Guest Post: Carnival Rides and Mormon Feminism

Coin OpBy Aimee Hickman

The beautiful cover artwork for this quarter’s issue of Exponent II speaks directly to my own emotional state on the eve of what may be an historic General Conference for the LDS Church. Although it was likely not artist Corinne Geertsen’s intent, I see in her painting, “Coin-Op,” an allegory of this particular moment in the long history of Mormon feminism. For me the woman appears as an early twentieth-century Mormon suffragette. Her sly smile and stoic posture as she sits side-saddle suggest a woman whose expectations for what will happen when coin meets machine seem confidently set. I see a woman whose efforts to promote the suffrage agenda, to fulfill the measure of her feminine creation by expanding the possibilities for her sex, have been galvanized into the coin she holds so gingerly in her fingers. She’s ready for the ride. The tiger’s expression is what makes me nervous. Though our lady can predict that her coin will earn her a ride, it’s artfully unclear whether she’s in for a bouncy little jaunt, or a thrill ride that will see her soon abandon her side-saddle pose and have her wrestling the tiger, fully astride.

The parallel between her moment and ours as Mormon feminists is not lost on me. As a Mormon feminist, I can’t help feeling a bit like that woman perched precariously on the tiger’s back, coin in hand, ready for a ride. Never has the time to use this hard-earned currency felt more tempting. Mormon feminism’s emergence as a powerful voice during the Obama/Romney presidential campaign has emboldened our movement in ways and on a scale I would not have thought possible a year ago. Seeing a rising generation of Mormon feminist activists merge with a path that was trail-blazed by previous generations has been exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and thrilling.

The growth of Mormon feminism in the last year has meant engaging in spirited and sometimes dispiriting discussions about what methods, rhetoric, and ultimate goals will best serve a Mormon feminist agenda. As a community, our handling of these discussions hasn’t always lived up to our own ideals. Nevertheless, I feel grateful for a growing community of women who have entered the fray. I feel gratitude to my foremothers who have laid a groundwork that has helped a new generation of Mormon women find a community in the midst of their own feminist awakenings. I feel grateful to that new generation and the boldness of their ideas and actions that are contributing to a great Mormon feminist tradition. Each of us who has written an article, or read a blog post, or made a Facebook comment, or shared our struggles in church, or silently sought out other voices in our own loneliness, has earned a coin for this ride.

But at the end of the day, we can’t really know what our coin will purchase. Will this tiger reward our efforts with the thrill we seek, putter out after 10 seconds, or race off out of control, leaving us in a heap? Unlike most democratic social movements, the changes we seek in the Church can’t come about just by swaying public opinion. The LDS Church is an institution—a machine all its own. The cogs and gears are individuals within that structure who direct the entire mechanism with their unique interpretations of God’s will. Yet the membership as a whole provides a metaphorical shot of WD-40 to move those directives forward or slow them down. And that is where Mormon feminism is doing so much good.

I don’t know if this weekend’s ride will reward Mormon feminists with an exhilarating thrill or an “out of order” message, but I’m dropping my coin in the slot anyway. I hope that however the ride goes this weekend, we can all find a way to come back on Monday and say “again, again!”There’s no one I’d rather be on this ride with than all of you.

Aimee Hickman is Co-Editor of Exponent II. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband and three coin-op ride-loving children.

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10 Responses

  1. Kirsten says:

    You have beautifully put into words the emotions and thoughts swirling in my head these past few months. I love this picture– what I thought about was not necessarily what the ride might be like, but rather what will the reaction of the tiger be? Will it purr and roll over, ignoring the woman? Or will it lash out in anger? Or perhaps lay its head in her lap, waiting to be petted…
    I, like many Mormon feminists, go to church each week trying to make a difference- no matter how small- and hoping for change. There are days when I sit in the pew and scream at the top of my lungs in my head and swear I cannot make it one more Sunday. Then there are other days when the pleas for greater voice and equality are rewarded, if even like crumbs from the table, and I can see others start to catch the vision. I wonder what the response will really be to the calls for female ordination… I know that I cannot take another season of excommunications like those back in the 90’s. Perhaps things have changed enough that dialogue will be tried before the knee-jerk reaction to silence. I pray this will be so.
    Maybe the tiger has learned from the coins of the past. I hope it isn’t a “one-trick” tiger. However, no matter what happens, I refuse to walk away and leave this circus. This is my faith and I am not leaving, no matter what the ride will be.

    • Aimee says:

      I love your comment Kirsten! The possibilities you pose for the tiger’s reaction have me laughing, flinching, and feeling hopeful at once. I feel like it’s impossible to predict what the response to recent Mormon feminist actions will be, but dearly hope that as a Mormon feminist community we will stick-it-out together, come what may.

      And I echo your sentiments about the “one-trick-tiger.” We are the church which claims continuing revelation as one of it’s core doctrines. There’s no reason 2013 needs to be like 1993.

    • Heather Sather says:

      Don’t forget the excommunications in the 1970s and the gagging of Exponent II in the early 1980s. I admire the work you are all doing, but I am not optimistic. I wish I could be. And, just a reminder, the Mormon Church is your faith community. Your faith is in Christ.

  2. Libby says:

    Aimee, this is such a marvelous illustration of where we are at this point! Do you know the short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” I wonder what door we are opening.

    And Kirsten, I agree with you: I hope the tiger has learned to listen, to question how best to use its strength. Regardless, I love this crazy circus too, and I come from a long line of circus people. Even if I left to join the opera or the Follies, I’d still be a circus person.

  3. Caroline says:

    I love your metaphor, Aimee. It does indeed feel like a wild ride right now. But I love that Church leaders are trying to respond to this wave of interest in increasing women’s roles in the Church. And they are even making concessions — I was blown away by the news that women will pray at GC. Now today it looks like more movement for sister missionaries. What’s next, I wonder?

  4. Suzette Smith says:

    Well said, Aimee. Bless You.
    Bless Us All. Inspire us, Lead us, Protect us.

    I’m dropping my coin too.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    There’s no group of people I’d rather be with on this wild ride. Thank you for this metaphor as we prepare to buckle in (again).

  6. Alissa says:

    I remember having a conversation with my family once about flying dreams and I’ll never forget my big sisters surprise and delight to find out in my flying dreams I’m never flying with my body or arms, but riding something like a ski lift that had gone off the cord, a magical dining room chair, or a carousel horse. This same big sister now provides me with a picture a woman prepared to ride the tiger, for me that means reconciling my spiritual intelligence with the organization that continues to draw me in time after time. Every time I attempt to take my spiritual journey alone, I find myself missing the ride! The buck and roll, and the soaring heights when you stumble on a hidden treasure that speaks to your heart as though it were meant for you like a secret, and just enough to sustain you on this journey a little bit longer. Thank you, Aimee, and all the writers, artists, and thoughtful contributors of the Exponent II, YOU are the purse I pull my coins from when I’m not sure if I want to ride again.

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