The Myth of New Mormon Feminism

Recently there has been a lot of talk about a new or resurgent Mormon Feminism developing. With so many words and discussions about it, one would think it was a reality rather an expectation. The truth is that a “war” between Mormons and Feminists happened, and Feminists lost. There was a time when Feminists were very active with staging protests, holding marches, signing petitions, writing letters, mobilizing grassroots forces, and making bold calls to action. In the end those Feminists either left the LDS Church or were ex-communicated. Despite minor changes, the goals they had didn’t materialize.

The last time there was any “action” of note taken was after Sister Beck’s now famous talk about the importance of defined female roles. Feminists sent roses to LDS Church headquarters to protest her message and newspapers filed a report. The response from the intended target? A courteous thank you. Concerns behind the gift were promptly ignored. Other recent activities have gone unnoticed or are personal to individuals with no direct social impact.

Perhaps there have been some changes over the years that Feminists wanted, but ultimately they were minor compared to the agitations. The Priesthood is (unless you count the Temple Endowment) still limited to males, discussions of Heavenly Mother (beyond personal musings) cannot cross boundaries into worship, and men are considered the head of the house with the nuclear family the Celestial standard. Larger issues might not be realized because of the Patriarchal nature of the LDS Church and its doctrines, and woman aren’t interested in the ultimate goal of getting the Priesthood. Recognizing the current conditions, Mormon Feminism had to be re-defined contrary to the past, making it less about taking men’s roles. It is now talking about women from the past, attending obscure lectures, and writing on blogs. However, oppression of the LDS Priesthood remains a big issue that has gender envy just below the surface.

As has been noted for many years, the word “choice” is the central theme of Feminism. Ideally there would be respect for the single mother, the working woman, and the married housewife. Variety of female roles as they choose is supposedly the hallmark of achieving equality. The reality is that some varieties are more equal to the movement than others. Motherhood (especially of the married to a husband kind) is still looked down upon as a anti-Feminist. As a self-described Feminist mother explains about a Feminist commentator who discusses Mormon Mommy blogs:

But I think what irritates me the most about this post is the author’s assertion that she is a “feminist” while she simultaneous judges other women’s life choices- the key word being “choice” here- due to her own failure to understand and accept their choices through their own words. She substitutes her views on the value of being a stay-at-home mother, and the possibility that any one might enjoy it, for the subject of her fascination. She continually discredits the idea that these mothers might actually enjoy what they do because it just doesn’t jive with her own perspective of what constitutes self-actualization (I guess? or proper womanhood?) as a “young, feminist atheist.”

These Mormon mothers, based on what we know of their perspectives, appear to love what they do. But that’s still not okay with the author. As soon as she seems to come to grips with the idea that maybe some people are happy as mothers (as they lead “simple” lives), that not all families are miserable and mired in power struggles like the “friends” she knows (who are, coincidentally, Ph.D. students…), she symbolically discredits their happiness and contentment by countering it with negative information on Mormon domesticity. Ultimately, the Mormon mothers lose their subjectivity as the author “others” these women, for no other reason than that she cannot understand or relate to their lifestyle.

She isn’t the only blogger who read the article and came to the same conclusion. No matter how much Mormon Feminists try to be both Mormon and Feminist, they continue to trip over the lines drawn by both. There is a demarcation that can’t be simply swept away by appeals to diversity. The LDS Church has articulated a religious expectation for gender roles and the majority of non-Mormon Feminists a different social expectation. The true choice might be to decide if you will be more of one or the other.

Mormon Feminists can talk, gather, and write blogs and papers all they want. There is a history of Mormonism and Feminism. The apostate martyrs called “The September Six” will always be a reminder that unfettered Feminism doesn’t have a place in the religious community it sought to influence. Unless there comes a sea change in the definition of Feminism and Mormonism (as has been indicated there isn’t), then the current movement consists of rhetorical self-contained nods to a movement that no longer has any power within Mormonism and no respect outside. Its ship has sailed. Its history has been written. Not sure what new chapters everyone is talking about.

64 thoughts on “The Myth of New Mormon Feminism

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention » The Myth of New Mormon Feminism The Millennial Star -- Topsy.com

  2. Wow, very matter of fact discussion and I find it interesting only 10% of Mormon women want the priesthood. (any lower an those who do become nearly two sigma outliers!)

    One things for sure. Anyone who wants to raise their hand “and steady the ark” of this organization has a history of falling by the wayside and failing. But to those who still can’t help themselves: good luck. :)

  3. “Is the equal partner stuff window-dressing or what?”

    It really depends on your definition of equal partner. There is separate, but equal and there is equal as in the same. I think Mormonism allows separate equality, but not sameness. In the end, however, men are still the head of the household as described in the Scriptures. What that means is up to debate within a believer’s context.

  4. If the semantic breadth of the word “equal” can be extended to include “one presiding over the other,” then “equal” is a word that should be excised from our religious lexicon, as its meaning is revealed to be as vacuous as [thinking for a better, more cliched example than equality = presiding...].

  5. “The apostate martyrs called “The September Six” will always be a reminder that unfettered Feminism doesn’t have a place in the religious community it sought to influence.”

    Let’s not forget that while the exact reasons Brother Gileadi was excommunicated are not known for sure, it probably was not related to feminism, and more importantly, he was rebaptized and is an active member of the church. His humility and willingness to submit to the authority of the church is admirable and stands in stark contrast to the others.

  6. Gileadi’s excommunication (and some reasons for it) were addressed tangentially in a John-Charles Duffy Sunstone article from a few years back.

    There is separate, but equal…

    Yes, jettboy, just like there is “cheap, but expensive.”

  7. That what you write is based on a grain of truth does not give you license to strive to author such a clear attempt at disunity with those who would (should?) like to be of our faith.

    Helping others to become their own judge and use their “choice” to decide what to do is a better alternative than just telling them they are wrong and they lost.

    If your goal is not to persuade through meekness and long suffering, your criticism is no better than the conduct you are trying to correct.

  8. First, a question: You really believe that men are the head of the household? I’ve been in this Church for almost half a century and I know of no family where the man is the head. That is an old notion that actually has very little role in reality or in day to day lives. I suppose some men take that role to mean they select who says the blessing on the food, but even that doesn’t fly most of the time.

    I found that recent poll citing that only 10% of LDS women want the priesthood to be more telling about their lack of ability to perceive that this could happen and their fear of appearing uppity (and many Mormon women like to “appear” that all is well) than about anyones’ true desire. I, for one, was shocked when I heard my beloved President Hinckley say that he knew of no women who wanted to priesthood. I thought, “really? No one? I need to introduce myself to you!”

    The desire of most feminists, me included, is to ensure that women everywhere have the power, freedom and knowledge to fulfill their purpose on this earth. I believe that we are all put on this earth to reach our full potential — our divine purpose. While we are sometimes mothers, that is part of what we do. It is not all that we do and it is not all that we can become (anymore than fatherhood is the one and only purpose for men to be on earth.)

    Some day when the judgment comes, I fully believe that there will be millions of people who have subjugated women who will have Hell to pay for keeping these daughters of God from fulfilling their divine purposes.

    Yes, I’m Mormon. Yes, I am feminist. Yes, I think women should have the priesthood. Yes, I believe in modern day revelation and have no doubt that this will come to pass. Because the Church is run by men, mortal men with all of their mortal understandings and shortcomings, it is not perfect. But the Gospel of Christ is perfect. The ministry of Christ and his example of how to treat women was perfect. I am Mormon and A feminist. I don’t know what LINES you are talking about-except those drawn by fallible men and women.

  9. I actually agree with jettboy’s summary of the facts of the current state of women, and the history of failed feminist action in the church. It’s hard to argue with anything in this post on those terms.

    I guess where we part ways is whether we view that as a good thing and beneficial to the church, or as an area where there are unfortunate misunderstandings and where we still need to work harder to achieve Zion. Jettboy evidently comes down on the side of the former.

    Jettboy, am I reading you correctly that you reject choice feminism, that you reject the idea that “Ideally there would be respect for the single mother, the working woman, and the married housewife. Variety of female roles as they choose is supposedly the hallmark of achieving equality.”? If you accept this, then you are a choice feminist. If you reject this, you think it is a good thing when women don’t have the choice to work outside the home.

    It’s all kind of surprising to me. While I know I have my differences with members of this blog on various policy issues :-), I never doubted a sincere passion for the ideals of liberty and self-determination exists in the hearts of the bloggers here. Why should we not apply those values to women as well as men? Why should women be voteless subjects of a presider in the home, and liberty-less non-participants in life and the economy? To me, feminism represents everything that stirs the soul in the founding visions of our nation.

  10. Brad says:

    If the semantic breadth of the word “equal” can be extended to include “one presiding over the other,” then “equal” is a word that should be excised from our religious lexicon, as its meaning is revealed to be as vacuous as [thinking for a better, more cliched example than equality = presiding...].

    Brad, you act as if Jettboy has said something wrong. But isn’t he just repeating what is actually the teachings of the Church?

    By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

    If you are taking exception to the Church’s teachings, that is fine. Please express your point of view respectfully.

    If you are taking exception to Jettboy’s particular interpretation, you have failed to communicate it in a way I could understand it. Please elaborate.

  11. A warning to people commenting here:

    Jettboy is putting forth his viewpoints. I don’t agree with all of his points or the way he has framed the discussion. But he is touching on a controversial subject and trying to have a discussion of controversial ideas. Personally, as a man, I would never venture into this territory at all. He is to be congratulated for his braveness.

    Personal insults aimed at Jettboy, other commenters, this site or anybody else will be deleted, and quick. If this post is so offensive to you that you must leave an insult, I would suggest you go read something else.

  12. Cynthia L, speaking for myself only, I agree with the sentiments you express here:

    “It’s all kind of surprising to me. While I know I have my differences with members of this blog on various policy issues , I never doubted a sincere passion for the ideals of liberty and self-determination exists in the hearts of the bloggers here. Why should we not apply those values to women as well as men? Why should women be voteless subjects of a presider in the home, and liberty-less non-participants in life and the economy? To me, feminism represents everything that stirs the soul in the founding visions of our nation.”

  13. The desire of most feminists, me included, is to ensure that women everywhere have the power, freedom and knowledge to fulfill their purpose on this earth. I believe that we are all put on this earth to reach our full potential — our divine purpose. While we are sometimes mothers, that is part of what we do. It is not all that we do and it is not all that we can become (anymore than fatherhood is the one and only purpose for men to be on earth.)

    Thank you for comment, Bonnie. I appreciate what you have written.

    When I proposed marriage to my wife, she was in the middle of obtaining her MBA. She asked me if I thought she should quit school. My response to her was that she should finish school and do everything possible to enhance her ability to earn money, should that need arise in our marriage. I feel very strongly that I should do everything in my power to make sure my wife is able to reach her full potential.

    Today, it is my turn to get a masters degree and she is extremely supportive of my desire to obtain an advanced degree and improve my career opportunities. I love my wife and appreciate her willingness to bear the extra burden of parenting while I am working and attending school.

    That is the type of marriage I have with my wife. We are equal partners, working toward common goals for our marriage and family. We feel blessed for having followed the counsel of the brethren and the principles found in The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

  14. Background: grew up non-religious with feminist mother, converted at 24.

    To me, the whole “waaah, men and women have different roles ordained by God, waaah, women don’t get the priesthood” debate comes down to this: do you or do you not believe that this Church is run by God Himself, with His knowledge of eternal matters directing earthly matters? If you don’t, wondering why you continue to identify with a Church you don’t believe some very essential doctrines of. If you do, don’t you think it’s maybe a bit presumptuous to tell God (and those He selected to administer His Church) that He needs to alter His eternal laws to conform to fashionable secular worldly philosophies of mortal humans lacking His knowledge and perspective?

  15. Brian, you’re welcome. My husband and I have been married for 28.5 years. In those years, between the two of us, we’ve earned 2 bachelor degrees, 2 masters degrees and one doctorate degree. He is my help meet in every way. I have no doubt that without him I would not have accomplished even half of what I have. He makes me a better person and pushes me to do more than I ever thought I could do.

    In the Church Handbook of Instruction, it says “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.” I believe that it has been assumed that women are here to complete men (which could come from an oversimplification of the story of the creation of Eve) and that it is not the reciprocal relationship the Lord had in mind.

  16. Bruce,
    So you think that equal partners talk is window dressing?

    Seanette,
    Why do you believe that the gender roles elaborated in the Proclamation are eternal principles? The Proclamation doesn’t make that claim. Certainly, God has approved other modes of domestic bliss in the past; perhaps he’ll do so in the future.

  17. Cynthia L.

    I appreciate your comment in #11. I especially appreciate you didn’t ‘blame jettboy’ like most people did. And I like that you went on to draw a legitimate possible differentiation with jettboy and yourself with this comment:

    I guess where we part ways is whether we view that as a good thing and beneficial to the church, or as an area where there are unfortunate misunderstandings and where we still need to work harder to achieve Zion.

    I like the idea of choice feminism. Count me as a choice feminist (or at least count that as my ideal.)

    I know some people see the church as forcing people to do things. Me personally? I’m dubious of the idea that a voluntary organization can force anyone to do anything.

    Instead, I view the church as playing a counter balancing role on certain types of values that society has lost or overlooked. But ultimately, I do feel it’s a choice and must always be.

  18. Seanette, I understand that it may seem to be whining when people want what they don’t currently have. But that just might be a gross over-simplification of a complex issue. The fact is that I believe in modern-day revelation and pray for the day when those in charge will find it in their hearts to plead to the Lord about this issue, and if they already have, to continue.

    I imagine God in 1978 thinking, “What? You are finally getting around to asking me about Blacks and the Priesthood? What has taken you so dang long?” Facts are that many men in the Church at that time held racist beliefs. I know that sounds harsh, but all you have to do is read past talks to know that this is true. It is not that they were evil–don’t get me wrong. They were products of their time and their upbringing. ALL mortals are. The same is true today. Our leaders are products of their generations. It was not that long ago that women could not vote. That women could not own property (we still only own !% of the world’s total property!), and we were considered to be owned by men–passed from father to husband as chattel.

    Working for a time when women will have the freedom, voice and power to be full partners (not that weird equal=preside nonsense we hear today)in our homes, and in our Church is not whining. It is doing what’s right.

  19. I don’t think the “equal partners” talk is window dressing, I think it is designed to reduce the notion of fathers presiding from something that some interpret as an outright dominion to something that most couples interpret as little more than a formality.

    If a wife/mother wants to submit to her husband’s feeling on family matters from time to time that is fine, but the situation where the reverse is the case is probably far more common. In real life I know of at least as many overbearing and domineering mothers as overbearing and domineering fathers. I think either situation is a disaster.

  20. Bruce, So you think that equal partners talk is window dressing?

    Yes, John C. I feel the Church’s offical teachings (including that we men should be equal partners with our wives) as mere window dressing. And I’m so glad you were able to read that out of my comments since I never said it. Let it be know that I disagree with the Church on this point… and all points in fact!!! I’m a closet Evangelical with a master plan to conquer the LDS Church from within! Curse you for making this discovery!

    Gees, John, Try again. ;)

  21. Today I am reminded of this quotation from President Hinckley:

    “Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    I hope we can maintain this kind of spirit even though the subject is contentious.

  22. Geoff B: It’s kind of hard to keep that ideal with the OP explicitly identifies anyone pressing any sort of feminist agenda as the apostate inheritors of the September 6.

  23. Bruce,
    I’m sorry. I just have a problem fitting “head of household” and “equal partner” into the same family dynamic. Jettboy seemed to be saying that “equal partner” is only that on paper (much like the separate but equal ideal). You, in agreeing with him, seemed to be saying the same.

  24. John,

    I was asking Brad for clarification because he specifically denied that ‘equal partner’ and ‘presiding’ could be anything but mutually exclusive. (Go re-read if you don’t believe me.)

  25. I completely agree with choice feminists who agitate the Church for women to receive the priesthood. I’m in a similar situation. I believe that in order to fulfill my eternal potential as a child of God, I need to be exactly the same as those who get to preside over regional conferences, call stake presidents, and proclaim doctrine to the entire church. The fact that some people have that authority and I don’t can only be due to a conspiracy by a closed-minded, old-fashioned patriarchy bent on denying me those things that I know God secretly wants me to have. Hopefully, someday, all of those deeply flawed, dim bulb prophets will realize that my wisdom excdeeds theirs and will give me the things I find it convenient to desire. In the meantime, I’ll defend as true those aspects of the Church that happen not to contradict my opinions.

    Hang in there, jettboy.

  26. I imagine God in 1978 thinking, “What? You are finally getting around to asking me about Blacks and the Priesthood? What has taken you so dang long?”

    The topic of the priesthood ban is obviously off topic. But I do feel this is a relevant point to the topic.

    Bonnie, I’m not trying to change your mind, but I do want to caution you on this from a historical perspective. It is well known and well documented that David O. McKay pursued a revelation to end the priesthood ban for a long time and never felt he received one.

  27. John,

    To your credit, Jettboy did use the term “head of household” where as I only mentioned the word “preside” (as quoted from the Proclamanation.)

    I am not agreeing with Jettboy on this.

    Perhaps “head of household” is a poor choice of words. It could mean nothing more than “preside” but it might imply more than that.

    However, contrary to what you are assuming, Jettboy did not agree with your statement that ‘equal partners’ was mere window dressing. It looks like Jettboy took your statement, and then dug into it to answer your actual underlying question (with his opinion). He did not agree with the way you phrased it. (Again, go look at it and it’s obvious that is the case.)

  28. A tangential correction: There were only two of the September Six cases in which feminist writing or activity was at issue. I don’t know that general inferences about feminism can be drawn from that wretched episode.

  29. Actually, Bruce, he compared it to separate but equal (which was neither separate nor equal), which I took to mean that he was approaching it as a nice and meaningless catchphrase. I suppose I could be wrong, though.

  30. John,

    I didn’t read him that way. It is true he said “seperate but equal” which makes me immediately think of “Brown v. Board of Education” too.

    However, I caution people from assuming the existence of an analogy means that you have a mappable function and thus a computational reduction available. At a minimum, it seems clear to me that Jettboy does not believe there is a reduction between Brown and the Church’s beliefs. If you disagree, argue that point. But don’t assume it.

    In other words, I do not believe there was any grounds for assuming he meant it as a nice and meaningless catch phrase, even though it was a nice and meaningless catch phrase at some time in the past used by people that are not him.

    Of course it might still be a nice and meaningless catch phrase… but isn’t that just a restatement of the debate?

  31. In my life being a liberated woman was what I needed to have a fulfilling relationship with the Savior. Our relationship with him is the most important relationship we focus on in this life. It sustains all of our other relationships. Do what is necessary to learn to love and respect ourselves and we will draw closer to him.
    D&C .88:40-41
    40 “For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.”
    41″ He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.”

    This I can bear witness to because I have seen him and he is all these things and more. After having that experience I know that if a woman needs to be liberated then she should be liberated. She is in charge of her own heart, mind, body and soul and no one, not even the Priesthood would deny a woman her agency. We are equal and with all the abuse in the world women must be respected as equals in the Lord’s Church. Pray to know the truth and the truth will make you free.

  32. Maybe I should use the word “preside,” but it is still an operative situation within the tenets of the LDS Church in relation to families. The point is that, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Does not that then make them separate (delineated roles) and equal in support? You can argue if what I say is acceptable as a form of equality.

    The truth is that I don’t believe Families as envisioned by Mormon doctrine is compatible with modern Feminism. It appears that there is a large Feminist majority who agrees with that assessment. It isn’t that I don’t believe in choice for women do become the best they can be as a person. However, this is only so long as those choices do not reject the ultimate role of women as wives and mothers. I could say the same for men as Husbands and Fatherhood.

    As for those who questioned my use of “September Six,” it might be lacking historical authenticity for all of them to be under the Feminist blanket. Regardless, it isn’t my own personal association. Feminists continually use them as examples and a badge of honor to the cause.

  33. I am interested in the perceptions of equal partners. There are numerous types of partnerships, with various structures and power centers. As has been mentioned, overbearing partners are not limited to either gender and based on my broad anecdotal experience I do not believe either gender far exceeds the other in this respect, at least among members of the church in the USA. Most of the families I know the wife makes the decisions and the husband has a rubber stamp that only theoretically could be used for a veto. In fact, there seems to be a large contingent of men happy to avoid decision making responsibilities and the comments I am most impressed with reflect partnerships that fulfill and improve both parties.

    I was specifically surprised at the “vote-less” and “voice-less” comments. I don’t think there is any merit to these comments because they clearly refer to people who are not living the gospel and more significantly do not reflect any teaching of the church. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I do not think it is useful in a discussion of doctrine, and an alternative philosophy, to to base your argument on actions opposite to the teachings of the church.

    There was a bit of a straw-man argument in the article. If you take the least rhetorically sound feminist arguments and suggest that because those particular arguments are not successful that there are no other arguments that originate from “feminist” thought, you are ignoring the benefits. The emphasis on serving as equal partners and working together, the emphasis on recognizing the irreplaceable contributions of mothers. We need to listen to the needs of the members, while at the same time recognizing that the Lord is at the helm. Jesus clearly listened to the lawyer, the publican, the pharisee, the mother, the father, the sister, and even the sinner; never condoning, but forgiving and blessing.

    The real question in my mind is how do we treat the members of our family and those we know? Are we overbearing? Do we seek our will at the expense of others? Conversely do we abdicate or allow others to make all decisions for us? The Lord clearly wants participants who open their mouths (not in contention, but contribution).

  34. Heli,

    Well said. And it is true that the Church has benefited in many ways from feminism. All you have to do is look at the difference between my generation and my grandparents to see that (Granted, this is not Church specific per se, but the Church, at a minimum, also benefited by the reforms of feminism.)

  35. Mormon Feminism had to be re-defined contrary to the past

    That is an interesting thing to think about. It would also be correct to say that Mormon patriarchy has been re-defined, compared to what it was in the past. A generation ago, I can assure you that preside had nothing to do with being equal partners. You can go back and look at the church magazines from the 70s and you will find advice there telling women that they are to submit to the will of their husbands.

    In the end those Feminists either left the LDS Church or were ex-communicated.

    That statement is factually incorrect. Most of them submitted to the authority of the church and are still active members.

    jettboy, do you really think feminists are trying to oppress you?

  36. Sydna, what does liberated mean to you? Specifically I’m curious how your liberation relates to the Declaration to the Family? If that is too private I apologize.

  37. “jettboy, do you really think feminists are trying to oppress you?”

    No, but I do think they are for the most part trying to change basic Mormon doctrines about families and the Lord directed authoritative structure of the LDS Church. That isn’t the point of my article anyway. As one commentator said,”I actually agree with jettboy’s summary of the facts of the current state of women, and the history of failed feminist action in the church. It’s hard to argue with anything in this post on those terms.” Another might not agree with the full summary, but they stated, “That what you write is based on a grain of truth . . . ”

    The question I have put forth is, what is the state of Mormon Feminism? Is it new or resurgent, or is it as I believe a shadow of its former self trying to become relevant and failing?

  38. . . . I remember hearing the same kind of triumphalist nonsense about the priesthood ban before it was lifted, how the church had stood it’s ground in the face of an onslaught from Satan’s forces. Now the priesthood ban is a vivid but embarrassing memory that most Mormons would prefer to forget. And the [statements] of leaders like Apostle Mark Peterson and President Harold Lee is an uncomfortable reminder of the intellectual frailty of a leadership that is decades out of step with the mainstream church membership. Even the way that the ban was lifted betrayed the blind but inveterate hatred that church leaders harbored toward our African American brothers and sisters: coincident with the press release lifting the ban was a statement from the church leadership discouraging interracial marriage. The church lost this battle so badly that it makes you want to blush.

    The real story is . . . Early Mormon feminists placed their trust in the kindness and fairness of leaders, only to be betrayed. They learned by studying history that Joseph and Brigham had given women a much more active role in church leadership, and they felt that if they informed the leadership of this, that the leadership would act on this information. Instead, leaders responded in bad faith. They doubled down. They excommunicated and marginalized those who wouldn’t submit. Make no mistake: When you betray people who trust in your kindness and fairness, you are the loser. In this case, the general authorities lost big, and a generation of independent minded women learned to disregard their counsel.

    But even aside from the generation of women that general authorities taught to ignore the church, it’s impossible to say that the church won it’s first battle with feminism.

    For example, President Kimball said that when a married mother joins the workforce, it “prevents the complete and proper home life, breaks into the family prayers, creates an independence which is not cooperative, causes distortion, limits the family, and frustrates the children already born.”

    In 1989, Gordon B. Hinckley said, “an ever-increasing number of mothers out of the home and in the workplace is a root cause of many of the problems of delinquency, drugs, and gangs.”

    . . . the leaders lost the battle and the membership won’t tolerate it. You want another battle with feminism, that’s great. The church will lose again, and again, and again. Because that’s what happens when you pit a bunch of aging men educated in the previous century against a generation of vibrant and intelligent women. Also, the church will always lose when it stands opposed to equality and enfranchisement.

    [edited to take out personal attacks and the more grievous accusations]

  39. Jettboy,

    OK. I was just wondering why you said

    “However, oppression of the LDS Priesthood remains a big issue…”

  40. DKL, are you saying that the leadership of the Church are not the Lord’s Apostles and Prophets? That they have lost the mantle of their authority because they aren’t feminists, or are too old and un-hip? If not, then why are you so concerned about how they treat feminist causes? Won’t the Lord in His Wisdom make those corrections through the Prophets and Apostles someday in His own time if as you are confident the feminists are correct? If you feel they are behind the times, why not live in the times you live? Why wait for those stuffy Apostles and Prophets and join the more enlightened Community of Christ that seems to be ahead of the social curve?

    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord as represented by Prophets and Apostles.

  41. I see changes that the Church has made during my adult lifetime to address actual or perceived inequalities.

    During my adult lifetime, the priesthood-based policy on prayer in Sacrament meetings (imposed as part of correlation in the 1960s) was lifted, and women were permitted to offer prayers in Sacrament meeting. Some leaders have imposed an unwritten requirement that only MPH males could offer the opening prayer, but the new handbook makes crystal clear that both men and women may offer opening and closing prayers in Church meetings. President Benson eliminated the previous policy that prevented women married to unendowed men from receiving their own endowments (before President Benson, men married to unendowed women could receive their own endowments, but not vice versa). Elder Ballard’s push towards greater use of councils in the Church has been intended, among other things, to increase the input of women. The recent elevation of the role of the ward council and diminution in role of the priesthood executive committee also enhances the input of women in the ward governance process. In the past, some people used to say that the “priesthood” presided in the home, so that a 12 year old deacon in the family of a single mother would, in the eyes of some, “preside.” Church leaders have several times in my adult lifetime clarified that this is not true. The language of equal partnership in the home has increased, and the language of men being “the head” of the home has diminished. When I was young, I heard it often expressed that the woman and man should consult, but since the man presided, he had to make the ultimate decision, and the woman’s job was to support it (sort of like the role of a president and counselor). Now the rhetoric is that decisions can only be made jointly as completely equal partners (i.e., neither one gets preference in the decisionmaking process.) President Kimballs comments that God did not intend for married women to compete with men in the workplace have not been repeated by his successors. President Benson’s strong discouragement of working by mothers with children at home was repeated by President Hinckley, but to my knowledge has not yet been repeated by President Monson. The profile of women at general conference has been enhanced in my lifetime–perhaps in my lifetime women will offer prayers in general conference too. My assumption is that discussion about temple ordinances is off limits here, so I will say nothing about it. In terms of the 10% figure of women desiring priesthood, I think it is accurate for my age cohort and older. I think attitudes of the younger generation are different.

  42. Jettboy, so your response is basically: “Here’s the church as it is. Love it or leave it.” That’s not the Lord’s program.

    It’s a good thing that you weren’t there when God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah — you would have just rolled over and let God do whatever He wanted. It took a great man like Abraham to stand up and call BS on God. You’ve got a lot to learn about how God’s Kingdom works.

    It’s funny that you invite me to leave this church, as though the church is your place and not mine. I’m the one who’s standing with the prophets, because I have enough faith in them to realize that they’ll eventually change, because promise of the restored Gospel and a living prophet is that new revelation will cut the chains that bind the church to past mistakes, just as new revelation (brought on by the continuing and inevitable progress of civil rights in the culture at large) cleansed the church of racial bigotry. If you’re so hip on maintaining the status quo and pretending that nothing has ever changed, why don’t you go join a fundamentalist cult that clings unrelentingly to the mistaken views of early prophets, as though no corrective measures had ever been taken?

    Anyway, in your rush to usher me out of the fellowship of my fellow Mormons, you neglected to address a single point in my comment.

  43. DKL,

    It seems to me that Jettboy is using rhetoric quite a bit toned down compared to your 1989 Hinkley quote and the Kimball quote.

    Do you believe Jettboy is out of alignment with current LDS Church leader’s teachings? If so, let’s talk about that.

    I’ve already pointed out several areas I am not sure I agree with Jettboy. But there is a difference between disagreeing with Jettboy and disagreeing with the Church’s teachings. You are freely comingling those as if they are one and the same. They are not.

    If you specifically have concerns with the LDS Church’s teachings, then can’t you at least leave a bit of room for other people to agree with them?

    If you feel Jettboy is specifically out of alignment with the LDS Church’s teachings, can we focus in on that first? Perhaps you can do what others have done and ask Jettboy for clarification on his stance.

  44. Thank you to all who have posted today. The insights and opinions shared have been really great. I had to take some time off to attend Ward Council and make dinner, but I’ve been following the posts on my Blackberry. I haven’t been to your website much, but was directed here through a Facebook post. I think I’ll come back if this respectful sharing of very divergent opinions is what I’ll find.

    DKL — I think the Church is not quite sure where to go with Feminism. They probably don’t want to wholeheartedly back opinions like Jettboy’s, but yet aren’t quite ready to fully disavow teachings of the past. It is a very hard thing to realize that things have to change and yet not be quite sure how to go about it. I always remember that these are men who are my dad’s age, and I know how difficult these concepts would be for him–even though he raised me to be completely strong, independent and driven.

    Change is slow, but I do see progress, and I embrace that. Too much hurt has been caused by patriarchal societies, governments and philosophies for them to continue.

    David H — Thank you for all that you’ve added today. I really enjoyed reading your words.

    Mark Brown — I really loved what you said about the Mormon patriarchy being redefined. I hadn’t really thought about it directly, like that, but it is a great way to phrase what I see happening around us.

    Great thoughts, everyone. Thank you.

  45. The church lost it’s 1st battle with feminism because church leaders behaved in bad faith and because feminism did significantly change the view that the church took toward mothers who work outside the home and women who divorce their husband — two of the key priorities of 2nd wave feminism. I provide examples of both.

    This is a personal issue with me: I have family that was chewed up and spit out by the despicable outlook of church leaders who took the archaic view on divorce. It’s tremendously meaningful to me to see (for example) a divorced, single mother be called to be Relief Society President on my own ward. That would not have been possible in the 1980s. That’s the impact of feminism — and we should all be grateful for this.

    [It is] fallacy that nothing has ever changed in order to pretend that there have never been any mistakes, missteps, or need to correct course. Plus, arguing that the way things currently are is the right way is out of step with the restored gospel, because it place God’s authority in the status quo instead of in the prophet.

    . . . substitute language that refers to civil rights, then this could have been written in 1977 to condemn civil rights advocates who sought to influence the church’s treatment of blacks . . .

    [Edited to take out personal attacks.]

  46. DavidH,

    I agree that the Church has benefited from feminism. A lot. You give good exmamples of how that is true.

    I think one of the things I often disagree with Jettboy over (we fight like cats and dogs almost as much as Geoff and I do :) ) is that he often means something that seems pretty on target, but says it over the top.

    For example, in a recent post he said that the right had no need for the center. When pressed, he admited this wasn’t true. He really just meant that the right is more likely to give up than the center, so the center is thereby more in need to woo the right then the other way around.

    And you know what, when put that way, he’s almost assuredly right, at least in the here and now.

    Likewise, in this post he says “The truth is that a “war” between Mormons and Feminists happened, and Feminists lost.” Clearly this isn’t true if we take it to mean that feminism in no way affected or improved the LDS Church.

    But if what Jettboy means by this (as he seems to clarify through out his comments) is that the LDS Church and the Feminist movement are not aligned and are, on some very key issues, at odds, then I submit that he’s correct and that every person attacking him has in one measure or other admitted this.

    This isn’t Jettboy’s “fault” if the Church disagrees with some parts of feminism, is it? Certainly we shouldn’t use Jettboy as some sort of ‘proxy’ by which to vicariously beat up the Church.

    And surely you none of you are advocating that we should actively disbelieve the Church’s current teachings outright, right?

    So I have three suggestions:

    1. Let’s admit that several of Jettboy’s points are accurate.

    2. If you disagree with some of Jettboy’s points, point them out and give a counter argument. (Like I just did and David H did.)

    3. If you believe Jettboy is accurate, but you disagree with the LDS Church, be a bit more forthright with this, but remember that our goal isn’t to disuade people from following the Church leaders. Consider the fact that sometimes we fail to ‘make room’ for the regular old faithful point of view — and I believe this is a mistake.

    I’d love to see people that are feeling unsure about the Church’s stance on this make suggestions on, not how anyone that agrees with the LDS church is wrong, but how we can use the resources within the LDS Church to maximize ‘choice feminism’ rather than the popular perception of feminism.

    I personally do not feel the Church’s teachings are out of alignment with ‘choice feminism.’ Maybe others disagree?

  47. “Plus, arguing that the way things currently are is the right way is out of step with the restored gospel, because it place God’s authority in the status quo instead of in the prophet.”

    DKL, you confuse me. You list off things prophets have done wrong, then say something like this.

    You will need to clarify your point of view, because it is less than clear.

  48. Maybe I should repost part of the above since it seems no one read it:

    “Perhaps there have been some changes over the years that Feminists wanted, but ultimately they were minor compared to the agitations. The Priesthood is (unless you count the Temple Endowment) still limited to males, discussions of Heavenly Mother (beyond personal musings) cannot cross boundaries into worship, and men are considered the head of the house [presiders?]with the nuclear family the Celestial standard. Larger issues might not be realized because of the Patriarchal nature of the LDS Church and its doctrines, and woman aren’t interested in the ultimate goal of getting the Priesthood. Recognizing the current conditions, Mormon Feminism had to be re-defined contrary to the past, making it less about taking men’s roles. It is now talking about women from the past, attending obscure lectures, and writing on blogs. However, oppression of the LDS Priesthood remains a big issue that has gender envy just below the surface.”

    There you go, a recognition of the success they have had. Good that there have been some improvements so that men and woman can be closer to equal forces in the Church. I don’t hate women and I don’t think that they should be quiet, submissive, and powerless. However, if it ever did change to an extent that Priesthood positions were extended to women, Heavenly Mother becomes an object of worship, and the nuclear family is no longer a central doctrinal standard, then I might think about joining a different Church.

  49. “However, if it ever did change to an extent that Priesthood positions were extended to women, Heavenly Mother becomes an object of worship, and the nuclear family is no longer a central doctrinal standard, then I might think about joining a different Church.”

    I’ll go on record as saying that if this happened and it came through the proper channels, I’d have no problem with it.

    I also don’t believe it’s going to happen.

    I think the only thing that the Church could officially change that would drive me away would be if they decided to not take their truth claims seriously anymore. (i.e. declare the BoM to be an inspired fraud.) I’ve talked about why this is so problematic elsewhere.

    “there have been some changes over the years that Feminists wanted”

    Jettboy, I do thank you for including this acknowledgement. Thanks for keeping us honest.

  50. Jettboy, Feminism in no way is attacking the nuclear family. I think that is a fallacy that needs to be stopped quickly. There probably are feminists who don’t belong to a nuclear family. There even maybe some that prefer other types of families. But to tie feminism with the destruction of the nuclear family–or to suggest that’s a goal of feminism–is wrong.

    We already worship God. That, in my belief, includes our heavenly parents. I hope we can all talk more openly about God the Mother more often. My friends and I do so all the time.

    I believe in modern day revelation and will wholeheartedly accept the change in the priesthood when it comes. Why do you have so little belief in modern day revelation and modern day prophets that you’ve already decided to leave the Church when it happens?

  51. I have seen this same discussion repeated innumerable times on LDS blogs since 2004 and it is sadly always the same.

    Jetboy’s post is reasonable and I agree with it to a great extent.

    The term feminist as employed by new mormon feminists has so many possible meanings and implications, even ones that are mutually exclusive, that it has become essentially meaningless. It’s like a little kid that calls all animals ‘dogs’, and then gets upset at the store when you’re trying to buy her a toy animal and she keeps saying she wants the dog, and all you can do is point at each animal and say “this dog?” In the end she wanted the porpoise.

    If I call myself a libertarian, I am voluntarily associating myself with the popular understanding of that word. It doesn’t matter if I have my own idiosyncratic meaning for the word. By using the word, I have chosen the associated connotations as well as commonly understood definition. You can’t pick up only one end of a stick.

    Those whose definitions of feminism are essentially incompatible with the church’s truth claims benefit from the confusion of the term because it allows them to lump themselves with those whose ideosyncratic definitions are in harmony with the church.

    This is comparable to a terrorist takes advantage of the decency of his enrmy by firing shots at them from inside a hospital or church full of innocents, knowing that they will be loath to retaliate for fear of hurting the hospital patients or church goers, and if they do accept the collateral damage and fire on him, the terrorist can then use that fact to paint the enemy as a monster who attacks innocent hospital patients or church congregations.

    That is what is going on here. It is linguistic terrorism achieved by muddled definitions that allow those who seek to tear down the church to mingle among the faithful women under the illusion of a superficially shared title.

    It’s time that faithful LDS Women distinguish themselves with a different title that expresses their dedication to the church and to those to whom God has given priesthood keys, and drop the end of the feminist stick they are holding, and with it the other end that they do not wish to apply, or have applied, to themselves.

    If you don’t like Jettboy’s points about the other end of your stick, maybe you should ask why you are holding that stick.

    Either you illuminate and examine feminism by the light of God’s restored gospel and priesthood keys, or you hoist the lamp of feminism to illuminate and examine the church in it’s woman-made light. But you can’t do both.

    We need a new word, like that proposed by some jewish people with same-sex attraction that call themselves Deltas (DEliberately Living Traditionally).

  52. “Why do you have so little belief in modern day revelation and modern day prophets that you’ve already decided to leave the Church when it happens?”

    For now its a consideration if it does happen. However, it is about what I believe past Prophets, Apostles, and Scriptures teach about the doctrine of Priesthood. Liberals are always asking us orthodox members to question and not take things as sheep. Why is it suddenly off limits for me to take their advice? Lets just say that I would have to have a very strong personal spiritual experience if these kinds of changes do happen. A full explanation would need another article.

    “We already worship God. That, in my belief, includes our heavenly parents.”

    That is great. So do I, believe it or not. However, do you pray to Her? Do you do things in Her name? Have you somehow “divorced” Her from the Godhead and Jesus Christ? Has she become a intercessory Mary figure? Maybe I shouldn’t ask these question because depending how you answer could get you into trouble. That is, after all, part of the point.

    “But to tie feminism with the destruction of the nuclear family–or to suggest that’s a goal of feminism–is wrong.”

    Maybe, but can you read my post above again? It seems Feminists don’t exactly agree with what the purpose of Feminism is among themselves. It seems, at least to me, that it is the nuclear family that most mainstream Feminists consider less than ideal for a fulfilling female life.

  53. J Max,

    The term feminist as employed by new mormon feminists has so many possible meanings and implications, even ones that are mutually exclusive, that it has become essentially meaningless. It’s like a little kid that calls all animals ‘dogs’, and then gets upset at the store when you’re trying to buy her a toy animal and she keeps saying she wants the dog, and all you can do is point at each animal and say “this dog?” In the end she wanted the porpoise.

    If I call myself a libertarian, I am voluntarily associating myself with the popular understanding of that word. It doesn’t matter if I have my own idiosyncratic meaning for the word. By using the word, I have chosen the associated connotations as well as commonly understood definition. You can’t pick up only one end of a stick.

    True enough. But then why doesn’t this same logic apply to the term “patriarchy”? That term has had a clear and unabiguous meaning for centuries: the subjugation of women. But in our efforts to ditch the loathsome aspects of patriarchy and try to make it mean equal partners, we are saying that we want a cat when we want a dog. Right? You can’t pick up just one end of the stick.

  54. “But in our efforts to ditch the loathsome aspects of patriarchy and try to make it mean equal partners, we are saying that we want a cat when we want a dog.”

    The problem is that Mormonism doesn’t currently claim to be Patriarchal. The only ones I know that call it that are the critics.

  55. Because the discussion has shifted from the subject to become personal, comments have been closed.

  56. Pingback: Some Thoughts on Feminists and Mormonism « Gently Hew Stone

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