New Series: #VisibleWomen: You can’t be What You can’t See

My years in the Young Women’s organization were rough on me. Part of it was just teenage awkwardness and the rest was teenage cliquishness. As soon as I turned 18, I switched to Relief Society. I have a December birthday, so I spent the last half of my senior year out of Young Women’s. For me, Relief Society was a level playing field filled with a rich history of strong women. Age didn’t matter, we were all women together.

I was called as the Relief Society pianist and paired with one of my seminary teachers as visiting teaching partners. We were assigned to teach one of the other seminary teachers. I’ll let you all imagine how odd it is to refer to your seminary teachers as Sister So-and-so on the weekdays and by first names on Sunday.

Very quickly I learned that all was not well in Relief Society Land, either. The seminary teacher I was supposed to visit teach didn’t like the visiting teaching program and requested that we not visit her. My companion would do lunch with her (and obviously was in constant contact because of sharing the job of teaching seminary) and that was my extent of visiting teaching.

It was both shocking and good for me to learn that a person that I looked up to as a spiritual leader didn’t follow all the programs of the Church exactly. I think it has helped me be more compassionate with people whose needs must to be addressed differently. I still very much believe in Relief Society and its attempt at its expansive mission, but it’s obvious that it isn’t reaching everyone. From Ordain Women to Mormon Women Stand, Mormon women are creating organizations to fill the gaps that the church programs are leaving behind. Of course, Relief Society can’t be everything to everyone, but I believe it, and in turn the Church, can be more to more people.

This Sunday is International Women’s Day and for this, the Exponent is starting a new blog series: #VisibleWomen: you can’t be what you can’t see. In addition to personal stories of Mormon women, this series will come with calls to ask the Church, “Would you please consider…” ways to make women more visible in the Church and feel more include. Hopefully a few of these suggestions will speak to you and you’ll participate in your own ways.

Friendship

 

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From the Backlist: Comforting Those that Stand in Need of Comfort

Michaelangelo's 4th PietaA couple of weeks ago, I was having a down day between my relationship with the Church and Mormon feminism. I vague-booked out to my “Rogue Mormon” Facebook list and quickly after, my bishop and fellow ward members who are on that list messaged me back, letting me know I am always welcome and they want me in the ward, in the Church.

When the New York Times article about Kate Kelly and John Dehlin came out yesterday, my tech-savvy bishop messaged me again to make sure I was ok. This morning I got an email from a fellow ward member telling me, “Don’t leave!” and that she believes there is room for everyone in the Church. I wasn’t going to leave and I’m surprisingly handling this newer news better than I was handling things a couple of weeks ago. I think the responses I got a couple of weeks ago were helpful in grounding me. When the NYT article came out, I knew already that my ward wanted to keep me and I didn’t need to worry about whether or not I’d be welcome on Sunday.

I’m so grateful for a ward that really does believe in taking care of everyone and making sure we are all doing well, no matter where our talents and interests fall. I am honored to go to church every Sunday with people who take their promise to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seriously.

Yesterday we mourned with you, so today, from our backlist, we will share comfort with you all.

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BYU: A Feminist Reflection

View of BYU from the top of the SWKT, 2014

As a teenage convert to the LDS Church from New York City, going to BYU and studying in Utah was the equivalent of going to the Vatican or Mecca–– I would be studying on holy ground. BYU was the place where all good Mormons went (at least, according to my bright eyed and bushy tailed new convert self). So despite acceptances to other colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Pratt Institute, the University of Michigan, and others, I put my deposit down at BYU. And, much to the dismay of my non-member parents, I attended.

I arrived in Provo ready to be among my Mormon brothers and sisters. I was ready to embrace all that Mormon culture had to offer. I would finally be accepted for who I was as a faithful Latter-day Saint! Well, that was the idea, at least.

Back home in New York, after being introduced to the Church, I was considered a conservative among a vast sea of liberals (this was New York City, after all). As a result of my affiliation with the LDS Church and because of my desire to fit in with my new faith, I embraced conservative ideals–– I was anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, believed a woman’s place was in the home, supported Republican leadership, et cetera. This was part of joining the Mormon Church, right? So I went through my four years of high school defending those conservative ideals, believing it was what the Church wanted for me and was the way to true happiness.

In Provo, all those beliefs started to unfurl. I saw what I supposedly believed in the faces of others. When people I knew at BYU began to express homophobic tendencies (including one friend who believed that homosexuality was a choice), I cringed. When the female friends I associated with only aspired to be stay-at-home mothers with no other contingency plan or any further hopes or passions, I was in shock.  When my friends believed that people outside the Church were lacking in happiness or true joy, I was saddened. Did I really believe that? Did I really support those things in high school? Are these really the ideas the Church espouses and wants me to embrace? Obviously, my testimony began to fall apart and unravel as I tried to figure out the difference between doctrine and culture. However, that is for another day and another post. The point here being that I kept my testimony, but BYU eventually turned me into a diehard liberal and feminist.

Okay, so I became a liberal and a feminist. Now what? Who was I supposed to relate to? Who was I supposed to confide in? The only way to find that out was to just be myself. I wasn’t completely in-your-face about my new ideology, but when people said things that offended my newfound liberal and feminist conscience, I spoke up. I got to know people who also spoke up and expressed similar views as I. Essentially, I put out feelers as to who I could trust. They didn’t necessarily have to be as liberal or as outspoken as I was, but I did have to trust them enough to speak my mind. And I was lucky enough to find quite a few friends who were openminded and loving. Even a few feminists, much to my joy. Finding online support groups such as Young Mormon Feminists and Feminist Mormon Housewives helped with my sanity a great, great deal. I was not alone.

As I prepare to graduate from Brigham Young University (by the time you read this post, I’ll have probably walked across the stage at commencement already), I look back at my time here and realize that as a feminist, things weren’t so bad.

A text as my friend was sitting in her Marriage and Family prep class at BYU

Yes, I had to deal with people mocking the sincere and faithful members of Ordain Women. I had to restrain myself from verbally lashing those who blatantly insulted and demeaned our homosexual brothers and sisters. And if I had a dollar for every time I heard “those feminists”, I would be able to afford quite a few Cafe Rio pork salads. But overall, I was able to find my niche. BYU helped me develop into a feminist I don’t think I would have become had I gone somewhere else. I suppose it’s because it was easier to stand up for what I believed in, after being confronting with viewpoints I didn’t believe in. BYU was a refiner’s fire. And as I began to shine brightly with that feminist glow, others were able to draw nearer to me. I found dear friends who felt the same frustrations as I did and celebrated the same victories as I did. The friends and associates I found here truly saved me here from suffocating here at BYU. And though many of my friends wouldn’t consider themselves liberal or feminists, they are openminded. And that’s all I really ask for in friendships. Some of my good friends are among the most conservative Republicans you’ll ever meet. But we’re friends because they’re able to listen to my views, respectfully disagree (or, reluctantly agree), and still continue to be my friend. I am grateful for those friends, as well. Those who listen, regardless of political or religious belief. Those who are able to not let politics or religious conservatism get in the way of a fruitful friendship. It also helped my sanity a great deal that I studied within a fairly moderate and left leaning department here at BYU, with decidedly openminded and caring professors. I was also able to take classes from and identify other feminist and left-leaning professors here, and that has given me great hope for BYU. Even my church leaders, conservative as they were, were empathetic and listened to my concerns and were extremely caring.

So, looking back at my time here at BYU, I can honestly say as a feminist that I enjoyed and appreciated my education and experiences here. BYU helped me to define my beliefs (politically and religiously), introduced me to the most amazing and interesting people, and learn patience and empathy. I realize that many people with similar views did not have the same positive experience as I did, and that saddens me. But at least for this New York City convert, attending BYU proved to be a character defining experience that has shaped the person I am now, feminism and all.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. (Well, maybe a few things….)

For those who went to BYU (either in Provo, Idaho or Hawaii) what was your experience? Looking back, would you have chosen another school to attend? How did you survive? Would you encourage others to attend? What were some feminist successes or failures you had while studying at a Church school?

If you didn’t attend a Church school, how were your experiences elsewhere as a feminist or liberal member of the Church?

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March Young Women Lesson: How can repentance help me every day?

Repentance can be a very difficult subject. You want to help the girls learn how to recognize when they’ve done something wrong and to improve upon that, but you don’t want to instill shame. I think as an opening activity, I would ask one of the girls to tell the story of the Council in Heaven. In the story, Satan wants to make every one do the “right” thing, but Christ advocates for agency. This story tells us that making mistakes is something that we know will happen and it’s part of the Plan to make mistakes. Doing the wrong thing means simply that we did something wrong; it does not mean that we are therefore “bad” people. In the class, I might emphasize that again: doing something wrong does not mean we, ourselves, are bad and undeserving of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

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Birth/Rebirth: I couldn’t say, “Congratulations.”

CongratulationsI read the Facebook post announcing that my friend had given birth: baby came early…boy…Down syndrome…

I opened the comment box and sat with my fingers poised on the keyboard.  I didn’t know what to type.

I started scrolling through other people’s comments, hoping for clues about the right response.

“Congratulations,” her other friends had said.

Oh. That made sense. My friend had given birth! To a child she would love dearly! I should say, “Congratulations.”

My finger hovered over the letter C but didn’t type. My friend was probably experiencing one of the greatest disappointments of her life and she had so many more challenges ahead. Challenges that she would handle beautifully—I knew that. And yet…

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