Mormon Feminism

Today as I drove home from my work in Syracuse and I started listening to some old podcasts.  One of them was from Radio West an episode called Mormon Feminism.   It was a pretty good, well-rounded discussion and it started me thinking about my own unique viewpoint on the topic.

As everyone knows I have always had a strong sense of self and fierce independent nature.  (My first word was STOP if that tells you anything).  If I wasn’t leading I’d rather not play, if it wasn’t my idea it was never as satisfying.  Still to this day I would rather fail on my own account than succeed hanging on to the coat tails of someone else.

With this nature it is perhaps surprising that I found an acceptance of my Mormon faith so easily.  I have always believed.  Recently I read through my old journals and I could not find a period of my life where I doubted- sure I’d have a day here or a day there, a few questions, but never a real stage of doubt.   The scriptures talk about gifts of the spirit and I believe an accepting, faithful nature, coupled with my stubbornness, is my gift.

The only real confusion I remember having was understanding my role in the world and church as a woman.  As I have mentioned before on this blog the idea of motherhood was not innately appealing to me.  My mother had very difficult pregnancies and I had to sacrifice a lot for my siblings to come into the world.  As far as I was concerned babies were nothing but an overwhelming, confining trial.  I certainly wasn’t and never have been an ooey-gooey baby person.

I have also never felt I fit the Mormon definition of the ideal woman.  Often in young women or in some talks I’d hear phrases like this:

femininity “is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your … capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength. It is manifest differently in each girl or woman, but each … possesses it. Femininity is part of your inner beauty. (President Faust)

I’m sorry but I never felt like I was delicate, charming, gracious, gentle or quietly strong.   How could we all be the same and what did that mean for little independent me?  I also wanted to know, if women were so special, why?  It almost seemed unfair to the men to make us more innately worthy so that men had to be given value?

It took me years to answer these questions (not that I have a perfect answer now but I’ve come a long way).  Again, I remind you that my faith in the gospel never wavered.  I just had questions and that’s OK.   In fact, it is encouraged by the church.  Elder Angel Abrea of the Seventy said it well:

“I’m sure that many questions have come to your mind. The truth is that you will not be condemned for wondering or questioning if you make a sincere effort to find the answer. Our mental powers have been given to us to use. Faith based on personal prayer, study, and obedience is more lasting than blind faith; it is more rewarding, and for sure it is better grounded.”

So how did I go through this questioning process?  Well, it started with formulating the questions when I was young and then at BYU  I started getting answers.  I read everything I could on the topic- both Mormon and traditional feminist authors (even read the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and found it very insightful).    In those college years I studied polygamy, read female pioneer journals, wrote a heated paper on the women of the Mormon Battalion (I remember my Book of Mormon teacher was shocked! Oh well!) and asked questions of everyone I came in contact with.

I also studied much on the reality of self and what makes a human being, whether male or female, interact successfully with others. But by far my most impactful experience was taking a class called the Political Economy of Women.  At the time it was taught by two dynamite professors named Valarie Hudson and Donna Lee Bowen (to read more about Valarie’s remarkable life check out her Wikipedia page).  They are both inspirational, amazing women.

In the class, we read a huge assortment of articles and books on every issue you could  imagine facing women.  Sometimes it was brutal such as the class on female circumcision where I literally left the classroom and threw up.   While painful, it was also eye-opening.

After such an awakening, we learned about a variety of the world’s solutions including everything from small micro-loans to domestic violence laws.  Through this class I gained a deep appreciation for the work being done to help all women live full, healthy, happy lives.

Finally, we discussed the gospel and its view of womanhood in great detail.  While difficult to summarize here I learned a lot about the eternal equality of men and women, the great need both genders had for each other, the value of Eve’s role in the Garden story, and the importance of stewardship in creating Zion.

Human beings are weak and find Zion-living very difficult.  This is why God gives us jobs to do while here and some of those jobs (or stewardships) can be carved along gender lines.  As anyone knows who has been, in the temple the differences between male and female roles are much fuzzier- because in the temple we are that much closer to equality or Zion.

While I found this knowledge comforting I was still left with a question about my own capabilities as an eternal woman.  I did not feel like a steward of all things womanly.  This thought nagged in the back of my head for many years.  On my mission I felt empowered by the sheer good I could do and how my nature was needed by individuals I taught.  It was the beginning of my understanding of my unique worth.

Then one day when I returned I read Acts 10:34-35

“God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him”

This scripture really hit home.  God and Jesus Christ accepted me.  Me, with all my idiosyncrasies and stubborn ways.  If I tried my best to follow His teachings, then He accepted me.

I made this discovery when I was going through a rough period.  I hated my job. For a time I felt worthless, like there was a black cloud over my life that I couldn’t remove.  With these sad feelings; however, also came an understanding that God had a plan for my life- that my life mattered.  When I quit my job it was not just a change of career but an acknowledgment of divine potential.  It was one of the best days of my life.

Over the years I have come to my own definition of Mormon feminism.  Feminism, to me, means being free, as a woman, to live whatever life you want.  If that means having babies, have babies.  If it means working, work.  Whatever you want to do as a woman, you should be allowed to do.  It is your choice.  Certain choices lead to different levels of joy,  just like the choice of leaving my job drastically affected my happiness; however, in the end it was my choice.  It is my choice to be faithful, my choice to embrace the gospel, and everyone should have that right.  Our national, state and local laws should support a women’s ability to make these choices; as well as protect her from individuals who seek to limit the freedom of women through abuse, unfair treatment or any other unjust action .  I am a Mormon Feminist!

Hey maybe my independent spirit isn’t so different from God’s plan after all and just maybe God loves me because of my unique nature not in spite of it?

PS- this was a hard post to write and feel satisfied in my phrasing.  I hope you get an idea for the questions I’ve asked and the peace I’ve discovered in my life. Love Rachel

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