As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
This conflict causes an obvious dilemma for Mormon feminists -- resist patriarchy and you're a bad Mormon, embrace patriarchy and you're a bad feminist. It also leads to frequent and frustrating conversational disconnects between Mormon feminists and other Mormons regarding the dynamics of authority in the Church. Non-feminists point out that all Latter-day Saints, male and female, are expected to sustain and obey priesthood leaders without resistance; therefore, this can't be a gender issue. Feminists counter that since every Mormon authority figure is male, this can't not be a gender issue. And round and round it goes, opposite arguments centering on the same point: in a patriarchal church, it's impossible to separate women's submission to man from women's submission to God.
Given the conundrum, and the highly individual methods of managing it, Mormon feminism is practiced on a spectrum so wide that some fellow feminists hardly seem to be fellows (to wit, compare this Mormon feminist manifesto to this one).  "There's no right way to be a Mormon feminist," reads the WAVE website, which nonetheless offers a tentative list of points of agreement. Joanna Brooks likewise notes that while Mormon feminists used to be centralized and easily identified, today's wave is a much more diverse movement. "We're everywhere," she says, "and we have many different approaches about how to make our tradition work for us."
These varying approaches reflect the two versions of gender equality that divide feminist philosophy: equality through integration and equality through empowering separation. Joanna herself envisions a church structure that reflects the dual-gender leadership of a family and asks, "What if our church incorporated, in its basic decision making, the talents and resources of women who have lots of experience, lots of education, even in the business world?" Likewise, WAVE sets aside the matter of priesthood ordination for women and invites Mormons to "talk about other ways we can bring women's talents into the operational chain of command." On the other hand, Claudia Bushman regards the Mormon army of devoted male workers as one of its "great glories" and says, "I don't think we should try to infiltrate the priesthood [referring to church administration]. I think we should build up organizations of our own, build up collectives, build groups of people where we work together on projects that empower everyone involved."
So which is the better approach? Claudia's recipe for change, "rise with the masses, not from the masses," is more harmonious with expected behavior for Church members and therefore may be more effective. (This is one reason why I favor organic growth, myself.) Yet direct methods, such as opening respectful communications with institutional leaders, might also have their place; after all, the Lord himself encourages us to ask, seek, and knock, and His purposes have often unfolded in response to earnest questions. Hopefully today's Mormon feminists will find effective ways to interact with Church administration. But it remains to be seen whether those who speak up will find a willing audience -- and members at large will continue to disagree whether they should.
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.