It was a great pleasure to read Kathryn Soper's cogent, clear, and entertaining discussion of feminism. Yes, it's one of those ever-present issues, but not one about which really satisfying conclusions can be drawn. I liked the way she described the "core conflict" between feminism and Mormonism: that "feminists challenge male authority" and "Mormons defer to it." Both very true. All of us in the business know that Mormon males, and probably all men, are threatened by women. If we come on too strong, they will naturally and successfully, with little compunction, just flatten us all out, because, having stepped out of our roles as good women, we deserve it. We've all seen it happen too often. That is why, as Kathryn suggests, I prefer stealth progress to confrontation. I am not willing to go to the stake (the wooden one) on this issue. It's no fun to fight authority. My motto is "she who fights and runs away remains to fight another day."
However, we can come to a working relationship between feminism and Mormonism if we just define the terms in a more friendly way. That is why my definition of feminism is that women's talents should be nurtured and developed for the benefit of themselves, their families, their communities, and the church. People can easily accept that formulation. As soon as the word feminism is used or males are brought in as a comparison, the battle is lost. What should be a nice little exercise becomes a life and death battle that females cannot win. At the same time, Mormon relationships need to be redefined and there have been many efforts to do that. As soon as we are willing to drop the subservient, fecund female and be happy with the idea of a mutually affectionate and cooperative marriage as the ideal, we can negotiate individual and general situations.
How any group or individual that has no power or money gains power is the question. I recommend writing. Even those who do not write as easily and gracefully as Kathryn can access authority through arranging a few words on paper. They can shape the debate. They can show their abilities. They can do it during the baby's nap on the old Olivetti on the kitchen table. They can gather adherents. Lots of people are playing that game now and it is a game well worth playing. Influence follows composition. All these periodicals, conferences, blogs, and books can further a feminist agenda. In this business, leaders are those who take action and write. And they don't have to take big or confrontational action. We make progress by small increments.
I don't think we want to sentimentalize the female situation. We don't really owe a debt to past gleaners in the field. They didn't do it for us; they walked their bloody path for themselves. We don't do things now so that our granddaughters will have greater freedom. At least I hope we don't. No one is under an obligation to us for our actions. Just as no one ever could sufficiently thank us or repay us for our motherhood duties, no one owes us anything for what we do. We do it because we love it. Those kids will have to do the same things for their kids who will not repay them. We do it for ourselves. We are like Eliza R. Snow, who denied that the women of Zion were oppressed and downtrodden, that they were actually slaves. As she said, no one could ever get slaves to do the things that Mormon women did.
Kathryn rightly and strikingly emphasizes our culture's "resistance to any progressive social or political action." Well stated, Kathryn. I've heard conservatism described as being unwilling to try anything for the first time. How many times have I seen such people back off good ideas, not because they see anything wrong in them at the moment, but because they might develop into something else down the line. We laud the past and fear the future. And, of course, it is true, that some ideas or activities might veer off in objectionable ways. But why not fix them rather than not try them? We really do not know what the future holds. And isn't it remarkable that the Mormons, who jumped off cliffs repeatedly in their early years, should now cling to such stasis. While we once were a people who repeatedly risked everything, we now have to cheer tiny moves, marveling that such things can come to be.
When people assert that they are not feminists, they often add that of course they believe in equal pay for equal work. While they are concerned with how feminist ideas might lead to sorry ends, I marvel that they are so willing to be in favor of equal pay. I would think they would oppose a policy so threatening to the traditional family with its stay-at-home mother. While we can all see its fairness, we can also see how that policy makes it so difficult for women to stay home with their children instead of working outside of the home. As the economy has adjusted for families with two paychecks, those who do not have two paychecks are at a decided disadvantage. It is now both a luxury and a sacrifice to have a non-working mother. Stay-at-home mothers illustrate the difficulty of living out the American Dream on short rations. Mormon assumptions conflict dramatically with basic feminist assumptions, that women should be able to pay their own way, not held in thrall to the big male boss. Large families, large houses, traditional role models, and single incomes have led to some painful economic realities in current Mormon lives: bankruptcy, foreclosure, welfare. That's not what anyone had in mind. We need some creative new models.