As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
Indeed. But Mormons tends to see the good in feminism only in hindsight, if ever. We may comfortably laud the victories of suffragettes and other early feminists -- our own sisters among them -- and these days, nobody tells Mormon women they shouldn't wear pants. (Except when attending church. Or the temple. Or working at the Church Office Building. Hmm, I take that back.) Yet we're reluctant to admit that, as Mara says, "It's not just pants-wearing and vote-demanding feminists that have helped us all." Even those Mormons who gratefully acknowledge this debt may shy away from contemporary feminism, despite its commitment to worthy goals like securing relief for women and children in poverty, supporting single mothers, and fighting gender-based violence in our own nations -- not to mention advocating for basic human rights for women worldwide.
It seems Mormons are squeamish about contemporary feminism for at least three reasons. One is our culture's overall resistance to any progressive social or political action. We blanch at relatively new concepts like the stay-at-home-Dad, perhaps forgetting that status quo measures like birth control were cutting-edge controversies just a few decades ago. Another reason is that successful feminist agendas tend to lose their feminist label as they're absorbed into society at large. Domestic violence, for example, is no longer considered a "feminist" issue -- it's a human issue, one that no Mormon worthy of the name would dismiss, and one we can (and should) thank modern feminists for pioneering.
A third reason is that for most Mormons, the fruits of feminism -- especially contemporary feminism -- are a mixed basket at best. We may see more harm than good in the current trending away from traditional gender roles and family structures. We may agree in a general sense that women's voices should be heard, yet find feminist voices threatening to our values as individuals and as Mormons. Even ardent feminists among us can't deny that a feminist utopia -- meaning the gender-blind society idealized by liberal feminists, or the gynocentric society idealized by radicals -- is a far cry from Zion, despite the shared emphasis on equality. To decrease the polarization of feminist and non-feminist Mormons, our ongoing conversation must include due criticism of feminism as well as due credit.
Yet as we acknowledge the duality in feminism, we must take care not to overlook its ultimate gift: the opportunity for women to exercise their power of choice. So says Angie, who no longer considers herself a feminist -- "I don't see the overall direction of the movement as anything I want to be associated with" -- but sees this critical benefit nonetheless:
The biggest thing I appreciate about feminism is that in opening doors and expanding freedoms for women, it has given me the opportunity to know by my own experience that being a wife and mother is what I really want to be doing. I'm not doing it only because I have to -- I am exercising my agency. It seems to me that that is as it should be.
She goes on to say:
What I hate is that I see it becoming increasingly difficult to make those traditional choices, both on a practical level (i.e., our economy is increasingly geared for dual income families) and on a social/cultural level (i.e., women feeling pressured to "be more" than a housewife. Or in my case, never having been presented with that as a viable option). Is it possible to have one without the other?
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.