you find a connection between domesticity and environmental sustainability?

If you have read the book and would be willing to discuss any of the themes in the book and how it relates to advocacy in the areas mentioned in the book and gospel principles, please send it to service@ldswave.org.

Call to Action: Your Favorite Mormon Feminist Posts

Over the last decade, hundreds of fantastic posts on Mormon feminism have been composed. We at WAVE feel that it’s crucial to create a catalog of Mormon feminist posts from around the bloggernacle, so that those who are searching for ways to think about these issues can quickly and easily access the ideas of others who have had similar thoughts or questions.

Please send us links to your favorite posts about Mormon feminism.

Overcoming Discouragement in Advocacy

Advocacy work, in any area, can be overwhelming. If you have been following the WAVE facebook page recently, you might have too felt overwhelmed by the content there.  When you have a project like the Women’s Service Mission which covers a broad range of advocacy issues, the constant stream of issues can be discouraging. You may feel like with so much wrong, how can I possibly make a difference?

In my personal advocacy efforts, I have an awareness of a number of issues that I feel strongly about and that I feel I have a responsibility and/or ability to do something about. Its an interesting position, however, the prioritizing of one issue over another and the decision-making process in choosing which causes to care about, support and work with, while at the same time, needing to maintain a balance in my personal life through fulfilling my responsibilities to those closest to me.

There are times when instead of the fiercely optimistic boy who proclaims “It matters to this one!” as he throws starfish back into the ocean, I feel more like the man on the beach who queries “You can’t save them all so what does it matter?”

And there are times that I wish I could live in the blissful ignorance of not knowing about the scope and scale of human suffering and issues that profoundly impact other children of Heavenly Father, ourselves and our loved ones. It is that knowledge and awareness that spurns us to action and causes us to feel a level of responsibility so to avoid this feeling of being overwhelmed, I would need to go back to a time when I did not know about the problem. Ignorance could still be my excuse or in the words of Sue Monk Kidd,” The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”

On my darker days, I wish I could go back to the safe, sweet way I used to live not knowing what I know. And yet, I sense how wrong that would be.

During Christ’s atonement, he suffered the pains and sorrows of everyone who lives, has lived or will live on this earth. I get a sense of the scope of that when I have my own periods of trail and hardship and I feel I’m going to break under the burden, and then I think of the suffering and abuse that is occurring throughout the world right now. If a woman dies in childbirth every minute, there is a woman right now who is dying as she struggles to give life. Our sisters are being raped, countries are being torn apart by war, our world is being destroyed by corruption and greed. I can’t bear the thought of experiencing for myself that limited amount of suffering for one minute, let alone everyone’s every hurt. I begin to comprehend the Atonement and I truly do stand all amazed on Christ’s ability and power to love every person and have perfect  is his understanding into us all.

So in a way, turning away from the suffering of others is setting to naught Christ’s atonement, let alone a violation of baptismal covenants. I cannot find integrity to choose the “safe sweet way I live[d]” for those reasons. Its not an option.

To put it into perspective. I cannot turn from it, but I cannot allow myself to be crushed under the weight of it either. Kind Benjamin offers these words of caution and encouragement:

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. Mosiah 4:27

In finding what strength I may have, I realize that sometimes I am the snowflake described by Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister, “It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch? I don’t know, but I want to be there to do my part if I’m a snowflake. Now, I’m a woman. How many women’s voices will it take before we honor the woman’s question? I don’t know. But I am conscious, and therefore I am responsible.”

I can find comfort  in knowing that I am doing my part and also know that if I leave the responsibility to someone else, they may make the same decision too, thereby letting all manner of injustice occur with impunity. By sending the letter to my senator, signing a petition, adding my voice, voting, making a donation, I am being that snowflake that I hope will work in concert with the many other snowflakes that are needed to break the branch. To draw on another metaphor, I can be the water droplet that does its part to change the tide.

I had one of my want-to-stick-my-head-in-the-ground days a few days ago. To pull myself out of it, I usually borrow light from someone else for a short while to regain perspective and find the wherewithal to continue working on these important issues. In my case, it was the writings of two LDS women (one here) whom I borrowed from to write this post.

Like in many other instances, our heavenly messengers take the form of the relationships we have as members of the church and as family and friends. By working together, we can draw on one another’s strengths and find the encouragement to carry on.

How do you find the encouragement to stay engaged and optimistic in your advocacy efforts? How do you deal with periods of discouragement?