Meet an LDS Feminist: Amber

NOTE: The views expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions held by the author of The Equality of Mars and Venus. [Comments in brackets and italics are solely the opinions of the author.]

Let Women Pray

It is a sad thing when anyone punishes another for asking questions. Yet when questions go against cultural norms, or just the status quo, there are some people who will bend over backward to make sure you know that (according to them) what you’re doing is wrong. This is exactly what happened to my friend Amber when she organized the “Let Women Pray” petition, which was a campaign, urging members of the church to write PEACEFUL and RESPECTFUL letters requesting that they inquire of the Lord to see if there was any reason why a woman should not be able to pray in General Conference. According to her critics, Amber hated her husband and her child, did not have a testimony, and was even urged to leave the Church. For asking Church Leaders to pray and ask if women could pray in General Conference. Asking for change gets people up in arms. [Amber deserved none of that. She’s a strong woman with a deep love for her family, a deep testimony of the gospel, and a desire for equality. Many, including myself, had not even noticed that a woman had never prayed in general conference. I could see no reason why a woman shouldn’t pray in General Conference, and as per the April 2013 General Conference, neither did the General Authorities of the Church.] Amber would remind those that “spewed hate” at her, that “that’s exactly why I joined the LDS church to begin with; I love to challenge myself and continually grow. The beauty of the gospel is the room for personal revelation… our beginning and our foundation is upon Joseph Smith asking questions.”

Heavenly Mother

Amber is a convert to the church, and didn’t hear about Heavenly Mother until she was in a college religion class at BYU. At that point, she hadn’t yet had an unwelcome question. Her professor told the class that we aren’t supposed to talk about her and left it at that. Amber was partly in shock that there is indeed a Heavenly Mother, and then crushed when the professor refused to talk more about her. [It’s sad that a religious educator would not talk about Heavenly Mother, other than to acknowledge Her existence. However, there is no policy, no doctrine, no mandate by the church that says we aren’t supposed to talk about Her. That idea was first written by a seminary teacher named Melvin R. Brooks. It has not been repeated by any apostle or prophet in the latter days. So, let’s keep on asking questions about Heavenly Mother! There’s more information out there than we might think.]

How She Became a Feminist

Amber has been through a lot. She was molested when she was seven, and had to deal with the psychological and social problems that came with it, even into high school and marriage. When she tried to talk about it, those who heard her made her believe it was her fault. She was even kicked out of her newspaper class in high school because she wrote an (very tactful) article about it, which was supposed to inspire hope in others in a similar situation. The article can be found here.

Later, when she was working on a research project about prejudices around video games and online behavior, she was given a (all male) team of researchers to help her with the project. These men, though well-meaning, attempted to take over the project because they “thought they knew more about both research and video games than [her].” When they had meetings, she would come with an agenda, and each would undermine everything she was trying to do. This is an example of “Unintentional sexism” as Amber puts it. [As a side note, Amber holds no grudges or offense toward these men. However, the problem with unintentional sexism is that it’s unintentional. We don’t even think about what we’re saying or doing sometimes. If you start paying attention to those little things that people say, you’ll start to notice that it happens more than we would like to admit. Many have their feelings hurt or feel ostracized because of these unintentional digs at them, whether they are meant to be or not. Pay attention to what you say, and how you say it. It’s not hard to change what you say, or to choose not to say something that could be sexist.]

The Definition of Feminism

Amber tells of her Women’s Studies professor:

“My women’s studies professor used to joke that feminism has become the “other F-word”, especially among Mormons. The truth is that anyone who thinks that women and men are equal is a feminist. It’s not the crazy, bra burning feminism that everyone thinks about from the 70s.. Third-wave feminism (or modern-day feminism) is about preventing rape, and supporting working women, and even supporting the rights of women to mother their children the way they choose. I have yet to meet anyone who wasn’t a feminist – just lots of people who didn’t know it yet.”

[In one of my first posts on this blog (almost a year ago), I cited a conversation that I had with my sister who also identifies herself as a feminist. She asked questions like “Do you think that women doing the same jobs as men should receive equal pay?” “Do you believe that no gender is superior to the other?” “Do you think that women are born with the same capacity for intellect that men are?” “Do you think that women and men in a marriage relationship are equal partners? I answered “Yes” to all of these questions. At the end, my sister told me that I was a feminist. You see, feminism isn’t about being angry. It isn’t about women who hate men. It’s about treating women with the same respect we treat men with. It’s about making sure that women don’t get put down simply for being a woman. So, If you agree with all that, then you’re a feminist. You just didn’t know it yet. You’re welcome.]

When asked what changes she hopes to see in the church, Amber responded simply that, “I hope we can learn as a culture to be more accepting. To not judge a woman if she only has one child, or if she wears pants to church, or if she works outside the home… In a lot of ways, I see mormon feminism as a real missionary effort to bring back those who we have inadvertently pushed away.”

 

Meet an LDS Feminist: Rochelle

NOTE: The views expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions held by the author of The Equality of Mars and Venus. [Comments in brackets and italics are solely the opinions of the author.]

When she was young, Rochelle started having many questions about equality. She witnessed gender-based injustice at school, at church, and in life. Growing up, she felt less and less safe as she witnessed various forms of abuse, assault and harassment from her male peers to her female peers, and on occasion was on the receiving end. Some of what she saw was sexual abuse, some verbal, some emotional, but all of it seemed to stem from an unequal balance of control and power. Eventually, all of this led to a crisis of faith which took over a decade to heal.

Through all of this, Rochelle didn’t particularly identify herself as a feminist, but certainly shared many of the questions feminists have. She worried that the world, and even the church which she loved, seemed to regard her as a second-rate citizen.

After she married, her husband took a sociology of gender class, which caught her attention and started a long term, meaningful discussion between them.  She read a book called Reviving Ophelia that was both enlightening and disturbing. This prompted more research on Rochelle’s part, and created even more questions for her as she began to identify more and more with feminism.  She began to search out more information about feminism, particularly anything that was written by LDS women.  She wanted to understand what her role was, and how her gender affected her standing before God.

Rochelle was unhappy with what she found for a long time, feeling that so-called LDS-based feminism resources only sought to undermine her faith, and rarely gave meaningful answers to her questions.  Eventually a trusted friend suggested a book to her, which was co-written by Valerie Hudson Cassler and Alma Don Sorensen, both of whom were professors at BYU. The book, Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, finally answered some questions for Rochelle, and provided comfort for her. She attributes much of what she has subsequently found to be the result of her choosing to believe that she was not a second-rate citizen, and her belief that God loved her just as much as He loved any of his sons. Once she firmly believed this, she began to find more and more evidence to support it. She cited a quote from James E. Talmage, which states that “Christ is the greatest champion of women, and womanhood,” as a support for this belief as well as 2 Nephi 26:33: “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female”.  She has since discovered many more sources that have supported her in her faith and beliefs about feminism and womanhood, and these include books, blogs and articles. A handful of those are Ruby Slippers, Women in The Scriptures, Empowering LDS Women, The Gift of Giving Life, Beauty Redefined, and Segullah.

Rochelle’s views on Feminism have fluctuated somewhat, but her biggest concerns related to LDS Feminism right now are mainly cultural.  She believes that we do not have all the answers yet, but that true equality will one day exist only within the context of the restored gospel.  She says that for now, we live in a fallen world full of imperfect people, which does reflect itself on aspects of how the Church is run- i.e. traditional practices that are not based on doctrine.

[Many share Rochelle’s concerns. The inequality of funds allocated for young men’s/scouts and young women’s/ achievement days programs, and the demeaning comments or attitudes from men is a problem.This happens too much. Men, this is something that should change. No gender is better than the other. Women deserve our respect, and it’s our responsibility to give it to them.]

The Priesthood is not defined as being the men of the church. Beyond that, Rochelle also believes that the priesthood is also not comparable to motherhood. The only thing comparable to motherhood is fatherhood. She views the priesthood as an apprenticeship that men have to Heavenly Father, as they learn how to be fathers, ultimately to become Heavenly Fathers themselves. She believes that there will be (and perhaps to a certain extent already is) a “Priestesshood” that women will hold, not identical to the priesthood that men hold, but no less powerful and important.

Many of Rochelles opinions stem from her belief in Heavenly Mother. Her thoughts on gender roles, priesthood, and parenthood stem directly from her belief in the church-held doctrine that we have both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Basic Church doctrine states that there is in fact a Heavenly Mother, in accordance with the Plan of Salvation and affirmed by the ordinances given in the temple.

We are not sure why Heavenly Mother is not more visible to us, but Rochelle leans toward a belief that at one point Heavenly Mother was more visible, but that a misguided people warped a loving respect and love for Her into an immoral, idol-worshipping sect that blasphemed against Her and Heavenly Father, necessitating a very clear separation of our worship from Her. We don’t know why She has not been re-introduced, but one thing must be true: She is just as involved in our lives as Heavenly Father is. How could She not be? If She is there, and if we believe that “as man is, God once was, and as God is, man  can become” then we believe than Heavenly Mother was once an earthly mother, like the mothers we have here. As a mother herself, Rochelle wonders if Heavenly Mother’s joy would be full without involvement in our lives (even if She is not totally visible)? Logically, it doesn’t make sense that She be uninvolved.

Rochelle hopes that in the future, there can be more light shed on Heavenly Mother, as well as Eve and other matriarchs. More manuals coming out that are less man-centric would also be helpful. There seems to be a lack of strong role models for women and mothers, or rather there are not enough of them that are involved in, or taught about in the Church’s curriculums.

Eventually, Rochelle believes that all things will be made known, and Gender and equality will be perfectly understood. Until that day, we as members of the Church have a responsibility to treat each other with respect, and to work in unity toward our eternal goals. [There is no room for tearing each other down over disagreements. We all have the same goals. No matter what our opinions, judging each other and condemning each other damns both parties. Let’s work together to bring about the changes that need to happen in our culture, and our thinking.]

A New Direction

I have posted only a few posts on this blog, and I firmly believe the things that I talked about. However, as it turns out, I don’t know a ton more than what I posted about. So I’m going to take the blog in a new direction. I will be interviewing many LDS Feminists and will post a feature about them. They will be at varying parts of the spectrum of feminism. I will occasionally post commentary or just things that I’m thinking about. I will not necessarily agree with everything in the features stories. However, the point of this blog to facilitate unity and understanding from both sides and along the whole spectrum.

This is not a hate blog. This blog will not tell one side or the other that they are wrong. I do not claim to have all the answers. I want to encourage discussion, and I am a fan of hard questions. They need to be asked and prayed about. Feel free to comment with your ideas, questions, and inspiration.

Please do not post any hate comments. We’re all striving for the same thing, and we don’t need to be at each other’s necks. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, and the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself. So please, keep things civil. No name-calling, questioning people’s intelligence or surmising about someone’s standing with the church.

Thank you for reading and thank you for being respectful of opinions and feelings!