Growing Bold Mormon Daughters: The Impossibility of Emma Watson and Jacinda Ardern

Growing Bold Mormon Daughters: The Impossibility of Emma Watson and Jacinda Ardern September 30, 2014

IMG_2184If I had a daughter I hope she would be Emma Watson.


I don’t have any daughters. I have always wanted daughters, but unfortunately I can’t make them and nobody has given me any. This is a shame because I think I would be quite a good girl mother. In the absence of a daughter I am sadly left to dream.


And I dream about what it would take to raise an Emma Watson. She’s a bright girl and a clearly talented actress.  Her accent is a bit much and she has oodles of privilege – but that’s not the point.  As her mother I imagine I would be most proud of her for heading a solidarity movement that calls for greater global gender equality, and for making that public appeal with such genuine poise. But I’ve come to the conclusion that its unlikely that I would have managed to raise an Emma Watson – if I had raised her a Mormon.


Let me preface this article with an assurance that there are wonderful young Mormon feminists who are raising their eyes and squaring up to the Mormon world they live in, articulate, bright, and with important things to say. But they do this against the general tide of Mormon feeling, they do this in spite of the church, not because of it. But its complicated being a women (young or not) in a world bristling with inequality, in a church that seems to have little regard or concern for the cost of that inequality. It’s a church that does a great job of population management and social control; managing its huge assets;  appropriating the time, resources and hearts of its adherents;  and choosing single  myopic issues to throw its weight against.   So the outspokenness of our young often doesn’t come easily as it wades through layers of religious discourse in order for their voices to be heard in the clear light of day. And it shouldn’t be like that. Jesus Christ was a young man who had a clear political vision; he had a visceral reaction to class, ethnic, and gender inequality of his day. His politics must be the politics of our young women or of what use is their discipleship?


Lets face it, the political consciousness and engagement required to make an impassioned speech to the UN on gender equality isn’t the object of Mormonism. Mormon young girls are socialized, under the direction of elderly men, to accept marriage and motherhood as the greatest expression of their feminine selves. The extensive curriculum material that our Mormon young are exposed to does not currently place an emphasis on the development of a social justice mind set, nor does it encourage our girls to bring an end to their relative powerlessness.    Rather they are socialized to accept their powerlessness in a patriarchal system, and to be unconscious of class, race and gender inequalities.


Even if you argue that its not the role of church to produce such young women, I can’t help but think that her church experience might at some stage be an impediment to the development of an expansive and thoughtful politically engaged mind.  There would have been a great deal of religious impedimenta for the Mormon Emma Watson to sift and sort through in order to craft an insightful personal narrative that calls attention to inequitable highly gendered systems that privilege patriarchies. Perhaps I might have been able to raise her awareness but eventually she would have had to battle with the religious discourses that so overwhelmingly seek to shape the paradigms and frameworks through which she sees and makes sense of the world. That’s no easy task in the face of the plentiful resources that are deployed in order constitute the ideal Mormon woman of the Mormon Brethren’s imagination.


In the final analysis I don’t think a Mormon Emma Watson would be possible – notwithstanding my efforts to help her negotiate a religious and spiritual minefield. I doubt that I could have held a daughter like Emma Watson in the church for long – her  thinking is too expansive and her social concerns run against the conservative tide of Mormonism. Perhaps she might have been able to unravel herself from the years and years and layers and layers of Mormon orthodoxy, but  her politics wouldn’t emerge easily or spontaneously, and as an outcropping of her religious life – of that I am sure.


I don’t believe that a Mormon Emma Watson would be possible in much the same way that  I believe that it was inevitable that Mormonism lost New Zealand politician Jacinda Ardern.    Jacinda was a  young member of the Labour Party, was the President of the International Socialist Youth, had completed her degree at the University of Waikato and as a very young person embarked on a political career.  While still in her 20’s she was elected as a list member of parliament for Labour in the 2008 New Zealand General Elections.


In a recent poll run by One News, Jacinda was ranked as the preferred leader of the Labour Party.  She was 5th on the Labour Party list and should Labour ever recover from their internal issues and be elected again she will no doubt occupy a senior position, if not nab one of the top jobs. Jacinda is clearly a woman with impressive talent, a rising political star with strong social justice agendas that include the elimination of child poverty and a particular concern for youth unemployment.


But in 2005 Jacinda left the church citing her inability to manage her increasing ‘cognitive dissonance’ with respect to the church’s position on gay marriage and her own convictions that the government should allow the amendment of the Marriage Act and redefine marriage to include same sex couples. In her speech to the house she made a polite departure from Mormonism signifying and assuring the electorate that in this and other matters the LDS church no longer had power to influence her opinion on public legislation.


The church wasn’t able to hold Jacinda Ardern – and that is an absolute shame. We are the poorer as a community for making it difficult for our young people to be passionate community campaigners and outspoken activists for those issues of conscience that concern them – even if it doesn’t entirely square with the dogmas of the church. The Mormon young should be given freedom to express themselves in the public sphere as they declare, test, and shape their ideas in a free exchange of ideas. It’s a travesty to prune back the views of the young before they have had a chance to bud and grow.   It’s an abuse to manage these fertile minds into mechanical Mormon replicates and automatons.


But I do wish these young women would stay. I wish for them the personal confidence to root their sense of self in the knowledge that Jesus Christ made his divine mission manifest time and again through the lives of women – none of whom he encouraged to get married and have babies as an expression of their religious worth. I wish for young women to give their consent guardedly in matters of power and institutional control. I wish for them the self-assurance to demand the same level of care, resources and respect that Mormon boys receive. I wish for them to be theologians not simply seminary graduates but young women utterly familiar with both the context and the content of the scriptures.   I wish for Young Women to see themselves enough, complete and valuable as people in their own right with more to offer the world than their vaginas and their wombs. I wish for Young Women to understand the world, how it works, how it has been arranged (usually by men) to privilege a narrow set of interests, and I wish for them to want to change it by opening their mouths, taking up placards, writing, thinking, creating and speaking out against inequality in the world. I want them to be arrested for civil disobedience and come back again to the streets undeterred. I wish for them to give up the unproductive guilt and shame and live lives in the sunlight, unafraid of truth.


I’ll never have the opportunity to raise an Emma Watson, and it’s a travesty that the church couldn’t hang on to Jacinda Ardern. But I can raise my voice in supportScreen Shot 2014-09-30 at 9.08.27 AM of young Mormon women everywhere whose voices are utterly, completely, and thoroughly needed in the church and in the world today.




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