Coming out of the Feminist Closet

by Jessawhy

Butterfly

With at least two like-minded feminists in my ward, I’m beginning to feel a little bolder in expressing my feminism at church. My husband reminds me that my personality is intense and feminism can be my hammer and sometimes everything I see becomes a nail. So, I take this analogy into account in my comments at church. I’d like to think that some people my know a lean liberal, but most don’t think of me as a feminist.

That all changed at church yesterday. Because Stake Conference is next week, we had fast and testimony meeting. After the sacrament portion of the service, a bishopric member (the one who talked to me about the Pinewood Derby change), began talking about how exciting it was for a family to have a son newly ordained to be a deacon passing the sacrament. He explained that our ward has a tradition to have his older brothers and father pass the sacrament with him. He recognized and praised the boy and his family for the honor of passing the sacrament.

As this man, who was not the father of this boy, spoke about the priesthood ordinances and offices and recognition,  I felt something was missing. I felt left out. Women don’t have this milestone (or many like it) in our church, and sometimes they are not recognized for the significant contributions they do make to the church and the world.

So, when people started going to bear their testimonies, I felt that feeling that I haven’t felt in years.  Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. I knew I needed to get up and say something. I needed to have integrity and be true to myself and my beliefs, and recognize the contributions of women in the church.

Then my two youngest sons started fighting and screaming over who got to sit on my lap, so I stood up, resolving the feud by getting rid of the lap all together. (One of my dear friends sitting behind me reached over and grabbed my baby who sat with her the entire meeting. Ah, the blessings of sisterhood.)

As I approached the stand, I was very nervous and at the microphone, I told everyone I didn’t know why I was up there.  I just felt like I should speak what was in my heart.
Then I talked about struggling with my testimony over the last two years, and seeing the church in a new way: seeing my relationship with God as separate from my relationship with the church.

I mentioned how much I loved my family and God, then I talked about women.
“Women in our church are strong and good. They have so much to share and give. Women can bless and heal, they can love and serve.  Women have the opportunity for salvation and for a relationship with God.”

I emphasized how important it is to recognize women’s gifts because we have just as many daughters as sons.
Then I closed in Jesus’ name.

On my way down from the stand, I realized the irony of my last comment, as I have three sons and zero daughters.

After I sat down, the reality of what I had done set in and I was scared, embarrassed, overwhelmed, and ready to go home. I had done something that I only imagined doing, but never expected I would really do. It was scary to be so vulnerable to the rest of the ward. I hoped that there was a reason I felt prompted, as it were.

Still, I resolved to stand tall and smile at everyone who passed me, not letting my insecurity keep me from being the friendly person I am at church.  When I walked the halls, a few people spoke kind words, but some of my closest friends avoided making eye contact. Even my husband responded, “It doesn’t matter” when I asked him on the way home what he thought of my testimony.

Really, he’s right. I am struggling to find my place in this church. I need to be more honest with ward members I have known and loved for years.  Lucky for me, one of my favorite feminists is in my ward and she told me later how touched she was by my testimony. It brought her to tears, both during the meeting and later throughout the day.  She said that my courage had helped her resolve concerns she’d been struggling with over the last week. Hearing her perspective gave me peace and helped me feel appreciated for my very unusual testimony.

By coming out of the feminist closet yesterday, I have opened myself up for a lot of possible responses from my ward. Perhaps I’ll feel more loved, perhaps I’ll feel more marginalized or rejected. Or, perhaps by holding on to my stake inside this tent that is supposed to have room for everyone, I make room for other women like me to come out of the feminist closet, too.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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61 Responses

  1. Kaimi says:

    Wow, Jess. That’s scary and awesome and very butterfly-inducing.

    Congrats to you, for having the gumption to do it. And, from your description, to do it in a way that’s accessible to the rest of the ward — honest and open and not pulling punches, but not angry or yelling or demanding.

    I hope it goes okay. I’d guess that you were an inspiration to many people in the ward, some of whom you don’t even know very well; and that others may see you as a rabble rouser or a threat. It will not be fun dealing with any hostility that this brings. But it’s great that you’ve found a space to be honest with your feelings.

    Good luck navigating the reactions to this. Hugs to you, girl. 🙂

  2. Alisa says:

    Jessawhy, what courage it took. I know that feeling (from my last post) about saying something incredibly brave, but bringing on the risk of marginalization. I look forward to hearing how this worked out for you and hope for the best.

    I hate to threadjack on the first comment, but your story of the boy ordained to the Priesthood reminds me of this. I have recently been discussing Joseph Campbell and how feminism ties into his hero myths with some friends. One friend reminded me that while boys go through narrative experiences at their coming of age, girls get their periods, which is the equivalent or better because it’s an exciting change in their bodies. This reminded me very clearly of those who say that men get the Priesthood and women get to have babies. Maybe I’m missing something, but I hardly feel like having a period is a special gift of God based on my worthiness, and that something that happened to me biologically, in private, in the bathroom, is equal to orindation to the Priesthood. I acutally think that young men go through a similar biological change that young women do and begin experiencing nocturnal emissions around that age, so men are not off the hook for excluding women from external coming of age ceremonies, such as Priesthood, on the basis of menses.

  3. mraynes says:

    Jess, I don’t really have words to describe how beautiful this is to me. Your testimony brought me to tears and I am so grateful I know you. I am in awe of your bravery and desire to be authentic and I hope that I can strive to develop those qualities in myself.

    I think I understand what your husband was trying to say when he said it didn’t matter. In two weeks, when your ward reconvenes, probably most of your ward will forget that you even bore your testimony. But there will be a few for whom your testimony meant a great deal. Whether or not there were people in your ward who needed your testimony, you needed to give it, to share with your community and yourself the knowledge that God loves you and all women. That matters a great deal.

    If there are ward members who are uncharitable, it is they who misunderstand what the gospel is. You have held up your end of the tent and there will be people who will find refuge under it. Count me as one of those people.

  4. manaen says:

    I’m puzzled — I’ve only read through this a couple times, but from this description, I don’t (yet) understand what was the radical/separatingly-feminist part of your comments.
    .
    You don’t recount saying anything that either contradicted the bishopric counselor’s comments or demeaned my (male) sex but added your own affirmation of our beloved sisters. Hear, hear!
    .
    As for talking about your struggles with your testimony, that could cause some unease among those ignorant of how to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5) but you appear to have done nothing other than follow the BoM model for testimony meetings: “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” (Mni 6:5)
    .
    As for the separate relationships with God and his Church, that is key to a healthy life as a Saint; otherwise the calling-based burnout looms. We’ve been taught continually to have as our priorities: God, family, church, country: God first, Church third. We’re not to say “no” ot God, we’re to use our own inspiration whether to say “yes” or “no” to the Church. Separate relationships.
    .
    This leaves that inflammatory bit about expressing your love for God and your family but I’m sure your ward will tolerate your vocal adherence to Christ’s two great commandments.
    .
    Peace, my sister.

  5. Jana says:

    Jess:
    I disagree with your spouse. What you said does matter. You know why? Because ultimately your life is yours and living it with authenticity and conviction is what matters most.

    That, and I think you’re amazing and if I’d been in the audience I would have done something uneemly like yelling “AMEN, SISTER!” 🙂

  6. Flygirl says:

    Wow, Jess, I am very impressed by your courage and efforts to be authentic. I’m sure there are people who feel similarly and needed to hear that, or even people who feel differently, who need to hear and understand that. I used to think that everyone at church had similar feelings and thoughts, now I know this isn’t the case, the different ones were often just quieter. The more you and people like you speak up, others will feel like they can do the same, and those who may have never thought much about feminism may start to understand a bit more.

  7. manaen says:

    Jana, Her husband did not reply that what Jessawhy said doesn’t matter; his response was that what he thought about it doesn’t matter.

  8. Kiskilili says:

    Kudos to you! I wish you were in my ward. (Except I don’t have a ward. :))

    To be honest, I never figured out how to balance my desire to be authentic and my worries that my authentic self would be corrosive to the community. There was a time when I went to church faithfully every week and then walked out of meetings regularly. (Snuck out, actually.) I didn’t agree with what was being said but I also didn’t feel that I had a right to voice opinions too far outside the norm.

    But I love it anytime someone bears testimony or makes comments in a way that stretches our acceptable narratives, even when their experiences are really different from my own.

    A related issue is how hard it can be to sniff out fellow feminists in one’s ward, especially when people often don’t say what they really think in church contexts. It’s nice when someone drops respectful hints–at least, nice for fellow heretics. 🙂

    And Alisa, I completely agree: bleeding into your panties is not the equivalent of being authorized to act in God’s name, or undergoing a hero’s journey. It’s just not.

  9. Thomas J says:

    Wow, your testimony was radical? I’m so glad I live in a ward FULL of men and women who believe exactly what you do – and declare it in TM often.

    But, as one who grew up in a conservative ward, I can imagine how you must have felt. I congratulate you on having courage to say what’s in your heart.

  10. Matt says:

    Jessawhy,

    That was a beautiful testimony – thank you for sharing, both there and here.

    I love the ending bit:

    “I emphasized how important it is to recognize women’s gifts because we have just as many daughters as sons.”

    God bless.

  11. Jessawhy says:

    Kaimi,
    Thanks for your comment. I didn’t know you lurked around here anymore . . . 🙂
    The more I think about it, the more I think people probably stopped listening to me when I said I struggled with my testimony. I wish I would have explained my spiritual journey in a different way.

    Alisa,
    I’m not sure if it was courage or just adrenaline (from my description of my body’s response, probably the latter). But it was courageous for me to reject my husband’s suggestion that I call the bishopric member and apologize if I had offended him. (I mentioned that he had spoken about priesthood before I started talking about women). I don’t think my comments needed to be apologized for.

    Mraynes,
    I’m glad we’re in this tent together, too. I think you’re right that other people will forget, and that’s just fine. But, I’ll remember (especially now that I’ve written this post) and that’s important to me. This is just another step on my spiritual path.

    manaen,
    I have a dear friend (the one who held my baby) who came over today and when I told her I blogged about my testimony gave me a blank stare. She said, “It was nice. Did you think it was unusual?” Her comments to me echoed yours and actually made me feel more confident in my decision, because perhaps there are a larger number of people in the congregation with a broader view of the gospel than I had imagined. People like you and my friend Amy don’t think it’s a big deal to bear testimony about women from a woman’s perspective and that is awesome.
    It gives me great hope.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    Jana,
    Like manean said, Mark’s comment was that what he thinks about my testimony doesn’t matter. A comment like that may have hurt my feelings in the past, but I’m at a point that I’m okay having different beliefs on some issues, just so long as we’re united in love and confidence in our marriage. Mark supports me on my spiritual journey in many ways and at times probably feels himself stretching in slightly uncomfortable ways, but ways that I see as beneficial for us in the long run.
    We’re both respectful of each other’s beliefs and practices.

    Also, I wish you were there to yell, “Amen, Sister!” with my friend Amy (she says that all the time to me when we hang out).

    Flygirl, I’m sure there were people who had different reactions. Looking back, I was actually more courageous because the former RS pres (a true saint) had borne testimony just before me of the ward’s lack of obedience to the Stk Pres’ request that we be more reverent before our sacrament meetings. She pretty much called the entire ward to repentance for shaking hands and saying hello before church started.
    So, for me to follow her with what I said was pretty crazy.

    Kiskilili,
    I wish you were in my ward, too. I like what you said here.
    “But I love it anytime someone bears testimony or makes comments in a way that stretches our acceptable narratives, even when their experiences are really different from my own.”
    I’m working on accepting other people’s faith choices as just as authentic and important as my own. Instead of dismissing comments as “the party line,” I look for the value of their faith and choices.

  13. melodrama says:

    I wish I would have been there to applaud, except that’s not kosher in the chapel 🙂

    I think the bit about your relationship with God being separate from your relationship with the church is the most brave thing you said, and likely the most helpful. You not only opened the door to the feminist closet, but also many other closets people find themselves in.

  14. E says:

    I also don’t understand, from how you described what you said, why you thought it would be an unusual or especially “feminist” testimony? It’s hard for me to imagine that there are many people in your ward, if any, who would take issue with it, including those who do not think of themselves as feminists.

  15. mary says:

    I also don’t see anything particularly
    feminist about those comments either–they’re just normal. Why would anyone think you were a feminist because of what you said?

  16. Davis says:

    I tend to agree. There is nothing in what you said that is uniquely feminist at all. Anyone could have said those things, and I can’t imagine how anyone listening to them would think anything except that you were right.

  17. Kim B. says:

    Just beautiful.

    In January of this year, I committed to no longer worrying about what others thought of me…it was consuming a lot of energy. Some days I do better than others.

    Still, it can be frustrating and lonely to feel like we are alone in our beliefs. My husband says Heavenly Father needed to spread us feminists around, so that every ward could have one or two for the betterment of all.

    Thank you for your willingness to be honest. It moved me.

  18. mb says:

    You wrote:
    “My husband reminds me that my personality is intense and feminism can be my hammer and sometimes everything I see becomes a nail.”

    Made me smile in self-recognition. I have a firm conviction that creating understanding in peaceable ways is the higher road and ultimately far, far, more effective, but I still have to exercise fierce self-mastery to keep my hammer in my pocket.

  19. Caroline says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. I think you were very brave to redirect the meeting away from the topic of institutional power and toward both a personal relationship with God and a focus on women. Way to go!

  20. Ola senor says:

    Perhaps I am just inured to the “evils” of modern thought – but I can’t see that what you said was that controversial or overtly feminist. (and reviewing the comments it appears that others agree) The only thing that would be “edgy” was the discussion of relationship to god being different from relationship to church. I think if you sat down with most members one on one and discussed this – they would probably agree – but at first blush it seems sort of rebellious.

    Ashamedly my college education eschewed courses on critical feminist theory and trended more towards economic theory and political history. So there is one point that I perhaps don’t fully understand is the point or goal of “feminism”. Is it a school of thought? am movement? Is the goal to recognize the importance of women? Empower? Ascribe absolute equality? Or does it depend, as describing one as a feminist is the same as describing oneself as a conservative?

  21. Ola senor says:

    I suppose I could have just said Amend to manaen – that will learn me to open my big mouth first. Stupid patriarchial indoctrinaire.

  22. jks says:

    I tend to want to describe myself as “feminist” because I do not think of feminism as hating men. However, feminism is very broad, and how feminism is viewed is equally broad.
    So usually when I think of feminism it is my kind of feminism, but then I have to remind myself that it is also the kind of feminism that I completely disagree with and I don’t want.
    So much of what your testimony ends up being is tone of voice and ability to share your heart. I can’t tell if your testimony felt like a slap in the face of the young man who was mentioned, or the family of the young man, or the bishopric member who spoke about it. I can’t tell if the focus of your testimony was a testimony of the truth of the gospel, of our Savior, of our Heavenly Father, or if the focus ended up being your confusion and doubt. Was it a true tribute to women or was it just a demand for comparison.
    I hope you realize that although it was a huge moment for you, most testimonies do not receive comment. I remind myself of that after teaching a lesson, bearing a testimony, or giving a talk. I can expect only a few comments, or in the case of a testimony usually none.
    I think besides whether the tone was combatively passionate, or just simple and heartfelt, the other issue I might have felt uncomfortable with is your comment about your relationship with the church being different than your relationship with God. I can’t tell if that comment sounded negative toward the church or not.
    By all means be honest, but please also be aware of appropriate places. I have had to sit through an excruciating talk by a young man who was far too open. He said things that would be appropriate to say to a group of close friends or family members, but not appropriate to an entire congregation that included teenagers and children.
    I, like you, have felt sometimes the need to balance out what has been said in a meeting. I have, on occasion, born my testimony of simple gospel truth after feeling like a previous speaker had gone off the rails a little. I certainly understand you feeling like that.

  23. Natalie K. says:

    Thanks for sharing that story. That definitely shows courage.

    I’m getting something of a reputation as a feminist in my ward too, because I work with the YW and am constantly going on and on about how they deserve everything the YM get. I feel like people have now labeled me and use that as an excuse to not really listen to what I say.

    For example, we held a stake dance that was an abysmal failure because none of the kids danced. Because we played a lot of boring music from the 90s. I was talking to people, and they kept saying they wished there was some new music with positive messages. I decided to speak up and defend a few hip-hop songs. I mentioned one called “She got her own” that has a positive view on women….. and two of the women standing there practically started laughing when I mentioned “women”. “Oh, she’s just a feminist.” It gives them an excuse to not really listen.

  24. mraynes says:

    I have been thinking a lot about this post and what pushed Jessawhy to stand up and bear her testimony. I actually think that the ritual of having a new deacon stand with his father and brothers and pass the Sacrament together is exceptionally beautiful. It is the kind of ritual that I would love for my own son to experience; to stand with his father and feel the power of God and have the privilege of assisting his fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel access Christ’s atonement. That is beautiful to me.

    What saddens me, and what I think saddened Jessawhy, is that there is nothing comparable for my daughter. Motherhood is set up as the equivalent to male priesthood but It is not as if my daughter and I can give birth lying next to each other when she turns twelve (at least I hope not!). There is no rite of passage for a twelve year old girl other than being called to the stand for a minute to announce she has moved into Young Women’s.

    mr. mraynes and I were talking about this earlier this morning. His argument was that the rhetoric behind priesthood, at least for young men, is just as empty as the rhetoric for women and that deacons are glorified waiters. While I agree with him, there is something to the knowledge that young men have that they hold the power of God and can utilize it every week in front of the congregation. Young women, on the other hand, are rendered invisible in the church during a time when they already feel awkward and alienated. You can’t tell me that the institutionalized validation of young girls’ invisibility in our church doesn’t increase the effects of an already pernicious girl culture. I think that this can account for the high numbers of depression, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors in LDS young women.

    I am not one who necessarily feels that women should be granted the male version of priesthood but I think our church needs to explore ways in bringing women of all ages to the forefront and allow them to serve in a way that is truly equivalent to men.

  25. Davis says:

    I don’t think the practice of passing the sacrament with Father and brothers is meaningful at all.

    The fact of the matter is, you don’t actually have to hold the priesthood to pass the sacrament. It is just tradition.

    It doesn’t state it anywhere in scripture that passing the sacrament is a priesthood task. Blessing it is, but not passing.

    If you had to hold the priesthood to pass the sacrament, each deacon would have to walk through the middle of the pews passing to each person.

    There is meaning and tradition in having the deacons pass the sacrament, but it is not part of the Gospel.

  26. E.D. says:

    Like many others have stated, I don’t understand what was inflammatory about your testimony. It sounds like you stated that you feel loved by and important to God.

    I lurk around here every once in a while and I’m a little confused as to why the term “feminist” is used. What is it that Mormon feminists represent or are looking for that differs from other Mormon women? I’m really curious – not being condescending.

  27. Davis says:

    “I think our church needs to explore ways in bringing women of all ages to the forefront and allow them to serve in a way that is truly equivalent to men.”

    Every where I have ever been, the women of the Church serve in ways that are truly equivalent or superior to the men.

    If you do not feel this is true, I would suggest that you have not yet had the opportunity to really witness from the inside how wards and stakes function and what keeps them operating.

    I think what you mean is that you want women to get more recognition for their service like the men tend to. That is great and I agree to a point, but taken too far it simply becomes an issue of pride.

    I do not know the answer to this particular dilemma, but I do know that at some point somebody fairly important said something along the lines of – be patient, for the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

  28. Kiskilili says:

    It doesn’t state it anywhere in scripture that passing the sacrament is a priesthood task. It is just tradition.

    Technically, it doesn’t state anywhere in scripture that women can’t hold the priesthood either (and there are indications to the opposite). That, too, is just tradition. But then, I don’t think it’s useful to separate “tradition” from “scripture” and then associate “gospel” with the latter.

  29. Davis says:

    Let me put it this way then:

    It doesn’t say anywhere in any church handbook that you have to be a deacon to pass the sacrament. It does say in the handbook you have to be male to hold the priesthood

  30. Dr. Tump says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I have had recent experiences in my small town very conservative ward where I have located 2 other feminists! I have been blown away by how much a sense of shared experience can help me cope with the things that grate on my nerves regularly. I think your testimony was likey a life line for other women in your ward, If you had said those things in my ward I would have followed you around and asked if we could be friends. Thanks for your courage

  31. miles says:

    What a great testimony. I am so glad you felt able to say it and ready to deal with whatever happens.

    I wonder if, because now you feel your feminist leanings are out there, you will feel more able to speak up. Like the damn has been broken.

  32. Kelly Ann says:

    Good for you to share what was really in your heart. Last time I did was the last time I went to a full meeting block. I don’t consider what you said radical and hope it will foster more communication in your ward.

    As for the topic of the sacrament, I had dreams I passed it when a youth. I really do wish there was something better for the young women in the church. I got my YW medalian but it wasn’t even the same as getting an Eagle Scout. I don’t really feel like I ever “came of age” in the church.

  33. mr.mraynes says:

    Davis:

    I am intrigued that you cannot see how a twelve-year-old boy passing the sacrament with his father is significant. Really? Let me assure you it is very meaningful for those deacons; I can remember very clearly how that experience affected me. And I would love for my daughter to be afforded an analogous experience. Really it has nothing to do with what the handbook says, and everything to do with one’s personal experiences and relationships.

    I was also perplexed by your view of women’s access to leadership functions within the church. Certainly women currently fulfill lots of important duties, but to suggest they have authority equal to or superior to men is either dangerously naive or willfully disingenuous. Let me cite just one public example: what is the ratio of male to female speakers at stake conferences world wide? General conference? This is not a matter of pride; it is a matter of balance, order, and equality.

  34. EmilyCC says:

    I’m proud of you, Jess!

    I’ve noticed that some people here are wondering why your testimony would be considered feminist. I think feminists work to make sure all people (not just women, but people of different ages, races, socio-economic classes, etc) are treated equally. That’s what Jessawhy’s testimony did.

    This is a great sign of the strides that feminism has made in the past 50 years because of course, an honest testimony that reminds us of women and talks about one’s struggles should not be considered inflammatory or even radical. It should spiritually feed the testimony giver and the rest of the congregation.

  35. It is good that you gave comfort and courage to someone else.

  36. Davis says:

    I never said women had equal authority with men. I spoke solely of service and what women contribute to the Church. I am neither dangerously naive nor willfully disingenuous.

    From a Gospel standpoint, a deacon passing the sacrament with his father is not meaningful. It is meaningful to the family, but so it the first time your son can actually play catch with you. It is simply evidently a tradition in some places and personally I feel it is a rather lame tradition.

    In my personal experience, what we need in the Church is not more hype targeting the young women. We need less hype pointing toward the young men. Being made a Deacon and climbing up on a rameumpton to celebrate in Sacrament meeting with your family is way over the top. They should be given a task, and quietly serve just like everybody else.

    If mothers want more equity for their daughters, they need to calm they hype they pile on their sons. At least in my experience, the hype in these cases comes from the mothers, not the fathers.

  37. Thomas J says:

    Natalie K said:

    I’m getting something of a reputation as a feminist in my ward too, because I work with the YW and am constantly going on and on about how they deserve everything the YM get.

    Again, I just don’t see how these comments (along with the post) are especially “feminist”. Our current and past YW presidents did exactly the same thing and they happen to be some of the most conservative minded women I’ve known. And the bishopric seems to agree – doing a lot to make sure the YW get the same budget as the YM.

  38. mr.mraynes says:

    Davis:

    Totally with you on the issue of hype. Hype is the exact opposite of meaningfulness.

    I’m not a fan of making over-the-pulpit announcements about deacons passing for the first time or other similar things (hype), but the opportunity to serve by passing the sacrament with one’s male family members is another issue entirely.

    Also, if this “tradition” benefits and enriches families, why is it not beneficial in terms of the Gospel? Why else does the Gospel exist but to strengthen family units and the individuals within them?

    Can you suggest a similar opportunity for young women–something that doesn’t include simple pulpit-announced recognition? I must admit I am completely at a loss when I try to think of something that is currently employed in wards. I think ideas in this area are sorely needed.

  39. G says:

    a few people have mentioned that they don’t think this testimony was ‘inflammatory’ in anyway and this has gotten me thinking…

    see… if I was to stand up in my ward and mention things like having a relationship with God that was separate from my relationship with the church, and that women can bless and heal, well… I’d be terrified too.
    it wouldn’t go over well.
    Cuz it’s the opposite of what is usually said in this ward.

    unless no one was listening.
    or only hearing what they wanted to hear.
    or (drum roll) listening by the spirit and hearing the truth of the matter.

    kudos to you Jess. you are my hero. I have yet to put myself in a position to try to share some of my deeper personal spiritual feelings to members of my ward. You are a good example.

  40. Andrea says:

    My thoughts are stirring on this issue. My daughter turned 12 a few months ago. She left Primary and joined YW’s, but no fuss. My nephew turned 12 this month and our family had a big party and gathered for his ordination. I’m going to make a big fuss when my sons get the priesthood too. I want them to associate a lot of significance with it. I think recognition feeds the human soul. We all crave it to some degree. So, how do we recognize our girls and make them feel important?

    Another part of the same issue: Our Young Women’s leader is coming over this week to discuss the Personal Progress program with me and my daughter. She’s wants to discuss the newly added value: Virtue. Aaaaah! Chastity Motherhood Service Virtue Chastity Motherhood Service Virtue…. We all agree that these are important, but what else can we offer our young women?

    What do you think we should do Jessawhy? I know you must have some good ideas.

  41. kmillecam says:

    Thanks for (literally) standing up for your beliefs Jessawhy. I think you have added to the momentum making room for feminists in the church. I hope this happens more and more.

  42. Quail says:

    Hi, I’ve been lurking for a bit, and am not Mormon, so apologies if this observation is from left field.

    After reading the responses in the comments about the different acknowledgments of “coming of age” in the church, I was reminded of a revelation I had this year. I got married last year, and I swear, people were more excited about that then when I graduated from college. What does that say about what I’m expected to “accomplish” as a woman?

    Do any of you think that the female rite of passage in your church is marriage? From what I gather, preparing for marriage is often the first time many women get to participate the temple ritual. Aside from various certificates and things…it’s one of the first spiritual occasions that sets a woman apart. I’d look forward to it, too, and want it to happen ASAP, if it was when I’d be able to participate in the full life of the church. Men, it seems, get started on that path at 12, with pomp and circumstance at various points along the way – and women have to play major catchup come wedding time.

    I can only speak from my non-Mormon experience, but even secularly speaking getting married is a huge goal for women. I can only imagine what it would be like with the huge spiritual meaning it has for you. Does this, in some way, hold women back both personally and spiritually? Would all of us women, religious or not, feel less pressure to get married if we were acknowledge for other milestones along the way? Maybe it would free us all up to do some way awesome stuff along the way.

  43. Jessawhy says:

    Sorry for being behind in the comments.
    This has been a very interesting thread, but unfortunately, I have a cold and can’t respond to everyone.

    As an update, two of my close friends in the ward have since talked to me about my testimony. They were both concerned about the part where I said I struggled with my testimony and they wanted to help. I really appreciated their reaching out to me. I told them that I am really learning a lot on this path and that having their friendship is important to me, so that’s what they can keep doing. It was a very positive conversation. So far, I’m really happy with the way things have worked out, and I hope that anyone who was upset or offended will have forgotten in the two weeks until we meet again 🙂

    Caroline said that I was, “brave to redirect the meeting away from the topic of institutional power and toward both a personal relationship with God and a focus on women.” I really hadn’t thought of it that way, but that’s a good description. My visiting teachers came today (bishop’s wife and aforementioned counselor’s wife) and they were both upset at the woman who called everyone to repentance, which surprised me.

    Ola senor: Your question is way bigger than this post, and probably this blog 🙂
    Keep reading, browse our archives and maybe you’ll find some answers. Zelophehad’s Daughters is also a good site for delving into the details of Mormon Feminist thought.

    jks,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It is hard to tell my tone, and I do hope that I didn’t offend the boy or his family. I spoke to his mom later and we just chatted about scheduling volleyball group date.
    As far as comments, I agree with you in theory, and perhaps our ward is the exception. I probably had 8 people comment on my testimony, which isn’t very much compared to when I speak in church, or other times I’ve shared my testimony. But, really it isn’t about what people think, although it is important for me to gauge how “out there” I may have been. By some of the comments here, I wasn’t out there at all.

    In fact, for those commenters who believe my testimony was really nothing unusual or feminist, I’m glad to hear this. It means that your wards are open and accepting of those that question and struggle. My in-laws in Michigan have a ward like that. The Mormon Belt (UT, ID, AZ) sometimes has odd expressions of orthodoxy, including instructions not to wear Dockers home teaching (can’t find the link, anyone else?).

    mraynes,
    It is difficult for me to decide what I think about recognition in the church. As my sons become Deacons, will I be honored and thrilled to see them pass the sacrament with their father? I do see it as a good ritual, but I really can’t imagine anything equivalent for women. I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps we put to much emphasis on the men who hold the priesthood, and not enough on the God who has the power. This topic itself deserves a thread.

    Davis, I know Mr. Mraynes addressed this issue with you, but it I wanted to comment on what you said here.

    “Every where I have ever been, the women of the Church serve in ways that are truly equivalent or superior to the men”

    My best friend (not a feminist) went as a YW advisor to the temple to help the youth do baptisms last week. She told me that so many of the men in the temple sat around, observing, or instructing women (on how to more efficently hand out towels), or actually doing the ordinances. She, on the other hand, had the great opportunity to serve as the person who wiped the top step of the font with a towel after every person stepped out of the font. Her socks and slippers were soaked, and she saw no benefit to the task she was assigned. It made her feel like a second-class citizen. I don’t think her experience is uncommon.

  44. Jessawhy says:

    Dr. Tump
    “I have been blown away by how much a sense of shared experience can help me cope with the things that grate on my nerves regularly.”
    It’s true! I am so glad to have an online and IRL support group of women who understand my concerns and my spiritual journey. It means the world to me.

    miles,
    Good question. I don’t know if I will speak up more. I always try to speak to a more open perspective in the church, and to better historical accuracy (like explaining why so many of Joseph’s closest friends betrayed him near the end. He was practicing polygamy in secret. It was a pretty big deal). My struggle will probably be more like what Kiskilili mentioned, a struggle to keep my views from possibly corroding other’s faith.

    Davis:
    I do see your point about downplaying the ordination of YM. My husband was YM pres and he thought it was silly how much the youth are catered to and coddled. Again, the topic of how to treat the youth, both girls and boys, is a topic for another post, but a fascinating one. I still don’t know where I fall on the issues (and it’s one of my issues surrounding scouting as well).

    Thomas J:
    I love that I am thrilled when people disagree with me or the comments on this post. The fact that in your ward people are working towards equality is very exciting to me. But, it’s not like that in all wards, or in all programs in the church. Our primary, for example, spends triple on the boys ages 8-11 than they do on the girls, and the boys meet weekly while the girls meet monthly. There’s no end in sight for that inequality.

    G:
    “unless no one was listening.
    or only hearing what they wanted to hear.
    or (drum roll) listening by the spirit and hearing the truth of the matter.”
    I can only imagine that much of this is what happened. I did get a few nice comments from people who I didn’t think had really heard what I’d said. But hey, that’s fine with me.

    Andrea,
    You’re asking me? The mother of three sons, ages 6 and under?
    Like I said before, this topic is worthy of it’s own post, so if you’d like to submit a guest post, it looks like there are a lot people who want to talk about these issues, and probably many who have tried different things to bring balance to the lives of their children.
    The virtue thing is really difficult for me. Perhaps just focusing on the broadest definition of virtue, all the non-sexual meanings specifically.
    As a funny side-note, I had a friend who serves in YW and the leaders are doing value projects with the girls. So, my friends husband suggests that for her “Virtue” project, she have sex with her husband every day (for a week or something). Isn’t that strange? If virtue for a single person is being chaste (according to the way it’s presented in YW), then is virtue for a married woman pleasing her husband?

    Quail,
    Fascinating observation. I think you’re right in a lot of ways, although I’d also attribute the rush to marriage to raging hormones in a population supposedly celibate. I’d love to discuss this further, and it’s implications. . . will have to think about it more.
    It reminds me of a time when I was at an event for the Hemophilia Association, a local non-profit. A week earlier I had been voted on the board of directors and a friend walked up and said, “I heard the news, congratulations.” I was confused and asked, “What? I’m not pregnant.”
    It was a reminder of what it means to me to be Mormon. I had forgotten that he was talking about my joining the board.

  45. Davis says:

    “I’m going to make a big fuss when my sons get the priesthood too.”

    “It is the kind of ritual that I would love for my own son to experience.”

    Do you really not see that you are a major part of the problem? Not the solution? Young women don’t need a ton more recognition. Young men need to get a ton less. It seems those that complain the most are the ones that perpetuate the problem the most.

  46. jks says:

    Isn’t a big rite of passage for girls at this age getting her period? I know I am looking forward to when my daughter comes to me with the news (any day now)! While she and I may go and celebrate, I hardly think it will be announced in church.
    Looking at my history, I probably won’t make a big deal at all for my sons getting the priesthood. I really balked at planning anything for my children’s blessings or inviting people.
    However, since my daughter is the oldest, I don’t want to accidentally under celebrate her 12th birthday this year (or my other daughter’s later) since I do have two sons. She is way excited because I told her she could have a slumber party.
    I will think about if I can do something else specificly to mark her 12th birthday. I’m not sure, because I think I will be throwing all the energy in celebrating her period and her becoming a “woman” (because there is so much to hate about a period, so she might as well bask in the excitement of getting it and growing up, and I am determined to give her a positive view of being a woman).

  47. KayG says:

    “I felt that feeling that I haven’t felt in years. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. I knew I needed to get up and say something.”

    I felt exactly the same way in our ward (neighboring Jessawhy’s) a few years ago the Sunday before July 4th. As all the testimonies lauded the “Fathers of our Country,” my mind and heart protested, “what about the Mothers?” So I got up and walked forward (to the great surprise of all who know me) and talked first about Anne Hutchinson, who I had recently been reading about, who was a key figure in the development of religious freedom in the American colonies and a forerunner of women in church ministry. I then described a family history I had recently been writing, about the bravery of my Swedish grandmother in emigrating to a new country then having to raise her seven children alone after her husband’s early death. I thought I had been subtle but firm in pointing out the strength of women in our history, but the next person to stand up reverted to the Fathers of our Country rhetoric and I almost felt like it was a “corrective” to my comments.

    I’m glad to read that many of the comments here express optimism that our church rhetoric is changing, but it’s slow going, and small wonder, given the imbalance of attention to boys and girls.

  48. Caroline says:

    Andrea, good question. I’m torn between whether or not it’s better to hype up the girls’ experience with turning 12 or to downplay the boys… and I’m at a loss as to how to publicly recognize girls at this transitional phase.

    Options that pop into my head: Giving her some special privilege previously denied to her because she was too young? Starting a mother-daughter book group with her friends and yours in which you all can discuss issues regarding gender and young womanhood? I just don’t know…

    And as for that ‘virtue’ talk with the YW pres… good grief, what’s there to say about that, and how on earth can you design a project around it? I suppose I would try to steer the focus away from virtue = chastity to more like virtue = integrity. Don’t know if there’s room for that kind of interpretation of the value in PP, but I’m hoping there is.

    Good luck! Any by the way, I love how you and your family handle Sundays. (from your previous comment)

  49. mb says:

    The virtue=chastity idea is a misconception due to the variety of the definitions of the former word in the dictionary.

    The new insert on the new value lists value experiences that send the young woman to the scriptures to find the definition. The value project is the only one that is proscribed by the program, not designed by the young woman, and it’s pretty basic. I’ve printed part of it below. You can read the whole thing as well as all of the scriptures in the value experiences here:
    http://www.lds.org/pa/yw/pdf/YW_2009_PersonalProgressVirtue_08255_eng_.pdf

    “The Savior chose to live a virtuous life. Follow His admonition
    to “learn of me” (D&C 19:23) by reading the entire Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Liken the scriptures to your life and circumstances. As you read, record your thoughts regularly in your journal. Note the example of the Savior’s life and mission.

  50. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jessawhy. I so admire your courage! I’m a total coward when it comes to speaking up in church to say even mildly unorthodox feminist things, but your example helps push me to perhaps be more talkative.

  51. mraynes says:

    Several people have commented that they think we should be giving young men less recognition instead of giving young women more. I could not disagree more! We are losing an incredibly high number of the youth and especially high numbers of young men, the last thing we should do is make them less present in our worship. Instead we should change the empty rhetoric that surrounds the granting of the Aaronic Priesthood to something that is meaningful and understandable to young men. I think it would be hard for young boys to really get the nebulous concept that is priesthood; passing the sacrament and serving the ward family together is something that a young man can put into context.

    Along with that, I don’t know if Davis and others who have voiced this opinion have forgotten what it’s like to be a 12 year old girl but it is awkward and lonely. All the Beehives that I know crave attention and validation. They want to be helpful, to serve, to feel God’s love. I really don’t see how it would hurt to give our young women this sense of validation in our public meetings. Yes, maybe some girls are provided this by their own parents but this certainly is not true for all. Not all parents are able or willing to give the support that girls this age need. That leaves the responsibility to us as a community to find a way to keep our young women from falling into self-destructive behaviors they will turn to if they feel invisible.

    We need to get real, if we don’t find some way to make the church meaningful to the young women and young men, we will lose them. And with that loss, we will also lose the potential progress that our church can make.

  52. E.D. says:

    I agree with those who say that we should not lessen the recognition we give the young men who hold the priesthood. If it seems like it’s not a big deal to us, it may not seem like a big deal to them. And, let’s be honest, it is a big deal. It is the power to act in God’s name. If that’s not important and urgent then I don’t know what is. So let’s leave the men alone on that.

    However, I also agree that the young women should be made to feel that their accomplishments are equally important. Based on the comments here, I guess that I have been very lucky with bishops. I have always had bishops who openly recognize the progress of the young women in their YW achievements. They have even mentioned over the pulpit that earning the YW medallions is as grueling as earning the Eagle Scout — perhaps more so. The girls are given public recognition in the wards that I have been in. It appears that the wards I have been in do exactly what several of you are wishing would be done.

  53. kmillecam says:

    I agree with the most recent comment my mraynes. We do need to remember what it was like to be Beehives. I would have liked more recognition akin to the ones the boys received along with priesthood ordinations. However, we can run the risk of alienating girls further if the recognition we give is too contrived. It would have to be something genuinely meaningful. What would be equal to priesthood ordinations?

  54. Jana says:

    JKS, Will you make a big fuss over your sons when they have their first wet dream?
    While I agree that menstruation is a good coming-of-age marker (and I’ve even blogged about it here before), it’s also problematic on several levels. IMO, duties like passing the sacrament should be given to teens as they feel prepared to take them on (like a patriarchal blessing is done). There are many 12 year-old boys who don’t feel ready for the priesthood and there are many girls of that age who would be wonderful deacons. It should be about personal choice and preparedness and not about a birthday.

  55. D'Arcy says:

    Jess.

    I made a comment a few days ago, but my sign in has been having trouble, so I see it didn’t show up.

    What I think is beautiful about this testimony, about the fact that Alisa commented in Relief Society, about the fact that Jana is steering her own boat is the singular idea that you women are living authentically.

    You are living with courage.

    You are living with your own truth.

    You are being the woman that you see yourself being.

    I love that. I love what each of you have done and thought and said this past week.

    Thank you for your contributions to the world around you!

  56. Karen says:

    Jessawhy,
    I am glad to have stumbled onto this sight and blog. It’s nice to have found another active lds woman who shares the same views. Girl Power! lol

  57. Brooke says:

    Jess, you are fabulous. I totally got tears when I read this. I have started thinking lately that I shouldn’t be afraid to be more authentic. If people don’t like it, I hope that (especially if they have been close to me) even if it is hard at first, that it eventually it changes things for the better. Because it may help them or me to stretch and grow. Wish I had been there.

  58. britt says:

    I am with mark on this one. it doesn’t matter what other people think. it doesn’t matter. really. you are you and if they can’t accept you for that, then well who cares.

  1. May 3, 2009

    […] Jessawhy comes out of the feminist closet — in testimony meeting. […]

  2. June 21, 2010

    […] mraynes, commenting on Jessawhy’s post “Coming Out of the Feminist Closet” at the Exponent: I actually think that the ritual of having a new deacon stand with his father and brothers and pass the Sacrament together is exceptionally beautiful. . . . […]

  3. May 17, 2016

    […] two posts with many comments, Jessawhy discussed her journey into feminism.  In Coming out of the Feminist Closet, Jessawhy told us about her experience revealing her feminism to her local ward as she shared her […]

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