As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
But results of reckoning aside, the issue of primacy is unavoidable for those who are Mormon and feminist. Despite the overlap between the two belief systems, points of conflict make it necessary at times to compromise the values of one for the other. This becomes most evident when we turn a feminist eye to Mormonism itself.
"Mormon feminism is not an oxymoron," maintains Joanna Brooks. "Or an oxymormon, for that matter." (Rimshot!) Yet irreconcilable differences lie at the heart of Mormon feminism, making it even more complex than feminism at large, even though its scope is smaller. As the WAVE website states:
Mormon feminism is a strand of feminism that primarily concerns itself with how feminist thought and practice intersects with the doctrine and organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . Overall, Mormon feminists are committed to working for greater gender equity, both inside and outside of the LDS church.
Sphere of action marks the difference between Mormon feminism and the wider feminist movement, and from a Mormon perspective that's a very big difference indeed. It's one thing to apply feminism to government of the people, by the people, for the people. It's quite another to apply it to the kingdom of God on the earth. (Notably, the only feminists whom Mormons are likely to cheer -- the suffragettes -- targeted the legislature, not the church.) When it comes to secular politics, Mormons agree that it's kosher to stage protests, hold marches, sign petitions, write letters, mobilize grassroots forces, and make bold calls to action. In short, if our conscience dictates we can, and should, fight city hall. But what about the Quorum of the Twelve?
I hasten to add that most Mormon feminists are duly sensitive to this tension (see, for example, the Exponent Blog's posts on "good" vs. "bad" feminists, and the connection between feminist style and continuing activity in the Church). And even motion-oriented groups like WAVE don't seem interested in fighting anyone, especially priesthood leaders. The goal of their first "call to action" is a compilation of quotes by authorities and other prominent members of the church that highlight gender equity in Mormonism. Hardly a revolution -- in fact, one Mormon feminist from a prior wave has criticized the group as too "nice." If such moderation becomes the new norm, which seems likely based on current trends, boat-rocking feminist activism in the Church may be a thing of the past.
But no matter how reasonable the aims and how gentle the approach, any overtly feminist gathering will raise suspicion among the leaders and mainstream members of the Church. It's telling that Claudia Bushman, a veteran of the movement, advises the new wave of activists that they'll "get more attention if they do not confront, but talk quietly" -- a decidedly unfeminist tactic. Which brings us to the core conflict in Mormon feminism: by definition, feminists challenge male authority; and by definition, Mormons defer to it.
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.