Call for Submissions for Exponent II

IMG_20150331_0001Artwork by Pamela J. Zagarenski www.sacredbee.com

When my first child was born, I spent a lot of time in the mothers lounge at church, trying to figure out breastfeeding. Another woman, Lily1, had an infant of her own the same age as mine but was on her third child and knew what she was doing. She helped me enormously during those first months, listening and giving parenting advice and encouraging me to ditch the nursing cover that was making life so hard for me. We had known each other and served in callings together for years but had never really been friends. Up to that point she had seemed very different from me and I had never invested much in trying to get to know her. I’m ashamed to write this now, but she and her husband seemed like typical Utah transplants, with a life of graduate school, a few young children, demanding callings, and a desire to head back to a conservative state as soon as possible.

Less than a year later, Lily and her husband shocked their friends by abruptly leaving the church. It turned out that for years they had been struggling with doubt and unhappiness. Reading about Joseph Smith’s personal life and early church history had sparked serious questions in their minds. Feeling like they had no one they could safely talk to about these issues, they presented a public face of calm while they were internally reeling. It was a stressful and painful experience and by the time they exited, leaving behind the church was a huge relief to them, a chance to set down a burden they had carried in secret.

I felt terrible when I heard Lily’s story, not because I thought that I could have or should have changed her ultimate choices, but because she had suffered silently and felt so alone. I thought about all those hours we spent together in the mothers lounge, neither of us knowing that the other also doubted and felt lonely at church. I regretted that I hadn’t been more public about my personal struggles because maybe that would have created a safe space for Lily to speak up. I hadn’t extended real friendship and she did not see me as a potential ally. I wish she had felt like she had a place where she could tell her stories and receive a community of support and validation.

This is why Exponent II is important. Mormon women need a forum for publishing their voices. We need a place where the wisdom of lived experiences is recorded and shared. We need a home, free of judgment, for “strong-minded women”2 to express their diverse beliefs and feelings. At Exponent II, wherever you are on your journey is okay. We want to hear your stories. We want to know you, truly and wholly. We want you to be part of the dialogue.

The Summer 2015 issue will explore the theme of Transitions. Transitions are a process of going from one way of being in the world to another. We go through small changes all the time, with fluctuations in the seasons, new callings, or new perspectives from a new book. But small changes add up and then the big shifts happen. What is transitioning in your family? In your faith? In your work? How are you evolving and what have you learned? What is still unclear? What tools have you relied on to give you the courage to face your transition? What transitions would you choose to make if you knew you could not fail? Please share with your sisters in the Exponent community. Submit through email to editor@exponentii.org. Submissions will be accepted from April 1 through May 3 and should be between 800-2000 words.

Exponent has provided me with some of the richest relationships of my life. I am comfortable being “poised on the dual platforms of Mormonism and Feminism”3 because of my community of support. We hope you’ll submit your stories and be an active part of Exponent II.

1 Name has been changed
2 Susan Kohler, “Woman’s Exponent Revisited” Exponent II Vol. 1, No. 1, July 1974.
3 Claudia Bushman, “Exponent II is Born” Exponent II Vol. 1, No. 1, July 1974.

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New Editors Announced for Exponent II

Margaret and Pandora In 2009, Aimee Evans Hickman and Emily Clyde Curtis assumed the roles of Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor for the Exponent II magazine. Their incredible work and vision revitalized and refreshed the paper, resulting in a new life for the magazine and a strengthening of the entire Exponent organization.  With the 40th Anniversary double issue now going to press and the Spring 2015 issue underway, Aimee and Emily are stepping down from their positions. We are so grateful to them for their thoughtful leadership and the sacrifices they have made to provide a forum for Mormon women’s voices.

Exponent II is excited to announce its future editors: Margaret Olsen Hemming will step in as the Editor-in-Chief and Pandora Brewer will be the new Managing Editor.  Margaret worked briefly as Exponent II’s layout editor and has been the art editor since 2010.  In addition to the work she has done for Exponent II (which has also included fundraising and other board responsibilities), Margaret has a BA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University. She is also an AmeriCorps alumna, and previously worked for the International Rescue Committee and the Academy for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University. She is currently raising three young children.  Her guest posts on the Exponent blog can be read here, here, here, here, and here.

Pandora Brewer has been involved with Exponent II since 1990. She has written and edited for the magazine and is a recurring presenter at the annual retreats.  Professionally, Pandora has worked for Crate and Barrel since 1989 and has held multiple positions in stores and at the corporate level. She is currently heading up a Process Improvement Team for the company. Pandora is a proud mom to two grown-up boys and the hungry wife of culinary-inclined husband. She is a perma-blogger for Exponent.  Her posts can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Exponent II is delighted that its legacy of standing on “the dual platforms of Mormonism and Feminism,” as iterated in its first issue in 1974, will continue with its new editors.  To subscribe to the quarterly magazine or to read more about Exponent II’s mission, visit www.exponentii.org.

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Absence of Americans makes new Mormon film unique; lack of women is typical

Freetown

I recently attended the preview of Freetown, a new Mormon genre movie about—you guessed it—male missionaries. I was hoping it would be a quality film—and it was—but I didn’t hope to see anything I hadn’t seen before.  I’ve seen a lot of movies about male Mormon missionaries already (God’s Army, The Other Side of Heaven, The Best Two Years), not to mention the fact that I know a bunch of Mormon missionaries in real life and served alongside dozens of them when I was a missionary myself.

However, Freetown managed to bring something new to the genre that I personally hadn’t seen yet: it is not an American story.  It doesn’t take place in the U.S., nor does it document an American missionary’s culture shock as he adapts to living in a distant land.  With one very short-lived exception, Americans are not in this movie.  Let me repeat that: this Mormon movie is not about Americans!  The movie takes place in Liberia in 1990, at the beginning of a civil war.  It centers around six native Liberian missionaries attempting to escape their war-torn country.

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On Obedience and Happiness

screenshot for exii postOn a Monday in March I went to lds.org to access my ward directory and noticed the Mormon Message in the top left panel.  It featured this video.

You’ll just have to trust me because I didn’t take a screenshot, but the video was titled “Happiness is the Sum of Obedience” with the subtitle “Do you understand God’s equation for happiness?”  When I returned to the site two days later the title had changed to “Obedience to the Ten Commandments.”

This brings up two questions for me.  First, why was the title changed?  And second, why the original titles were chosen in the first place?

1.
I have no objection to the Mormon Message video, but I very much object to the original title and subtitle.  I think they’re damaging and false, and I left a comment saying so (without using those words).  I don’t have my original comment, but it was close to the following:

Elder Perry’s talk is valuable and the video is beautifully produced.  But I find the title and subtitle problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Elder Perry doesn’t phase things that way, and second they lend themselves to the idea that obedience to God is a transactional process.  As if God dispenses particular blessings in response to obedience like a vending machine would.  The danger with this kind of thinking is that when people are doing their best to follow the commandments and still not receiving desired blessings, it can lead to an unnecessary crisis of faith. 

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization.

It is no small task to prepare an address for a worldwide sisterhood with varying experiences and privileges, let alone one tasked with defending the Church’s doctrine and teachings on the Family. There were some powerful moments in this talk where long past due truths were acknowledged and new possibilities were presented to women. But there were also times when President Oscarson fell back into the tired rhetoric so often present in Church discourse on the Family.

President Oscarson started her talk by telling the story of  Marie Madeline Cardon, an early Italian convert to the Latter-day Church. This is a remarkable story of a young woman who bravely stared down an angry mob of men and powerfully rebuked them. She claimed power from God and protected the missionaries and fellow believers in her family’s home. I am thankful that this story has been added to our record and that there is now one more example of a woman assertively standing up for herself and her beliefs. These are the role models our young women need.

I was also immensely grateful that President Oscarson openly acknowledged that life often presents unforeseen challenges and that many women do not live the “ideal” that the Proclamation on the Family puts forward. While I personally find the statement that we must “teach to the Lord’s pattern” reductive, I know there are many who are comforted when their individual experience is honestly recognized and not disappeared into a sanitized ideal. And amen to Oscarson’s admonition to plan for contingencies. While I hate to lump education and a satisfying career into the “Plan B” category, too many women have and continue to be hurt by the seemingly official sanctioning of only one life path.

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Carole M. Stephens

Sister Carole Stephens framed her talk around the children’s song, “The Family is of God,” and she based much of her talk on portions from the Proclamation on the Family. One thing I particularly appreciated about the talk was that she twice referred to Heavenly Parents. I am someone who craves acknowledgment and discussion of our Heavenly Mother, so it was very refreshing to hear Sister Stephens refer to our divine Parents.

Early in her talk, Sister Stephens acknowledged that we “try to create traditional families,” but that belonging to the family of God is not contingent on marital, financial, or social status. I think that message — that there is a place for everyone and that we all should feel a sense of belonging, despite different life circumstances — is expansive and hopeful, and I welcome such messages. I am glad that she chose not to dwell on this idea of trying “to create traditional families,” since that seems potentially alienating to those very many women who don’t belong to such families.

I also appreciated her honesty in acknowledging that she has not been tested and tried in the ways that so many other women have — she hasn’t lived through the death of a child, divorce, single parenthood, same gender attraction, infertility, or abuse.

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Henry B. Eyring

EyringThe last speaker of the evening was President Henry B. Eyring. He began his talk by addressing his “beloved Sisters,” and expressing the joy it was for him to be with us. He also shared that he thought of his mother, wife, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and so forth, and that the “wonderful program” helped him appreciate them more.

He attributed much of the joy he has felt in his own family life to the Savior being at the heart of his family member’s individual lives. ‘Today we’ve remembered him–in prayers, hymns, and inspired sermons.” Gently introducing the theme of his talk, he expressed collective gratitude for “the Savior’s infinite compassion,” and stated simply his hope that ‘you’ve felt tonight, his love for you.’

Testifying of our relation to deity, he stated that we are “spirit daughters of our Heavenly Father.” As such, he has deep care for other women around us. “He cares for them as he cares for you. He understands their sorrows. He wants to succor them. My message to you tonight is that you can and must be an important part in giving comfort to those who need comfort.” These were such beautiful sentences, tied to such a beautiful message. I was thrilled when he said that this would be his focus.

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