The Evolving Exponent Tree


If you read past Exponent II issues *really* thoroughly, you may have noticed the tree logo on the inside cover. This logo has changed a couple times during our 30+ year history. As I’ve looked at that changing tree, I’ve been thinking how these logos represent different periods of history and different focuses of the organization.

The original, very groovy 1970’s logo is a picture of the Tree of Knowledge (in case you aren’t sure it’s the Tree of Knowledge, it says “Knowledge” right on the trunk). This first logo emphasizes the pursuit of knowledge as being at the forefront of the paper’s mission. The founding mothers chose to pursue knowledge in a novel way, especially given Mormon culture. They sought to learn by sharing their personal experiences. This tree reminds me that of Eve’s courage, like EXII’s founding mothers, to push boundaries in order to grow.

Over time EXII’s community got bigger, and a new logo appeared with two Grecian women dancing under a tree. This came at a time when the paper was focusing on new ways to create a shared community that would offer a safe place for women to share their experiences, both joyous and painful–to dance under a tree that would shade and protect them.

Lately, we haven’t had a logo. This coincides with a period when Exponent II has had to make some hard decisions with the rising cost of publishing and a dwindling subscription base, which has caused us to question what our purpose should be now. So, I ask, What should Exponent II’s new tree look like? Could one help us to see where to go from here?

I like the symbolism in the logo we chose for Exponent II’s 30th anniversary.
One of our board members pointed out that this tree looks like an olive tree. I love this idea because the olive tree is a beautiful religious symbol.

The olive branch represents peace; I think this is meaningful symbol for a group, like EXII, whose very name can elicit strong negative reactions among some people. Over the past few years, our dedicated editor has worked to extend the olive branch of peace by making the paper more appealing to a wider Mormon audience. She’s done this by offering more writings on a variety of topics and lessened the number of controversial articles while still maintaining the integrity of EXII as a feminist paper.

I think this was an important step to take for a period of our history. I love the recent articles that I can use in my Sunday School lessons and quote in talks because they are meant to appeal to a wider audience. (And, I love the chance to cite from a Mormon feminist paper as my source.)

But, as we deal with a dwindling subscription base, I wonder if this current direction is introducing as many women as we hope to Exponent II. If this olive branch approach isn’t working anymore, what then?

The allegory of the olive trees in Jacob 5 and 6 has me thinking about where EXII could go next—we need to search the vineyard. In this allegory, the head of the vineyard has taken the branches bearing good fruit and grafted them to trees all over the vineyard. As the laborers nurture these trees, many thrive and bear good fruit. We know there are new topics, discussions, and controversies out there, but how do we gather these good fruits in the “nethermost regions?” Is this possible?

Or, am I totally off-base here? What are other ways we can “grow” Exponent II?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Emily, Wow, what a great post.

    Of course, I speak entirely out of ignorance, since I don’t know all the issues and concerns involved. But that won’t stop me from throwing in my two cents 🙂

    When looking at other Mormon publications – Dialogue, Sunstone, Irreantum – the only one that I see really thriving is Sunstone. And I think it is thriving because it is cutting edge, contemporary, edgy, and exciting.

    Because I see this, I happen to think that for the exponent to really thrive again, it might just need to become more cutting edge, more current, more edgy. I absolutely understand the idea of trying to make the publication more palatable to a larger group of people, but my fear is that in doing so, things might be getting too waterered down.

    So I vote for articles that deal thoughtfully with difficult subjects that Mormon women, particularly younger Mormon women, want to talk about. They have a lot of questions about their place in this Church, and I think the Exponent is a perfect vehicle to explore these issues openly and insightfully. And this doesn’t mean that Exponent always has to take the liberal, edgy viewpoint. (though personally, I like that viewpoint :)) I think it would be great to get into these issues by having pairs of essays, one pro, and one con. And thus the important issues would be addressed but Exponent wouldn’t necessarily be accused of always promoting one point of view.

  2. Caroline says:

    Emily, what are your thoughts about the direction exponent II should take?

  3. Deborah says:

    Emily:

    I believe extending Exponent into the internet realm is what this tree has needed. I can imagine the emotions of those who founded/discovered ExII early on:

    “I need to hear women’s voices — A place where I can listen and talk, to know I am not alone in my questions, journey, and concerns.”

    When I first stumbled upon ExII as a teenager, I felt like I was eavesdropping on conversations I had _hoped_ were happening somewhere outside of my own head. The need to read and share stories — women’s stories — has kept me connected to the paper through the years.

    When Feminist Mormon Housewives came online, the comment section echoed my early feelings about ExII — “Wow –someone else has the same concern? And we can talk about it together? Wahoo!” While internet does not replace print, it does allow people to be both readers and contributers at a pace production time/snail mail cannot accomodate.

    The next generation is much more likely to find us by “google” than by discovering an old copy in their aunt’s garage.

    I would love to see this site (slowly, I know) become more than a journaling blog — I’d love to see it eventually become a place that:

    1) Highlights LDS women’s voices in all their mediums — from around the internet, book reviews, news articles, pod-casts.

    2) Encourages an exploration of LDS theology from a women’s perspective.

    3) Allows for a searchable archive of past ExII’s (big project, I know).

    4) Continues to republish articles from ExII — and from the ORIGINAL Exponent.

    5) Encourages/links to/publishes research into LDS Women’s history and sociology.

    6) Highlights/sponsors conferences, symposia, Q&A with remarkable LDS women, etc.

    I’m sure I’ll come up with a longer wish list, but that’s a start . . .

  4. Mike says:

    Emily-

    That background on the logo is interesting. I like the tree–both as tree of knowledge and as olive tree.

    What are other ways we can “grow” Exponent II?

    Personally, I think for EXII to succeed, it has to be different from what is already out there, thereby appealing to the up-and-coming generation of LDS women.

    Speaking as an economist who’s had to study markets, I don’t think widening its appeal is the best way to gain new readers. If it becomes too much like, say, the Ensign, then it is competing in a market it cannot survive in. Who would want to buy it? It has to be different and unique for people to be willing to buy subscriptions.

    By unique I definitely don’t mean controversial (personally, I’m turned off of publications that try to use controversy to generate publicity). Instead, I mean it should address a variety of issues that the Ensign will and should not address, like questions about applying LDS ideals in the real world. Eg, how do you reconcile the contradiction between the man presiding in the home yet both man and woman being equal partners?

    That said, I don’t think EXII will ever have a huge readership. From what I understand, BYU Studies has only a few thousand subscriptions, and it has access to BYU alumni directories to solicit subscriptions.

    Also, I think the print EXII has to compete with online forums (blogs) for the up-and-coming generation. Actually, I see this as EXII biggest competitor, although I think they can complement each other, like through this blog.

  5. Caroline says:

    oops, sorry Jana, my fault. Please post your comments again!

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Caroline, Mike and Deborah, I’m right with all of you…we need to work to appeal to the next generation of Mormon women, not only to help those who want what Deborah described…a place to hear conversations that aren’t readily addressed in church, but to also help us find those current and edgy topics that people want to read and discuss.

    And, I agree with Deborah, these women are far more likely to find us with Google, which is why expanding our web presence is so important. I’m thrilled that Caroline, Jana and Mike have started this blog. It allows our readers to more actively participate and to see new EXII stuff every day.

    I also hope that this blog will help us to put together a more cohesive web-based community who are willing to actively participate. Frankly, our editors and board need more help in order for EXII to thrive. I’m impressed with Sunstone’s ability to do this as evidenced by the symposia throughout the country. Imagine what we could do if we had that kind of energy in so many states!

  7. Mike says:

    Emily:
    I think you meant Caroline, Jana, and John instead of Caroline, Jana, and Mike. I don’t deserve any credit here.

    Emily and anyone else:
    What do you see as the future of EXII? How can the blog and print version work together? Obviously, the EXII board will decide, but I’m interested in knowing what ideas people have. Maybe these ideas can be useful for the board.

  8. Mary Ellen says:

    I second Deborah on republishing articles from the original Exponent! Given all the LDS publications available on CD-rom these days, it’s a travesty that the writings of our foremothers are not more accessible. It’s a glaring omission from Mormon Studies literature.

  9. John says:

    One of the reasons I’m so committed to Sunstone is because of my involvement in the Sunstone community (via the symposia). I can serve, be served by and connect with actual people.

    I know that the annual retreat is an important part of the Exponent experience. I’m also thinking about the success of Jana and Caroline’s forum a while back and how that face-to-face experience tied into the written/read experience of the Southern California issue.

    Would it be beneficial to have little regional groups affiliated with Exponent II, for women to meet each other and discuss and share in person–like a cross between the retreat and regional Sunstones? I could see those meetings interacting with the written word, building communities and creating opportunities for service and recruiting. Just a thought.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Oops, thanks for the correction, Mike…my apologies to John!

    I think Caroline and the board have started a discussion regarding a good way of merging the blogs and the paper. So, Caroline or the other board members are probably better to answer than I am, but I’ll give it a shot… The blogs are feelers to see what people are interested in (or topics that are more like current events that don’t make sense as articles published quarterly) and the paper will contain longer and often more polished writings.

    Mary Ellen, I, too, would LOVE to see those original Exponents! When I was in grad school, I went looking for them & only found them as microfilm in Utah since I was in Boston, I ended my search there. But, I do think putting those together would be a great project!

    John, I’ve been thinking that small regional groups would be excellent. But, how does one go about getting those started? Having just moved to Phoenix, I don’t know where to find EXII women or how they’d find me.

  11. Caroline says:

    [This is actually JANA’s post that I deleted (oops)a few days ago.]

    I love the Exponent (both I and II). The writings of the strong women in these papers have had a huge impact on my life!

    It seems to me that if X2 will continue to have any relevance for future readers, it needs the following:

    1) provocative articles from both ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ perspectives.

    2) a regular and consistent publishing schedule

    3) more publicity and outreach to young LDS women

    and, most importantly:
    4) a Board who is wholly committed to the above.

    I’ve been involved with a few struggling organizations (incl some Mo publications), and the key ingredient for success are people who are willing and able to sacrifice their time for the cause. Not just talking about what
    should be done, but sitting at the computer or making the phone calls and getting it _done_.

    Jana

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