As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
In any case, Mormons who categorically view feminists as power-hungry insurgents are misinformed at best. Your friendly neighborhood Mormon feminist is hardly Sonia Johnson -- note, for example, the recent post on FMH highlighting "easy, non-doctrinal" ways to affect the Mormon balance of power, such as requiring equal budget allotments for gender-segregated youth programs and permitting women to pray from the pulpit in General Conference. Further, some Mormon feminists set issues of power aside to focus on other feminist essentials such as the validation of women's voices, while still others don't have any power-related bones to pick with the Church unless there's a clear abuse of authority.
Yet such distinctions, as important as they may be on an individual basis, should not be allowed to fragment the heart of Mormon feminism or distract its opponents from its central purpose. "All of us," emphasizes WAVE, "want to help improve the lives of women." And, to bring us full circle, I emphasize that this desire is certainly not limited to Mormons who identify as feminists.
"To Cheer and to Bless In Humanity's Name"
The four women sat at the front of the room, facing the audience that had gathered for the Mormon Women's Project's debut salon event, a panel discussion titled "To Everything There Is a Season." As cameras rolled, MWP founder Neylan McBaine introduced the panelists and invited them to share their individual perspectives on Mormon womanhood. Bonnie spoke about earning a Ph.D. in the ‘60s and becoming a mother through adoption in her middle age. Karen, a mother of eight, related her struggle to return to school to finish her bachelor's degree. Debra talked about surviving an unusual life of financial reversals, drug-addicted teenagers, and a family mission in Cambodia. Ariel shared her perspective as a professional international performing artist and mother of one. They were as similar and as different from one another as the four feminist personas in my English 352 presentation (although no bras were burned, and Marx was never mentioned).
After the individual statements, Neylan asked each panelist in turn to describe the challenges and rewards of living lives true to the faith, yet out of sync with the cultural ideal of Mormon women as demure, domestically gifted "helpmates." As I listened, I considered how the actual lives of the women I know vary so widely from that stereotype, and how its persistence as a standard causes so much unnecessary guilt, insecurity, and self-doubt that hampers Mormon women from filling the measure of their creation. I wished all members of the Church might benefit from hearing a wide variety of clear, strong, faithful female voices, and wondered how this might be accomplished.
Then I thought about Segullah's first-ever community writing retreat, where dozens of Mormon women gathered to strengthen their individual voices through creative writing. And I thought about Claudia Bushman's oral history project to collect and preserve diverse life experiences of Mormon women. And I thought about the wide spectrum of women's profiles on the new Mormon.org, and the multitude of voices on the Mormon blogs, and the increasing number of other forums where Mormon women can speak and be heard. Some of these outlets focus on influencing the church as an institution; others focus on influencing church culture. Some are overtly feminist; others, including Neylan's and my own, refrain from such labeling as we promote women's voices and perspectives. But all of them are expanding the paradigm of Mormon womanhood in positive and courageous ways. This is true grassroots action; this is true "revolution from within" (hat tip: Gloria Steinem). None of us need permission to be the woman God inspires us to be.
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.