Why feminism isn’t (shouldn’t be) a bad word for Mormons

by sisterarnell

I don’t know about your experiences in the LDS church, but one thing that has always amazed me is the strength of the LDS women. These women know how to get stuff done. You have a baby? We feed you. You get married? We celebrate that and hug you and make sure you have someone taking you to the temple and we give you lots of really good advice about how to have a happy marriage (don’t forget that the stuff that bugs you now is the reason you fell in love with him in the first place.) You lose a baby? We will sit with you in solidarity, and share our own stories of loss, and welcome you into the sad sisterhood.

LDS women are fantastic. Seriously, FEMA should just hire a bunch of past Relief Society presidents and call it done. Katrina would have been a blip on the radar.

So, that leaves the question for me. Why are LDS women so circumscribed in what they can do in building up the Kingdom of God? There is no woman in the church who can make an independent decision without it being reviewed by a man. And I’m not advocating for women to get the priesthood. I don’t necessarily think we need the priesthood. We just need to have permission (grrrrrr) to expand the realm of our stewardships a bit. I can’t think of a reason why a woman can’t be a ward finance clerk or a Sunday School president. Why can’t a woman run the Sunday School? It’s like, once a boy hits puberty, he automatically outranks a woman, which I think is a little bit insulting, especially when I see some of the antics our deacons think are appropriate.

So, why? There’s a few theories out there – one, Eve and original sin, and women are more sinful and this is a punishment. To which I say, “Pppppbbbbbbbbbbbbbtttttttt!” Seriously, if you believe this, you need to repent. Eve is to be honored and respected for her role in bringing out the possible mortality of all of us, so knock it off.

Two, women are spiritually inferior to men. I think here we have the problem of presenting women and men as homogenous groups, rather than as individuals. Now, I don’t think women as a group are spiritually inferior or superior to men. The whole “women are angels and shouldn’t be sullied with the dirty world of politics” was an argument used to prevent women from getting the vote, and I think it’s the same here. Women are protectors of the hearth and primarily responsible for the nurture of the children according to The Family Proclamation. Well, children don’t stop being children at 12. We’re all children throughout our whole lives, and the ability of women to nurture shouldn’t be restricted.

There is some fear here that if women and men work more closely together that sexual impropriety will arise. To which I say, “Grow up!” Oh no, women are such sexual beings (back to the whole Eve and the fruit and the idea that the fall was improper sexual relations) that the mere presence of them will cause men to fall prey to their baser urges and engage in a sexual relationship.

So, a. I think that’s really insulting to the wonderful men I know who are fully capable of engaging in a work relationship with a female without sexual urges getting in the way.

b. So, women can’t do the things they are capable of doing because the poor menz are too weak to deal with the presence of women of God exercising their gifts and abilities? Uh, that doesn’t seem very fair to me.

c. Women aren’t anymore inherently sexual than men are, but society sexualizes and objectifies women to a ridiculous degree. And the way we talk about modesty in the Church doesn’t help matters either. We’re telling 12 year old girls that they are responsible for the moral content of the thoughts of adult men. How is that healthy? And more importantly, how is that TRUE? If you are looking at a 12 year old girl and having sexual thoughts, you are the one with the problem.

I lost count of what number I was on, just a second.

And most controversially, three: That’s the way God wants it.

Okay, that is a possibility. It’s possible that this is a pride issue for me – Look at me! I am wonderful and fantastic and want more recognition and POWER!!!!

But, if you look at the history of the church, another possibility arises. Joseph Smith was a radical utopianist. Let’s go set up a society of Zion on the frontier and institute new economic principles and new ways of organizing the family. And wow, did he do some interesting/crazy stuff. Leaving aside polygamy, which I realize is a huge topic to be leaving aside when it comes to feminism and the LDS church, LDS women in the early days of the church had a huge degree of discretion and authority that they don’t have now.

Women routinely stood in circles to bless the sick. They anointed other women. Especially when you look at the pioneer midwives, they were given specific authority to anoint and bless women and children in childbirth. This dies out slowly to the point that most women today don’t even know that this was part of our heritage.

The early Relief Society under Emma Smith did all sorts of fun stuff. When the Relief Society is reorganized in Utah, women did all sorts of interesting things. They built schools, started the Welfare program, built church buildings, had women educated to be teachers and doctors, paid for infrastructure development, built hospitals, all with their own funds that they had independent control over and were not subject to priesthood oversight.

What happens in the Church mirrors what happens in the society at large. Women were a significant portion of the people who helped settle the west. Many of the homesteads held in the settlement of the west were held by women. As the west becomes more domesticated, women slowly started being marginalized from the independent positions that they had and were cast in more “traditional” roles.

The truth of the matter is that when you are taking on a very difficult task, you can’t afford to sideline 50% of your human capital. We see this again in WWII with women being called out of the homes to fill the jobs the men left behind as they went off to fight. It’s never been a question of capability, it’s been a question of when power structures find it necessary to larger organizational goals to allow women to do non-traditional things.

I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that the new Daughters of the Kingdom book, or whatever it’s called, is a documentary of the disappearance of the Relief Society. I felt the same way when I read it. Look at all the stuff we used to do, and you see it, chapter by chapter, getting taken under the role of the priesthood, to the point where in the 1970s, the Relief Society’s funds were taken from them and put under general church control.

So, maybe God wants it this way, but maybe He doesn’t, and we’re too enmeshed in societal values and the fetishization of 1950’s nuclear family structures as the “one true way” of organizing a family in God’s will, that we’re not willing to question why we do things the way we do them.

I, for one, think it’s time for a systematic questioning of why so few women have a voice in this church. I don’t think the church can continue to significantly limit the opportunities for women to participate and expect to see the Kingdom of God advance in a meaningful way. I think it’s time for the church to put its money where it’s mouth is. Stop telling the women how wonderful and powerful and spiritual we are, and give us the authority to actually do something with it.