All Else Will Follow
Kathryn rightly and strikingly emphasizes our culture's "resistance to any progressive social or political action." Well stated, Kathryn. I've heard conservatism described as being unwilling to try anything for the first time. How many times have I seen such people back off good ideas, not because they see anything wrong in them at the moment, but because they might develop into something else down the line. We laud the past and fear the future. And, of course, it is true, that some ideas or activities might veer off in objectionable ways. But why not fix them rather than not try them? We really do not know what the future holds. And isn't it remarkable that the Mormons, who jumped off cliffs repeatedly in their early years, should now cling to such stasis. While we once were a people who repeatedly risked everything, we now have to cheer tiny moves, marveling that such things can come to be.
When people assert that they are not feminists, they often add that of course they believe in equal pay for equal work. While they are concerned with how feminist ideas might lead to sorry ends, I marvel that they are so willing to be in favor of equal pay. I would think they would oppose a policy so threatening to the traditional family with its stay-at-home mother. While we can all see its fairness, we can also see how that policy makes it so difficult for women to stay home with their children instead of working outside of the home. As the economy has adjusted for families with two paychecks, those who do not have two paychecks are at a decided disadvantage. It is now both a luxury and a sacrifice to have a non-working mother. Stay-at-home mothers illustrate the difficulty of living out the American Dream on short rations. Mormon assumptions conflict dramatically with basic feminist assumptions, that women should be able to pay their own way, not held in thrall to the big male boss. Large families, large houses, traditional role models, and single incomes have led to some painful economic realities in current Mormon lives: bankruptcy, foreclosure, welfare. That's not what anyone had in mind. We need some creative new models.
So what do I recommend? We can and should push the boundaries through our own imaginative acts. We don't wait for someone to give us permission. We cheerfully take action often and in many directions. We model feminist behavior and make it work. We write out our experience and our ideas to encourage more of the same. We value our lives and those of our sisters. We take them seriously. We have to record their stories. I also think that we have to get women up in front of the congregation at our church meetings. We don't want to be mere observers. We don't want it to look as if men in suits are the only important parts of our wards. We see the boys in front all the time. We need the girls to have more visible roles, performing, welcoming, praying. We need to support each other. In one place that I visited, there was a policy: "No sister sits alone at church." So sit by someone new and start a conversation. We can create an enjoyable and enviable feminine world. All else will follow, eventually, if not in my time.
For more responses to Kathryn Soper's As Sisters in Zion, click here.
Claudia L. Bushman is a co-founder of Exponent II and has taught at Columbia and Claremont Universities. Her many publications include Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern America.