Book Review Series: Mormon Feminism

Today’s review is of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. Rachel, has already written about this book, but it gets its own review in this series today.Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

My only reading time is the time I spend coming home from work on public transit. This means, I get about 20-25 minutes of reading in before I put the book down. This book, being an anthology of lots of essays, is really great for that kind of reading. Read a little here, read a little there.

I like the chronological ordering of the essays in the book. It starts in the 1970s and slowly progresses to the current day Bloggernacle. Many of the essays in the first couple of sections of the book are from old copies of Mormon magazines that I don’t have access to, so compiling them here makes them available to me. There are even newer writings, like Neylan McBaine’s recent book To Do the Business of the Church, that I haven’t read yet.

I found myself thinking, “Oh yeah, I agree with that.” “Nope, I can see where they are coming from, but I’m not sure about that.” “Ooh, that’s a good point.” There was a particular pairing of essays, almost one right after another, that was really hard for me to get through. It was heavy and made my heart hurt. They were Lynn Matthews Anderson’s excerpts from “Toward a Feminist Interpretation of Latter-day Saint Scripture” and Carol Lynn Pearson’s “Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites?” Having the inequality of women in scripture laid out so plainly is hard.

I mostly rate books based on how much of the book I find myself reading out loud to my husband. There was a good amount here that I wanted to read to him (can’t do that on my commute!), so I’m going to give it lots of stars for that. And thumbs up. And likes. +1.

I’ve seen some criticism of this book related to what essays they’ve left out. I especially felt in the last section with the Bloggernacle, there are lots of essays that belong in the “Essential Writings” category for Mormon Feminism, but this is a good start. There are probably tons of articles from old Exponent IIs, Dialogue, and others that belong here, but I simply haven’t heard about them. I think there is plenty of room for a second volume.

Another criticism I have heard is the lack of writings from voices outside the Unites states and from women of color. The last section attempts to address this a bit, but I’m sure there is room for more.

ETA: Concerning the last 2 sentences, I just remembered it was another book that was receiving that criticism. However, I read this one with that in mind and it is true that about the first 2/3 of the book’s essays come from white American women. That is probably more of a reflection of how well/not well the Mormon publications of the 1970s-1990s included women of color and non-Americans than this book. As I was reading it, I did wonder what writings might have been left out during those decades and where you might go to find them. Unfortunately, they weren’t widely published, but I imagine lots of journals and oral traditions contain them. That’s a project for another day.

Ultimately, this will be a great one to have on your shelf. I was the kind of kid who would read books from my parent’s shelves while eating breakfast and I look forward to when my kids pick this one up at breakfast 10 years from now.


This is a part of the Exponent Book Review Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to treasurer@exponentii.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of many books being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.

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TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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8 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! It’s on my Christmas wish list and I’m really hoping it’ll show up under my tree! Any collection like this is going to have gaps and omissions, but it’s still such a valuable book. I love the idea of a second volume!

  2. Pleiades says:

    I am glad I have a Kindle, because I would be wearing out my highlighter if this were a paper book. So much good stuff – poignant, frustrating, and praiseworthy. I too would love a second volume.

  3. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful review, TopHat! The parts that were painful for you to read are painful for me, too, as well as a few more. I wrote previously “that some indignation and sorrow might come in recollection, and that reading it makes me cry, no matter how many times I have read it before,” and that I’m thankful that “the writings contain their own balm in Gilead, their own hope, their own peace, their own resolution, and their own power, built upon what Claudia once called the ‘dual platforms’ of Mormonism and feminism.” I still feel all of those things today.

    The choosing What to remember was so hard, and sometimes also painful. Our first draft was 1000 pages! We had to cut it in more than half. We tried to edit as many pieces as possible to keep as many voices as possible, but there were still so many we hoped to keep that we couldn’t. The way I view the subtitle is that it is not “essential events,” “essential people,” or even “every essential writing.” It can’t be. It is just one book. There is room for so, so many more. Including like you said, work recovering “journals and oral histories” for both women of color and women living outside of the US.

  4. Ziff says:

    Thanks for the review, TopHat! I’m hoping to get this book for Christmas. If not, I’m planning to buy it for myself for uh, the new year. 🙂 And I really hope there is another volume! Multiple volumes! A series!

  5. Kari says:

    I can’t wait to read to this book. I’m glad there have been a few volumes out this year talking about Mormon feminism.

  6. I’ve started reading this, but I am still in the 1970s. Life is busy. But I have actually read many of the essays previously, in their original forms, so I know there is a treasure of good stuff in here. There are certainly others I would have chosen if I had edited the book, but there is simply no way to contain all Mormon feminist thought in one book. Joanna Brooks came to a Mormon feminist retreat I attended when the book was still in planning stages and asked us which writings had influenced us and that we considered “essential.” Some of the things I suggested were included in the final and others not.

  7. ElleK says:

    Your review got me excited to read this book. I’ve been apprehensive about it because I wasn’t sure I wanted to face the pain it will probably dredge up, but sometimes it’s important to feel the pain. I’m intrigued especially by Carol Lynn Pearson’s essay you referenced.

  8. Sara B. says:

    Got my copy in the mail yesterday! I went to a panel discussion with the editors in Provo last month and was impressed with the insights. I was going to buy it that night but they sold out. Looking forward to reading over Christmas break!

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