#hearLDSwomen: I Wrote a Theater Piece Featuring the Lives of Prominent LDS Women for a RS Activity, and My Bishop Made Me Cut Half of the Women and Censored the Rest Because They Didn’t Fit the Mold
I gave a stake Relief Society fireside here (mostly Mormon community of a church university) once, about Mormon women’s activities in the 19th century, wheat, silk production, suffrage activism, owning and running their own newspaper, building and owning RS Halls, giving healing blessings, etc. You know, all of the good stuff. I had a presentation with images and everything.
Stake presidency member got up right after me and took the opportunity to clarify or “remind” the whole audience that all of those things were done “under the direction of ‘the priesthood.”” And that church leadership had directed all of it.
It was humiliating. In a roomful of probably 300+ women.
Even my conservative visiting teacher noticed it. “That was odd,” she said. “It sounded like he was correcting you.”
Not sure if it’s related, but locally, I don’t get asked to do firesides or lessons or training on Mormon women’s history since then. And I’m reluctant to do it anyway.
A couple years ago I was asked to put together a special program for the Relief Society Anniversary dinner. The counselor who asked me said they were thinking of something honoring remarkable LDS women through the ages. I was partnered with a recent convert who had some writing experience, but I was in charge. We met for two months several nights a week putting it together. I came up with the idea to do a Reader’s Theatre with the theme “A Patchwork of Mormon Women”, centered around Sister Chieko Okazaki’s talk about how there was no one right way to be a Mormon woman just like quilts have different pieces of patchwork. I then chose 8 women to portray, and the other sister and I researched them and wrote monologues about their lives. We’d given the scripts to all the sisters who would be portraying them several weeks in advance and had a rehearsal with everyone. It was going well, when I received a call to meet with the Relief Society presidency at one of their homes. It was one week before performance. I went, and was told that the bishop had gone over our script (no one had ever said he needed to review it or mentioned giving him a copy) and found problems. I was told to remove four of the women from the program. One was Jane Manning, because her desires to be endowed as a black woman in the early Church made her “too controversial”, another prominent woman because she was supposedly involved with Ordain Women (my research afterwards proved she wasn’t, and didn’t even support it), another because she “wasn’t that active”, and another because they said there wasn’t proof she’d been baptized (again I double-checked afterwards, and though no one had found her baptismal record—something not uncommon in early Utah) but had called herself Mormon throughout her life. They also required me to censor and change many paragraphs, phrases and even words from the script (we had deliberately already left out anything even slightly scandalous from the women’s lives). They had us leave out the word “obsessed” in reference to one woman’s dedication to the Suffrage movement, because it made it seem like she was more interested in that than in being a wife and mother, and many of the women’s professional accomplishments were required to be deleted or down-played. The censorship was detailed and ridiculous. They only wanted their domestic or church activities stressed. We had to rewrite the whole thing in less than a week, give it to the performers with only a few days to learn it, and only have one rehearsal of the new version, right before the performance.
– Nancy K.
I taught Primary a few years ago, and one kid kept talking about the Lamanites’ skin/curse of darkness, so I taught a mini-lesson on race and prejudice and dehumanization before moving on to whatever the main lesson was. I sent my outline to parents and the Primary presidency so wires wouldn’t be crossed.
The Primary president came to me a couple weeks later to relay a complaint from the bishopric. I honestly don’t remember what the specific complaint was (maybe the topic was too sensitive and should be handled by parents, maybe that it wasn’t in the manual), but it was basically “maybe don’t do that again.” The Primary president just shrugged her shoulders and said she thought the lesson was fabulous.
This reminds me of the time I worked on a piano/violin duet for six months with my piano teacher (also in my ward and the music chair). We were going to play in sacrament meeting. After six months of prep, we were told we couldn’t play it, because it wasn’t a hymn. I was 15.
When I was 17, I planned an activity for the Young Women to go see the high school perform Grease. There were a few Young Women (including me) acting in the musical, and I thought it would be fun to support each other in this thing we had spent so much time on. The week before the play, the bishop called all the YW in the musical in with our YW president and told us that this was an inappropriate church activity. The church could not support us in spreading a bad message. I agree that Grease is kind of inane and problematic, but this made me feel terrible. At the time, I felt like God disapproved of my choice to pursue theater.
Pro Tip: Women now and throughout history have often acted without being managed by men or priesthood leadership. There is no need to feel threatened by women’s history and stories, and there is great benefit in sharing these stories. Micromanaging is never a good look, whether it’s in a workplace, in a home, or in a church. Give women the space and autonomy to exercise creativity and to grow.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)