Global Mormon Feminism: Reflections On The 40th Anniversary Exponent II Issue
Exponent II has been such a gift to me. There is always something there to make me laugh, something that touches the deepest part of my soul, and something that makes me think in a way that changes my perspective. Gina Colvin’s article in the 40th Anniversary issue of Exponent II does all three, but it especially has changed my perspective.
I’ve often heard people lament that our proudly “global” church seems to act more like an American corporation with offices in different countries than a truly multinational organization. The church opens branches and wards and gives them the same handbook that is being used for American wards, with American lingo and correlation. American leaders are sent to establish these congregations and to train people to properly administer the church, with a high emphasis on educating people to ensure the upward social mobility of its members. Often many traditional worship practices, such as dancing or traditional folk music, are discouraged and/or eliminated in global LDS congregations, and American standards of dress and grooming are emphasized in publications like “For the Strength of Youth” without adaptation for members in other cultures or climates. And while I’m aware that efforts are ongoing to incorporate local input and to mediate some of the larger cultural clashes, most of those who make the overarching, administrative decisions still aren’t locals who live in the area in question: they’re Americans who are receiving feedback, and then making decisions for the non-American area. I would think that Mormon women, and particularly Mormon feminists, would be empathetic to this dynamic of giving input but not ultimately making the decisions that directly affect them.
In her article, Dr. Colvin argues that rather than helping people with this emphasis on education, we’re ignoring the very real barriers to upward social mobility in other countries, such as an increasing gap between rich and poor, hunger, domestic violence, war, and illiteracy, among others. In our church, we have simply imposed the American ideal for improving quality of life upon congregations in other countries with other cultures, and doing so is not only unhelpful, it’s colonialist and classist. To quote Dr. Colvin’s article,
Unless we radically reframe Mormon discourses that have traditionally sought to constitute the ideal Mormon middle class Global South subject by socializing them through education, we run the risk of colonizing and overrunning local communities with an ideology of American cultural and class imperialism. . . . We need to reframe the way in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints manages its global mission in order to become institutionally mindful of the particularities of its own culturally constructed religious and spiritual practices.
Dr. Colvin’s article brings up all sorts of questions for me: how am I imposing my narrative and bias upon others in the church? What things do I assume are easy for others because of my situation? What issues and/or discomforts am I blind to because of my bias? What kind of harm am I inadvertently complicit in? And what kind of questions am I not even thinking to ask myself about that I should be?
I think these kinds of questions are important in every context, but I am specifically interested in them within the context of Mormon feminism. So often Mormon feminism has been (fairly) critiqued as being a primarily American movement. What can we do about this? How am I imposing my American narrative upon my feminism? What things are easy for me as an American Mormon that aren’t easy for others? What issues and/or discomforts am I blind to because of my bias? What kind of harm am I inadvertently complicit in? What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves (and our readers), but we aren’t?
Are there global issues that we aren’t as concerned with as we should be? How do issues of racism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, hunger, poverty, abandonment, rape, genital mutilation, access to female contraception, social shunning, child sex trafficking, maternal mortality, illiteracy, and war affect our sisters across the globe? What about access to education, divorce, political power, and property rights? Do we ignore these issues because many of them aren’t “our” issues? How can Mormon feminism shift to become a global movement, focused on global issues? And, critically, are we able to let our global sisters take the lead as we tackle these issues? Again, quoting Dr. Colvin:
Furthermore, allowing white American middle-class women to manage and control the LDS response to Global South issues is merely a feminized version of white colonialism. Women’s issues need to be addressed by the women from those places. The conversations, the stories and narratives of our worldwide sisters, and the language to empower local female leaders to problem-solve at the point of trouble is utterly essential. These Global South women leaders need to be honored, listened to, given resources, supported, and respected by the Global North Church.
I am a firm believer that we can – and should – do better to expand our community to reach beyond our borders. We have so much work to do, and Gina Colvin’s article is a fantastic reminder of how we can best work with our global brothers and sisters to work towards a model of inclusion, not imperialism. I encourage you to subscribe to Exponent II if you haven’t already – it will enrich your life, expand your horizons, and inspire you to do more good in the world. Additionally, we need your voices! We cannot get global perspectives without hearing from our global sisters. We are always looking for global perspectives both on the blog (email us), and for Exponent II (see the call for submissions for the Summer 2015 issue here).
How can we change our attitudes and actions to better support our global sisters? What blogs, books, or articles do you recommend that feature the voices of our global sisters? What resources are you aware of that support women worldwide?