10 Years of the Exponent: How A Feminist and a Mormon Became a Mormon Feminist

101  When I was a junior in high school, I got my first pair of glasses. I’d been getting headaches more and more often so my mom took me to the eye doctor. I was skeptical until I sat down in the chair and couldn’t read the poster at the other end of the room. When I got my new glasses a few weeks later I was astounded by all the detail I could see. The trees had individual leaves. I could look down and see the texture of the sidewalk. I hadn’t even noticed what I couldn’t see.

I came to feminism in the fall of my junior year of college. A dear friend took me to a screening of Miss Representation that she had to go to for one of her women’s studies classes. I went mostly because she asked me to. It was like the world suddenly went from fuzzy to focus, like when I first got glasses. There was a name for what I had observed, and I understood why watching TV bothered me. I began to notice small inequalities in how men and women are viewed. I started reading anything and everything I could get my hands on…books by bell hook and Virginia Wolf, psychology research about gender bias and stereotypes.

In the mean time, I continued to teach Primary. I continued to love and served in the church. And then someone at church asked me what my major was. When I said Human Development, they congratulated me on choosing such a “family friendly” degree. I know this person was well intentioned and meant no harm, but I was really surprised. I was in that major because I was interested in the science behind how people become who they are. It was the rigor and creativity that appealed to me, not that it would serve me well with some hypothetical future family that I didn’t have yet. I started to notice, again, small inequalities in how men vs. women in the church were treated. Only this time it hurt more. The church and it’s members were supposed to be ‘in the world but not of the world’ and in my mind, sexism was a worldly thing. I was so disappointed and hurt.

Then one day, when I was researching an answer to a question a non-member friend had for me, I came across this article: http://www.the-exponent.com/when-mormons-sit-at-the-cool-table-with-the-christian-right/

It was the first time I’d been to The Exponent. I stayed up all night reading article after article. Here was a light, a balm, a like-minded community! I was not the only person who had noticed problems with the church’s approach to gender! I wasn’t crazy! I became an avid lurker on Mo-Fem blogs. Finally I got up the courage to comment on one of Spunky’s posts. She reached out to me privately and struck up a conversation. Eventually she asked me to write a guest post. It was one of the first times that a community had asked for my voice. It was such a healing experience for me. Now, as a perma, I get to contribute my voice on a regular basis.

In my professional life, part of what I study is how constructing narratives promote or detract from psychological well-being, and how they help us construct meaning from our experiences. Being able to tell your version of events in an authentic way contributes significantly to feelings of self worth, it can reduce stress, helps individuals process difficult or challenging experiences in constructive ways, and leads to greater life satisfaction. On the other hand, if our life narratives are overly shaped by social expectations it can lead to dissatisfaction, depression, and an inability to move past difficult experiences.

The Exponent blog has been very important to me because it offers an outlet where women can tell their stories without that kind of pressure. It is so easy to get discouraged, to fall victim to learned helplessness, and to be silenced as a woman, and especially as a Mormon woman. If our stories deviate from the approved social script we lose the little social capital we are afforded. But here, there is a community that values all women’s voices, and strives to give women an opportunity to share their stories. The Exponent serves such an important function. I am so blessed to have found it.

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3 Responses

  1. I wrote that article about Mormons and the Christian Right! So glad it helped you find us here!

  2. Ziff says:

    I love your comparison of coming to feminism and getting glasses, Jess R. I also love the community on the MoFem blogs! Great post!

  3. spunky says:

    This is wonderful! I am such the lucky one to have had your response to my emails! I am so glad you are with us, and so blessed to have you as a friend. Your words here are welcome and valued, and I am so very blessed to get to read your thoughts regularly in your posts. Thank you for being you, and thank you for being a part of the Exponent. xo

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