New ways to navigate the Exponent

Exponent II Pinterest Collage

A collage of pins from the Exponent Pinterest Account.

An Exponent reader recently gave me some feedback on the website.  She told me that she would like to be able to see a list of all posts by a certain author, or a list of all posts in the archive by date from her phone. I have updated our top navigation menu so this is now possible.

One way that I have always liked to read the Exponent on my desktop is to peruse recent comments to see where conversations are in progress at the blog. I have now added this feature to the top menu so that browsing recent comments is available on both desktop and mobile devices.

I also added some navigation options that are new not just to mobile devices, but to the desktop version as well. For some time now, gracious volunteers have been translating Exponent posts into Spanish and French. (You can read posts by some of our translation volunteers here, here, here and here.)  We have even had some guest posts submitted in Spanish, that were posted in their original language along with an English translation. But until now, there has not been a way to view the complete collection of Spanish or French posts. Fixed.

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Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women: What’s in the new essay?

Emma!The 12th essay in the Gospel Topics series was released yesterday by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Titled Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, the essay describes Smith’s expansive views of female participation within the priesthood, as well as very recent teachings by Mormon leaders who have sought to clarify the role of women in the priesthood since Ordain Women launched in 2013.

Instead of teaching that priesthood is inherently male, the essay authors emphasize that both “Latter-day Saint women and men go forward with priesthood power and authority.” Although Mormon women are not ordained to offices of the priesthood, the authors point out that Mormon women perform “service and leadership [that] would require ordination in many other religious traditions” such as giving sermons, proselytizing, and officiating in temple ordinances. It is refreshing to see another official church resource explicitly state that “women exercise priesthood authority even though they are not ordained to priesthood office.”

The authors call out two common areas of confusion about the priesthood:

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To Hold In Their Hands

Last fall, I sat in a room on Yale University’s campus, and listened to Terry Tempest William read aloud from her book, When Women Were Birds. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly was this: “Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happening of our lives. Keeping a journal is keeping a record.” I knew instinctively, that she was right, because of myself, and those who came before me.

My mind was flooded with their names: Eliza R. Snow, Louisa Green Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, and other early leaders who wrote in both their private journals and their published journal, The Woman’s Exponent; Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Judith Dushku, and other Boston area women who found their words in Harvard’s Widener Library, and carried their torch by starting the Exponent II; a myriad of other Mormon women writers and bloggers here and elsewhere.

The February before that, I sat in a room on Claremont Graduate University’s campus, and listened to Joanna Brooks affirm that Mormon women need a book. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly, was this:

The public conversations swirl onward and online as sometimes sort of directionless with nothing like the great orienteering tool of a book, for there is nothing like a book to hold in one’s hand and locate oneself in a tradition… Mormon women coming of age need to hold in their hands the wealth of perspective and knowledge of these last four decades of Mormon feminism… This work has value, and something about a book conveys value, so, I’m setting to work compiling a volume of essential Mormon feminist writings from 1970 to the present.

There was no way I could have known it then, but Joanna would later ask Hannah Wheelwright and I to help her co-edit the volume. It was a massive undertaking of love, and work, and patience, and community. (We ourselves asked for lots, and lots of help from our sisters, and received it.) The book is here now, and Mormon feminists are holding it in their hands. It is among the happiest, most beautiful sights.

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Bicycling in the Women’s Exponent

This week, I started reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes and found a quote from 1885 I hadn’t seen before, though it must be somewhat well-known as it’s quoted in the April 1985 Friend magazine in an article on the history of the bicycle.

The mere act of riding a bicycle is not in itself sinful and if it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable.

This made me wonder if the bicycle was a hot topic in Mormonism, so I checked if it was mentioned in the original Women’s Exponent. And it was. Four times.

Chronologically, the first time “bicycle” was mentioned was in the June 15, 1892 issue, in an article written by someone with the initials “AWC.” She had gone on a trip to Heidelberg and wrote an article titled “A Day in Heidelberg” describing her experience. Her bicycle quote:

The city streets are narrow and crooked, the buildings tall and old and dark, and so shading the streets that it is positive relief to enter the principal promenade, the Anlage where the walks and drives are broader, and there among the border shrubs and trees are pretty rustic seats where one can watch the fashionable ladies ,the children with their nurses, the pretty girls with their staid chaperones, and the gaily attired students strolling, riding, bicycle riding.

The next time “bicycle” is mentioned is in the July 15, 1894 issue, in an article titled Saltair: A Famous Pleasure Resort about an “Old Folks Day” event held there. The editor states, “The Bicycle drill was a genuine amusement, and everybody enjoyed it immensely, judging from the vociferous applause.” I’m not sure what a “Bicycle Drill” consisted of. I’m guessing it’s some sort of race, but if anyone knows better, please share!

Also, that year, the “Miscellaneous” section of the September 1 issue, mentioned the bicycle. The “Miscellaneous” articles in each issue shared current news. This time the section included this:

Miss WILLARD and Miss Gordon returned to “The Eagle’s Nest” chalet, in the Catskill Mountains, July 27, where they will have two stenographers, and continue their work for the W. C. T. U. Miss Willard is to complete her “Handbook of History and Methods,” her booklet on “How I Learned the Bicycle, with reflections by the Way,” and, besides preparing her annual address, she will send out leaflets and articles for the press, and will write an editorial each week for the Union Signal, the organ of the White Ribbon movement.

Here, the Miss Willard is Frances Willard, a suffragist who founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U., above), which was symbolized by a white ribbon. Her friend, secretary, and biographer, Anna Adams Gordon later became the president of the WCTU.

The final mention of the bicycle in the Women’s Exponent comes from Elsie Ada Faust’s address from the Alumni Banquet at the University of Utah. Her speech was published in the February 15, 1897 issue of the Women’s Exponent and was titled, “The New Woman.” In it, she outlined what “the New Woman” is like and addressing the concerns that women were becoming “too independent” with treasures such as,

Writers and speakers have been so busy separating the sexes and theoretically endowing each with separate elements of character that they have not had time to see (and the misunderstanding of this subject depends largely on the lack of seeing) that there is no difference, for if we look well we will find that all the vanities and faults supposed to be wholly feminine may be found just as often in man as in woman; and all the noble traits and attributes of which men have assumed a monopoly appear just as often in woman.

I really want to share the whole address, but you can find it in the link above. She uses the bicycle as a metaphor in the next section:

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

The new woman, or rather woman in her new light, does not look down on her fellow man as is commonly supposed; not at all, for she knows however short he may fall below the ideal, she may not do any better. And you will find, though bicycle mounted, with her voluminous sleeves set to the breezes, she will not take more than her half of the road. All she asks is equal start and privileges down the race of life.

Victorian opinions on bicycles varied greatly, but it seems that Victorian Mormonism looked on bicycling positively. If you are interested in a great book on the intersection of first wave feminism and advent of the bicycle, check out Wheels of Change.


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Where None shall Come to Hurt or Make Afraid

Last month, my family was in Nauvoo for a family reunion. One night we watched the Nauvoo pageant. As Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, we are told that he goes there on “trumped up” and “false” charges. This was not entirely true; he was there for his connection to the Nauvoo Council’s decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press. The few days we were in Nauvoo, we also went to Carthage and heard the story of the martyrdom multiple times at various historical sites. And I looked at my kids and thought, “Please, please, please, do not absorb the Mormon persecution complex. Please, please, pStatue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Nauvoo Illinois lease.” I know what it does and it is not good.

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Honoring Scriptural Villains


By Jenny

Sitting around a campfire with other Mormon feminists until the early hours of the morning this last weekend, I realized how deep the conversation gets late at night when the embers glow crimson.  It reminded me of testimony meetings around the campfire at girl’s camp.  Late at night we would share deeply of our stories and listen to each other, crying with love and understanding.  A powerful bond is created through the telling of stories.  I used to feel that bond with the heroes in the scriptures as I read their stories.  But lately, especially as I have thought more about scriptural villains, I have found a lack of depth to the scriptures.  I write my post today in honor of scriptural villains who did not get the chance to tell their own stories.

First up are two of the most familiar villains known to our Mormon family:  Laman and Lemuel.  We know them as the murmuring older brothers to the ever-faithful, ever-perfect Nephi.  They were riotess, godless men who abused their younger brother, gave their parents grey hair, and created an entire civilization of wicked people who fought against the civilization created by Nephi and his righteous brothers.  That is their story…or at least the story we know, written from the perspective of a younger brother.  I wonder what kind of story my brothers would write about me.  What kind of story would my enemies write about me?  Would it align with my own story about myself?  I can answer that with an emphatic “NO!”

Add to the mix the fact that Nephi was painstakingly engraving this story on plates.  If I was going to that much effort to tell my story, with the intent that it would be around for future generations everywhere to read, I would make every effort possible to make myself look good, even if that meant making my enemies look worse than they really were.  In effect, I as an imperfect human would not have the capacity to tell another person’s story accurately.  It would only be my story from my perspective.  So what we have is not so much Laman and Lemuel’s story, but Nephi’s story about them.  And for over a century, we as members of the church have condemned these complex human beings based on a simple story that is missing millions of pieces of information, as well as multiple perspectives.

I spent my life condemning these characters that I barely know.  But now I honor them for their humanness.  I have compassion for them and I know that I can’t judge them based on the little information I have.  They may not have had the faith (nor the arrogance) of the hero Nephi.  But they had the courage to live their own story instead of living within Nephi’s story of them.  They broke away from family and tribe to live authentically according to the dictates of their own consciences.  They had the courage to be the villains in Nephi’s story of them.  I know how hard that is.  I have also had to become okay with being the villain in other people’s stories and not to let that affect my own story about myself.  I know people talk about me.  I know they are still perpetuating a story about me as an apostate who needs to be avoided because my ideas are dangerous.  That is their story and I can’t do anything about it, but live my own story that doesn’t involve apostasy or dangerous ideas.

The other scriptural villain that I love is the lesser-known Noadiah, the false prophetess.  One of the reasons she is my favorite is because this is all we know about her:  “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  After reading that a few years ago, I closed my eyes and wondered, if only one line was written about me and my life, what would it be?  It would depend on who wrote that one line of course.  If it were my current bishop, I imagine that he would write, “Jenny was a strong and faithful member of the Church until she got into things she shouldn’t have online and fell down the slippery slope to apostasy.”  And just like that, in one line, I would go down in history as a villain, an enemy to God.  I crave more information about Noadiah.  Nehemiah wrote his memoir as if he was doing the work of God in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  We don’t know many details about how or why Noadiah tried to thwart him.  We only know that from Nehemiah’s point of view, he was right and she was wrong.  He was with God and she was against God.  And in the span of history, he had the power because he had the pen.  So now people of our generation, taking the Bible to be the word of God, caste Noadiah as a false prophetess.

I wonder if Noadiah was fighting for something that was beyond her lifetime.  Did Nehemiah’s anger come from a power struggle because of his status and authority?  Was Noadiah a threat because she knew she was not inferior to men and she refused to be subjugated by their authority?  Ultimately, I think Nehemiah’s issue with Noadiah could probably be boiled down to the fact that he wasn’t willing to listen to a difference of opinion.  He thought he knew God’s way and that was all he needed.  Anyone who opposed that was an enemy.  Not much has really changed in human nature since then.

I wish I could sit up late, watching the glowing embers of a fire, feeling the night breeze on my face, as Noadiah and I discuss her life and what she fought for.  I want to understand her disagreement with Nehemiah on a deeper level.  I don’t even care if I would disagree with her.  I just want to hear her story of herself.  I want to know what made her a false prophetess.  I want my people to stop seeing the world in black and white.  I want us to stop making flat characters of complex human beings.  I want the Mormon church to be like those late evening testimony meetings at girl’s camp, as we shared our stories and discovered the depths of each other’s souls.  We condemn the villains in our scriptures, we condemn the villains in our present church.  But if we could sit down and talk to all villains past and present, we might discover that the only real villain is our condemnation of people before we truly and deeply know them.

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