Unwilling Sacrifices

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I know I’m about a year too late for this to be news, but I recently watched Suffragette with my family. Snuggled up under a warm comforter and popcorn in hand, I was expecting a feel-good, rah-rah feminists!, let’s-go-change-the-world film, but that isn’t what I got. Instead of inspirational and heartwarming, it brought on a lot of raw feelings and emotions about the absolute thanklessness of advocacy work and the heartbreaking sacrifices that are thrown onto change-makers. So often when we tell the stories of our feminist forebears, we give a polite nod to their sacrifice and acknowledge it must have been hard, but they were right, they won, and we move along, satiated by our moment of gratitude. What we forget is that many of them lost everything dear to them. Most of them never intended to.

What struck me most forcefully was not my gratitude for their sacrifices but the anger that I felt. I was angry they had to make those sacrifices in the first place. I was angry that more people around them didn’t share their portion of the burden in bringing about justice and equality. I wondered how much better things would have been if everyone had looked around and noticed the inequity and been bothered by it. But they didn’t.

I was angry that so many people suggest they would have been on the right side of history yesterday as they simultaneously dismiss today’s activists and movements as “disturbing the peace.” I was angry that so many people seem to believe the quest for equality is done. Finished. Even more, I was angry that so many who cared so little reaped the same benefits as those who did everything. Yes, those suffragettes who sacrificed so much won the vote. So did the women who fought against them.

And then I thought of the people these brave women lost on a personal level–the coworkers, friends and family, even their own husbands, who turned their back on them. In one of the most heartbreaking moments of the film, the main character, Maud, has her son taken away, largely because she no longer conformed to the traditional roles and beliefs about womanhood. She was deemed unfit to raise her child because she no longer espoused traditional womanhood.

In turn, I thought of all the people I’d lost in my life since coming to Mormon feminism–those who have written me out because my activism made them uncomfortable, the bridges I never wanted to burn but did as I tried to find my way, the not-so-subtle suggestions that I was ruining my family and turning my back on them because (obviously) feminists hate their husbands and children. I thought of my close childhood friend who no longer speaks to me because of the views I hold and the audacity I have to share them. It was then that I  realized Maud never felt the fight was worth the sacrifices she was required to endure. I’m sure that had she been given the choice of her son vs. her advocacy, she would have chosen her son. Hands down. Thing is, she didn’t choose her sacrifices. None of us do. They were never made willingly–they were thrust upon her and she was left to move forward anyway.

While I’ve never endured anything so terrible as the loss of my children, I wept over the people I’ve lost that I never wanted to lose. As I sat in the anger and pain, I kept wanting to tie it up in a pretty bow and talk about how it’s all worth it. I wanted to be able to say that the knowledge and perspective I gained turned me into a happier, better person. I wanted to talk about purpose in life. I wanted to say that the sacrifices were worth it, that they were hard but I was willing to make them. But maybe I’ll never be able  say it was worth it on a personal level–that my writing and speaking about the need for the expanded role of women in the Church will ever be personally fulfilling enough to make up for what it feels I’ve lost.

In just about every lesson on the Law of Tithing, there will always be the stories about the person who was on the very edge of the money, where paying their tithing was a huge personal sacrifice and then days later, mysterious money shows up in their account or on their doorstep. These stories make us feel good and reinforce the narrative that God will immediately deliver us following our sacrifice. The ram in the thicket always shows up in a timely manner. But perhaps more important than the stories of quick deliverance is learning to sit with the uncomfortable stories of when deliverance doesn’t come, at least not in the ways and timetable we expect it to come. Sometimes windows of heaven don’t open. Sometimes we surrender to the sacrifice anyway.

And so this American election season, I’m not going to talk about how their sacrifices of those suffragettes a century ago were made willingly or even that they would have recognized they were worth it. Instead, I will voice my gratitude through continuing their legacy of working for an equitable and just world. Their work was not finished. Neither is ours. We have miles to go before we sleep.

Amy

Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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8 Responses

  1. Suzette says:

    Soldier on, soldier.
    Your words made me emotional.
    I’ve heard it said of the suffragettes: “They were early, but they were not wrong.”
    And I think the same of our work: “We may be early, but we are not wrong.”

  2. Wendy says:

    This resonates with me so much, Amy. I watched the movie as well and was horrified at what you described. It is jarring to watch but important, I think. I appreciate how you are calling those of us who see and feel the inequities in our church to confront our complacency. And the cost to those on the “front lines” when we do nothing.

  3. Leah says:

    It’s been a while since I saw the film, and I am sure I was angered and upset by some of it…especially when her son is adopted out and she has absolutely no rights. But at the same time, I think about the suffragettes who sacrificed so much and I am extremely thankful for them. Their sacrifices make my life better. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough or strong enough to be a suffragette (I hope so). I do know that I owe them a huge debt and I try to repay it by teaching my daughters their worth, to be strong women, and to use my right to vote every chance I get to make my life and the lives of others better.

  4. Nancy Ross says:

    Amy, this really resonates with me. I’ve been unfollowed and unfriended by many childhood friends from church and from other more recent friends because of my advocacy. It is a hard and painful and real thing and we didn’t give up what those early women did.

  5. Andrew R. says:

    I find it hard to understand why anyone would unfriend (either in social media, or more especially in real life) because of their views, opinions or lifestyle.

    Any member of the Church who has shunned anyone else for any reason is not living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, IMO – and probably His too.

    I think it is probably obvious to most regulars here that I do not believe in female ordination. Not because I don’t believe women would not make good priesthood holders, or that they would somehow dilute the priesthood, or take away my power and authority (I have very little as it goes anyway). No, I just don’t personally believe it is part of the Plan. I admit I do not know – but I also have no absolute knowledge of God’s existence, or the validity of the Book of Mormon. I take all of these on faith. As such I have to take the beliefs of others the same way.

    I should not shun someone who believes in female ordination, and they should not shun me because I don’t. We have more in common than we do not have in common.

    The Atonement brings us all to Him.
    The ordinances of the priesthood bind us all to Him as we keep our covenants.
    Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about loving others.

  6. Liz says:

    This really, really resonates with me, Amy. I was so angry for all the reasons you listed after watching that movie, and sometimes I still am when I think about it. This makes me want to look back and try to see which rights and privileges I haven’t thought of that I am taking for granted, and to honor and recognize that they were given to me by people who sacrificed so much.

  7. EFH says:

    When I saw the movie and the moment when Maud has to let go off her son, my heart just sank. The path of advocacy is a tough one because the person/advocate is putting the cause before anything else, that the future world order is more important than the present. Advocates never choose their sacrifices but they choose to walk in the gray area and the outcome is always uncertain. It is a tough life for sure and I do not think that it is a path for individual happiness. But it is a path for living authentically and conscientiously.

    After I saw the movie, I ordered a couple of books about the suffragettes, one of them a book of photographs. I wanted to see their faces and remember their individuality. I should go through that book more often.

  8. Rachel says:

    This is really important. Thank you, Amy.

    (On tinier levels I’ve thought some of these thoughts about Mormon women I know who fought against the Equal Rights Amendment, and more generally, how feminists have fought excruciatingly hard for the improvement of all women, men, and children.)

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