By Way of Introduction

Last night I pulled a pale pink issue of Dialogue off the “Mormon Women” section of my bookshelf. (Do yourself a favor and buy the Fall 2003 edition; it’s devoted entirely on women’s voices, with articles by Carol Lynn Pearson, Linda Hoffman Kimball, and Claudia Bushman among others.) Since I’ve agreed to participate on this blog, I reread with interest Claudia Bushman’s essay “My Short Happy Life with Exponent II.” As she notes, “Exponent II was born in one of those times when the world turned upside down.” I was born a couple of years later.

The world was not upside down when I discovered this paper. The Berlin Wall had collapsed and the Twin Towers hadn’t. It was about 1990, and I was a teenager bouncing between exuberant devotion and exhausting questioning. I was a BYU brat, and my older siblings were at various stages of extrication from the church for reasons I empathized with even then. However, I loved prayer and believed fiercely that I had a voice and that God listened to my voice – as they listened to billions of individual voices.

Still, I found myself upset . . . a lot – after a seminary teachers’ rant against homosexuals, after a young women activity on housework, after reading a book on the ERA. While I was generally outspoken, I mostly kept quiet about my religious concerns; concerns that revolved around the role(s) of women in the church. At that age, it was too scary to doubt and too painful not to.

And then I discovered my mother’s stash of Exponent II’s. We had a teeming family library – neat rows and sloppy piles. Mixed in with Richard Feynman and Charlotte Bronte were back collections of several LDS-themed periodicals. One summer, I methodically read each copy of Exponent II. In the corner of my bedroom, in the hammock, under the birch tree. This isn’t the “discovery narrative” that Nate Oman has described. I wasn’t looking for confirmation of truth or doubts – I was responding to women’s voices; women who spoke with frankness and faith. As Bushman writes, “Exponent II has taken on hard topics, publishing anguished, angry, and triumphant words. Laurel [Thatcher Ulrich] once said that it was like a long letter from a dear friend.”

As much as it was an enlightening read, it was . . . fun. The essays gave me much more confidence in my ability grow up into the woman — and the Mormon woman — I wanted to be. Fifteen years later, I feel the same way. In Shadowlands, the C.S. Lewis character says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” In essence, that’s why I read. And, because there are other women looking for that same connection, that’s why I blog.

(If any of you Exponent II readers are lurking, feel free to post your own thoughts/memories. For those who have found have recently found us, please visit the paper’s website and read a couple of issues. My fellow bloggers and I hope this web-log offers one more way to fulfill the paper’s mission to “provide a forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. This exchange allows us to better understand each other and shape the direction of our lives.” )


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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No Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Great post, Deborah! i love that C.S. Lewis quote about reading to know we’re not alone. That wonderfully states how I feel as well.

    As for Exponent II, I didn’t discover it until later on in life. I was probably about 23 and my husband told me about Hanks’ book, Women and Authority. I checked it out and read it cover to cover. I was blown away by it, and was particularly intrigued by the chapter on women’s publications in which there were dozens of excerpts from Exponent II. It was a complete revelation to me – to think that there were LDS women out there who were so thoughtful, so willing to go against the norm, so different and diverse. I had for a few years already identified as a Mormon feminist, and it was so comforting to know that there were others out there as well.

    One excerpt that struck me especially was from a Sisters Speak section in which a woman told of how she successfully petitioned to hold her baby in Sacrament Meeting during the baby blessing. From that moment, I vowed that I would also hold my baby during its blessing. I was also struck with sympathy by an excerpt about a woman who painfully, with great agony, decided to use birth control after her seventh child, even though there was such heavy condemnation for it from the pulpit at that time.

    Shortly after that I began subscribing to Exponent and then offered to do a Southern California guest issue.

    Because of its rich history, I am very dedicated to doing what I can to keep Exponent II alive. I created this blog in the hopes that we could take our committment to women, our questions, and our community to a whole new generation of young women who don’t yet know about Exponent II.

  2. jana says:

    Getting my mother’s old copies of X2 was a lifeline to me when I was in college and struggling with my identity as an LDS woman.

    I also particularly love Emma Lou Thayne and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s _All Gods’ Critters Got a Place in the Choir_. It’s a compilation of many of their X2 essays & poetry. IMO, every LDS woman should have access to a copy of it!!

  3. amelia says:

    i tried to get introduced by way of a subscription, but it never came. so my introduction to exponent has been through wonderful friends here who have provided me an incredible support group. i found both exponent articles and _all god’s critters got a place in the choir_ through them and they’ve been wonderful.

    i also discovered FMH and a few other online sources that have been good through them. thanks ladies.

  4. Mike says:

    FYI, all previous Dialogue issues, including Fall 2003, can be freely viewed online at the University of Utah electronic collections web site:

  5. EmilyCC says:

    Deborah, it’s funny, my story is very similar to your’s. My mom had a subscription to Exponent II when I was growing up. I grew up in a pretty conservative area (both in terms of politics and the Church), so as a Young Woman, those articles showed me that there are lots of other Mormon feminists out there.

    Interestingly, when I was in college, I knew my future husband was someone special when I saw a Sister Speak that he wrote with my mother and sister-in-law.