Guest Post: The Turbid Ebb and Flow of Mormon Feminism

by Lala

(Lala is a secondary music teacher in her second year of marriage.)

 

I am not a mature Mormon Feminist. As much as I long to be like the diplomatic, assertive, adult women in the forefront of our “movement.” I would describe myself more like the feminist’s equivalent of a hormonal teenager: unpredictable, ego-centric, and sometimes explosive.

Example.

Some on the bloggernacle have discussed how to “come out” to their families with their struggles with the LDS faith. My “coming out” was an uncalculated disaster. My mom made some offhand comment about how disturbed she was when she saw an older man on the news married to a teenage girl and I made a snide remark about Brigham Young. Two hours later I had screamed at my dad, provoked the rage of my usually saint-like brother in law by making a disparaging remark about Joseph Smith (I think the words I used were “philandering creep?”), and left everyone in my family, including me, in tears of frustration. Two hours later, in a post-feminist-outburst haze, I was left alone to figure out how, in the future, I would better deal with my internal dissonance.

My Mormon Feminism feels both like a source of nourishment and a disease. And I am learning how to cope with it like one. As you can see, some of my coping strategies are better than others. Here are some tactics I have turned to when my feelings of righteous indignation are particularly acute.

  1. Some weekend mornings when I have woken up feeling misunderstood, as if the injustice of gender inequality had occurred to me for the first time, I have sprawled out on the bed in adolescent angst listening to Sylvia Plath read her poem “Daddy” on youtube over and over again. (Every woman adores a fascist [polygamist].”)
  2. On Sundays when I’m not in the mood to get grumpy about something the speaker says, I tune them out and begin reading out of books of poetry or a book on Zen meditation. (And sometimes I work on the word search provided for children on the program.)
  3. In one church meeting as I listened to a 20 minute talk about the “separate but equal” rhetoric on “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” I imagined myself wreaking havoc on the chapel, Harry Potter style. With my invisibility cloak on I would distract the congregation by ruffling the curtains, causing the flower arrangement to spontaneously fall from the podium, throwing a hymn book across the room and shattering the painting of Joseph and Emma, etc.
  4. On Sundays when I feel like making a passive-aggressive statement I wear pants to church.
  5. I still spend many rides home from church unloading on my husband every issue I took with what was said in Relief Society. But I try to practice unloading as rationally as possible (and not yelling at him for “defending” the church.)
  6. Sometimes, not often, I actually do speak up in class about comments that I disagree with.
  7. Sometimes I just yell at God in my prayers.
  8. Most often, I turn to Mormon Feminist podcasts, books, and blogs, like The Exponent, about the stories and musings of intelligent, religious women who share some of my same feelings of confusion and frustration.

Although I understand that all of these strategies may not be the most sophisticated, they do keep me from bottling up my emotions and resorting to other alternatives: sobbing on my kitchen floor, asking my husband annoying hypothetical questions that I’ve alredy asked before (“If you’d been alive in the nineteenth century…?”), saying things about the church as a whole that I later regret, and yelling at my husband and family as if it is all their fault.

I am slowly, slowly, learning to separate the good from the bad as I learn to deal with my “feminist grief” (as Top Hat so articulately explained it in her recent post). Because I am also scared.  Scared of wrecking my marriage, scared of raising daughters (and/or sons) in this culture, scared of losing my faith in the good things of the gospel, but also scared of believing what the church says about me as a woman.

One day, I will be a Mormon Feminist grown-up, but right now, this is how I’m coping. How do you cope?

 

 

 

 

 

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40 Responses

  1. Rixa says:

    I wear pants to church on occasion. For me, it’s less passive-aggressive and more a deliberate statement. Here are my own reasons:
    1) practicality: I hate being so cold during midwest winters and so pants win out on those days
    2) to show support for some of the other women in the ward who wear pants.
    3) to show that you don’t have to follow one narrow, culturally-determined way of dressing at church

    I was just invited to a stake leadership training as part of my calling. It’s on a Saturday morning. I just got an email notice to wear Sunday Dress. Sorry, won’t do that. I’ll wear something nice but I don’t think wearing a skirt makes the spirit more likely to be present than wearing nice trousers.

  2. Kate says:

    I Think that at some point (12 years later) the weekly anger dissipates because either a. You are no longer attending church. B. You make an uneasy peace with the dissonance, comment when you feel it is important, ignore things that you know will drive you crazy, and “blow up” less often. Family gatherings are a trigger for me, so I excuse myself from the room if a lively discussion starts. X family member knows how I feel, I know how that person feels, we both do good things in our life, and we respect the good and don’t hash the ideology. And ten years later, we ask each other’s advice on life decisions. I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone–but at some point, it was nice for me to let go of the red hot anger, do what I can to educate and promote change, and focus on the good. Good luck!

  3. Kate says:

    But ten years ago? I walked out of a lot of meetings. I made friends in real life with women who felt the same way. I found mentors who I could talk to. I read. A lot. Not always helpful. I participated more in the Mormon feminist blogs. I cried. I yelled. I vowed this or that. I prayed. A lot. I talked to my parents. I did service in the community. And I felt like eventually, through the grace of God, the things that bothered me still kept me up at night, but the rage left. Not perhaps helpful comments–it was nice for me to know that what I was feeling was real, and was validated by those i loved…

  4. Annie B. says:

    I try to take myself back to when I was a kid and blissfully (sort of, I still felt very uncomfortable about certain things but didn’t know enough to realize why and too unsure of myself to trust my own feelings over what my parents or church leaders told me) unaware and still wanting wholeheartedly to believe everything LDS church leaders taught because I trusted that was the way to be good. I try to remember what that felt like and how fiercely I defended concepts I didn’t even understand yet, like the concept that homosexuality was a choice. I try to imagine what I might have been receptive to. It helps me be more to be more patient and understanding.

  5. April says:

    I hope I do not sound trite or patronizing by saying this, but as a middle aged grandmother raised by a true feminist of the 50’s and 60’s who loudly expressed your same sentiments, I inherited them. It took a long time for me to decide whether I was in or out. It has to do with not being double minded. Joseph Smith taught a lot about double mindedness. A testimony of Joseph Smith as a true prophet was something I prayed for for decades, but when I unexpectedly received it, it was glorious. I love what the church teaches about feminism and womanhood. The sins and bigotry of the 19th and early 20th century men were instilled through generations. I want to be considered separate but equal. I love being treated with respect and more gently than if I were a man. I want my husband to preside (not rule) over the home and family through the priesthood. I am so grateful for the priesthood and am so grateful to share in it as an eternal companion. It took me until my mid 40’s to come to this. There truly is comfort and peace in the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Chin up ladies.

    • DefyGravity says:

      What does “preside” mean? You say it as though we all know what the definition is, but part of the problem in my mind is that it is not defined, therefore it’s difficult to incorporate it into life. And since it is undefined, it’s also hard to know why it is necessary, and how one person can preside and yet how a couple can function as equal partners. Would you please clarify?

      I also don’t understand what you mean by double-mindedness. So I’m unsure what you’re trying to get at. Can you explain?

      I’m glad that you find joy in being treated differently, but many of us on this blog do not. And because you have found joy in something, that does not mean that all of us will find joy in it. Pleas understand that many of us have tried to find joy as you have, but have not been successful and are looking elsewhere.

  6. DefyGravity says:

    Lulu, I feel your pain. I’ve had similar experiences with family members, and in church. It’s so hard to keep peace, and yet feel as though you are being authentic and expressing yourself.

    My biggest outlet is writing. In church when it all gets to be too insane, or when I just don’t have the energy to listen, I write in my journal. Since becoming a Mormon feminist, I’ve been an insane journal writer, much more so then when I was a strong Mormon. I also started a blog, so I’d have a more public outlet to express myself. And of course, writing for the Exponent.

    I also do a lot of engaging on Facebook. That might seem like a cop-out, but I figure if people are putting things out in public, then they need to hear as many aspects on what they say as possible. And it is less confrontational then conversation, and it gives everyone a chance to think before they respond. Because I am uncomfortable expressing myself in certain situations, I’ve tried to find situations where I do feel comfortable expressing how I feel.

    Good luck! I have found joy in expressing myself even when it frightens me. I hope you find peace in feeling and expressing those feelings.

    • Annie B. says:

      I’ve thought of starting a blog. And I don’t think Facebook is a cop-out. I actually express myself much more accurately (and patiently and kindly) in writing than I do in speech so it works out better most times.

  7. CatherineWO says:

    I love this post, Lala and laughed right out loud at some of the ways you cope. Like DefyGravity, I do a lot of journal writing. I started taking it to church with me several years ago and start writing as soon as the first speaker begins, always tuned in, however, to hear any tidbits that might be interesting (and not raise my ire too much). I quit attending Gospel Doctrine classes about eight years ago and only attend R.S. when visiting another ward. And, I come to Exponent (both the blog and the magazine) to feel strength and validation.

  8. This post was me to a T (tee? tea? Which is it?) at 2 years of marriage. I had to let go of a lot of things. The things that constantly distressed me, I cut out. For me that meant no longer attending the temple. There was just too much cognitive dissonance for me there. It meant deciding things based on the spirit and not based on the dogma I’ve grown up with. It meant opening my mouth in church and ignoring the parts that were awful. It was really hard, but I was blessed many times to trust myself. I’m honestly not sure where I’ll be in 10 years, but I think I’ll be around in some capacity.

    I liked a quote from Carol Lynn Pearson that said something to the effect that the church was the right place for her–not because she agreed with everything, but because it challenged her to discover what she believed. Something like that. I’m certainly not doing it justice, so if you have the time, watch her interview on Mormon Stories.

    I

    • “to a T” is correct – probably a shortened form of “to a tittle”

    • Jessica says:

      I would second the recommendation for Carol Lynn Pearson’s interview on Mormon Stories. It was fantastic. I think after listening to her story and other interviews on Mormon Stories Podcast, I came to a happier place where I could be an active non bitter member of the church. And that there was no right way to be a Mormon. That I could have a testimony of truth and that I did not have to fit into any mold. And that was a wonderful realization.

      • Lala says:

        Yes, I have seen the Carol Lynn Pearson interview. I adored it and I reflect on it often when I’m trying to remind myself why I’m still in this church.

        And yes, attending the temple is very hard for me also…lucky for me, I just moved to a place 4 hours away from the nearest one. I am honestly grateful that I don’t have to worry about coming up with excuses not to go anymore.

  9. spunky says:

    Lala,
    I think most of us can commiserate with you and your way of dealing with inequality in one way or another. (I gag when I think of the “separate but equal” line in every instance….) I would suggest trying to not “unload” on your husband– communicate with him for sure, but state why what was said at church was wrong (if you are pedantic like me, I even reference it), and why it bothered you, so he understand and hears the same things you hear with the same importance that you hear them.

    I have found it liberating to understand that more women than just me cringe in some Relief Society lessons. I don’t attend RS and haven’t for years, but for the odd occasion. So I suppose that is how I deal with my church issues– avoidance. I also have found good friends sitting in the halls outside of sacrament meeting. There is a hall cult, I swear. And the people in the halls are often just as distracted from the spirit by the speakers as I am. And when I am in a more playful mood, I just burst out laughing. Because some of the stuff people say is STUPID. Laughing, rather than getting angry, is the best way to deal with it. Really. And people of like mind will notice that you are giggling, and will want to get to know you. Really.

    Mostly, just relax and understand that you are not alone. God would never make heaven a place of polygamous hell for you (it is HEAVEN after all– not eternal torture, so for me, it can not have polygamy), nor would God value you only for your mortal reproductive system an place you second to men because they have a mortal penis. You are not alone in this. Ever.

  10. MB says:

    I had to come to a realization that I was enjoying the adrenalin rush of being ticked off and to a realization of what that was doing to my relationships with people I should be loving. That rush gave me an illusion of power whenever I faced something wrong that I felt I did not have the power to change by myself. And it felt good.

    I came to understand that I had to separate my passion about what I believed was right from the powerful thrill of indignation I enjoyed when confronting or denigrating or avoiding what I believed was downright wrong, damagingly misunderstood or short-sighted.

    Two things helped: Studying the New Testament to understand better Jesus’ teachings and way of living in the face of unrighteous dominion and erroneous dogma and then praying for help as I worked to make changes in my life to better reflect his.

    My passion for what I believe remains the same but, since I went through that learning curve, I no longer damage personal relationships in the process of maintaining my integrity.

  11. April says:

    How does a mature person behave when expressing dissent in Mormon church and culture? All the grown-up ways I have learned that work in other arenas are either inapplicable, frowned upon, or outright forbidden in church matters (speak your mind, start a petition, picket, write letters, civil disobedience, vote your conscience, vote with your feet…).

    • Annie B. says:

      Ha, very sad, but mostly true. That, or depending on the subject they accuse you of making things up “There were no teenage wives, go read about Emma, Joseph Smith’s Wife”. And when you reference Joseph Smiths plural wives using familysearch.org (a website owned by the LDS church) they say that sorry, they don’t read anti-mormon websites.

      I talked to my bishop and he was mostly sympathetic and just listened. I encourage everyone to do that, but there is no guarantee all bishops will be as sympathetic as mine.

    • MB says:

      Those things are frowned upon by many in civil matters too, for that matter.

      Though I believe that petitions and picketing are ineffective in church matters (they work better in situations where the people you are targeting are salaried and the church is, on the other hand, overwhelmingly volunteer staffed) I’ve had positive experiences with speaking my mind, writing letters and voting my conscience or voting with my feet. The thing is, you’ve got to do it kindly and openly as well as clearly. That takes immense self control and/or generosity of spirit. You’ve got to get your ego totally out of the picture. And that is hard to do when you are feeling angry or unvalued. Religious action takes place in quite a different culture than civil action. Anger or impatience sabotage work for change in a religious setting when that religion values Jesus’ teachings of love and gentleness. Therefore the appearance of anger or dismissivness on the part of one party usually will throw up walls on the other in church matters, no matter which person, you or the church representative, is angry. (Civil and political action, on the other hand, often take place in an arena that feeds on anger and confrontation.)

      So some of the methods work, but you’ve got to change the tenor of your work to fit the principles at the foundation of the culture in which you are working in order to be effective. I believe that’s true about trying to make change in any culture or situation anywhere in the world.

  12. Jessica says:

    I think that it is good advice to not unload on your husband too much, but at the same time I felt like he was the only one I could talk to. This was pre blog days. But I think on the flip side our relationship is better, he gave another point of view and in some ways is more feminist that I am, and his family is shocked.

    But I think after about 8 years of dealing with it, and all the issues. I came to a point where I had to know what the truth was. I had to know. And so I let all my ideas go away and I started seeking after truth. And what I found was that the way women are treated is not and has never been God’s plan. That my Mother in Heaven is real (and that there is only one) and that it breaks their hearts and more than it breaks mine. Because living in North America in 2012 I am really very lucky. But that I have hope that it will get better. That the cultural tide of change is slow, but that it is getting better.

    I still get mad at church and I am so thankful I am in Primary. But I would recommend the book “Jesus Was a Feminist” I think that is a good point of seeing how much God loves me.

  13. ingridLola says:

    The comments on this post are encouraging. I have very similiar feelings to Lala and I am also coming up on two years of marriage. I wish there were women in my ward like all of you – women who wore pants, women who spoke up against stupid comments – but there aren’t any. It seems like all the women in my ward are ultra conservative and so different than me. Do any of you live in Utah valley too? My husband and I will be moving this summer out of state, and I secretely hope that our new location will have more women like all of you, and that church won’t be so difficult. 🙁

    • DefyGravity says:

      I live in Provo, and feel your pain. Being the lone voice is hard.

    • Lala says:

      I also wish I had someone in my ward to talk to. I just left BYU last year and I wished I’d taken Women’s Studies while there so I could have made some Mormon Feminist friends. I remember feeling the way you did while I was there. No hope for me in my little ward in Virginia. I don’t have any “real” Mormon feminist friends. I can’t find a single one. It’s good to know someone feels the same way, though.

    • Jessica says:

      Me too! We are moving and I hope for this more than anything.

  14. May says:

    Oh my goodness – this post hits very close to home. The past week I’ve been thinking a lot about how to control my ‘feminist grief and anger’…so I can relate. A lot.
    I was at a family gathering and ended up being the only vocal woman in a discussion about gender issues in the church with a group of men age 25 – 30 who kept ending their frustratingly condescending remarks with “we may not like it, but that’s the way it is,” as a way to indicate the matter was closed. The rage, oh, the rage…
    I don’t know how to cope, not really. I have a few methods – my athiest brother is sympathetic. Reading blogs helps in the sense I know I’m not alone, but in a lot of ways it just fuels my anger. I think totally removing myself from ‘the church’ is the only way, honestly. I’m open to an alternative, but I just don’t see one.

    • mac says:

      I can relate! I talk to my ex-mormon friend or my feminist husband or my more liberal-minded LDS friends in order to validate my feelings. I read a ton of blogs by women in similar situations. But still it can be very bleak. There is good in the Church and it does a lot of good things, but for me sometimes, the bad often out weighs the good. Certain attitudes and notions are soul-crushing and maddening for me. Inactivity has really given me space to begin to “heal” (sorry for the cheesy phrase) and figure out how I should best live my life and beliefs. I wish you luck.

  15. EmilyCC says:

    Lala, thanks so much for your post. I love that you listed your coping mechanisms. I got some good ideas there!

    My IRL MoFem friends are a godsend. So, when I try to have a deep conversation at ward playgroup which brings a very uncomfortable silence in the room, at least, I can look to my friend who will smile and answer my question. (Not that that happened this morning, right, Starfoxy?)

    FWIW, I try to substitute in Primary as much as possible. Or, in the moment, I think of my favorite hymns that bring me comfort (whoa…I think we’re supposed to use that for something else, but hymns work for me 🙂 )

    It’s hard, so hard. I hope you’ll keep us updated on your journey!

  16. Gilly says:

    Some this that help me:
    1.Keeping my expectations low – people are church and people outside of church are flawed – we all are, so I expect to hear annoying things come out of mouths of good people at church. I try really hard to get to know people personally and celebrate all the wonderful things about them – then I can think about their good qualities when they are saying things that I disagree with and it helps me to respond to them with love instead of anger. Really, every one at church is trying to do their best and we have some pretty deeply ingrained sexist traditions in the church and in the world around us so I am not surprised when I hear them from the pulpit. Keeping my expectations low allows me to recognize and appreciate the times when I hear things are aren’t sexist.
    2. I take my concerns directly to my heavenly parents in prayer and trust in the feelings of love and acceptance I feel. I have never been that good at doing what others tell me so I don’t let other peoples comments about my outside employment etc bother me at all.
    3. I don’t unload on my husband when I am frustrated because it hasn’t always gone well, but I have found that calmly asking him questions helpful – I heard this….what do you think about that? Then telling him, “It made me think this….)
    4. I have been in nursery primary for the past 3 years so things may be harder for me if I went to adult church.
    5. As a mother of three girls, I feel great peace as speak with them and encourage them to question and think critically about what they learn and encourage them to feel and recognize the spirit.

  17. Lala says:

    Thank you all for commiserating with me and for all the encouragement/toher suggestions. (CathrineWO, I’m glad I made you laugh…)

    I really, really couldn’t to it without you.

    • CatherineWO says:

      Lala,
      I hope you don’t think I was laughing AT you, but trying to laugh with you, because sometimes humor is the only thing that makes it possible to get through all this.

  18. Mostly I’m not afraid to rant about my complaints or at least to twiddle my thumbs during an annoying lesson, but I never have any satisfying solutions, and that is what really gets to me. My bishop recently tried to tell me what he has learned by the Spirit about equal marriages and Eve turning to Adam and the priesthood. I saw the faults in all of his logic, but when I kindly pointed them out, there was no hint of understanding in his eyes. So I just concluded with, “Well, I’m glad that works for you. I don’t think it works for me, so I’ll just have to go on faith here.”

  19. Miri says:

    I kept putting off commenting here because I was going to actually write something, but I decided to just tell you how much I empathize with this post, Lala. Thanks for sharing (and I, too, laughed out loud at a couple of your coping methods–I especially like the Harry Potter one. When you’re done, do you watch it all happen backward like in the Half-Blood Prince movie?). 🙂

  20. Jane says:

    Wow, this post is a God-send! I’m amazed at how many of you still go to church. My husband and I gave up on that a while ago, although we still have testimonies of the basics of the gospel, we feel it is so widely misinterpreted these days. The Feminist frustrations are only one piece of the puzzle for us, but it’s a big one for me.

    I like your suggestions for coping. At this point, I have determined that I just do not have the strength, clarity, and self-confidence in my own personal beliefs to attend church and “let others believe what they will”. It got to the point where I was walking out of sacrament meeting every week just annoyed and angry so I didn’t see why I should go anymore. But I keep thinking that I need this time to tap into personal revelation and come to an understanding of how I really feel about things. Then maybe someday I’ll be one of those people that can attend church and “let bygones be bygones” and offer constructive criticism when needed. And, perhaps, even be an agent of change from the inside. I’m just not there yet. Or maybe that’s an excuse. Either way, it’s what I’m going with for now.

  21. Maxine says:

    I suggest focusing on one’s own, inner relationship with god, one’s spiritual power. The truth of who we are isn’t defined by approval or condemnation, but by our quality and strength of spirit. Others can’t give us our spiritual power or take it from us. It’s ours to magnify/grow, or neglect/ suppress within ourselves, whatever the circumstance.

  22. mac says:

    Most of the comments have greatly resonated with me. I have never been comfortable about the attitudes concerning women in the Church since I was a little girl. I applaud you women who have found strength to stand up for yourselves in Church or not to care what other say. I’m trying to develop those qualities myself. I have spend a long time praying and soul-searching, talking and reading about this issue. Therapy has helped a lot and so has not going to Church (wicked me, I know). Subsequently, I am a much calmer, happier person. My depression is eased, I don’t have “guilt outbursts” where I hate myself and feel terrible for not meeting the expectations of others. This of course is not to say that this is what everyone should do. And maybe one day I’ll return to Church. Who knows. For now, I will do what I feel is best for myself and thank God that my husband is also a Feminist!

    • Caroline says:

      Mac,
      Thanks for all your comments on these old posts. I’m glad to hear that a lot of these posts and comments resonate with you. I hope you find Exponent to be a helpful community for you

  23. Very good article. I absolutely love this site . Keep writing!

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