In Response to the Responses
On a related point, Melissa correctly observes that today's Mormon feminists tend to come from a common background, although I believe her reasoning points not to feminist failings but to flaws in the paradigm they hope to influence. Regarding that hope, I agree that gender issues in the Church have a limited number of moving parts, but surely there's considerable ground to cover before feminists jump off a doctrinal cliff (in the classic Mormon style Claudia Bushman mentioned). And I believe any immovable doctrines will be better understood and lived to the degree that they're made distinct from cultural tradition. The distinction becomes increasingly clear as Mormons share their experiences in descriptive rather than prescriptive ways, and I thank Claudia for emphasizing the power of the pen (or more likely, the keyboard) in such efforts. As we discover, strengthen, and polish our voices in various genres of writing, we better understand our own views as well as those of others, and thus are better prepared to build bridges between them.
Which brings me to Kristine Haglund's remarks. I sympathize with her frustrations, and I know many others share them -- to a large extent, I do myself. But I believe indignation, however warranted, is counterproductive in this attempt to foster community between individuals with conflicting viewpoints. Clearly the original article is geared toward readers suspicious of or antagonistic toward feminism. Some of the quoted dialogue may be offensive to feminist readers, yet it accurately reflects the range of perspectives and opinions in the target audience, and failing to begin where they stand would only undermine my purposes. The distorted views of feminism referenced are unpleasant business, I agree, but taking a confrontational approach will do nothing to change them, and the conclusions I draw hardly support them.
I admire Kristine's strong desire to set the record straight regarding feminism in general and Mormon feminism in particular, and I think she'll be more readily heard if she appreciates moderate attempts to highlight the common ground between feminism and Mormonism, and if she acknowledges the reality of conflicts between the two belief systems (which are evident in the writings of Paul himself, as well as many modern-day apostles). Further, although I'm sure there are weaknesses in my brief survey of feminism, I'm surprised to hear it interpreted as overly broad and patently vapid. Perhaps Kristine has a more respectful, precise, and nuanced version to share. I can think of no better candidate to undertake this and other daunting tasks, including the rigorous theological analysis she calls for. In the meantime, I trust most readers, whether feminist or not, will recognize the value of sincere attempts to increase understanding and promote teamwork in Mormon women's approach to gender issues, and I encourage all readers who share that goal to follow up my effort with efforts of their own.
To conclude, I come to Neylan McBaine's question about defining success in Mormon feminism. Her query reminds us to guard against pinning hopes on institutional change, however welcome that change may be. I share Tresa's confidence that leaders of the Church are sincerely invested in the well-being of its female members, yet as I noted in a recent statement about Mormon women's identity, true empowerment comes not from the conference center pulpit but from the direct workings of the spirit within individual lives. I believe the clearest path forward requires Mormon women to look inward as well as outward, and I'm heartened by the evidence of this I see in each of the responses to my article, as well as the myriad of conversations in progress elsewhere.
Thanks to David Charles at Patheos for facilitating this gathering, and for offering to host similar discussions throughout the coming year. I'm looking forward to lively dialogue from readers in response.
For the responses to Kathryn Soper's As Sisters in Zion, click here.