A Journal Entry from Many Years Ago, before I Found my Voice
I recently rediscovered this journal entry that I wrote several years ago, before I started analyzing church policies and advocating more equitable changes, before I had ever been interviewed by a reporter about gender issues within my faith community,* before I became an activism organizer for Ordain Women, before I started the Religious Feminism Podcast, and before I wrote a book for feminist activists.**
Before I ever imagined I would do any of those things, this is what I was thinking. Today, as I read the last question I asked myself in this diary entry from so long ago, I smile and answer, “Yes.”
“It sure made me mad when that feminist woman said women aren’t equal in our church on TV a few days ago,” said my Sunday School teacher.*** My classmates audibly gasped. As they indignantly muttered their how-dare-she’s, I bit my tongue and glued my eyes to the baby in my lap.
He went on to give the sort of sermon we Mormon ladies are used to. “Men and women are equal,” he told us. I agree.
“God loves women,” he continued. I agree with that, too.
“Men and women have different roles in our church, but they are equally important,” he concluded. Lost me there. Still, I stayed focused on my lap, afraid that if I looked up, my eyes would shoot darts at that very nice, harmless man.
“What did you think about Sunday School?” my husband asked cautiously that night.
“He was just saying what everyone else says,” I replied. “We have created a culture where it is more important to call women equal than to treat women equally.”
The very next week, a member of the Relief Society presidency relayed her recently returned missionary son’s explanation about why women couldn’t have the priesthood. He told her that there is a scripture somewhere that says God loves women and also, women can bare children and men can’t. She bore testimony that pregnancy is just awful, but she would rather do that for a few months of her life than have the priesthood.
“Today in Relief Society, I learned that women shouldn’t have the priesthood because our uteruses make it possible for us to gestate. That makes about as much sense as saying that men should have the priesthood because their penuses make it possible for them to pee standing up,” I reported to my husband. “And we got this information by way of the counselor’s 21-year-old son. An adult woman with a lifetime of church experience considers the 21-year-old boy that she raised a greater authority than herself on female roles and purpose.”
“Our culture reveres returned missionaries,” my husband pointed out.
“I’m a returned missionary. I’m not revered,” I countered.
“Our culture reveres male returned missionaries,” he corrected himself.
Two weeks in a row, I kept my mouth shut until church was over. I did no harm. I did not offend those nice people who were teaching my classes. I did not damage my reputation as a “good” Mormon.
I believe in choosing my battles. These weren’t important battles. Neither of those people had any authority to change the status of women at church, even if my comments could have changed their minds. Neither person wanted to repress women. Neither was an enemy of women.
But then I wonder, did I really choose not to fight these battles? Or am I incapable of opening my mouth?
Did I really do no harm? Or was there someone else in that room like me, someone who feels alone, baffled that no one else can see the inequity, wondering if she belongs in a church where she is the odd woman out among so many like-minded individuals?
At church, I have learned to be silent. (Apparently, I have also learned to write my thoughts in chiasmus.) But should I be silent? When should I speak?
After being silent so long, do I know how to speak?
* Speaking of which, I recently spoke with a radio host in Germany on the topic of how to find and raise our voices. Have a listen here:
**My new book, Ask a Suffragist: Stories and Wisdom from America’s First Feminists, covers what modern activists can learn from the first generation of American activists. You can find it through these sources:
***At this point, so many years later, I don’t remember the identities of the ward members who made these comments, and it doesn’t matter. Their comments weren’t offensive—just jarring to my feminist sensibilities—and their words were typical of what I have heard many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say on many other occasions.