Enlisting Allies

Sometimes as a Mormon feminist I get a bad reputation for being critical, negative, harsh, overbearing, and seeing everything as a nail on which to bang my man-hating hammer (Well that last one is an exaggeration, but only slightly).

It’s hard for me to take this criticism because, well it’s sometimes true but I also think, “The message I am delivering is IMPORTANT. Women are people and deserve to be treated equally. Issues such as society’s war on women, mansplaining, modesty, lack of heavenly motherwhy it’s not a woman’s fault when she is raped, and countless more add up to death by a thousand cuts.

Still, there are occasionally times when someone, usually a man, tries to engage in our feminist discussion from a different perspective and walks away bruised, at best.  I usually don’t have much sympathy for these men (even if it is sometimes my husband or fellow-blogger’s husband). I think, “Maybe that will help them understand what it’s like to be a woman  in a man’s world. You’re always swimming upstream and the status quo isn’t in your favor.”

However, sometimes our conversations with open-minded men and women can turn them away from the great cause of feminism instead of enlisting them as allies. This is problematic because we openly acknowledge that the imbalance between men and women hurts us all.  It’s not just in women’s best interest for men to strive for greater equality, it’s in every man’s best interest (for example, teams are smarter with women). If we can’t help them see this, what are we doing wrong?

I’ve been pondering this difficulty for a while. It came up recently when I was talking to a friend about responding to Elder Packer’s recent talk that was very upsetting to many women, including me. My friend’s suggestion was that I should be kind in my response, hiding some of the pain and anger I felt over his words so that my opinion would be taken seriously and not dismissed by the bishop or stake president who might read my letter.  At first I bristled at his comment, thinking that I had every right to speak my truth, even a duty to tell my priesthood leaders the details of my pain and righteous indignation.

But then I began to wonder, “What if he’s right? What if men (and the women who are typically the gate-keepers of patriarchy) are turned off by this story and others I feel I must tell? Is there a way to enlist these people to my side without sacrificing my integrity?

Today I heard an NPR interview with Nikki Finney, who won the National Book Award for her poetry last November. One of her poems is written in the voice of Rosa Parks about the injustices of racial discrimination in the south. In many ways, the fight for racial equality parallels the fight for gender equality, so this interview really resonated with me.

Here is a stanza from her poem Red Velvet* (I particularly like her mention of women made in God’s image)-

“By 42 your heart is heavy with slavery, lynching, and the lessons of being good.

You have heard 7,844 Sunday sermons about how God made every women in His image.

You do a lot of thinking with a thimble on your thumb.

You have hemmed 8,230 skirts for nice, well-meaning white women in Montgomery. 

You have hemmed 18,809 pants legs for growing white boys.

You have pricked your finger 45,203 times, you have held your peace.”

The NPR host points out, “The quiet anger in these lines is where the ‘beautifully said thing meets the really difficult to say thing.'” Finney elaborates on this line by explaining that she grew up in the 60s and 70s, where difficult things were shouted and screamed. She recognized that they were important to hear, but thought there must be another way to say them so they will truly be heard.

As an artist, Finney uses poetry to tell the “really difficult to say things” about civil rights in the South.  She uses numbers in a way that speak to an individual’s story, not a disenfranchised group of society.

What is the way that Mormon feminists tell the really difficult to say things? Are we shouting and screaming them? Certainly there is a need for this, we must never be silent to the injustices against ourselves, our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters.

But how do we know if we’re being heard? How do we find the balance to tell the truth so our audience will understand and respond in a way that benefits us both?

 

*You can listen to her read this stanza at min 3:35 of the interview

 

 

Jessawhy

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

You may also like...

101 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    Jess, I love these questions. Very relevant to this was yesterday’s article int he SL Trib about Terry Tempest Williams (Utah nature writer, environmentalist, and feminist from a Mormon family) and her exploration of women’s voices. It starts with a story that picks up where her most famous memoir, Refuge, leaves off:

    “A week before dying, Williams’ mother offered up a surprise. I’m leaving you all my journals, Diane Tempest told her daughter. But promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.

    “Williams didn’t even know her mother kept journals and was thrilled at the prospect of reading them.

    “So, a few weeks after the funeral, under a full moon, she gathered all the volumes — three shelves of clothbound books — and opened them. And discovered that every page of every journal was blank.

    “The journals’ empty pages were a blow — almost as if her mother had died twice, Williams says — but they were also a riddle. What was her mother saying by saying nothing?”

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment/53725965-81/williams-says-women-journals.html.csp

    Reading about TTW’s new book made me think about voices. About the silence of her orthodox LDS mother. The article talks about TTW’s own use of voice, and the power of a soft answer.

    I admire women who use softness in their powerful answers. I love Diane Rehm and her grace but not letting people slip by without answering the hard questions.

    I am not so graceful a person. I am clumsy; I am harsh. I can fall pray to straw-men (straw-people) or constructing sarcastic versions of arguments I disagree with. I dislike this about myself.

    I admire women who can speak softly and with power, but I also admire women who can shout. I think there is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes a person comes to me to talk about feminism and we’re just close enough that we can teach each other something. Sometimes we’re light years apart, and that person doesn’t want to understand. Sometimes that person wants to pull the “well you speak of tolerance, but you’re being awfuly intollerant of my intollerance” approach, and I know it’s going to go nowhere.

    Maybe there is a time to whisper, a time to shout. A time to feed the fire, a time to let the embers die. A time for war, and a time for peace. Fortunately, as women, we can all be on our own journeys. There should always be someone ready to talk to the not-yet-feminist person, while there is someone out there working with those who already have the vision. There are bridge-builders and then there are keepers of the haven. All are necessary.

    • Alisa says:

      Sorry that was so long. I didn’t explain this above, but the reason why I quoted the thing about Diane Tempest’s journals was because that image struck me so much–women in the LDS Church are silenced. We live our lives in silence. That silence screams.

      That silence doesn’t work for me. It screamed to come out of my veins. It would have killed me if I didn’t open my mouth. That is why I quoted at length about the silent LDS mother.

      • Jessawhy says:

        Alisa,
        Wow, the TTW story is so startling and moving. The journals of the silenced. And then TTW becomes a famous writer. That is so cool.

        I think you’re right about the need for all kinds of speaking, the gentle answer and the screaming.

        This is the place where I’d welcome a challenge to my assumption that we do need to enlist allies. Is that something most feminists agree on? Are we in disagreement only about how to do it?

        In my experience, the non-feminists that I love and care about aren’t the intolerant kind, they are the “I just don’t care that much” kind. It’s these people that I’m interested in reaching.

      • Alisa says:

        As far as enlisting allies goes, is there a difference between a “feminist” and a” feminist ally”? To me, a man who supports and believes in feminism is a feminist. So is the next question whether or not feminists need converts? To answer in a short way: yes.

      • Jessawhy says:

        Alisa,
        I’m not sure that a feminist is the same as a feminist ally.
        I think of my husband and some of our male-friends. Only one would self identify as a feminist, but most of them would stick up for the feminist position in PEC.

        I’m looking for sympathizers, people who don’t necessarily see through the feminist lens, but will put on the glasses when the opportunity presents itself.

        I’m wondering how we can maintain relationships with these people and recruit more like them (instead of alienating them potentially).

  2. Diane says:

    I used to be teased when I was younger because I had(still do) a speech impediment. When I was being teased I was always told to hold my tongue and walk away. As a grown women I no longer do this why? Because I know walking away and being quiet really doesn’t work. It doesn’t address the situation at hand.

    I have come to learn, that the general membership of the Church really do not want to hear messages that are different. That’s why they use the word offend so much. I believe they figure that if they use the word “offend” they don’t have to listen. It really won’t matter if I speak softly and carry a big stick or not.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Diane,
      I’m sorry you were teased as a child. That must have been very painful. Are you saying that you get the same result whether you walk away or stand your ground? Or do you get a better response from people when you are (in their words) “offensive”?

      And that brings up a good point, are feminists offensive to LDS generally?

      • Diane says:

        Yes, That’s what I’m saying. It doesn’t matter if you stand your ground. No matter how you do it. I also think(Not my personal belief) that people in general find feminist to be offensive.

        Case in point, The big bru ha, ha, ha, with Joanna Brooks. Some idiot who thinks he can shame her into submission when she is not even under his direct line of stewardship. Everyone knows he has no real claim or authority to do this, and yet, as usual no one who really does have the authority will stand up to him and call him to repentance. It just won’t happen.
        As a soon to be 48 year old woman I don’t ever recall Betty Friedan ever being called to repentance by her local clergy.

        You asked me if feminist are seen as being offensive in LDS culture. My answer is not only are feminist seen as offensive, but, anyone who runs contrary to TBM manual of the church. The church considers us to Anti- the minute we open our mouths. That should tell us something don’t you think?

  3. Annie B. says:

    I’ve often wondered the same thing. How do I express my frustration at harmful practices, and the promulgation of those practices being God’s will, without being brushed aside as “holding a grudge” or being “envious of men’s priesthood authority”? Speaking strongly and asserting yourself for a cause is seen as acceptable behavior for men. Women who do the same in a man’s world are often seen as abrasive, unattractive, or uncharitable. On the other hand I’ve also found that taking a gentle approach can sometimes lead to being thought of as whiney, ungrateful, having mixed up priorities, or playing the victim. It definitely is hard to know if I’m being taken seriously sometimes, and find a balanced way to express myself. I feel like I’m still trying to find it.

    Reading and commenting here helps me understand my feelings and formulate my thoughts into the appropriate words, which helps me to avoid falling back on snark, or angry silence in real life situations. (“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” ~Einstein) Also, finding out where I have common opinions with a person helps. Keeping that as a starting point helps to build understanding and prevents me from assuming I know their point of view on a subject. I can’t change someone’s mind if I don’t know what their mind is. I’ve also found that trying to avoid judgement helps; remembering that I used to be in their shoes on similar things (I boldly told someone once that gay attraction was a choice and not something you’re born with, just because that’s what I had been taught). At the risk of sounding cliche, basically I try to imagine the bold gentleness of Christ and try to express things the way he would. I try to remember to acknowledge the other person’s point of view, express that I have seriously considered its validity, or express what parts about it if any I agree with, and then calmly explain what parts I disagree with and why. If someone doesn’t want to “hear” me, I can’t make them. But I can try my best to express myself gracefully.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Annie B,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      I like the idea of using the bold gentleness of Christ as a model.

      Maybe this speaks to the assertive, aggressive, passive paradigm. We need to be respectful but assertive. And probably we are, but women who are assertive are seen by society as aggressive only because we are taught to be passive. Sigh. Such a problem.

      • Annie B. says:

        I agree, it is a big problem. That also reminded me, another model I like to think of is Eve. I’ve been identifying with her a lot lately. She did what she knew needed to be done without seeking Adam’s approval. She weighed out the options and concluded what the best course would be, and let Adam know of her decision, inviting him to be on board, or not. I almost find the story of Eve comical(and definitely refreshing) when juxtaposed with the way I grew up thinking as a child. I basically grew up seeking the approval of male figures because in my environment male figures held the priesthood and I equated them with Godly authority and trusted their word above the word of women authority figures, or even my mom, on anything of a spiritual nature. I often think of the fall of man and how the relationship between man and woman was twisted to place women below men from that point forward. The more I think about it the more I believe that relationship will have to be put right again somehow.

  4. Whoa-man says:

    I love this post! Thank you. I have many of the same thoughts. I often say that I intellectually know that my tone, style or manner turns off allies, but it is not fair that conservative statements can be so hurtful without so much as a caveat (i.e. on the far end of the continuum) and in order to even be listened to I have to moderate all of my speech and passion to the point of nonchalance so as not to make people defensive (i.e. in the middle of the continuum) and I am STILL thought of as extreme. I recognize that “you catch more flies with honey.” I completely agree. I just feels so impossible to do. I usually tell people that I am stuck in my adolescent stage of feminism where “I just don’t care. I want to say what I think the way I want just like they do and don’t want to have to be careful so I don’t offend people. What I am saying is correct so I don’t want to have to say it nicely!” However, I also have seen the consequences of that stubbornness. Right now it is more important for me to say what is aching to get out of my heart than it is to recruit people to my side. I guess when that balance shifts I will start being more careful and measured about HOW I say things. Which I already logically know is the best approach, but its just so hard to make myself do it. I feel like I’m betraying the huge wound in my soul!

    This is so great to talk and read about because its helping me get over my communicating about feminism for me and moving on to communicating about it for others which would force me to take another, more helpful, approach.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Whoa-man,
      Yes, we are on the same page (once again!) and I can see exactly where you’re coming from.

      I do wonder if the far right does moderate their speech. I have to believe some of them do or we would have more of the crazy Rush Limbaugh stuff about the law student being a prostitute, etc. Maybe if we give them credit for moderating their speech when we don’t think they do, they will give us credit for moderating our speech.
      The other issue is the circles we move in. An LDS circle is going to be far right of center, so the word progressive sounds like a curse.
      (And I think it sounds celestial)

      • Maggie says:

        I do LOVE the word “progressive” because just like you said, it’s used as a curse and I also think it sounds celestial.

      • Ziff says:

        Great point, Jess. I hadn’t considered that (probably because I tend to be uncharitable). My thoughts were along the lines of Whoa-man’s: It’s not fair that I have to moderate my comments with a thousand caveats, but the Skousen/Beck crowd feels pretty free to vent with no filter at church. But now that I think about it, you’re likely right. Most people who like Skousen and Beck probably leave it at home or moderate their comments too. We just hear their comments because there are simply so many of them that even if a few like to talk about their views at church, we hear it.

  5. MissRissa says:

    I really enjoyed this post and all the comments everyone has thoughtfully made. It is perfect timing for me. I recently decided that in an effort to be my true self, I needed to be more vocal about the things that I have felt in my heart for some time. I wrote up a post for my personal blog about women in the church and about change in the church and the reaction from my friends and family surprised me. I received emails and phone calls from people I love who expressed sentiments such as “you’re putting the blame for your unhappiness onto other people and the church” or “be careful you don’t lose your testimony” or “this path can lead you to bitterness”. I was surprised and more than a little hurt, especially because for me to come out and say (write) about these things that are close to my heart, took a lot of courage and I was trying to be careful to do it in a positive and uplifting way. I don’t know if I will speak up again. It may take awhile for me to recover 🙂
    But, I guess, that at the end of the day I firmly believe that change cannot happen unless we express a desire for that change and until we work to make it happen.

    I really think that that is a gift that some people have (not me!)- being able to articulate their thoughts and express them in a gentle but powerful way, even if it is in a situation where they are the only ones with that opinion or they are expressly contradicting another persons opinion or (gasp) a teacher! I want change to happen and so I hope I have the courage to continue to speak up, and I hope that I will be blessed with a clear mind and the words to speak my thoughts when a time comes that I need to open my mouth (no matter how scary it is!)

    That’s one reason I love coming here and reading. It helps me to firm up my ideas and find ways to articulate my feelings, by reading others with similar thoughts express them eloquently and with heart.

    Anyway, thanks!

    • Jessawhy says:

      MissRissa,
      I’m sorry for your experience with your blog. It’s hard to find people opposed to your personal story and fearing for your spiritual well-being.

      The real problem is that the church has no way of processing our pain from the culture or institution so it puts the pain back on us. It’s very problematic.
      I hope that you find peace and have the courage to speak again.

    • Annie B. says:

      Ugh, that is a scary situation with all the negative responses to your blog. And it really cheeses me off when people try to make it into a bitterness thing, or a blame thing. Since when is speaking up about negative practices and harmful mindsets a bad thing? That’s like telling the victim of a crime to stop complaining when they report it to the police. Please, please continue to speak up when it’s appropriate! I’ve found that there is so much power in simply speaking up, and finding people out of the blue who feel the same way makes it worth it to me. It is scary though.

  6. I often hold my tongue because I don’t have the answers. Even if I bring up my concerns about the men and women in the Church during a Relief Society lesson, it usually causes contention, and I have no solution. I’m not sure I want the ignorant, non-suffering women to start suffering the way I am when I can’t institute a change. However, maybe we can fire up enough people to get a change. But I always have this nagging question in my mind when I do feel motivated to rant for a while. If God likes it that way, then no amount of badgering in the Church is going to change any policy. Who is this God, my Father? Why does He allow these things? Is he enlightened, or is He biased?

    • Jessawhy says:

      Michelle,
      Amen. I could have absolutely written your comment, particularly this part, “If God likes it that way, then no amount of badgering in the Church is going to change any policy. Who is this God, my Father? Why does He allow these things? Is he enlightened, or is He biased?”

      I’ve been hung up on this for a while now and I can’t find a path out of the maze in my head. It’s a painful puzzle without a solution. Some women I know do a great job of navigating it by dismissing everything they don’t like as a frailty of man (that’s how most members do it, I think). But this is another topic entirely.

      I do comment in RS and try to bring in a more progressive, open perspective. Yesterday I talked about how we should mourn with those who mourn or fear death, even though we don’t. We don’t have to “fix” them to believe exactly as we do. And what I didn’t say but wanted to was, “We actually don’t know what happens. What we believe makes us feel good, but we haven’t BEEN dead.”

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Annie B. says:

      I’ve never really said anything controversial in a church meeting, it seems way too scary for me to take on. In conversation though sometimes if I don’t know how to say that I disagree with something I’ll just share how the status quo makes me feel. Often times people are like “yes! I feel that way too”

  7. Erin says:

    Communicating with anyone, for example, spouse, children, kids’ teachers, boss, co-workers, church members & leaders, is a tricky task at best.

    I think we communicate based on our communication backgrounds. For example, in my family-of-origin, we were loud, passionate, and feelings be damned. In my husband’s rural, Scandinavian, LDS background, my communication style was seen as horribly insulting and offensive. I had to learn their communication style to be effective.

    With church members and leaders, I think most of them use church communication styles, when they are communicating about church things. (I think that when they are home with their kids or at work or some other venue, their natural communication style may be more indicative of their culture of origin.)

    The trick to being an effective communicator with those in the church is to learn their communication style and language. However, I still haven’t figured this out–my kudos to those who do!

    • Jessawhy says:

      Erin,
      My husband and I have very different communication backgrounds as well. I see it a lot when we talk about feminism and parenting 😉

      But he has a gift of how to motivate people to action. It’s something I’d like to learn, but it doesn’t come naturally.

  8. Howard says:

    I love Mormon feminism because it represents the cutting edge of enlightenment in the church. It has been eye opening to me to understand the feminist perspective on several issues such as the effects of the church’s teachings on modesty, female safety within a rape culture and the one, two and three down positions of women within the church. These and others are potent and compelling topics that cannot be denied without willfully choosing to look away once they have been properly explained.

    Feminism looses me when it looses it’s own perspective on equality consciously or subconsciously arguing for imbalances in the other direction or when it becomes a kvetching echo chamber. Hyperbole and exaggeration also hurts the cause when it is stretched beyond a brief attention getter.

    While feminism is born out of victimization ironically the victim position, it’s mentality and much of it’s resulting anger must be processed and transcended in order to reasonably make the feminist case to outsiders. No small challenge.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Howard,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad that you embrace feminist issues and we appreciate your perspective around here.

      I’m curious about the places you think feminism argues for an imbalance in the other direction?

      • Howard says:

        Well this gets into sensitive areas for some which is why I didn’t go into it. But when you psychologically look into the dynamics of common cross gender abuse it generally involves two people with problems not just one. This can also play out between one person and an unhealthy culture or one gender and an unhealthy culture. A healthy outcome requires the abused to understand and change their role in it. Sometimes pointing this out is spun by well meaning apologists into so called “victim blaming” which it is not. I acknowledge that all of this takes place on a background of a patriarchal rape culture which greatly complicates things, but that biased playing field doesn’t offset the role of the abused or their need to overcome it to achieve psychological health. (see Karpman Drama Triangle)

  9. April says:

    I see a feminist ally as someone who will let feminists voice their opinions, without trying to shut them up. With such a low standard for alliance, you would think I would know many allies, but I don’t. I don’t know if there is a method to voice these opinions that would make more people tolerant of hearing them. If there is, I would love to learn it, because I definitely think we need allies.

    • Jessawhy says:

      April,
      That is a very low bar indeed for a feminist ally. I’m pretty sure there are lots of people who don’t try to shush me, not because they don’t want to, but because they know it’s practically impossible.

      I will take notice more often though. Your definition is one I can work with.

  10. mraynes says:

    I came across some academic research recently that found men who hold patriarchal paradigms have a particularly hard time seeing how patriarchy hurts women and so don’t respond well to impassioned arguments from women–not out of unkindness but because it’s so far from their life experience that they just can’t understand. It’s a fascinating article and I plan on writing a post exploring its implications for Mormon men but, needless to say, I found the findings highly discouraging. Nevertheless, I think Mormon feminists can learn from it that while it’s unfortunate, some men will not respond well to our personal experience but will be open to change if we can make a “calm” and “reasoned” argument as to why a particular policy is ineffective.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Wow, that is incredibly discouraging, Mraynes. It makes sense, though.
      I think the reasoned, pragmatic approach seems most viable and has worked most often in my experience.

      On a tangential note, it strikes me as problematic for women and minorities that we are encouraged to be a Zion people of one heart and mind. I mention this because I noticed our stake’s mission was to become a Zion people. It seems that this goal may lead to striving for conformity instead of seeking to understand the disenfranchised. But maybe this is a false dilemma and they are not that far apart. . .

      • Nate Curtis says:

        As a man, raised to be patriarchal, and at least am a willing participant in a patriarchal paradigm, I don’t need to read the article (although I will) to tell you that this is true. The angry emotional arguments in favor of feminism do not resonate well with me by themselves.

        What does affect me is when, after a feminist has shown that she is committed to working with me or knowing me in endeavors that are not directly feminist related, then I become more open to the feminist message and experience.

        This happened to me the first time about 2 months after I got back from my mission. I was debating with my mom and sister about why women should not have the priesthood (I was pretty deep into the brainwash at that point) and my mother, the woman who had cared more for me than any other asked me to put myself in her shoes and feel the lifetime of discrimination that she had experienced in the church.

        For a brief moment, standing there in her living room, I felt it. And it was as powerful a conviction as any spiritual experience I have ever had.

        I have had similar experiences a few other times in my life, but always with women who first committed to some significant level of personal investment with me that I believe was more important to them than the feminist cause.

        As a missionary a long long time ago, they taught us that one of the core conversion tools available to missionaries is “BRT” Build Relationships of Trust. The idea being that people cannot be converted to your cause unless they first trust and respect you. BRT worked in the mission field, and it works for feminists too.

      • Maggie says:

        In response to the Zion dilemma, the other part of the definition is “and there were no poor among them.” Which, the way I read it requires that the disenfranchised be raised up. If as many here would argue, that women are treated poorly, we are not yet achieved Zion – truly a noble cause.

      • Ziff says:

        Great point, Nate!

    • Whoa-man says:

      Meghan, I want to read that article!!!! Can you make it available? It sounds amazing and so true to my own experience.

    • Annie B. says:

      Oh my gosh I totally can relate to that. On a family campout a few weeks back my dad was telling a story about how when he broke his ankle on a hunting trip his good friend couldn’t convince my mom to come to the hospital because my dad had played so many pranks on her that she didn’t believe that my dad was really hurt. My dad concluded the story by saying that he decided then that he should stop playing pranks on my mom because he might need her to be on his side in the future. I blurted out “Yeah, never mind the fact that mom didn’t like being pranked”. It also reminded me of the story of women and men speaking up to Brigham Young about how polygamy made the women miserable and that they were unable to find peace in polygamous unions, and Brigham Young basically gave them the option to shape up or ship out. It’s really sad that the feelings of the women couldn’t change the minds of church leaders…it took outside persuasion from the U.S. Government and the motivation of attaining statehood.

      • MB says:

        In the interest of balance, my ggg grandmother, an orphan without family, became a polygamist wife to a man who was a jerk, went, with another of the wives, to Brigham Young and explained the situation, and he promptly went to bat for her and arranged for her to be able to get a divorce. A few years later she happily married my ggg grandfather. So there’s a true story to balance the “shape up or ship out” story.

    • Annie B. says:

      MB, I’m glad that your ancestor was able to find a better situation, and I’m glad to hear that Brigham Young was an ally in that particular situation. I didn’t mean to bag on Brigham Young, but my point was that the women and men were basically bringing forth their cases of polygamy being harmful to them and were told “too bad”.

      • Annie B. says:

        I should add the source of the story I’m referring to is Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4., pp. 55-57; also printed in Deseret News, Vol. 6, pp. 235-236)

  11. Kaylie says:

    This makes me think of the lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” (the whole song is amazing, BTW). One of the lines is “Fall if you have to but lady make a noise”
    That’s what I believe. Whisper, write, scream, shout, sing…it doesn’t matter how you say it. Just start talking.

    • Jessawhy says:

      This goes perfectly with what I told my husband a while back. He asked what men can do to help the uphill battle that feminists are fighting.

      “Listen.”, I said.

  12. Stephen M (Ethesis) says:

    I have found in my own life that if I bruise someone to make a point, the point I have made is that I have bruised someone. I spend a lot of time persuading people in my day job. Bruising them does not seem to help.

    Others may be able to do it. I just lack the skill.

    For what that observation is worth.

  13. kmillecam says:

    I always sit up and take notice when we wonder as Mormon feminists if we sound shrill or unapproachable. It’s valid, but possibly fraught with hidden vices that we bring with us as Mormon women from the patriarchal culture. I worry that we will get caught up in the Mormon Niceness again. It’s good to be balanced like Jessawhy says in the OP. But I worry that many will read our willingness to be balanced in our feminist conversations as yet another reason to say “ha! Women should be nice, kind, smiling, soft, gentle, and cordial at all times”, you know?

    It stems from my overwhelmingly negative response to Mormon Niceness that hurt me for so many years. So I admit that this is at least partially my own personal trigger. I cringe to think that we may be playing into yet another Mormon culture trap: that we need to speak kindly, nicely, calmly, and appropriately about feminism. It makes me want to scream.

    But that being said, I think a proficiency in talking about feminist issues really helps. I am much better at having conversations with people without needing them to get on board with my ideas and agree with them. I simply speak up and there is no love lost. I think that comes with practice and confidence. I feel like I know what I am talking about, so I have less of a desire to prove something when I verbally spar with someone.

    But THAT being said, I find feminism to be deeply personal. I couldn’t have a conversation about feminism or equality without feeling my own life tied to it. After all, I am an expert on what it’s like to be a woman in this patriarchal system. I am one! So I find that finding a balance where I passionately speak but also maintain respect for the listener is my own best policy. It’s tricky to strike that balance, but I’m committed to it.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Kmillecam
      You are indeed an example of being assertive and standing your ground. I like that you have come to a place of peace about your perspective on the issue of feminist activism.

      Do you think your actions help you recruit feminist allies? Maybe you don’t care? I’m interested in how you feel your dialogue with the non-feminist causes them to act or not act.

      • kmillecam says:

        My main goal when talking openly and honestly about how sexism and other -isms affect me is to create a connection between me and the person I am talking with. So I’m not concerned with gaining allies as a bottom line. I’m more concerned with them being able to SEE. I just want them to see where I’m coming from. Then, who knows. Could be a feminist growing there!

  14. Howard says:

    Inauthentic niceness isn’t required or desired, but I don’t think verbal or written catharsis will work to recruit many allies, more likely it will get you discounted or ignored.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Howard,
      Yes, but the tricky thing is this is so personal and women are told that it isn’t even REAL. So to have us stay detached emotionally is almost impossible.

      Anger is difficult for others to process into a positive emotion. I think hurt or pain is a better avenue, but it doesn’t suit everyone especially if we are told we’re being too sensitive.

      • Howard says:

        Women are in an insidious trap here. Those who are in the earlier stages of waking up will be feeling strong emotion and that needs to be validated but it is unlikely to be validated by those outside of feminism because they simply don’t get it. So these women need a support group but they are not yet ready to successfully recruit allies from outside of feminism. I agree strongly expressing anger is less effective in persuading others than expressing hurt or pain which is better accepted. The problem is you must work within the system to change it.

      • Howard says:

        To the extent that feminism is a transition out of victimization supporting the metamorphose of victims into healthy women and jointly moves society to greater equality through enlightenment it will eventually succeed collapsing behind itself in mission accomplished. To the extent that it’s spokeswomen remain enmeshed in the victim role it stalls in it’s effort for greater acceptance.

  15. SilverRain says:

    As a woman with a foot neither camp, I think there are many problems surrounding this issue, enough that I could write an entire blog post on it.

    For a comment, I will say that the base assumption for this post is a huge part of the problem, namely that there ARE “camps” or “sides” that need recruiting.

    Also, there are feminist blogs that I will no longer comment on, and the rest of the feminist blogs I comment on only VERY, very rarely any more. I almost never discuss any key topics with feminists face to face, unless I agree completely with the topic at hand, which is rare. I have many reasons for this, some obvious and some more convoluted.

    One big reason is that many “feminists” are looking for converts, not conversation. That has been made very clear to me, expressly, in no uncertain terms. And, since my hopes and dreams encompass far more than mere equality for women, I have have little desire to be a sacrificial pig on this one issue.

  16. mellifera says:

    Claudia Bushman wrote once (ah! the apocryphal statement!) that one of the best ways to cope with a patriarchal church system is… to get a life outside the church. You can still go to church and participate, but your entire self doesn’t rise and fall on it.

    Gotta say it’s worked pretty well for me; I’m still freaking enraged by the nonsense at church, but I only have to deal with it once a week. I’m doing a postdoc in plant genetics and my department and lab are pretty family-friendly (my boss is the husband in a dual-hire, and he’s probably the more parentally-oriented of the two). You don’t have to go all-out like this but it’s definitely doing great things over in the mellifera household.

    So I get to spend 5 days a week in a place where women who work are respected, where the parenthood of *both* parents is *actually* respected, and I get to talk in the voice of authority all day. Loooots of practice at that Voice of Authority, it’s definitely an acquired skill. I do believe it helps a lot when talking to people– I can sort of retreat into my professional-detached voice and 1) it chills me out and 2) just hearing the Voice of Authority coming out of something with tits and ass can be more of an eye-opener for many guys than what you’re actually saying.

    That being said, my SIL is a corporate lawyer and, I assume, gets lots of practice explaining things to recalcitrant gentlemen in a boardroom voice of detached authority. She still loses it sometimes when talking about feminism though! Aaaand I’m still working on it. You know, I think it’s just one of those things where you have to make some mistakes before you find your voice.

  17. Alisa says:

    I asked my husband about this last night. One point he brought up is that when a person who is not a feminist complains about the tone of feminist discourse (and by the way, I think the tone is all over the spectrum), they still need to respond to the substance of the argument. They can complain about the tone, but if they refuse to respond to the substance, perhaps they are just using the tone as an excuse to not engage or to remain stuck in their prejudice against the rights of a group. They say that they are alientated by the tone (all of the tone?), but I think that doesn’t take enough responsibility.

    At a certain point, I don’t know how much responsibility we can take for people who don’t see the value in social justice or equality for all human beings regardless of sex. I don’t complain about the discourse of racial civil rights advocates and refuse to adopt a stance of racial justice because they seem “angry” or “strident.” I figure it’s my responsibility to learn to see social inequality and to seek justice. I guess at a certain point I would look at my friends’ husbands and say, “It’s up to you if you want to see this and fight against it. You’ve heard the arguments, but it’s up to you if you listen or not.”

    Regarding those who could only be enlisted as allies: In my understanding, you become an ally when you can’t join a group. You’re a citizen of one country, so you can only be an ally of a different country. You’re straight, so you can only be an ally of gay rights. You’re white, so you can only be a Caucasian ally of the African-American civil rights movement. But anyone can be a feminist. It doesn’t matter your sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or religion. I know there are many feminists who do not adopt the label, and there are many types of feminists. But enlisting an “ally,” someone who refuses to be a feminist (which at a basic level is someone who agrees, supports, and advocates for the equality of all humans regardless of sex), to speak for us seems like it might introduce a lot of problems because of their refusal to accept the very basis of the definition of feminism.

    As demonstrated in this discussion, feminists have a hard enough time with our discourse. Can we really trust our position to someone who is lukewarm, someone who refuses to try to understand, and have them advocate for us behind closed doors? Who is to say they would not fall into huge misinterpretations that easily befall the uneducated on gender issues (such as confusing equal rights with sameness)? I’m not sure I want this person to be my voice, even if it’s the only voice I have. (I’ve been going back and forth on this for a day.)

    Say if I were African American, and my husband was white. I could not for the life of me imagine living in the Jim Crow South and having my husband respond with apathy when I am ejected from my bus seat at 9 months pregnant to seat a white man. Yet, I know there are so many marriages where the men are apathetic to the fight for equality/equity for women, despite the fact that their most intimate partner in life belongs to this group. The difference with sex inequality is most of us have grown up with this equality in our famlies. But to have my husband respond with apathy to me being treated unequally–it would break me. I couldn’t have him as an ally after that. It would kill me on the inside, and that’s not what an ally does. I guess I can’t see me enlisting an ally who is not in reality a feminist.

  18. I think difficulty also comes when there are disagreements over who is “really” a feminist and who is not. Seemingly small disagreements over facts, intentions, and predictions can balloon into driving others away if they do not agree with every aspect of our argument. For example, some believe that people who belong to a Patriarchal church (such as the LDS church) cannot, by their definition, be feminists. (At a more extreme level, some believe that no men can be feminists, because they are, collectively, the cause of all feminist issues)

  19. Fran says:

    Very well written!

    I think I have a tendency to come on strong with my ideas, even when I think I’ve done a good job wording them just right. I think part of the problem is that simply addressing uncomfortable topics already can come across as negative or aggressive to people (why on earth would you want to talk about something sad/bad/wrong/unjust/etc???).

    But I’ve learned over time that it’s crucial to engage people in a discussion they want to participate in. I need to watch my words and reactions if I want my message to be received. It’s frustrating at times that I can’t just shove it down peoples’ throats. But you just can’t. I’ve tried since to be a better listener, to not take offense when something is offensive, but dig deeper, assuming that the other person would not possibly mean the negative things they say. I try to explain myself over and over in different ways, and i’ll keep talking until I feel that the other person(s) and I have truly communicated.

    I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I’d like to think it does. It definitely feels more satisfying to me. Because in the end, I’d rather talk for hours and have my message heard, than shout for 1 minute and nobody cares.

  20. Laura says:

    Dear all! I’m from Spain and I just read about your blog in a spanish newspaper. I’m a feminist and I have my own feminisim blog. I find your blog very interesting and I will read it in the future. Warm regards

  21. MB says:

    My only observation about myself upon self-reflection on this issue is that when I get angry there is a shift in my motives. The angrier I get in a conversation, the less I find that I am fighting for the truth and the more I find that I am simply fighting for myself.
    When I can keep my discourse calm, my fighting-for-the-truth quotient goes up.

  22. Ziff says:

    I think you raise good points, Jessawhy. I know I tend to want to just vent about things and have sympathetic ears, but your questions about how to communicate strategically to draw more people to realize the value of Mormon feminism are great ones. One person who I think does this particularly well (thinks strategically) is Cynthia L. of BCC. I know sexist stuff frustrates her, but she seems to always have the foresight to consider how to communicate things in a way that will draw people to the cause rather than alienating them.

    All that being said, I can see that there’s value too in having more extreme, unfiltered voices out there. I think someone has already pointed this out, but the more extreme voices make the more moderate voices look more moderate, and the contrast may be more useful than either type of voice in isolation.

  23. Naismith says:

    The idea of “enlist as allies” implies warfare, us vs. them, if you’re not with us you’re agin’ us. In reality, it is far more complex than that.

    I think it is more helpful to talk about common ground than enlisting allies. As a non-feminist who cares about all women, a lot of what I do supports feminists as well as those who share my beliefs. For example,

    1. Since I realize there is still some prejudice against women in the workplace, I always try to use a female when buying a car, looking for a new doctor, renewing insurance, or any other service I need. It doesn’t always work out; one female orthodontist wanted to pull some of my daughter’s teeth (second opinion said no) and another was very materialistic and insensitive towards those less well-off. But I do try. And maybe that car dealership hires more female salespeople as a result.

    2. I donate money to a fund that provides education for poor LDS kids, mostly girls, in a Muslim country.

    3. In my employment, I try to create responsible part-time jobs for women with children at home. I’ve hired at least a dozen.

    4. When both candidates are equally well qualified, I always vote for the woman. This includes civic elections as well as those for professional organization boards, etc.

    5. Appreciate that every family receives divine guidance as to how they should run their family. I don’t expect anyone to fit in any mold. So if a woman tells me that she and her husband have moved to town for school, I will ask, “Who is in school?” and not assume it is the male.

    And so on. A lot of feminists do those same things. But we differ on other key beliefs and factors. It does not mean that I am at war with them.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Naismith,
      I love your examples of promoting women in society.

      I can see that you would interpret “allies” to mean war against people, but I think of it like you seem to, as a war against the status quo of our culture.

      In order to create change, we need to bring awareness of inequality to people who don’t see it. I’d like to discuss how best to do that. Thanks for your comment.

      • Naismith says:

        “In order to create change, we need to bring awareness of inequality to people who don’t see it.”

        This is part of the problem. “Bring awareness” sounds like awareness is the more enlightened state, and everyone should accept your version of the truth. Sorry, but a lot of us have seen what you consider “inequality” and have come to the conclusion that it is not unequal. You may disagree, but you do not get to declare others to be “unaware.”

        One could also effect change by partnering with others who don’t share your version of the truth, but are willing to join forces on some issues of common interest. But that takes mutual respect.

        My non-feminism came about from taking women’s studies classes, reading a lot of literature, and working with feminists on a regular basis. I am not “unaware.” Feminism does not have all the answers, either.

      • Jessawhy says:

        Naismith,
        Out of curiosity, does your disagreement with helping people see inequality spread to racial inequality as well?

        Do you have a problem with black people wanting to help those around them see their subconscious racism?

      • Howard says:

        Naismith wrote: Sorry, but a lot of us have seen what you consider “inequality” and have come to the conclusion that it is not unequal. You may disagree, but you do not get to declare others to be “unaware.”. Interesting comment! Does this mean you accept patriarchy? If so both within and without the church? Or does it mean something else? I would love to hear more about it.

      • Naismith says:

        Out of curiosity, does your disagreement with helping people see inequality spread to racial inequality as well? Do you have a problem with black people wanting to help those around them see their subconscious racism?

        I don’t have a disagreement with your “helping people see” anything. Go for it. I support your right to speak your mind.

        I am suggesting that you are actually teaching *your perception* of inequality. Whether it is truly inequality is not clear. There are a lot of different definitions. So when you have had your say, and someone still does not agree with you, it is not that they are “unaware.” It is that they disagree.

        The issue of race, about which I have no real opinion, is interesting because there is well documented disagreements about how best to achieve parity in educational accomplishment, employment, etc. Some African Americans favor policies that are color blind, with no extra help for those with darker skin. Others favor programs that set aside slots, allow a separate admission policy, or give extra points in the job application process. So even with race, there are differing opinions, as there are among women and issues of equality.

        The university where I am employed prides itself on being an equal opportunity employer. They operationalize that definition by treating everyone like men. Yes, women can have the same jobs as men, but there is no guarantee of having a job if you take time off to nurse a baby for a year. And everyone has to go to school full-time, there is no possibility of a mom taking classes just while her own kids are in school. They give military veterans preference in hiring, but offer no assistance to mothers returning after years at home, making a value judgement about the relative contribution to society (and being both an Army veteran and a mother, I think the latter was the more important thing–my children and grandchildren will be paying social security and other taxes for years to come).

        They call that equality, but I consider it unfair to mothers. If we valued the work of motherhood, we would make it easy for women to be employed part-time while their children are still at home. And actually, I prefer part-time even now to help with new grandchildren and elder care. But no, we are supposed to call that way of spending time “not working.” Which I think is very insulting to those nurturers.

        My husband and I were both college students when we had our first children. I was extremely ill for months, had to recover from a difficult childbirth days before the semester began, and get up at night to nurse for months. The pregnancy never affected him physically. So to have policies that treat mothers and fathers exactly the same seems a bit inaccurate to me, and shortchanges moms. I think it would be more genuinely equal to have policies that accounted for those real physical differences. Fortunately, my BYU professors were wonderful about letting me turn in papers a year later. But at the state U where I did graduate work, one of my fellow students was flushed out of the program because she could not keep up the pace of the full-time coursework during her pregnancy. If they allowed her to go part-time, it would have been more doable, but did not happen.

        Many feminists’ answer to this inconvenient fact of biology is to advise women not to have children, and thus avoid such vulnerability. There are long passages about this in de Beauvoir’s SECOND SEX and Hirschman’s GET TO WORK. I am not buying into that version of equality.

      • kmillecam says:

        “I am suggesting that you are actually teaching *your perception* of inequality. Whether it is truly inequality is not clear. There are a lot of different definitions. So when you have had your say, and someone still does not agree with you, it is not that they are “unaware.” It is that they disagree. ”

        Nope. There is a definition of equality here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_inequality

        Just because you don’t accept the definition doesn’t mean it’s not real. It just means that you refuse to see it.

      • Mommie Dearest says:

        “My non-feminism came about from taking women’s studies classes, reading a lot of literature, and working with feminists on a regular basis. I am not “unaware.” Feminism does not have all the answers, either.”

        This takes my breath away, Naismith. Surely you cannot be aware of the magnitude, nor the sources of, nor the personal history of the pain that compels individual women in the church to find refuge in some feminist principles. I don’t know what you’ve been reading about feminism, but it surely is very negative, because many of us find much relief in feminism. There are some important answers (not all, but some essential answers) to be found there, that are at present not found anywhere else. I find it hard to believe that a latter-day saint, if they truly understand how severe is this struggle for some women and men, would not have enough compassion to at least recognize the legitimacy of that struggle, or the autonomy of a person to navigate their different journey through troubles you seem not to see.

        Perhaps you are not as aware as you deem yourself to be, because either you are blissfully unaware of other peoples’ wounds, or you just don’t consider them to be important enough to tread carefully around. The best I can hope for is that we’re talking past each other here.

      • Howard says:

        …blissfully unaware of other peoples’ wounds, or you just don’t consider them to be important enough to tread carefully around. I’m a guy so feel free to discount what I have to say but when it comes to psychological health there is a fine line between between treading carefully around others wounds and enabling a continuing victim frame of reference. While there is no question that some women are deeply hurt by some feminist issues and a support structure is desirable for a time, it should not be prolonged, it should be a temporary supportive transition to health. Other women that I have talked with who are very aware simply have not been hurt deeply by these issues because they found ways around them without accruing much personal damage. They find it difficult to relate you seeing you as victims and you find it difficult to relate to them seeing them as unaware. If you’re looking for allies or a coalition you might find them here but you will need to strive to understand one another.

      • kmillecam says:

        I’ve had people try and “help” me not stay in the victim role, but it was almost always to alleviate THEIR discomfort with where I was. I am very committed to truth and being honest with myself too, so when people see that I “need help” when I haven’t asked them for help is a big red flag. It speaks to them wanting to control me, not to help me.

        A therapist that I have asked to help me with becoming less victimized is a good person to help me with that…because I asked her! And the group of leadership at Phoenix Youth at Risk, who I have ASKED for coaching and help, are another good resource.

        But people in my life taking it upon themselves to “help me” without me asking is pretty offensive. It assumes I’m not already doing that work, and it assumes that you know me better than myself.

        What I’m hearing in the above comment is a discomfort with seeing women as victims of a patriarchal system. That doesn’t mean the problem is with women staying in a victim’s role. It just means that victimized women is an uncomfortable problem.

        Admittedly, victims CAN get stuck in the victim role. It’s a real thing. But again, I work on that with my therapist, trusted life coaches, and my spouse. Not anyone on FB or blogs or in real life who want to reduce my entire discussion of feminist issues to my own personal issue with staying in a victim’s role. That’s willfully simplistic.

        And here’s the real kicker: it lets those we are calling to action to be our allies (like in the OP) off the hook. And THAT is another big red flag. Taking a stand isn’t easy. It’s inherently difficult, and you have to reach down inside yourself for strength to do it.

        So finding an excuse like “well, feminists need to be less shrill” or “stop acting like victims” or any other excuse that qualifies whether or not the feminist movement is WORTH your help should be an indicator that you are only conditionally willing to help. But equality needs unconditional, strong, truly committed people in it’s ranks.

        Bottom line: perhaps a better approach to helping women/victims is to listen to them and love them, rather than tell them they are doing the victim thing wrong.

      • kmillecam says:

        Sorry, one more thing.

        I was talking to a friend about a very similar situation a few months ago. He showed me a YouTube video about a man talking about the modesty of women and how they need to dress to keep men from starting down the path of objectifying them. It actually all sounded very rational.

        Until I realized that the problem was the framing itself. We learn all these things about how (heterosexual) men think about women and our conclusion isn’t “what can men do about it” it’s “what can WOMEN do about it”. That’s what in equality looks like: we tend to expect women to fix the problems/mess.

        I see that happening in some of the comments here: that women and victims need to present themselves a certain way to be worth something/valid/taken seriously/etc.

      • Howard says:

        What I’m hearing in the above comment is a discomfort with seeing women as victims of a patriarchal system. That may be what you’re hearing, but that is not what I’m expressing. Admittedly, victims CAN get stuck in the victim role. It’s a real thing. It sure is and that is what I’m expressing! Taking a stand isn’t easy. It’s inherently difficult, and you have to reach down inside yourself for strength to do it. I agree.

      • Howard says:

        …that women and victims need to present themselves a certain way to be worth something/valid/taken seriously/etc. I would change this a bit and say; to be heard. Are you saying this isn’t true or that it shouldn’t be true? I think it is somewhat true but ideally it shouldn’t be true. The OP is about enlisting allies. If you want to enlist allies aren’t they coming from outside feminism? So given this goal shouldn’t you deal with the way things are instead of how you want them to be?

      • kmillecam says:

        Here’s the way things are: instead of holding people accountable for the truth (that feminism is uncomfortable; we need to work past it together) we get sidetracked by the familiar narrative (that feminists are the problem themselves; they don’t present it properly and need to be more likeable).

        I see your point, that it would be EASIER if feminism wasn’t so uncomfortable, or if feminists could be less angry, or whatever you want to fill it in with. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m interested in taking a stand, even though it’s hard to do.

        Let me put it this way: I’m less concerned with PR efforts and making it so I am more palatable to those on the “outside” of feminism, and much more concerned with getting to the bottom of inequality out in the world. If you are a stand for rooting it out, you will find a way.

        I don’t seem to have a problem getting through to people with inequality and feminism, so I’m guessing that enlisting allies is a secondary benefit to being a stand.

      • kmillecam says:

        If you have even the merest capacity of imagination, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to conjure your emotional reaction if you were, for example, told your entire life that you are equal, only to have the opposite be communicated to you in big and small ways every minute of every day, or if, as another example, there were people who argued that they should have control over some significant function of your body, that they needed to rob you of personal autonomy because they can make better decisions for you than you can for yourself, or if, for instance, you made less money for doing the same job someone else is doing for more, just because of some arbitrary physical feature, like, say, the color of your eyes. If you are indeed in possession of the capacity of imagination, you have no doubt concluded by this juncture that these scenarios, coupled with a lack of immediate recourse, might make you angry. So the idea that a feminist/womanist with demonstrable anger is somehow nutz is actually quite stupid.

        This is from Shakesville, in the Feminism 101 tab, which I love (and refer to often). I kept thinking of this as I read this thread where we inevitably, as nice Mormons, seem to think that making feminism and feminists seem nicer and more approachable is somehow better. Yes, it’s more effective. But so is showing your anger. The issue is timing and being honest and real, not that being nice and calm is better than being mean and upset. (For the record, I don’t call “being respectful” being nice; so when I say I don’t want to be nice I’m not saying that I won’t be respectful.)

        This is the hard truth for progressive men who care about gender-based inequalities: When you leave the public fight to others, you’re leaving it mostly to women—which is itself a perpetuation of gender-based inequality. I’ll give you a moment to contemplate the many ways in which treating feminism as “woman’s work” is some f**ked-up irony, right there.

        And then this. I want more men to say they are feminists and to stand by me. We all believe in equality, so just say it out loud and become an ally already!

      • Howard says:

        That works for me.

        Do feminists ever transcend their anger? I think some must and if they do and they retain their interest in these issues I think they are well suited as spokeswomen for enlisting allies.

      • kmillecam says:

        Howard, I really like you! Seriously. I keep bracing myself for this conversation to take an ugly turn, but we aren’t. I love it when that happens.

        I know how these arguments can come across, especially on the internet where you can’t see each others faces, and I’m used to people thinking I am really angry when I’m mostly just passionate.

        Okay, enough of that. Yes, I think feminists transcend their anger, especially if they have been at it for a while. I feel like I am getting there, though I still get upset pretty regularly about certain aspects of inequality.

        I like the comment I got from my therapist or a book or something somewhere: Anger can either turn inward or outward. Turned inward it turns to bitterness. Turned outward it becomes useful as you harness it and use it to move you forward.

        I think I would also add that when you harness anger, you are actually changing it. Used as a catalyst it transforms you into a powerful, passionate, knowledgeable, fearless person.

      • Annie B. says:

        Naismith, I don’t think you will find anyone here who would look down on a woman for choosing to be a homemaker, or who would disagree with you that women have different struggles than men, and thus different needs in some things, especially the workplace. I think your dislike for “feminism” might be that you are defining feminism differently than many here.

    • Howard says:

      I like you too and I am glad we can talk this through. I agree with what you and your therapist said about anger and I will add that anger is a motivator. It’s a mistake to repress emerging anger it needs to be experienced and validated, but after some time it is also a mistake to continue in it or enable it in others because it reinforces the victim mentality interfering with growth toward autonomy. In addition I would like to caution that there are many potential sources of female anger besides institutionalized patriarchy and the more intense the anger the more likely it is coming from early life experiences some probably much earlier than a female comes into contact with institutionalized patriarchy. So these anger sources can easily be conflated making quite a mess. Finally I would like to caution that any organization or group that portrays themselves as victims and others as their persecutors will by definition find it very difficult to stay out of drama and and away from psychological games. (See Karpman Drama Triangle)

      • Naismith says:

        “I think your dislike for “feminism” might be that you are defining feminism differently than many here.”

        Actually, I am not defining feminism at all. I am letting feminists define it themselves. I am accepting what the feminists around me say it means. And they have told me that my views disqualify me. Perhaps if I lived someplace else, I would be a feminist. But where I am now, I am happy to work with feminists on issues of common interest, and they appreciate the strength in numbers.

        And I don’t have a “dislike” for feminism any more than I have a dislike for tennis, which I do not play, either.

        I appreciate that there is no official board of feminism, so you can define yourself however you want.

        “I don’t think you will find anyone here who would look down on a woman for choosing to be a homemaker, or who would disagree with you that women have different struggles than men….”

        I dunno, this sounds a lot like the “chicken patriarchy” arguments. That if you don’t do it all the way, you aren’t really doing it:)

        To an outsider, it must seems like some Mormon women want to plug into feminism in order to capitalize on the legacy and status of feminism, but they don’t want to own what the larger movement is about nowadays.

  24. Mommie Dearest says:

    When I saw the title of the post, I didn’t think this implied warfare at all. Rather, I thought, “that’s good advice for me” — I would love to have an ally or three who cheer me on in the areas where I feel like I’m isolated, silenced, and swimming upstream. It would be a smart thing to do this for myself. If you fit well into the mainstream culture I guess it might seem like warfare, but for us folks who struggle on the fringes of the norm, having a voice that is heard and understood can be the most encouraging thing in the world. I don’t need a bullet point list of suggestions that might or might not help, just an acknowledgement that my trials are legitimate and I am fighting a worthy battle to find peace in the gospel. That’s where the only warfare is, never with those who aren’t troubled with my strife.

    I am so much more spiritually fed at church by anything that speaks the truth about Christ. Somehow in the way he conducted his ministry, he made sure that all of us, particularly women, felt the inclusion of his love. He becomes my best ally, and that strengthens me far more than being told that my politics are in error, and if I would change them I’d be able to fix what ails me. But it would be so nice to feel like He isn’t the only one.

  25. jks says:

    I think that feminism needs to be heard. I think that it is a mistake to think that it is the only story worth hearing. If we listen as much as we talk we can get farther.

  26. Markawhy says:

    Way to go Jessawhy! Great post. I think the one benefit of an “ally” is that it subconsciously legitimizes the cause in the eyes of others if that ally is perceived as a neutral third-party. I realize it should not be this way, but my experience has taught me that it is this way.

    The message may get muddled. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that (since the specific feminist message is unique to each woman anyway) because it seems like the point is to get others to see there IS a problem. Women ARE suffering. In our gospel even if one is suffering, its too many. That worked on me.

    On a practical note, I wonder if many of the feminists on this blog have a standing appointment with their Bishops to discuss feminism generally, to point out specific incidences in the Ward, to let them know you’re not crazy, etc., etc. I think a lot of them would welcome the meeting as a nice respite from morality interviews (though you could throw in a smart mix of both in your interview).

    • Nate Curtis says:

      I think any appointments that are not requests for financial assistance or pornography repentance sessions will bring tears of joy to most bishops.

    • Emmaline says:

      I actually just went to my Bishop to discuss these issues….more for the sake of full disclosure (they called me to be the girl’s camp director and I’m going to do some thoroughly unorthodox things) than because of my struggles with the church.

      I was pleasantly surprised to find an ally in him, it was something I never would have expected. And I’ve noticed changes in a few of the things we talked about (visiting teaching assignments, the modesty-police-type rules that the YW run into with the stake, that kind of thing). Talk about unexpected!

    • Annie B. says:

      Several months ago I chatted with my bishop just to let him know where I stood on some things and to let him know about my anxiety and why I wasn’t at church most Sundays. It was a good experience. He didn’t have any answers for me, but it was nice to just have a voice and his support. I actually had a visit from my bishop and the stake pres last night in my home (I didn’t know they even did that, apparently they check up on some families around ward conference time). It was a bit anxiety inducing, as my husband forgot to tell me they were coming and I had just gotten out of the shower when they arrived and had to leave to go somewhere right after they left, but it was also a good experience overall. The stake pres was sympathetic and encouraging for the most part.

  27. Naismith says:

    “Surely you cannot be aware of the magnitude, nor the sources of, nor the personal history of the pain that compels individual women in the church to find refuge in some feminist principles.”

    I have great sympathy for people of any gender who are in pain of whatever kind. I think it is great that they find help from whatever source. It’s great if you find something that works for you.

    “I don’t know what you’ve been reading about feminism, but it surely is very negative,”

    Some of it is negative, but I didn’t make it up. The sources I cited above (with which I disagree) are considered very much mainstream feminist sources. As has been pointed out many spots in this thread, all parts of the church don’t work for everyone; there can be problems with individual bishops and husbands trying to exert inappropriate tyranny. If even the church is not utterly perfect, why is it surprising that there might be some aspects of feminism that don’t work for everyone?

    A lot of women have been disappointed with feminism. All of the women in my playgroup for my fourth child were non-LDS who had pursued careers, found that they weren’t comfortable with the daycare available to them, and were at home with their toddler but getting no support from their old friends or feminism for that choice, feelings of abandonment that were later put so well in Ann Crittenden’s THE PRICE OF MOTHERHOOD.

    “because many of us find much relief in feminism.”

    And if you do, I am happy for you. But it would be a boring world if the only flavor of ice cream available was vanilla. So why insist that I be a feminist, too?

    “I find it hard to believe that a latter-day saint, if they truly understand how severe is this struggle for some women and men, would not have enough compassion to at least recognize the legitimacy of that struggle, or the autonomy of a person to navigate their different journey through troubles you seem not to see.”

    I totally recognize the legitimacy of your struggle. I wish you well on your journey. I would never tell you that you are wrong to feel as you do.

    This thread was supposed to be about allies of feminists. I thought that I do perhaps qualify because of the pro-woman steps that I take in my life. There are many concerns that I share with feminists, and I am happy to work with them whenever our goals coincide. In the town where I live, feminist groups join with other women’s groups for the Take Back the Night march, Women’s History Month events, Women’s Equality Day celebration, etc. Also, I have brought information about feminism to my ward: I selected and led discussion of THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE for our Relief Society book club, and many of the sisters were impressed with how pro-family and sensible that book is–not at all the evil they assumed it was. I love that old book , and it has shaped my life in many ways, but my younger feminist friends tell me that book is outdated, and thus I am no longer a feminist.

    But if I was mistaken about what it means to be a feminist ally, I apologize for intruding.

    • Mommie Dearest says:

      It appears to me that we aren’t on the same wavelength. Your non-feminism is informed by academic reading and dispassionate observance of other’s experiences. My feminism is informed by my own real-life struggles with very real deficits I experience in the church and elsewhere, in addition to what wisdom I can glean wherever I find it, from scriptures, conference and church meetings; and other sources that address critical issues (to me) that those do not. You don’t have a great lack of allies in your personal life, whereas I am in great need of them.

      It’s pretty clear that we are talking past each other. I don’t have the energy to spare for a dry academic discussion, I’m only looking for allies.

      • Naismith says:

        “Your non-feminism is informed by academic reading and dispassionate observance of other’s experiences.”

        No, actually it is not. I only cited a few references to demonstrate that I am not “unaware” of feminism.

        “My feminism is informed by my own real-life struggles…”

        And my own switch from being a feminist to non-feminist was instigated by my own real-life struggles, I just did not think it appropriate to go into that here. I have been hurt by the comments and actions of self-avowed feminists– hurt emotionally, financially, and medically.

        “You don’t have a great lack of allies in your personal life, whereas I am in great need of them.”

        If I have allies, it is because I am willing to accept them, appreciating that we do not agree on everything but may have some common ground that will provide mutually beneficial synergy. A couple weeks back, I was at a meeting of a group that is partnering with the women’s group in which I am active. A speaker went on about religious people who have too many children and how bad it is for the planet and society. I felt stomach-punched. It was upsetting. But his group has some common ground with an issue that I care about, so he is still an ally.

        But do I have support in my personal life for my choices? Very little. My mother told me that I was ruining my life when I was pregnant with my fourth, my graduate school mentor has been disappointed in my career, and I have a hard time convincing employers to allow part-time employment.

        “I don’t have the energy to spare for a dry academic discussion, I’m only looking for allies.”

        It sounds like you are only looking for supporters. Allies are disparate entities with overall different agendas, but who work together to accomplish a common goal. The Russians were US allies to defeat Hitler, even though they did not continue on friendly terms in the years following. I have a lot of common ground with feminists.

  28. Lacy says:

    Hey Jessawhy, read and loved this post. I actually have a slight connection to Nikky Finney and forwarded her the link! 😉

    • Jessawhy says:

      Why thank you! I was really taken with her in the NPR interview and hope that this post doesn’t misrepresent what she so beautifully portrays in her poetry.

  29. Holly says:

    As an artist, Finney uses poetry to tell the “really difficult to say things” about civil rights in the South. She uses numbers in a way that speak to an individual’s story, not a disenfranchised group of society.

    It is indeed a beautiful poem. It says “really difficult to say things”–almost sixty years AFTER a simple act of defiance by a quiet woman was answered with arrest and caused riots. I wonder how effective it would have been in 1955 at opening the eyes of white people who felt at the time that as a black woman, Ms. Parks should be happy to have a solid job making clothes for white people who could afford them–and not wish for more, since after all black people were morally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually inferior to white people?

    Do you really think that someone who felt that the enslavement of black people was divinely decreed would be persuaded of their error upon learning that a black woman was quietly angry about being poorly paid to make clothes for white people?

    But how do we know if we’re being heard? How do we find the balance to tell the truth so our audience will understand and respond in a way that benefits us both?

    Keep in mind that in the example you raise, the statement that was heard was open defiance–refusing to give up a seat for a white person–and economic retaliation–the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott lasted over a year, caused crippling hardship to its target, the City of Montgomery, and did not end until the federal government intervened in the form of the Supreme Court declaring segregated buses unconstitutional.

    Perhaps the clearest, most effective way for LDS women to express their dissatisfaction with certain situations in the church is simply to say nothing while ceasing to accept callings, pay tithing, or attend meetings–until the leaders get the message and things change.

    Of course, women should be prepared to endure retaliation and discipline, just as Rosa Parks did.

    And then, 50 or 60 years in the future, when it’s far, far safer, someone can write a quiet poem quietly expressing all sorts of quiet anger.

    • Kmillecam says:

      This was the missing piece for me, and I’m SO glad you said it. I was saying in the comments above that it was something to do with the Mormon Niceness, and this is the link.

      We are currently caught up in the idea that it makes feminism more palatable if we are calmly and quietly angry…because it’s just nicer. Again, the niceness sneaks up on us and tells us lies about what is most important.

      I mean, is it really more important to be nice about this so that we can get more allies vs. boldly doing what needs to be done? I find that cowardly, though I know I will possible hurt some feelings by saying so.

      Like you said, Rosa Parks caused riots. And when I talk about feminist activism I am talking about the same brave moves that Rosa made for racism. That’s what I mean when I say I am more concerned with the actual work of feminism and equality than how it may appear to so-and-so. (Note: I didn’t say I wasn’t concerned with how it looked, just that it was less important to me, justifiably IMO).

      Also: it would seem that we are conflating doing something that makes other people mad with thinking that Rosa Parks/feminists are personally angry in the same kind of way. Anger isn’t that simple.

      My activism is fueled by a deep anger, sure. But it’s because I have been marginalized and told I don’t matter. I should be angry. And I have used that anger as a catalyst to change myself and change the world around me. That’s what I see when I look at Rosa Parks and feel inspired by her decision, even though it came at a high price.

      This anger (mine, Rosa’s, feminists) is vastly different than the anger people may feel about me as they watch what I do because of that anger. They get angry watching me, for example, and then call on ME to be less angry. I smell a deflection!

      First of all, they are mad because they are uncomfortable with a new idea/responsibility, not because they are being personally cut down by bias or abuse. My anger is different from their anger.

      I believe inequality-based anger to be justified, and that it ultimately trumps the reactionary anger people might feel when the messy work of getting equality makes everyone’s lives harder.

  30. Holly says:

    one more thing: Rosa Parks has streets named after her and poems written from her perspective not because she was nice, but because she provoked conflict. She is further evidence that Laurel Thacher Ulrich was dead-on right when she noted that “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

    • Jessawhy says:

      Holly,
      You make excellent points. I’m not sure I’m prepared to say where the feminist movement is at, are we at Rosa Park’s place? Or was that for 1st or 2nd wave feminists? Are we still 20 years from the equivalent of what Rosa Park’s did?
      It’s hard to say because the feminism/civil rights analogy isn’t perfect. We see that, of course, when we go to Relief Society and see many women as the “gatekeepers of patriarchy.” Although I’m not expert, I don’t believe there was a majority of black people who preferred the Jim Crow South to actual freedom and personhood. I think in the church, a majority of women support the current doctrine and practices. I don’t think there will be “sit ins” (or “sit outs”) anytime soon. And those of us who do stop doing the things you say are just brushed aside as “going through a difficult time” or some other thing.

      Thanks for your comment. Are you a new reader here? How did you find us?

      • Holly says:

        Although I’m not expert, I don’t believe there was a majority of black people who preferred the Jim Crow South to actual freedom and personhood.

        perhaps not. But I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Uncle Tom.” There were slaves who preferred slavery with a benevolent master to freedom. And there were certainly people of color who advocated being less confrontational, and people who were too afraid to engage in any sort of confrontation themselves.

        Are you a new reader here? How did you find us?

        I’m by no means a new reader. I suspect I’ve known about Exponent II longer than you have, Jessawhy. I was first exposed to it in the 1980s when it was still a printed newsletter. I discovered the blog long ago–I swear it was 2005, though your archives only go back to 2006–and read it for a while, though I got very tired of the deference to men–it was one of the blogs dominant features in the early days. I started paying attention again a few years ago when the magazine solicited and published my poetry. Just haven’t felt my reason to comment very often.

      • Holly says:

        I don’t think there will be “sit ins” (or “sit outs”) anytime soon.

        Nope. Just a call for female ordination, made possible in part because Mormon feminists were emboldened by a call for women to wear pants to church–and look at the brouhaha that provoked! It was non-violent, but it resulted in death threats against the women who acme up with it.

        I think the events of the past six months have more than proved the strength of my position.

Leave a Reply