Podcast: Exponent II Founder Claudia Bushman

Mormon Stories Interview with Claudia Bushman

I tune into podcasts while I’m doing housework as it helps me to keep my mind active as I engage in the mundane chores of caring for our family’s home. My housework/podcast-listening habit seemed particularly apropos this afternoon as I tuned in to the recent MormonStories interview with Claudia Bushman, a founding mother of the Exponent II newspaper.

As I folded a mountain of laundry I reflected on how Claudia and other of the original Exponent II writers navigated their roles as faithful Mormon women, mothers, and feminists–often mixing the three roles as they juggled all of their efforts. In this particular podcast Claudia speaks about feeling tension between those roles and how she eventually made the choice to distance herself from the Exponent II at the request of church authorities. She says that it was one of those painful moments where you have to “Do what you are told to do” or “Go your own way.” She chose to resign from her involvement with the newspaper rather than face church discipline. She adds that she is now glad that she made that choice because of the many opportunities for influence that she’s had as a Mormon woman.

Let me urge each of you to take a few moments to listen to this important podcast. And then please return here for some vigorous discussion. Please consider responding to all or some of these questions:

1) Claudia says that “grassroots movements are suspect” in the church. Do you agree with this assertion? Can you think of any Mormon grassroots movements that haven’t been discouraged by the Church?

2) What ways (besides what Claudia mentioned) can the church better accommodate younger and older women? Do you agree with her idea of splitting the Relief Society into age groups?

3) As Claudia touched upon briefly, how do we reconcile the Mormon ideal of perfection with the reality of our flawed selves?

4) How can we find better balance between the demands of full-time motherhood and our desires for intellectual and social stimulation? Does the early years of Exponent II offer a model for this that should be followed elsewhere?

5) Being married to a church leader has its pros and cons, as Claudia mentions. If you have similar experiences what did you enjoy most about the years your husband was a bishop/stake president? What did you enjoy the least? What do you wish you had done differently, in retrospect? What advice would you have for a young bishop’s wife?

6) Claudia discusses that she has seen many changes to the church during her lifetime and that she expects to see many more. But she has the experience of many years hindsight and experience to draw from so she doesn’t feel discouraged. Do you ever feel hopeless, like things are never going to change for women in the church? If so, how do you overcome these feelings?

7) What most surprised you about this interview? Were you inspired? If so, why?

8) There seem to be many parallels between the EXII women starting up their own paper and Mormon women bloggers. How are these groups different? Is there more diversity with the web than with a group of mostly-SAHM’s working on a paper in Boston? Is there any significance to the fact that most LDS women bloggers are in their 20s and 30s as were the founding mothers of the Exponent II paper?

9) If you could ask Claudia a follow-up question, what would it be?

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Deborah says:

    OK, that was worth the listen. Claudia has a marvelous perspective as a woman who made the decision to both stay faithful and actively advance women’s voices in the church — and she can look back over forty years and see the results of her choices. I need to hear that perspective!

    The request to step down from editing the paper had especial gravity because her husband was stake president at the time (hence the interest from the GAs). I imagine that was a painful moment (was for me to just listen to!). And yet Richard and Claudia’s “status” in the church — their years of leadership positions — has allowed her to use her voice and push for initiatives in ways that would not have been available to her otherwise. Made me think of Carol Lynn Pearson, and the dance she has had — and the great service she performs by being inside and outspoken. But this choice (“Do as you are told” or “Go your own way” as she so bluntly described is), is one that so many Mormon women wrestle with in small and large ways . ..

    I loved her inside perspective about forming Exponent II. It began with Laurel Ulrich suggesting “Why don’t we get together and talk about our lives as Mormon women.” Claudia notes that it was “exilerating – we took Mormon women’s lives seriously.” I see so many similarities with this and the formation of the LDS women blogs — FMH, Segullah, Zelphahed’s Daughters, Mormon Mommy Wars, our own. We are groups of women (of a similar age demographic as the original Ex2 founders) who take Mormon women’s lives seriously. While I envy the founders’ meetings in each others’ living rooms — the intimacy of it — the internet has a much wider geographical sweep, netting LDS women who are searching for this type of connection. It was a reminder to me of why civility in this forum is important — we aren’t just a random message board.

    I also appreciated hearing her thoughts about tapping into the talents of older women, who are generally overlooked for primary/YW presidencies. Her suggestion — “use them for public relation, to sit on community boards, run for office, set up interfaith organizations, begin more humanitarian service. Look outside rather than inside” — frankly resonates with what I *hope* Relief Society can be as an organization; a women’s organization that can reach beyond ward boundaries.

    As for separating Relief Society by age . . . my first year in Boston, the singles ward was Freshman through forty. When they split the ward into University and “older” singles, most people were happier with the arrangement. The the university ward RS was focused on the needs of college students and gave us lots of leadership opportunities at a young age. And when I graduated, I was eager for a new RS experience, filled with incredibly accomplished women — real role models for that stage of my life. So I understand Claudia’s desire to have a class of women in her age group, to talk about the unique concerns that come with growing older. I’d say I’d miss the socializing, but how much socializing do we do during classes? And it’s so often the same people making comments, with so many sitting quietly . . .

  2. Deborah says:

    I didn’t realize how long my comment was till I posted it! Oh well, it really is that thought-provoking a listen . . . .

  3. Tatiana says:

    Oh, Dr. Bushman is a treasure! I was so excited to listen to this podcast. Something that particularly hit home to me was when she described how one woman was feeling so weary and overworked but when she took on this new task, because it was so self-affirming and important (I imagine), she was energized and invigorated in all her roles, and managed to get everything done. I feel that soul weariness in my life now, and I long for the tasks that will fill me with enthusiasm in the original Greek sense of being filled with God.

    I loved what Dr. Bushman said about the church making better use of all our women’s talents. The older woman have so much ability that can be put to use outside as well as inside the church. The sister missionaries do as well, I think. I think if sister missionaries were involved in humanitarian work, in projects such as microfinance of sisters’ entrepreneurial enterprises in the third world, in the clean water initiative, and other infrastructure building projects, construction projects, schools (like that awesome school for girls in Afghanistan that I recently read about), medical clinics, teaching women worldwide about good nutrition for their families, childhood development knowledge, and other projects that empower women worldwide, it would just supercharge the whole sister missionary program, and the relief society. I think we’d have a flood of new interest, and an enlivening of women’s roles in the church overall.

    I think we in Relief Society need our own organization, our own structure, our own projects, our own fundraising efforts again. We need more self-direction. There is so much potential being lost.

  4. Tatiana says:

    Oh, and to answer one of the questions, I would rather Relief Society be split by interest rather than by age. The strict gender segregation is very off-putting and hard for me to deal with, as it is. The sisters that I have most in common with are the young ones. So if they divided by age they would lose me, I fear. If I had Dr. Bushman and others like her in my “High Priestesses RS Quorum” that would be awesome, but I think in wards in my area the experience would be very different, and there’s no way I could do anything useful. I’d far rather have the choice, for that reason, be by inclination and interest than by age.

    That’s one way we can accommodate people who don’t fit “the mold”, I think, in general. I wish instead of always segregating by gender in the church we would have more opportunities for anyone who is interested to get involved in various projects. Not have them be strictly EQ projects or RS projects or whatever, but instead have the RS or EQ organize projects for anyone who feels called to take part.

  5. Tatiana says:

    Sorry to triple post, but I’m so excited about this podcast that I have lots to say, and these were three very separate ideas that belong in separate posts.

    About the interview itself first of all I want to say that I LOVED it. Dr. Bushman is such an inspiration. I was seized with this longing to go back to grad school, as she spoke. I feel so energized and excited by all the possibilities there are for the future directions for women in the church.

    I wish the interviewer had followed up on the Sonia Johnson tangent. I didn’t know her story and would have liked for Dr. Bushman to tell us what happened.

    Lastly, as excellent as it is having women interview women, I think John Dehlin himself is a great interviewer, and I hope he will do at least some of the future interviews in this series.

  6. Deborah says:

    Tatiana: Per your first comment, I also gravitated toward that story of the woman who was “exhausted with her life” who experienced a “rebirth” in working on the paper. Rebirth is a powerful spiritual metaphor, and I wonder if we shouldn’t look to be reborn only once (since I barely remember my baptism anyway) but again and again. It’s stagnation I can’t abide. Though she addressed some personally challenging topics, I came away feeling quite hopeful. Perhaps part of it was hearing from a woman my mother’s age who has remained true to her membership, her conviction, her voice as a self-described feminist.

  7. Caroline says:

    Tatiana,
    Sonia Johnson was a Mormon woman who headed up the “Mormons for ERA” movement. She and other Mormon women took some aggressive tactics when the Church took their stand against it. They hired planes to fly over General Conference with signs like “Heavenly Mother loves ERA.” I believe they held protests outside of temples. And most dangerously, they exposed the fact that the Church was marshalling its members in an organized way to oppose ERA.

    Despite her strong Mormon beliefs and activity, she was excommunicated for her actions. I remember reading in an Exponent II letter to the editor from an ERA supporter that said something like “Sonia was excommunicated so that we wouldn’t be” so there was some sense that she took the hit for the team.

    I was particularly struck when Claudia mentioned Sonia Johnson and others like her were “punished for doing things that were logical extensions of their lives as mormon women and their interests in community.”

    I loved Claudia’s way of looking at this. So many people would think Sonia got exactly what she deserved for not being obedient
    to the leadership, but Claudia looks at the situation from a different lens, a lens that takes into account the historical example of strong political Mormon women that no doubt served as a model for Sonia.

  8. Tatiana says:

    Yes, you’re so right. I feel today as though we are very much in the tradition of Emmaline B. Wells, Eliza Snow, Emma Smith, and others as strong minded, strong willed daughters of God who are anxiously engaged in doing good in our communities and the world, as well as in our wards. Those women are very much who we are now. A sense of community and world activism is deeply connected in my mind and heart with the gospel, and with the founding charter of the Relief Society. We should of course be called to more than just passive acceptance of the world as it is. We are to build Zion in every sense in our homes and neighborhoods, for instance this in this small nook in the inner solar system called planet earth.

  9. Paula says:

    I enjoyed the interview, but wish she had talked more about how she managed to juggle so many kids and the house, and do the PhD, with a husband who was also in a demanding career. I’ve tried, but failed, in my opinion, in that area. Part of the problem was that my husband’s job took us to parts of the country where there were not good universities available– and partly we’ve moved so much that when I did start to get established in something, off we’d go again.

    I had the same thought about the bloggers’ age, and the Exponent II women. I was about 30 when I helped start our retreat in Colorado. I think that at least some of it is that you’ve had enough time to adjust to having the kids, and you’ve possibly watched your husband take off in a career– while you’re home changing the diapers. And you’ve have had time to mull that over and wonder what you can do about it. And you are at an age where it is more difficult to find friends, if you dont’ work at it.

  10. Paula says:

    Actually in answer to the first question– there have been some humanitarian projects that haven’t been squelched. And, so far at least, the no one from the bloggernacle has been told to stop or face discipline. At our retreat, we asked fMhLisa what she thought was different about feminists now, on the bloggernacle, and older ones like us at the retreat (and I should add that probably not everyone at the retreat would self-identify as feminist). She wasn’t sure of the answer to that, but we decided later for her– the difference is that most of the women on feministmormonhousewives and other blogs don’t remember Sonia Johnson, or the September Six, or the International Women’s Year debacle. We felt that the younger feminists don’t have the sense of worry about what they say that those of us who remember those times have. I remember the first year of the retreat we were very very cautious about some of the things we did– about whether it would be ok to have prayers, etc. And some women who came were very upset to realize that we weren’t acting under any priesthood authority. (Although we had never said anything about having permission or authority for it.)

  11. Eve says:

    I very much enjoyed this interview. It made me wish I knew her personally. I sometimes feel somewhat anchorless in the church in terms of my relationship to those she calls “women of a certain age.” All of my life I’ve looked at the women older than I was, at the next phase, so to speak, and felt that I couldn’t follow their examples, that I didn’t want to live their lives. It’s refreshing to hear from someone whose example I find inspiring rather than constraining. It would be fabulous to have a greater sense of intergenerational Mormon feminism.

    Paula, your point about the difference between retreat feminists and blog feminists is fascinating. I’m too young to remember the IYW or Sonia Johnson, but I have very vivid and painful memories of the September Six. The first of the excommunications occurred the week I took out my endowments, less than a month before I entered the MTC. It was a very difficult time for me. I felt very strongly, as strongly as I’ve ever that God had called me on a mission, but I was watching people undergo church discipline for saying the things that I believed. It was heartbreaking, one of the severest trials my faith has ever undergone.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I found it interesting that she would talk about how much the older women have to give and then suggest that they be separated from the young women in RS. I understand that she thinks the older women should be “out there” more, but I think that some of the wisdom and perspective that these women have can benefit those of us who are younger. I would be very sad to see the RS separated.

  13. Business Woman says:

    After Sonia Johnson was excommunicated she left her family and started living a life with her lesbian lover. She then lef that relationship, stating in her book:

    “even relationships between female couples are a dangerous patriarchal trap, because two is the ideal number for inequality, for sadism, for the reproduction of patriarchy, and that relationships are ‘slave Ships'”

    As far as the older women in the RS. I wish we could use their wisdom more. Unfortunately, many of them consider themselves somewhat “retired” if you will, and dont get as involved as they could be. I see that trend to be one of the more dangerous trends in the Church myself.

  14. Paula says:

    Thanks Eve– I think that the September Six was really the beginning of the end for my husband’s involvement with the church. (The church’s involvement in California’s Prop 22 was the end.) My husband had felt that his interest in learning and science and inquiry in general had been nurtured by the church, and its teachings, as well as a very bright LDS grandma who loved reading and books. When D. Michael Quinn was excommunicated, my husband said that was when he realized how much the church culture had changed– from love of learning, and seeking the truth, to fear of any outside, non-correlated sources.

    At the time that Sonia Johnson was excommunicated, I was sure that someone higher up would stop the local authorities…. shows how much I know.

  15. EmilyCC says:

    Paula, you raise a good point about older and younger feminists. While I remember the September Six and have studied Utah’s IWY and the ERA, I didn’t actually have to live through those events. While I keep those events in mind when I write a blog, I think I do feel more free to write what I like because I haven’t had to watch my contemporaries be censored.

    I used to think dividing the RS would be great, but now, I don’t. I’ve heard High Priests and Elders complain about each other. Most don’t know members of the other group either.

    I wouldn’t talk to the older women in my ward if I didn’t have the chance to sit next to them in Relief Society. I get a lot from those friendships that develop, and I appreciate learning from the life experiences they share in class.

    I love Claudia’s suggestion that those women of a certain age get out in the community. Let the younger ones who are still learning how to do the callings mess up on the ward level (like me); those who are ready to move beyond the ward have some experience in organizing and serving and probably have ties to the community already to draw from.

  16. Paula says:

    When I was in MIA, our leaders were often the older women in the ward– grandmothers of my friends. It seems to me now that that never happens– the leaders are always younger women, usually with small children. I don’t know how many older women would accept a call to Young Women, but I loved having the older women as leaders. They had a bit more time to devote to it than the average mom of young kids and we did a lot of fun things, which were probably horribly old-fashioned, like learning to hand-dip chocolates, but I still loved them, and I like the fact that I spent a lot more time with people of other age groups at church than my own kids have. Heck, other than grandparents, my kids hardly know anyone over the age of 50, since those people are almost invisible to them at church.

  17. ECS says:

    I found it interesting that Claudia first said she scaled back her involvement in womens’ rights issues because she couldn’t let her family down should she be excommunicated (her parents, husband, children). She then said that it was probably the right decision for her, but it sounded as if she were more concerned with the effects of excommunication on her family rather than on herself.

    I wonder how many other women make decisions about their involvement in the Church based on family obligations and not necessarily on personal conviction (not that this applies to Claudia -I’m just speculating).

    Great podcast!

  18. Mel says:

    My parents joined the church in Boston right around the time Richard Bushman was stake president (I was 5 then). There is no question that women like Claudia Bushman and Laurel Ulrich had a huge impact on my mother’s early growth in the church and in turn on my formative years.

    We always had a subscription to Exponent II, and I came of age assuming that the Boston area was an important center of the church (sure ethnocentricity comes naturally to all of us, but I believe because of Exponent II I’m justified in mine!).

    I am so grateful to the example of Claudia and her cohorts–many elements of the way I view the church, even the world, can be traced back to the spirit of Exponent II.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I think that the best approach is to become a Quaker

  20. Nate Oman says:

    For what it is worth, I actually envy the combination of age groups in the RS. I wish that I could sit in Elders’ Quorum lessons with the older men in the High Priests’ Group. Of course, I spend my Sundays these days entirely with the Young Men, so it is largely a moot point for me…

  21. Jessawhy says:

    So I know I’m late commenting on this thread, but I really was impressed with the interview (not really the best thing to work out to, but hey, that was my alone time today!)
    I have to admit how excited I was as Claudia described her journey to ExII and how much it helped her and her friends to feel fulfilled in a new way. I was thinking about ways I could do something similar, but then, when she talked about being asked to resign and not be excommunicated, I was really devastated. In answer to question 6, I do sometimes feel hopeless, like the church will never change. Even more than that, sometimes I wonder if my wanting the church to change in feminist ways is almost like wanting the God to change, assuming that His will is at least somewhat accurately represented in the church. That idea is really problematic for me.
    As far as older women in the church, I don’t know why they don’t take the callings that they are needed for. When she said there aren’t enough callings to go around, but then she wouldn’t serve on the Enrichment committee or in nursery, I thought, well there are plenty of callings to go around. Also, why can’t older women serve in the community, run for office, and do other outreach programs on their own, rather than as an official calling in the church? I’m just playing devil’s advocate, on this one.
    I hope to hear more stories like Claudia’s, it was not only interesting, but insightful and encouraging. Thanks for the thread.

  22. meliss says:

    Hi, this is Melissa Inouye. I met Claudia at the 2007 MHA conference and did the interview. It was a happy coincidence of both of us being in the same place at the same time, and John Dehlin and I agreed that an in-person interview would have a special dynamnic. Some people have wondered why I didn’t ask Claudia to give more background information (what was the ERA, who was Sonia Johnson, etc.) as John often does. My response is that I think that Claudia is such an interesting person with so many interesting things to say, and our time was limited. So I just wanted to give her a chance to share her thoughts and figured that supplementary historical explanations could be sought afterwards.

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