As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
The questions only intensify for Mormons, who are already committed to one weighty belief system and therefore run the risk of divided loyalties when committing to another -- particularly, a progressive movement relating to gender roles and family structure. Given feminism's ties to Mormon hot-button issues like abortion rights and working mothers, some may question if it's possible to be, as the FMH tagline claims, "feminist and faithful."
In fact, the biggest difference between two Mormon women invested in gender issues might be their willingness to call themselves a feminist. Hear the dilemma in this snippet of online conversation (which I continue to quote throughout this article):
Says Becky: The feminist label conjures up the embarrassments of feminism: the man-basher, the radical, the selfish mom, the "feminazi." So while I cherish certain ideals of feminism, I don't want that label.
Says Kylie: I'm not a bra-burning feminist, but I do consider myself a feminist -- sort of a worried-about-stereotypes-and-rigid-roles, hate-being-penalized-or-pedestal-ized-just-because-I'm-a-woman, and fairly-sensitive-to-gender-issues type of feminist.
Says Mara: I consider myself a feminist without a "but." I'm not ashamed or embarrassed of that title. And I'm a SAHM and "traditional" wife in many ways. I think women, the unique woman's perspective, and the tale that only women can tell is supremely important.
Says Emily: Despite my gratitude for the opportunities feminism has blessed me with, and my general outspokenness on women's issues, I find it hard to self-identify with this movement. Feminism today seems to be about freeing women from the things that will bring us joy.
Says Michelle: I don't like to call myself a feminist because there is so much negative stigma associated with it, and I don't want to be associated with the negativity. I'd rather just be passionate about women's issues without someone automatically assuming they know what that means for me. The relative nature of feminism gets hard to deal with.
Says Dalene: Yes, the term is relative. But I prefer to define it by my own beliefs and actions rather than allowing someone else to define it and therefore me according to their own biases.
And so it goes. Dalene's strategy might solve the problem if the conversation of feminism was only between a feminist and herself, or only between herself and other feminists. But internal dialogue, however vital to feminism, is not its end. Any successful feminist agenda will require effective communication and cooperation with a wide variety of people, some of whom stop listening as soon as the "f-word" is mentioned -- and these are often the people feminists most need to reach. Ironically, as Claudia Bushman noted on Radio West, a feminist label on a given organization, project, or person might actually preclude the positive change it hopes to effect, especially among Mormons.
This is unfortunate, given the obvious benefits feminism has afforded all of society, including members of the Church. Sharlee points out:
For most of history, women have been treated as lesser beings. It is, in large part, thanks to the courageous voices and actions of feminists that we now have the right to own property, the right to vote, any claim at all for custody of our children in the case of divorce, access to university education, maternity leave, advances toward equal pay for equal work, protection against domestic violence and sexual harassment, and on and on. We owe a tremendous debt to women such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Fanny Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Wells, and Simone de Beauvoir. Heck, we even owe a lot to Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem! We may not agree with them on many issues, but we certainly enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
Kathryn Soper is wife of one, mother of seven, memoirist, essayist, editor, nonprofit CEO, practicing Mormon, depression survivor, Down syndrome advocate, Greek-blooded American, WordTwist addict, and Radiohead groupie (not necessarily in that order). She is the founder of Segullah and author of The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009), and makes random appearances on her personal blog.