Discussion Topic: What public policies affect Mormon women?

It’s a cop-out to answer this question with the answer: all of them. To lay it out simply: if you are a Mormon woman living in your country, then your countries public policies affect you because you are a woman.  It is also true that being Mormon shapes who we are as women. Though we may make some of the same decisions as our sisters from other faiths, often our reasons are different and the rates of those decisions are different due to our religious beliefs.

With so much talk about the War on Women being waged in the United States, this is a good opportunity to discuss how are Mormon women specifically are affected by public policies that affect women. This speaks directly to the idea that Mormon women may not identify with the need for some policies and therefore not have a vested interest in them.  It  seems like basic human nature to not care as much about challenges not personally faced by oneself though this is the antithesis of Christ’s doctrine of charity and “comforting those who stand in need of comfort.”

The Women’s Service Mission aims to understand the needs of women both within and outside the church and support efforts that meet these needs both in the public and personal sphere.

Public policies play a role in much of how women are able to care for and nurture themselves and their families so it stands to reason that public policies matter to Mormon women. The question then is: which ones?

Below are my thoughts, please discuss and add policies that I have left out here. Do you feel strongly about any of these policies? Can you make the case for why others support be in support or against them as you are?

Equal Pay

Even in 2011, women still make $.70 to the $1 for each hour of paid work in comparison to men in comparable positions. The Lilly Ledbetter Act enacted in 2009 provides recourse for women who suspect that they did not receive fair pay in comparison to their male counterparts. Did Mormon women care about this victory for equality? Because most Mormon women find themselves out of the work force, it could be said that Mormon women do not feel strongly whether their working peers receive a fair wage or not. Yet if we look at our support of public policies as a service to those who need those policies enacted, Mormon women provide meaningful service to women not of their faith as well as many who share it by supporting equal pay assist through not making them work harder than they need to in order to care for themselves and their dependents.

Abortion

Latter-day Saints in general oppose abortion so this is one public policy that most feel like they are not arguing for themselves but would rather be putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and arguing on their behalf. Though there may be some situations where a faithful Latter-day Saint may feel compelled to abort a pregnancy , in general, Mormons support adoption over abortion . If you have ever been to General Conference in Salt Lake City, you will know that fundamental Christian groups oppose the church’s stance on abortion because it states there are three circumstances (rape, incest, when the mother’s health may be in danger by the continuation of the pregnancy or when the baby experiences defects that make living beyond birth unlikely) where abortion may be indicated.

When asked, most Mormon women will state that they are pro-life but a significant portion also recognize a need for abortion services in those allowable cases Additionally, some Mormon women recognize a woman’s need to make decisions prayerfully in light of their personal situations as well as finding it troubling that a woman’s agency is being taken from her. So then, how important to Mormon women are the decisions made by policy makers on this topic?  Do Mormon women have a responsibility to try to protect these services for themselves and other women? Where do you stand and can you make a case for why other Mormon women should care?

Family Medical Leave

The Proclamation on the Family provides what some Mormon feminists consider an escape clause, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” It can be up to the family to decide how the breadwinning will be done though the norm is that mothers stay out of the work force to care for their children while fathers work to provide for the family. Yet many LDS women find that they need to work outside the home when their children are young for a variety of reasons. For those LDS and non-LDS women who feel compelled to return to work after pregnancy, is this one public policy that does matter to Mormon women? By supporting the expansion of this public policy, can Mormon women provide meaningful and compassionate service to mothers, babies and families?

Breastfeeding Accommodations

Another workplace issue is requiring businesses and employers to allow breastfeeding women to take additional breaks in order to pump breastmilk that is taken home and given to their breastfeeding young children. Since most Mormon women are not working when they are breastfeeding, why should they care that many mothers find that their employment keeps them from breastfeeding their children as long as recommended by not allowing them the time to express milk? Is this one policy that Mormon women can support despite their belief that women should be at home caring for their babies?

Subsidies for Stay at Home Mothers

Mormons recognize the importance of mothers as nurturers and value stay at home mothers as the ideal caregivers for their children. Many lower income families are unable to support a stay at home mother due to financial constraints yet would prefer the parents remaining the main providers of childcare. Also taking into account the government funded subsidies to pay childcare providers, it seems justice would be served in providing an equal amount in subsidies(http://www.calgaryandareacfsa.gov.ab.ca/home/591.cfm)  to families who would like the parents to be the main childcare provider. Also see here: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/AHICchartOct05.pdf?docID=1048 Would this policy be one that many lower income Mormons would support and appreciate?

Flex-time and telecommuting options

Some corporations and agencies are ahead of the game because they allow their employees to work from home some days or to work longer hours some days in order to have more days off. There are proposals that exist to encourage and provide incentives to more businesses and agencies to provide this benefit to their employees. For Mormon families wouldn’t this be an exceptional boon? Fathers having more time with children, mothers being able to work and share childcare responsibilities as “equal partners”?

For a little historical perspective, some public policies have decidedly benefitted Mormon women including achieving the right to vote as well as transferring Social Security benefits to a homemaking spouse.

So then, I’ve listed some of my favorite public policies that I believe would be beneficial to LDS families as well as others that don’t seem to have much effect on Latter-day Saints as  a rule.

Can you think of others? Can you make a case for or against these policies and others you can come up with?

Ask a Feminist

Dear Ask a Feminist,

I posted something about this on the facebook page, but I wanted to write to you here as well, because this is something that is on my mind and heart right now, and I really want to have some conversations about it.

I am the mother of three sons. We are probably done having children, so I will not have daughters to raise as empowered, self-aware, self-trusting women. I want to raise my sons to love and respect women–to be male feminists–but I don’t know how to do that. Aside from teaching them basic egalitarianism, what can I do to tune them in to the inequalities of our culture (and our church) and help them be part of the change?

I appreciate your taking the time to respond to this question. I know several other mamas like myself who have only boys, and we have talked about this issue before, and I admit I’m still foundering trying to figure out where to go with it.

Sincerely,

Feminist Mama

Dear Feminist Mama,

Thank you for contacting us. We appreciate all that you do! This is a great question and one many of us have discussed here at WAVE. While I am no expert in this area I will give you a couple suggestions born out of these conversations and I would invite all of our readers to contribute to this discussion in the comment section. Here are my top ten tips on how to raise feminist LDS sons!

1.) Check out some of these blogs on the subject. This beautiful piece by Ann Gardner Stone and discussed at Exponent II in a post by Emily Clyde Curtis. Another fantastic source is this post written by Winterbuzz at Feminist Mormon Housewives.There are also a ton of great non-LDS mother’s blogs and discussions on this topic. Check out some at: momotics, blogher, persephone magazine, etc.

2.) Exemplify, exemplify, exemplify. What is one of the most common pieces of advice that most parenting books and articles share? Your kids will learn more from your example than anything you say. Teach your sons to respect you and they will respect other women. Teach them to listen, value, and honor your opinion and they will do the same to their female peers. Teach them to assume women are strong and capable and they will expect those qualities in their future partner. Similarly, teach them that men get the last say and they will not know any better.

3.) Find opportunities to talk to them about equality early and often. From the ages of 5-10 (depending on your child’s development) kids have more rigid black and white thinking.  If they learn that all people are equal regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, IQ, nationality, etc. during this stage it is more likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives and be a foundational principle in their future morality.

4.) Talk about Heavenly Mother. It doesn’t have to be deep or cautiously approached, just explain that we have heavenly and earthly parents who love us and want the best for us. Studies have shown that people’s perceptions of God are often based on their relationship with their earthly father. If you teach them about their Heavenly Mother as well this will open up the divine possibility while they are still constructing their relationship with God.

5.) Find ways to highlight female examples and narratives in the scriptures. It is important that children understand some of the cultural and historical realities that prevent more female representation in our religious texts. You can use our religion as an example arguing that we are the only major world religion on the planet today that believes in a female deity. You can make your sons proud of this and that feeling will extend to many aspects of their lives and how they think about and treat women in the future.

6.) Protect them from pornography, sexual abuse, and objectifying women by discussing early and often that no one should see or touch their private parts and they should not see or touch anyone else’s. This is especially helpful in the rigid stage of thinking (ages 5-10) and creates a healthy foundation on which you can add to their sex education through the rest of the years. This education born out of respect for yourself and others will help them recognize real people if they are exposed to pornography and when they begin cultivating relationships with girls.

7.) Due to the male gaze it is easy for men to grow up mainly being inundated with music, books, movies, and themes that are from male perspectives. In order for men to realize how it feels to be a female in a largely male world (especially in LDS scriptures and talks) it is important to encourage and expose your sons to media of all kinds from female perspectives and that represent complicated female characters. Talk about the books, music, movies, and themes that interest you and share those with your kids.

8.) Try to help your kids find a female religious example. This can be a heroine, a ward member, a scriptorian, or even yourself! It is critical that young men recognize and learn from female revelation, interpretation, talks and teachers. This alone will make an extraordinary difference in the ways your kids will approach their future leadership positions and how they will interact with the women under their stewardship.

9.) Create a home where equal parenting is apparent. While this arrangement depends on the details of your marriage and family circumstances, it is important for your kids to see that there are no male or female jobs, but rather different skill sets and preferences and that these duties need to be communicated and shared. It is okay, and in fact healthy, for them to see you working out the balance along the way and as family needs change.

10.) Lastly, love your kids demonstrably. This one is an easy one, but your sons will get enough messages about manliness, machismo, toughness, and strength from their peers and the world. Try not to hold back any displays of affection, empathy, nurturing, consoling, and/or support because of their gender. Recognize if and when you do this and evaluate why.

Sincerely,

Ask a Feminist

Talents of Sisters Launches: The Relief Society Sisterhood Goes Global

One of the most beautiful potentials contained within humanity is the coming together as a group to make an impact for good in this world. Sure, we can do good on our own as individuals and disciples, but the force for change that comes from a united effort of like-minded souls is undeniably powerful. In the LDS church, this is frequently exemplified in congregations that look beyond difference to support those around them in need. We are adept at mobilizing in the face of disaster, and true needs do not go unnoticed when it counts. The Relief Society plays a significant role in this positive feature of the Church and its members, as women band together when you least expect it. Even amidst petty squabbles and the hang-ups of judgment, there is a foundational sisterhood that exists wherever the Church is found. It may not always be put to use, and it may not even be clearly seen, but it is a resource that I believe can be tapped for good when the need is there.

But what about a Sisterhood that goes beyond ward and stake boundaries? What about the women around us, near and far, that don’t share our beliefs, and yet share a heritage and connection with us as women that surpasses all cultures, races, religions and lines on a map? When those women have needs that are so vastly beyond our own, do we have an obligation to help them? Are they not our sisters? Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and the equality for which it was initially formed to bring about is still drastically out of reach for too many of our sisters around the world.

Women and girls in too many countries today are still routinely trafficked, raped and enslaved. They still wither in poverty and die in childbirth because they are forced to marry and conceive too young or do not receive competent care when it is needed. They suffer from obstetric fistulas and are cast out of their homes and communities. Girls do not get enough food or medicine, while their brothers flourish. Education is rarely even an option for them, and when it is, they are very often not safe in traveling to school. Girls in many countries do not stay in school past the onset of menses for a variety of reasons. In too many places in this world, women do not have a say in what happens to them. They are not compensated for labor. They cannot vote or travel without men. Whether by violence or political and cultural oppression, they are silenced.

We can all read stories of women and girls in these situations and say that it is wrong. It is wrong that these things happen. It is wrong that the world is like this. It is wrong that there is such a gap between our experience and theirs. But what if we also read of stories where girls from rural villages are given the opportunity for education and return to their communities to educate others? Or what if we read about women that are able to implement and sustain businesses that elevate not only the lives of their families, but also the economies of their communities? Would we also feel hope? Would we sense that maybe the answer to the wrong in this world is to give women more rights?

Last September, a book review of Half the Sky was posted here from the Exponent II publication. Sariah did a wonderful job expounding on the importance of the book and what it can mean for us as American Feminists. It inspired me to order a copy, and as we traveled for Thanksgiving, I devoured it. During that time, WAVE did a call to action to read it as well, and as I let the impact of the material sit with me a while, I started to get an idea. I shared it onWAVE, and was encouraged to follow up with it by Jenne of the Women’s Service Mission.

Months later I and others have put this idea into action. With invaluable help from friends and my talented sister, we are launching a nonprofit organization that collects donations from women just about anywhere that are able to produce and create unique items for sale. We are selling those items through a collective shop (and providing free advertising in a mutually beneficial relationship for those with home based businesses) and turning the funds into opportunities for women. For some of our early donations, we are dedicating funds to efforts such as building a latrine for girls in Africa so that they can stay close to school when they are menstruating. We are already sponsoring a woman through Women for Women International, and next month we will be sponsoring a girl through Plan International. In addition to paying for things like fistula surgeries, school uniforms and years worth of education, we will also be making small donations of stoves, chickens, homebirth kits and more as we gain momentum.

And when I say “we”, I mean any and all of us that want to be a part of what we’re doing. Our idea doesn’t work without the support and talents of women and sisters. We all know women that use their creative brands of talents to make beautiful art, or useful crafts, or delicious preserves. We all probably know someone that makes adorable toys and children’s clothing, or fashionable and unique accessories. Maybe we have ward sisters that quilt together, or local craft groups. The point is, we all have talents. They come in many forms, some tangible and some not, but we can use those talents for a greater good if we work together.

In All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich writes,

“I have come to believe that talent is an inner drive that propels a person to take time. People who are experts at something work harder at it than the rest of us because they see (and hear and taste and feel) possibilities the rest of us can’t discern – the stairway in the side of a rock, the hat or vest in a yard of cloth, the unfulfilled potential of an organization. People with talent help us see what is hidden.”

Will you share your talents with us? Will you help us to magnify the call of the Relief Society on a global scale? If you’re interested in joining our efforts to empower, support, educate and heal women worldwide, please visithttp://www.talentsofsisters.org for updates on what we’re doing with the funds we raise. There is also information on how to donate or be a part of the effort in other ways, and for a list of wonderful contributions to buy if you don’t craft, click here. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Help us to see what is hiding in the women that hold up half the sky.