Guest Post: When I Realized I Was A Radical Feminist

Guest Post by Laura. I am a writer, teacher, wife and mother who loves to read all kinds of books. I reside in Texas with my family and a house full of pets.

I am a feminist.

If I’m being honest with myself, I suppose I have always been one, but for most of my life I wasn’t aware of this fact because I never understood the true meaning of the word. When I was growing up as a Latter Day Saint in the Bible belt, it was a loaded term, akin to calling someone a communist and conjured images of bare-breasted women burning their bras and shaking their fists at the sky. I naively assumed that my church was justified in labeling feminists public enemy number two – behind gay people and before intellectuals of course, according to Elder Packer.

I was once sitting in a Relief Society lesson listening to my fellow sisters in Christ discuss the most distressing ills of the world, and an elderly woman spat out the word as if it were a disease, something dark and apparently contagious. According to her, we should all be wary to keep our distance from these dangerous women. As far as I could tell, feminists seemed like an angry bunch, hell bent on disrupting the sacredness of the family with their radical notions. As a young mother, I had no idea what those notions were, but I assumed they had to be pretty awful for the church to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to defeat the terrifying legislation they had proposed.

Then one day, I got curious and actually read the Equal Rights Amendment. If you aren’t familiar with words of the ERA, here is the text in its entirety:

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3: This article shall take effect 2 years after the date of ratification.

That was it.

It was underwhelming to say the least and left me a bit perplexed. I hadn’t expected human sacrifices and blood oaths, but certainly something more provocative than equality. That day, something sparked inside of me that I still cannot fully verbalize. In that moment, I realized something profound and seismic was occurring deep within my heart. I was one of them. A radical, raging feminist who – come to think of it – wouldn’t mind burning a bra or two myself. This was what my church leaders had cautioned us against? Equality under the law? It was then that I realized that my church does not view me as a fully developed person worthy of the same rights and privileges as my male counterparts. And it broke my heart.

Never again will I sit in a Sunday school class and remain quiet while others denigrate feminism. Because if you are a woman and you enjoy the right to vote, the right to equal pay, the right to wear pants, the right to attend college, the right to get a divorce, the right to own property, and open a bank account, you should thank a feminist. Your church leaders did not procure these rights for you no matter how much they laud these accomplishments today.

Instead our leaders prefer benevolent language over meaningful actions. They point out that women already have equal rights, while quietly reaffirming their stance on the ERA. They tell us that women have access to priesthood while actively denying us any real way to use it. They reassure us we don’t practice polygamy while clinging to unequal sealing practices that allow for eternal polygamy in the afterlife. They allude to a Mother in Heaven without providing any real explanation of her power and authority because doing so would call the entire system of patriarchy into question. She is an illusion, a mirage in the desert that will remain forever out of reach because truly acknowledging her will either place her as an equal co-creator with God or relegate her to a position of inferiority, a helpmeet who has no power alone and can only derive priesthood from her husband. According to our doctrine, She is no more equal to Him than I am to my husband. (See D&C 132).

Gordon B. Hinckley once stated, “Each of us has to face the matter — either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground.” Likewise, I propose that the church either supports equality for women or it does not. Upon reviewing the evidence, as it stands I can only conclude that the church does not.

I am so tired of our leaders paying lip service to an egalitarianism that simply does not exist within the church. Nor can it exist as long as one sex presides over another. I have finally come to the conclusion for myself that there is no hierarchy in heaven, no people presiding over other people or practicing righteous dominion. God is not a respecter of persons. Maybe as more people continue to fight for their equal rights here on this earth, we will get closer and closer to the kind of existence I long to be a part of, the kind of world where all people’s voices and experiences are equally valued. And that is where we will truly find heaven.

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11 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Wow. I, too, had never seen the full text of the ERA and am now even more disturbed by the opposition to it. Well said.

  2. Fairy says:

    I would like to click “like” to this post.

  3. TeresaHart says:

    Yes, so simple to see, but never easy for the brothers. Sisters, power is not given, power is taken. Never in the history of the Universe has a right or its freedoms been given with out loud and long demanding for it. Saying no to the brothers is saying yes to your Mother Goddess given powers. Freedom and power is only real and meaningful if used, exercised, demonstrated and demanded. Start by saying Mother Goddess a lot at church and encourage others to do so. Encouraging has courage in it, exercise both qualities.

  4. Tracy says:

    👏👏👏
    My experience has been much like yours. I, too, grew up believing feminists…referred to as “feminatzis” in my home…must be something akin to the devil, certainly something to be afraid of and mocked. It wasn’t until my mid thirties that I finally went to the source–feminists themselves–to undertand what feminism actually is (funny, same thing members of the Church want for others to do to learn about what Mormons believe–ask Mormons🤷‍♀️). Lo and behold, yep, I was a feminist. A radical feminist at that. I told my husband that my parents could probably feel the earth shaking beneath them as I uttered these words from two states away. It’s no wonder conservative leaders and members feel the need to vilify feminists–if girls and women are so scared of the word that they never actually listen to feminists, then they won’t realize that they may actyally be, themselves, feminists.

  5. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    I was a young teen when the ERA began to be an issue in the church. Because I grew up in an equal opportunity home where was no delineation between men’s and women’s work and where we were all encouraged to expand our talents, love learning and other intellectual pursuits it wasn’t until I got to BYU I became a feminist. The treatment that we female students received at the hands of not only church leaders but of the school’s administration, many but not all male professors, student ward bishoprics and the male students. I was thoroughly appalled. I couldn’t even pretend to be a Molly Mormon who was the social ideal presented to us in church talks, devotionals, religion classes, campus culture and the social scene. I still can’t.

    As a result most Mormon men avoided me in dating situations. They were afraid of my intelligence plus my talents and various interests. I dated several men of other or no faiths. They respected my mind, my interests and talents in a way that active Mormon men couldn’t, and it was refreshing to be able to have intellectually stimulating conversations about any topic without them feeling threatened in any way.

    When I met my husband he’d been away from the church for many years. Perhaps that was why we clicked on our first date. Since then he has encouraged me to do whatever I need to do in order to grow as a person. It’s one of the many reasons that I love him so much! A former bishop of ours asked him why he “gave me so much latitude in our marriage”. Indignantly my husband told the bishop that he didn’t GIVE me anything except love and support because we’re equal partners. The bishop avoided talking with either of us after that unless he absolutely had to after that! As the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of women suffragists who fought for the right to vote and to have their voices heard in community, state and national affairs I honor those women by being a feminist and carrying on their work in all spheres of my existence-even in the church.

  6. Katie Rich says:

    “They point out that women already have equal rights, while quietly reaffirming their stance on the ERA. They tell us that women have access to priesthood while actively denying us any real way to use it. They reassure us we don’t practice polygamy while clinging to unequal sealing practices that allow for eternal polygamy in the afterlife. They allude to a Mother in Heaven without providing any real explanation of her power and authority because doing so would call the entire system of patriarchy into question.”

    Yep. And it can be so painful to see it clearly.

  7. Totally, at BYU around 2005 is when I learned feminism was the “other f-word,” (shared as a joke in a Sociology class). Thank you for writing this and I was also shocked at how simple the ERA law is. I highly recommend the Hulu show Mrs. America–it talks about Phyllis Schlaffly and the work she did to mobilize conservative women against ERA. My grandma in Emmett Idaho (outside of Boise) was called by her stake president to go door to door preaching against the ERA movement. Yikes.

  8. ElleK says:

    PREACH. Beautifully said.

  9. Mindy says:

    This is powerful and important. It echoed so much of my experience.

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