Mormon Feminist Outreach
Something has been on my mind recently, and I can’t shake it. So I’m going to pass it along to you, dear reader, and see if you have a solution. (I’m not sure whether this counts as crowdsourcing or giving you all something else to worry about.)
A few weeks ago when my mother was in town, PBS happened to premiere “The Makers,” a documentary on the women’s movement. We sat down and watched it all in one go. In fact, we kept pausing the documentary to discuss things, so it took us considerably longer than three hours to watch it. Totally worth it.
The nagging thing that disturbed me has to do with something I’d already known, but which the documentary pointed out over and over: second-wave feminism was mostly a movement of white, well-to-do, well-educated women, to the extent that it was unrecognizable (and frequently offensive) to poor women, minorities, and women outside of the U.S.
That’s what’s getting to me. We have this amazing community of Mormon feminists — just look at the blogroll — but at some level it is a luxury afforded to a small percentage of Mormon women. I believe we’re missing a lot of Mormon women’s experiences. And we’re missing a whole lot of Mormon women. As everyone seems to be fond of pointing out now, we’re members of a worldwide church.
Obviously this is something that’s been bothering me for a longer time than just a few weeks. As a missionary in western Argentina, I was dismayed to find that only a few good LDS library mainstays had been translated into Spanish. There was a young couple my companion and I got quite close to in our ward–buena gente, we would have told you, both of them well-educated and both of them returned missionaries, struggling along in the way a lot of young families do, finding that the gospel they had taught to other people wasn’t working as well in their own lives as they had hoped it would. They were both going through a crisis of faith, right in the middle of babies and diapers and trying to get career footholds in a country that was headed pell-mell for a huge financial crisis. The mother, Alejandra, told us one day, “It’s just so hard to be everything that everyone needs me to be. Something’s got to go.”
I had a copy of Chieko Okazaki’s Lighten Up! that had a few essays she needed to read. Because that’s Mormon sisterhood in a nutshell: an elderly Japanese-American woman raised in Hawaii helping a young mother in South America. But as far as we could figure out, it wasn’t available in Spanish. And this was 1995, so it wasn’t even an issue of finding a few of the right conference talks on the LDS.org page.
So I spent my study time and lunch time for the next month trying to translate one chapter for her. Chapter 2, the one titled “Principles and Practices.” It’s about making Relief Society work for individual sisters, and about making Church programs work for families that have different backgrounds and different needs.
You know what? Translating is hard. It’s a good kind of hard, but it’s hard.
As my Chilean mission president said, over and over: “Las cosas fáciles no valen.”
We have a wonderful Mormon feminist community here. But as it is, this is only available to the approximately fifty percent of Church members who speak English.
As Chieko wrote in that chapter I worked so hard to translate, “You can’t have harmony in music if everybody is singing in unison. . . . We need all the parts.”
Know what? There’s another large Mormon population that speaks Spanish. Another twenty-five percent, in fact–about three and a half million people. Many of them are in our communities, members of our stakes or of language-divided stakes. Many of them are beloved friends and former companions that we met as missionaries. I want my friend Mónica to be part of the conversation about being a single woman in the Church, because she’s found a way to make it work for her that could help someone else. I want my friend Patricia to be part of the conversation about leadership, and priesthood, and the role of women in the modern Church, because her marriage is one of the most equal I’ve ever seen. I want Alejandra to know that other active LDS women struggle with too many demands on their time and patience.
What would it take to extend the Mormon feminist community to a worldwide church? Is there a way to enlarge the tent?