10 Practical Ways Feminists Can Contribute

by Caroline

(art is Dance of Peace by Abro)

A few months ago, Jessawhy talked about the role of the faithful Mormon feminist, and asked about ways feminists can contribute to the Church as they balance their faith and feminism.

I firmly believe there is a place for feminists within the Church. As Jessawhy references in her post, we are all the body of Christ. My role might be different than someone else’s, but we all, no matter our divergent politics or social concerns, have ways we can contribute to the Church and help make it the welcoming, loving institution Christ would want it to be.

Here are 10 practical ways feminists can make a positive impact on their local congregations.  Some of these are difficult – I know I don’t always have the nerve to speak up – but whenever I do, I invariably find people who have appreciated my perspective.

1. Make smart, insightful, and progressive comments in SS and RS.

2. Volunteer to teach lessons and give them an empowering, subtly feminist twist. (quote Chieko Okazaki as much as possible and use examples of great women throughout. Mother Teresa works great.)

3. Be proactive when something offensive is done. On a family history bulletin board in my church there was a disturbing sign which said that our goal was the ‘patriarchal order’ with a picture of a newly wedded couple right under it. They clearly meant something like celestial marriage, so I quietly changed the sign to say that. It’s now been there for 3 years. No one knows who changed it or why.

4. When something offensive is said or done in lessons and talks, kindly address either the speaker or RS president and voice your concerns. Chances are people will be more careful in the future.

5. Be open about who you are. If you are a working mom and loving it, be open about that and talk about why that works for you.  Mention it in discussions.

6. Write. Blog. Learn how other smart feminists are navigating the waters and contributing in a positive and progressive way.

7. Start a book group with open minded women in your ward. Discuss these issues. Raise consciousness. Read and discuss some of the classic feminist Mormon articles.

8. Tell people about things like Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives. A lot of women have these concerns but have no idea that stuff has been written about it.

9. Volunteer a lot in your ward. If you build up credibility as a generous giving person, people will give you the benefit of the doubt when you speak up in RS in a feminist way.

10. Don’t be afraid to do things a little untraditionally. My husband and I blessed our baby at home rather than church so that I could hold the baby with Mike. Not only that, I also wrote the blessing, which Mike read.

For me, the bottom line is talk. Write. Be open. Applaud when things are done well. Kindly address when things are done badly. And go with your own conscience, even if it goes against church policy or tradition. Just my two cents.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women’s Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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No Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    So Mike wants me amend number 10. He wants me to say that we wrote the blessing together, which is true. (Though I wrote most of it.)

  2. Violet says:

    Thank you Caroline! I love this list. After I read this the first time, a while back, I felt like I could contribute something as a feminist at church. I was at a low point and seriously considering not attending anymore and I now go keeping many of your suggestions in mind. And the next time we have a baby blessed I want to do what you did. BTW, how did your family react to your baby blessing?

  3. Zenaida says:

    Caroline, I love the story about changing the “patriarchal order” sign. : )

  4. CeeBee says:

    Caroline,

  5. Caroline says:

    Violet,

    You’re the reason I posted this 🙂 I remember you commented recently that you liked this list, so I thought I’d feature it as a post. I’m so glad you’ve found some of these things useful.

    Zenaida, just doing my work, one nasty sign at a time 🙂

  6. Joe says:

    Caroline, tell me more about #10. This sounds like a great idea.

  7. Caroline says:

    joe and violet,
    You can bless your baby however you want, so long as you do it in your own home and don’t care about that little baby blessing certificate (which really doesn’t mean anything – it’s only important if you want to scrapbook or something. The kid can still be entered as a child of record – just talk to the clerks.)

    We just invited our friends and family over – no bishopric members – and conducted our blessing in a way that felt right to us.

    I’m sure some family members thought it was a bit strange, but it was our home and our blessing, so they went along with it. As a concession to Mike’s very traditional family, we only blessed the baby. We did not give him “a name”. That seemed to make Mike’s bishop dad feel better. Mike read the blessing we wrote and used the term “we” as he read the blessing. Mike and I held the baby together, just the two of us. I thought it was great.

  8. L-D Sus says:

    I applaud your list. These are some helpful and universal suggestions. This post could have been titled “10 Practical Ways that Environmentally-Sensible Mormons can Contribute.”

    Thanks for the post.

  9. This is just the “shot in the arm” my faith needed right now after all that’s going on in California, I was really struggling with being a progressive feminist in my ward but now I feel motivated to continue to go church AND be me 🙂 thanks so much!!

  10. Violet says:

    Thanks for sharing more info about your baby blessing. It something I am will definitely keep in mind if and when we have another baby. My youngest is 4 months so another baby would be in the very distant future.

  11. Ziff says:

    Caroline, I love the story about changing the “patriarchal order” sign. : )

    I completely agree. This made me laugh and laugh, but I think it’s also a great example of deviously steering things in a more feminist direction. I love it!

  12. EmilyCC says:

    Love this post, Caroline! (I’m thinking of stealing some of your’s and Jessawhy’s postings for the EXII retreat workshop I’ll be doing in the fall)

    I organize our ward’s playgroup and did the cooking group for a while. I’ve found that as women in the ward get to know me at these outings, they accept my more “eccentric” behavior (like sticking always using “God” instead of “Heavenly Father”).

  13. Ziff says:

    That’s funny that you mention that, Emily, because I’ve noticed I tend to do the same thing. I think it’s because “Heavenly Father” is used so often that it just starts to sound like noise to me, and “God” breaks through the fog of my brain enough to convey the concept. If we used “God” more at church, I would probably prefer “Heavenly Father.” 🙂

  14. Jocelyn says:

    Caroline this is a great post. In number 7 you mentioned classic feminist Mormon articles. Do you have a list of articles that I could use to begin a reading group. I’m very interested in fueling my feminist education with an LDS perspective, but I’m not sure where to start.

  15. Kiri Close says:

    Super, duper cool post.

    I really dig this one, particularly since it articulates much of where i am/how i feel about my hippy-style membership & appreciative of the great diversity that is our global church.

  16. Caroline says:

    Thanks, people. Glad you like this list!

    Jocelyn, I’d buy a copy of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir by Ulrich and Thane. It’s a compilation of personal essays. The two must reads are ‘Lusterware’ and ‘Border Crossings.’ These essays are wonderful. When my friends read Lusterware for the first time, some just burst into tears because it’s what they had so desperately been needing.

    If you’re willing to go a bit more academic, Women and Authority by Hanks has some seminal articles. The one on Heavenly Mother is great. There are lots of good ones. Women and Authority is completely online. http://www.signaturebooks.com/outofprint/women.htm

    Also, look for Newell’s essay on ‘washing, anointing, and blessing the sick among Mormon women’ That should be online as well. It was one of the first articles I read – it blew my mind to think of what Mormon women used to be able to do.

    Beyond that, there are other good books. Sisters in Spirit, Mormon Enigma, etc.

  17. Jocelyn says:

    Thanks Caroline! I’ve recently returned to active church membership after six years of wandering. I’m grateful to see that there are sisters who are joining together here on this site to share their experiences and views. I’ve ordered Ulrich and Thayne’s book and can hardly wait to start reading Hanks work. Thanks again.

  18. Pace says:

    HI there! I am a sister visitor to your blog. I’ll make it short and simple. If you diligently follow Caroline’s 10 steaps, you Will see a change.

    I’m a convert, coming into membership in the late-1970s during the Sonia Johnson debacle, priesthood instructing from the pulpit as to how to vote on the “feminist” amendment, working moms we really chastised for working out of the home, divored women with children were treated with distain. Not to mention the microbial probing of a sister’s personal life for a temple recommend.

    There are lots of articles floating around on the Internet about Mormon feminism during the late 1800s. Eliza R. Snow’s journal, Brother Brigham and the Brethren entertaining Susan B. Anthony and others working on sufferage. Why? Get the votes–get the control. Look at the changes between pre- and post-correlation. Relief Society was very powerful in the Church in the early to mid 1900s and then the changes began. It may have been a different time and a couple of generations removed, but the real suppression of women began in the 1940s and 1950s, post-war decades.

    Sisters the best defense you have is knowledge and how to use it within the confines of a patriachly society. Know who you are. Validate yourself and your influence every day. You are Daughters of God!

    P.S. One of the reasons my totally active husband married me 30+ years ago was because he knew I’d never turn into a Molly.

  19. Caroline says:

    Pace, thanks for sharing your story. You sound like you’ve been through what so many of us younger feminists are struggling with. Do you have any further ideas about how to function meaningfully within a patriarchal church?

  20. Violet says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Pace. I appreciate other feminist with more experience than me. I second Caroline’s question.

  21. Alicia says:

    Caroline,

    great list. I am going to make a copy of it to post on my office wall. I appreciate that the paths listed encourage the reader to be honest and graceful in her apporach.
    thank you!

  22. KiriClose says:

    here’s my own current list of 10 ways i would like to contribute to the idiot branch we currently attend (thank G-d we’re outta there in 10 months):

    1. get rid of the sunday school teacher (she never lets people share their true feelings). should i hire the Sopranos for this one?

    2. dismiss the one current missionary who wants to baptize people who will only become less active. (again, the Sopranos?)

    3. repeatedly inform the one primary teacher that 2-11 year old children need games & hands on participation in class & not 2 hours of straight scripture reading only!

    4. Hold a class for the entire branch (of 4-5 active families?) that perhaps the reason they are still a branch (after 20 years) is most likely due to their racist comments towards the local Native Americans (who make up more than half of the less actives).

    5. remind them it’s the year 2008–they seemed to have misplaced their updated calendars (?)

    6. that spreading rumors about other members is probably a really, really good reason why many do not return to their hole of a branch.

    7. keep all appointments.

    8. announce in church that the youth in their area are reading about vampires written by a mormon gal. there’s no need to ground their kids for a month over that.

    9. politely pass the word on for everyone to stop cornering my husband about baptism in all their lessons, prayers, & sacrament meetings talks. it’s gotten pretty ridiculous.

    10. email everyone about the very real possibility that the next president of the United States may actually be a non-caucasian—hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

    rob & i r in HELL in our new place! while I feel very connected 2 the young women in my calling, i must admit that this ward ‘chooses’ to remain unprogressed. i’d rather be swallowing needles, seriously.

    HELP!!!

  23. KiriClose says:

    funny how outside of church, life in our little town of Gordon, Nebraska is actually nice & quaint.

  24. Caroline says:

    Wow, Kiri, you really do have a tough branch. I complain about my 630 plus ward (too huge, too impersonal, etc.) but at least I don’t have to deal with rampant racism and other obnoxious behavior like you described.

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