My Review of “Mormon Feminism”

MoFemThe new book, Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright is being released by Oxford University Press this month, and I consider it a must-read for anyone interested in constructive engagement at the intersection of feminism and religion. Here is an excerpt of my review of the book, which appeared first over at Feminism and Religion:  

Mormon feminists experience what most feminists of faith have heard at some point. Utter dismissal of the possibility of their existence.

We know several variations:

You can’t be Christian and feminist.

There’s no such thing as a Catholic feminist.

You can’t seriously be Jewish and feminist.

You can’t possibly be Muslim and feminist.

To be Mormon and feminist? Preposterous.

In response, scholars, activists, and writers within each tradition have had to document their history, make their theological case, and engage their scriptures as robustly as any conservative traditionalist would. In order to achieve meaningful institutional change, unimpeachable work and confident testimony is required.

The new volume, Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright is destined to be a new core text on the subject of whether and how one can (and should) be a Mormon feminist. It combines history, theology, memoir, poetry, collective statements, and personal essays from generations of women who refuse to let the tradition that gives them life be defined by those who would exclude them from its most venerated spaces. The authors claim voice, define space, and deconstruct arguments with the boldness required to be part of this distinctly American pioneer religious tradition.

Joanna Brooks’ introduction alone makes a clear case for Mormon feminism, while naming key aspects of doctrine and practice that “offer mixed or contradictory messages about gender, equality, and power.” And, rather than being merely a defensive argument or an apologetic case, Brooks constructively connects Mormonism and feminism on matters of substance and vision:

“Many of us identify as feminists because the feminist’s movement’s hunger for justice and positive change aligns with our own religious feelings as Mormons that the purpose of life is to work for the betterment of humankind, the creation of a Zion community of equals. … Both Mormonism and feminism value struggle or work as necessary to growth.”

This point is echoed in a later essay by Valerie Hudson Cassler, who says in a 2010 piece “I didn’t join the Church because I was a feminist, but I stay in the Church because I am a feminist.” Cassler goes on to review key points of doctrine that she says “make this a revolutionary religion from a feminine perspective.” […]

The final section of the book reveals a religious feminism come-of-age, one reckoning with the intersection of race and class with its particular brand of patriarchy. As womanist writer Gina Colvin puts it:

“Mormonism is without doubt a patriarchy. But simply naming it a patriarchy ignores its additional features – because it’s not just a patriarchy. It’s a colonial patriarchy. It’s a white patriarchy. It’s a class-based patriarchy. It’s an Americentric conservative patriarchy bound to a particular economic and political order that is nearing its ‘use by’ date.”

To read the rest of the review, click here.

For more of my blog posts on Mormon feminism, click here.

Image mine.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.