For my personal progress projects, I did historical research and reading on the suffrage movement and the history of feminism. I read about Emmeline B. Wells and the history of the Relief Society long before Daughters in My Kingdom was published. I studied the women of the scriptures, and the relationship women had to the priesthood (which culminated into this post.) I bought my first copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and I appreciated much--but admittedly not all--of what she presented. I felt challenged by the change in perspective that my new discoveries brought me, and I couldn't get enough of learning more.
But if you were to ask me today if I am a Mormon Feminist, I would tell you that I am not.
Why? Because as a movement, I find them to either be totally lacking in focus, or their focus to be misguided. In many ways, I don't find most of those involved to be feminists at all.
Feminism, historically speaking, is not just a label that women decide they're going to claim one day. It isn't just a group who bands together who think women ought to be equal, and they discuss how much they believe in the fact. Feminism in every stage of its development, was one of political action. It professed to change legislation, labor practices, and the larger sources of inequality throughout society. It began with women's suffrage, expanded to equal work opportunities and equal pay, and the equalization of men and women in higher education. They spearheaded the Equal Rights Amendment, which the Church was directly opposed to for a plethora of reasons--the least of which included abortion, involuntary military service for both men and women, etc.
|Alice Paul. Imprisoned for supporting women's suffrage. To prevent her from dying from her hunger strike and gaining more supporters, she was force-fed through a feeding tube.|
This is a feminist
|American suffragists picketing the White House during the Wilson Administration, using words from his own speeches to demand the right to vote|
These are feminists
This is a Mormon Feminist. I daresay, the ORIGINAL Mormon Feminist.
These are feminists
And it's at this point in history that Mormon Feminist becomes an oxymoron. Not because Mormons don't believe in the equality of men and women (because we do,) but because the term "feminism" came to represent political views which are against both the teachings of Jesus Christ and the policies of His Church. Not the least of which is abortion, but there are a plethora of others. A basic search on LDS.org for "Equal Rights Amendment" will produce the historical rationale on that issue.
But this historical nuance isn't the whole reason that I do not identify myself as a Mormon Feminist. The heart of the matter is that feminism is about activism--REAL activism. They change legislation. They change labor practices. They change society as a whole. They identify the problems and obstacles that inhibit the equality between the sexes, and they seek to rectify them with significant change. I do not participate in anything that could even be remotely considered real activism. Ergo, I am not a Mormon Feminist.
When you look at the people who claim to be Mormon Feminists, they also do not (yet) fit this description. Their "activism" is irrelevant to the point of being comical.
What is their agenda? What are their accomplishments? What is their purpose?
One site for Mormon Feminists identifies that there really IS no unified objective because they have not even begun to agree on what "equality" is supposed to mean.
I won't speak to grown women and try to define what equality means. They own dictionaries, they can look it up themselves. However, I will remind them what equality isn't.
Equality is not wearing pants to a Sunday service. There was never any rule in place telling women they couldn't wear pants to Church. Just because your mother never let you do it doesn't make it Church policy. You can wear pants to Church if you so choose, and there are no repercussions whatsoever for doing so. The only one keeping a sister from wearing pants to Church is the sister herself.
Equality is not women praying in General Conference. That a woman had never before prayed in General Conference was something I had not even noticed until the Mo-Fems (Mormon Feminists) pointed it out. It was something I failed to notice because I had seen women praying at the opening and close of Sacrament Meeting throughout my entire experience in the Church. As far as I was concerned, it was something more accidental than traditional that a woman had never been asked to pray in General Conference. And my life, as a female member of the Church, was not altered in the slightest because a woman prayed in General Conference.
Now, the Ordain Women movement, although misguided, at least has the good sense to have a real objective. This is a step in the right direction if you're going to claim to be an activist. However, I find that these women also look beyond the mark because they fail to see the power and potential of the sphere the Lord has already given them in Relief Society.
Their argument is that women's voices are not heard in the Church because they are not allowed to hold leadership positions. They figure, "Women don't hold the priesthood, ergo a woman will never be President of the Church, ergo women are not equal. It follows that the only way women will be equal and have their voices heard is if they hold the priesthood." Ad nauseum.
However, when Joseph Smith helped the sisters to organize the Relief Society, he didn't give them permission to organize themselves. If you look at the history, he gave them something much more important than that.
"I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time."
Joseph Smith, from Daughters in My Kingdom, chapter 2 (emphasis, mine)
The KEY which Joseph Smith turned for those women was the key of priesthood. By bestowing on them the powers and authority of the priesthood, he gave them the power to govern themselves according to the power and example of the priesthood. The Relief Society is an organization run by women, for women, and by the endowed power of women.
And by what is their power endowed? The priesthood. Women gain the ability to exercise their claim on the priesthood through the Relief Society. So when I say that women do not need to be ordained to the priesthood in order to exercise it, it isn't because I want to make things sound better than they are. It's because the Relief Society was designed with EXACTLY this purpose in mind. The problem is, most women don't recognize it.
In every way that the Relief Society is boring, uninspired, unenlightened, and lacking in power and direction, the women only have themselves to blame. You cannot blame the men--they have never been in charge of the Relief Society and never will be. The women need to be the change they want to see in the Relief Society. The endowment from the priesthood they receive in that organization is one they will not find anywhere in the world, no matter how well they might organize, no matter how many blogs or how many Mo-Fems they assemble.
The access for the Relief Society to have influence on the Church exists on both the local and General levels. Through ward counsel, the Relief Society President is able to voice her interests and the interests of the sisters under her stewardship. The Young Women president does the same, as does the Primary President. In my experience, the women leaders who do not have their voices heard by the brethren are only the ones who choose not go to ward counsel.
When the age for missionary service was lowered, the General Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies had equal voices in that decision. The Brethren relied heavily on their input, especially in regards to lowering the age at which a young woman could serve a mission. I would go so far as to say that if those presidencies thought it unwise to lower the age for sisters, their age of service would not have been changed. The degree of respect the Prophet, his counselors, and the Apostles have for the ladies in these presidencies cannot be overstated. Nothing happens for or on behalf of the sisters in the Church without their approval. That was the right and stewardship Joseph Smith gave to the sisters from the moment the Female Relief Society was organized.
Some women think they need to change the Church in order to achieve equality between men and women. But the Lord has already given us everything we need to be equal as His sons and daughters in His Church. It's up to us to change ourselves, to be Christ-like enough to achieve the equality we seek.
So what is the real source of inequality between men and women these days?
I believe it has a lot to do with this:
If Mormon Feminists want to make my life/their lives better as women, these are the problems they need to set about solving. This is the source of inequality between me an my husband, between myself and my male peers. We live in one of the only countries in the developed world with no mandatory paid maternity leave for men and women alike. Women are the ones who are expected to leave the work force to raise children, and the workplace does not accommodate for either parent in terms of maternity leave and child care.
Every woman knows this, every woman feels this strain, has weighed these options and does not have a real solution to her problem. As long as this continues to be an issue, women and men cannot truly be equal in the home or in the workforce. Yet nothing is done to improve the situation. Many in my generation don't bother getting attached to going to school, to having a career, or staying in a career because they know they'll just have to leave when it's time to have children, and it becomes nearly impossible to return to work at a decent pay. This is a reality especially perpetuated in the Church because of the (true) emphasis of how much her children need her in their formative years.
Who better to do something about this than the Latter-day Saints? We are to this issue what the Quakers were to abolition. No one is more prepared to solve this problem for women who NEED these solutions than we are, because we are prepared to speak with both voices. The voice of the mother, and the voice of the workplace contributor. And completely tied into our interests are the needs of the children who are also affected by these challenges. I would go so far as to say that we may be the only group of people who can fully wrap our minds and hearts around these issues.
So instead of beating the dead horse of no moment over pants and BYU Memes, why don't the Mo-Fems get into the market for a real purpose? The life they make better through the process might just be their own.