General Women’s Session: Linda S. Reeves

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 5.51.41 PMThis evening Sister Linda S. Reeves, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, gave a talk on chastity. As I recall the chastity talks and lessons I’ve received and given, this one is very similar: there is a bit of whiplash between topics. On one hand, there are certain expectations to follow Church standards and the strident language that comes with emphasizing their importance. On the other hand, there is the atonement that covers everything, even if we don’t follow all the standards exactly. I teach YW and recently taught a lesson on dating; I know how hard it is to keep the balance there, so I want to give Sister Reeves some charity as I walk through some of the contradictions in her talk. All through her talk, “virtue” is used as a code word for chastity, though I personally feel that virtue consists of much more than not having sex outside of marriage.

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Gatekeepers Anonymous


By Jenny

Hi, my name is Jenny, and I am a recovering gatekeeper. A little while ago I had to leave for work at 4:00 pm and my husband wasn’t going to be home until 4:30 pm. I didn’t have time to make dinner for my family to heat up while I was gone and I’m afraid to say that I felt guilty about that.  Later that evening I came home to a nice dinner still warm in the oven for me.  I started being a gatekeeper the day I got married and it has gotten progressively worse with each baby that I have had.  I began to realize just how big my problem was when my fourth child was born three years ago.  I was facing burn out of an astronomical proportion, guilt mounting on top of guilt, and I barely had time to sit and breathe for a moment during the day.  Luckily for me I had a feminist intervention and now I only fall back into gatekeeping every once in awhile, like the other day when I started to ask my husband if I could go to book group and then caught myself midsentence and said, “I have book group on Friday.”

Do you have a gatekeeping problem?  You might not even know you have one.  I didn’t know for a long time, but now it’s a lot easier for me to recognize the symptoms.  For instance, one of the biggest arguments I hear against women holding the priesthood is this: “I don’t want the priesthood.  I have way too much to do as it is. I don’t need one more responsibility!”  Some might wholeheartedly agree with this statement, some might say that this woman is being selfish, but what I see is a mindset that I fully understand and am trying to recover from myself.  You see, I made this argument myself only five years ago.

I grew up in a culture that creates amazing gatekeepers in its women.  We are taught at such a young age, that the home is our main responsibility.  Not only that, but the home is the most important institution on the earth.  The home is the place where Mormon women gain most of their power and recognition within the culture.  This gives us the propensity to grab every ounce of responsibility we can get our hands on and not relinquish any of it.  My great responsibility in the home was instilled so deeply in me that I literally felt I was single-handedly holding up a house, and if I let go even just a little bit to grab something else my house would collapse.  So of course the priesthood did not appeal to me.  Neither did a job or anything else that wasn’t part of my home.  I was being crushed under a heavy load to the point where I couldn’t handle anything else.  If I reached out to grab the priesthood, my house would fall.   But at the same time I felt a sense of pride in my ability to hold my house up by myself without help.  I felt powerful, so I thought women who wanted more of the men’s responsibility must feel powerless.  They must not understand how powerful a woman holding a house can be.  I understood…or so I thought.

But I didn’t know then how much more powerful I could be by sharing the load.  I didn’t realize that if women reach to help hold up the church, then men can reach to help hold up the house.  If Mormon women could just understand that their house is not going to fall if they let go of a little bit of their responsibility, I think the priesthood and other life callings outside the home would feel more appealing to them.  I love being a stay at home mom, but I don’t love every minute of it.  I’m good at it, but I’m good at other things too.  Lately I have worked harder to try those other things that I am good at.  In doing so, I am finding that my husband is really good at doing things in the home.  These were things that used to be my responsibility, things that, due to the sheer volume of them, prohibited me from doing other things I loved.  I also discovered that my kids are much better than I thought they were, at being independent and helping out.  In fact, it’s my husband who brings that out of them.

Now that I am giving up gatekeeping, we have twelve hands to hold up our house.  Some of those hands are little and not so helpful yet, but nonetheless, our house feels more balanced and stable.  Now if I want to leave, I know I can leave my house in good hands.  I can spend time teaching yoga and writing, travelling, going to trainings and retreats, running races, working to bring money into our home(something that I never fully grasped the value of until I realized how much confidence it gives me).  If I was allowed to, I could sit on the stand at church while my husband handles the kids on his own.  It wasn’t something I ever considered before, but now I see the potential.  Lately I have noticed many women who would make amazing bishops or leaders in other priesthood capacities, and would greatly benefit their wards with their service.  The only thing holding them back is the fear that we have as Mormons to let men reach that hand out to help in the home while the woman reaches a hand into the men’s world of serving in the church.  I’ve been there.  I understand the fear, but now I see only the benefits.

It takes coordination and effort to keep that balance.  It may even require hiring extra hands for support or enlisting friends, grandparents, neighbors.  Some women don’t have an equal partner for support.  I think it’s important to build a community of support to help all women to feel that freedom of knowing that they can relinquish their responsibilities at times to find themselves and to express the other beautiful things that they have to offer the world.  The first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem.  Then we can help each other.  If you want a community of support to help you overcome your gatekeeping addiction, feel free to comment below with an acknowledgment that you have a problem.

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Guest Post: To Hearken

By Tessa

Porcelain Doll jurcut

“Now don’t talk too much,”
he preaches from that unreachable pulpit,
dark suit and tie.

After all,
why would I need to say anything?
My needs are only so-called–
not valid, not important, not even real.
I have no real concerns.
Or, at least
the perfect porcelain doll who wears my face,
smiling with silent Stepford grace
from her polished marble pedestal
She embraces her
highest and holiest calling,
does not shrink back from
nine months of body swollen, stolen, possessed,
does not seek to leave the gilded walls of home
where women are incredible yet cannot preside.
The milky thoughts spoon-fed her each week are sufficient.
She does not ache to understand
the heavens and earths
and nations and peoples
and pasts and futures,
does not yearn to stretch, to grow,
to feed that seed of divinity planted in me by Mother above;
a mother I barely know;
a mother she does not remember.

But she is not me
I have climbed down from that pedestal,
have found solid earth beneath my feet.
And though I may have skinned
and scraped my hands on the way down,
the sting rekindles my voice.
First a cry of pain,
then words,
words I do not remember forgetting from suppressing them so long,
but now the dam is burst, I cannot hold back the flood
though it brands me Heretic.
So I speak now with my foremothers–
Emma, Eliza, Mary, Martha, Deborah, Miriam, Eve, and
Standing in a circle we declare our truth,
noble, bold, and independent of the expectations of a suit.

“Shhh. Shhh.”
he whispers, returning me to my proper place,
that display case pedestal.
“You’re happy.”

And in that moment I almost believe him,
almost don’t feel the duct tape being pressed firmly, but oh so gently across
my lips.

After all,
to hearken never required a voice.


Tessa lives in Utah Valley with her husband and whiny but cuddly cat.  She reads more than is probably good for her, knits her way through church, and teaches middle school.

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Guest Post: Heather Cannon Tribute

Ex II Founding Mothers1 (2) (1)

Heather Symmes Cannon in 1974 with the Exponent II board. Heather is at the far left. The following was delivered at Heather’s funeral a week ago. She was an Exponent II founding mother, a wonderful writer, and a woman many of us loved.

Guest post by Dana Haight Cattani

Heather’s first winter in Bloomington, she joined the YMCA. At the time, I was enrolled in the cancer rehab program there, and Heather and I frequently exercised at the same time. I rowed while she pedaled. She stretched while I lifted. Sometimes we walked the track together. I invited her to join me on Fridays for water exercise class, but she said it was too cold and besides, she didn’t want to have wet hair in January.

One Friday when I entered the pool area, there was Heather, buoyant in the water, hair dripping, and calling out, “Come on in. The water’s fine.” And it was. After that first class, she said, “Why did it take me so long?”

Why, indeed. Why does it take any of us so long to do the things that nourish our souls or make us feel alive?

One of the things that nourished Heather’s soul was faith. She wrote that in the agonizing time between finding her infant son Mason’s unresponsive body and the confirmation of his death from SIDS, she recalled a few lines from William Wordsworth:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

Heather’s husband, a lapsed Mormon, arranged for a funeral in the local ward. One of the speakers described the church teachings that we are beloved children of godly parents from whom we came and to whom we ultimately return. In Mormon theology, God is a consistent advocate of human agency and grants all people the power to help create the future through their own actions and interactions. We celebrate Eve as a bold and courageous leader who recognized the limitations of Eden and chose growth over stasis. We believe that our spirits are eternal, and that life beyond this world is creative and active as we continue to develop and progress. In this view, death is a separation, not an end, and our earthly relationships can be renewed in another context.

Heather later wrote that as she left her son’s funeral, “It was a gorgeous, sunny Boston spring day. I looked at the cloudless blue sky and felt an appreciation for being alive that I’d never felt before.”

Something had resonated for her that day.

Heather then spent 45 years in this church, and she wrote, “I have seen what the gospel means and the difference it makes in lives, and I cannot walk away from that. I know my life would be far more shallow and sad without the church.” At the same time, she acknowledged, “The church is not an easy place for single women.” Heather sometimes bristled at practices and attitudes that relegated her to the margins, including the church’s patriarchal structure and emphasis on traditional households with one man, one woman, and their biological and perpetually school-aged children living at home. She refused to sing the children’s hymn “Families Can Be Together Forever” because she felt that its message excluded her. When I said, “Oh, I don’t think that’s what it means,” she replied, “Then change the words.”

The business world of Heather’s professional life was not a particularly easy place to be a woman, either. Thirty-five years ago, as a returning MBA student with three young children to support, she was an outlier. Later, as director of market research for Electrolux, she was often the only woman in high-level meetings. She told me once that it was clear there were important conversations that occurred in the men’s room at breaks. There were no parallel networking opportunities when she went alone to the women’s room. Heather witnessed gender and age discrimination, and for years she dyed her hair and omitted the year of her college graduation from her resumé so people would not guess her true age. When she retired and was no longer in danger of being overlooked for promotion, she let her hair go gray.

For decades Heather gave her time and energy to her chosen profession and religion, but I think it was no accident that she gave her heart to organizations where her gender and marital status carried no stigma or connotation of weakness but rather full fellowship and standing. Her forty-year association with the feminist Mormon publication Exponent II brought her lifelong community and purpose. More recently, her nearly two-year association with the local writing school Women Writing for (a) Change gave her the precious gift of an appreciative and helpful audience for her family history memoirs and poetry.

There’s a lesson there.

In E. B. White’s beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur the pig says of his spider friend, “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Heather was, too. She was my friend. She was my writing colleague. She was my sister in faith and doubt and service. I hope that when it is my turn to put out to sea and slip tentatively into the cool, dark water, I will see Heather in the distance, buoyant, waving to me and calling, “Come on in. The water’s fine.”

Heather asked that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations go to Exponent. You can donate to Exponent II here.

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Comfort Food


Table for Ladies

“…..and please bless the refreshments that they will nourish and strengthen our bodies and do us the good that we need……”

I smirk silently, roll my eyes beneath piously closed lids and envision brownies, cookies and lemonade transfigured into fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic something-or-other, packed with protein and vitamins, all contingent on our scripted gratitude for the hands who prepared it.

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Send us a Guest Post!

Woman Writing a Letter by Kaigetsudō Doshin

Woman Writing a Letter
by Kaigetsudō Doshin

The Exponent has always been a safe place for new voices to share their thoughts about Mormonism and feminism. We have just added a new guest post submission form to make it even easier. Do you have something to say and you’re looking for a supportive, empathetic community to say it to?  Submit a guest post!  Guest posting is a great option if you like to write but don’t want the time commitment of maintaining your own blog, so submit a guest post! On the other hand, if you are actually looking for more of a long-term gig, the first step to becoming a permablogger at the Exponent  is to submit a guest post.  We are always looking for new people to join our ranks!

In celebration of our new guest post submission form, I am re-posting the story of how I became an Exponent permablogger.  Yes, I began by submitting a guest post back in 2011!

Finding My Voice was originally published in April 2012 here:

There was a point in my life when I started experiencing a great deal of religious angst.  I was desperate for an open environment where I could blab about all of my questions and concerns without someone interrupting to tell me that I would probably go to Hell.  Most of my more liberal friends lived far away and I felt like I was wearing out my poor husband, since he was my only sounding board left.  I was not at all interested in talking to a male authority figure, such as a bishop, because many of my concerns centered on religious patriarchy.

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Seneca Falls


Last week I got to make a pilgrimage to Seneca Falls, NY with fellow contributor Spunky, my boyfriend, and a friend of Spunky. I say pilgrimage because that is exactly what it was; Seneca Falls was arguably the birth-place of the suffrage movement in the United States.

It was here that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, committed social activist, created the first women’s voting rights organization in the U. S. She, along with other like-minded women, organized the Seneca FaIls Convention in 1848. They laid out goals for their movement, including female suffrage. It was the first meeting of it’s kind in the States.

It was on the streets of the town that Elizabeth was introduced to Susan B. Anthony; the two would go on to work tirelessly for women’s rights.

It was in Seneca Falls that Amelia Bloomer first advocated for lady-pants in an effort to literally lighten the load on women. Away with those heavy, restricting skirts!

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