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.

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Not asking Permission: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary Exponent II Issue

“Ecstasy” by Maxfield Parrish

What I say is that women should not ask permission, they should just act.”  — Claudia Bushman in the upcoming anniversary Exponent II magazine

I love this idea that Claudia Bushman articulates in her article in the coming 40th anniversary issue of Exponent II. In one of the very first conferences I participated in with Claudia Bushman seven years ago, she hosted a discussion about women in the church. One of the points she made at that conference was similar — that women should come up with ideas and carry them out, working outside of church-sponsored forums. Think that the church should be more involved in humanitarian work, Claudia asked? Then start a humanitarian organization. Think that we need more books that highlight Mormon women’s voices? Write them yourself. Stop looking to the institutional church to carry out these projects and do them yourself. Make your own opportunities for leadership, vision, and community.

This advice resonates with me. While I would love the institutional church to change its ways and create more inclusive practices for women — and I have certainly picked my battles to create more visible roles for women in my ward  and the church at large– I also love this liberating vision that Claudia sets forth. That we act on our consciences, without always seeing the need to ask for permission from church leaders.

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Christmas Series: Give the Gift of Exponent II

Gift of EXII logoAre you looking for that special gift for your favorite Mormon woman? Consider getting a subscription to Exponent II, and your gift recipient’s first issue will be a double issue packed with so much of the best stuff of Exponent II over the past 40 years.

Our editor-in-chief, Aimee Hickman, has been working on this issue for over a year, and it will be such a treasure, including past editors’ favorite essays published during their tenure with a few paragraphs describing the events surrounding the choosing, editing, and publishing of their chosen essay.

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Guest Post: No More Fear-Driven Faith for Me!

Judy profileWe’re delighted to showcase some of Exponent II’s founding mothers and long-time contributors in the upcoming days and weeks. We look to them, those who have seen and weathered periods of apostasy accusations and members facing Church discipline, for their thoughts on the events that are taking place as a new generation of progressive Mormons search for our place in the Church.

No More Fear-Driven Faith for Me!
by Judy Dushku

After Sonia Johnson was excommunicated from my church in 1979, the women in Exponent II invited her to meet with us and discuss her views. Since we were also Mormon feminists and supported the ERA as she did, we thought it appropriate and indicative of our solidarity with many of her ideas. She came to Boston for a media event, and then came to my home for a warm and lively discussion. Laurel Ulrich later commented that Sonia seemed brittle and fearful; we were sympathetic and felt compassion.

As was the practice with Exponent II, our Board decided that we would publish an issue about Sonia Johnson’s ordeal and her views where we would invite a number of women to write their thoughts concerning this pivotal and highly volatile event. We were long-committed to that approach to controversial subjects: identify the issue, then invite many LDS women to share their points of view in our paper. We solicited opinions and soon had a paper ready to paste up for publication. On the night before we went to press, four (as best I can recall) of our number decided to have their names taken off our masthead. They did not want to be associated with an issue of Exponent II that might appear to endorse Sonia’s positions or behavior, lest we get excommunicated, too. They did not resign in protest, they said, but in fear.

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Guest Post: The Future of Mormon Feminism

DSC_0023 - Copy (2)by Aimee Hickman

This past Saturday night, I was delighted to speak alongside one of my idols, Claudia Bushman, at the Exponent II 40th Anniversary Speakers Series outside of Washington, DC. I was asked to speak on the future of Mormon feminism and what follows is an abbreviated version of my remarks. I would be very glad to hear from Exponent readers about what the future of Mormon feminism looks like to you. I hope you’ll leave a comment below.

In the Winter 2014 issue of Exponent II, Helen Claire Sievers contributed an essay titled “What Mormon Women Have Lost in My Lifetime.” Reflecting on her 70 years as a Church-member, Helen Claire catalogued the opportunities Mormon women experienced pre-correlation that she argues have diminished over time. Here are just a few of her examples: an expansive international Relief Society General Board which provided more opportunities for direct access to Church leadership; control over assets, money and travel; direct access between the General Relief Society Presidency and First Presidency; control over the content of Relief Society, Young Women’s and Primary manuals; innovation and experimentation with Primary, Youth and Relief Society organizations; the Relief Society Magazine and more.

Though nostalgia may leave a rose-colored tinge (freedom from fundraising, in particular seems like a valuable gain earned through correlation), the losses Helen Claire outlines have come as shocking revelations to two generations of post-correlation Mormon women who have never heard of or experienced the dynamism and ambition of pre-correlated women’s work in the Church. In our correspondence as we edited her essay, Helen Claire noted that she “tell[s] people I missed the entire women’s movement because it was so exciting to work in the Church back then.” This statement made me gasp in front of my computer screen.

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