Mormon Women Claiming Power: Dialogue Note from the Editor

Cover art by Michelle Franzoni Thorley

The Spring 2020 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is about to be released. This issue was guest-edited by Exponent II. The following is my letter from the editor that will accompany the issue. We hope that Exponent readers will seek out this special issue.

As the editor of Exponent II, I have had innumerable Mormon men—progressive and orthodox—tell me that they would like to listen to women, but women just don’t step up and talk. From President Russell M. Nelson’s 2015 plea for women to step forward and be spiritual leaders to ex-Mormon Reddit forums, men ask for women to speak but decline to change the structures and traditions that have pressured women to be silent. When women do start talking, they are often met with hostility, condescension, disinterest, or closed doors. In this environment, it is hard for women to confidently claim power. It often means shrugging off insults, letting go of others’ judgments, and ignoring those who would try to interrupt. It means rewriting your own story, refusing to let anyone stand between yourself and God. It means making people uncomfortable, including, sometimes, yourself.

In this issue, guest-edited by Exponent II, we asked women to write about claiming power. We hoped that writers would think creatively about the idea of power, including traditional forms of authority in an organizational hierarchy but also going beyond this sometimes-limiting definition. We wanted women to examine their engagement of power within their families, wards, workplaces, and selves. We were interested in the way Mormon women are using their power to empower other marginalized groups. 

The response to the call for submissions on this issue was overwhelming. If I wasn’t intimately familiar with the vitality of the Mormon feminist community, I would have been astonished at the amount women had to say on this topic. Reading through women’s many stories of joy and frustration, heartbreak and resolve, left me buoyed up and newly committed to share my voice without apology. This issue contains academic essays about undocumented Latina Mormons, interrelational power, and historical ads for abortion pills in Utah. We feature personal essays exploring the practice of women participating in blessings, how faith and stories can lend the power to change one’s life, and the long relationship between Exponent II and Dialogue. We have also included two roundtable interviews: one with women in positions of workplace authority and the other with women who have been ordained. Lita Little Giddins writes the painting “Family History and Temple Work” by cover artist by Michelle Franzoni Thorley and reflects on the experiences of Mormon women artists of color. The poetry creates a satisfying arc that explores Mormon feminist theology. The short stories in the fiction section consider vulnerability and the deliberate choice to expose oneself to risk. The book review section examines how literature reveals power imbalances and how Mormon women are claiming power in a variety of ways to address those imbalances. Finally, we close with a sermon about Bathsheba, sexual violence, and reclaiming the divine feminine.

The first time Exponent II guest-edited an issue of Dialogue was in 1971. At the close of her introduction to that “pink issue,” Claudia Bushman wrote, “One major achievement, if we can claim any, is that ordinarily silent women have examined their lives and written about what they have seen. . . Women have always been valued in the Church but not encouraged to say much. We hope that now and in the future, more ladies will speak out and, what is more, be heard.” Only half of Claudia’s wish has been fulfilled: women are speaking, but they are not always heard.

More spaces than ever, including my favorite, Exponent II, now exist for Mormon women to speak unapologetically and with candor. No one can reasonably claim that Mormon women are not stepping forward to add their perspectives to the most vital conversations within our church, our faith, and our communities. Learning about women’s experiences in Mormonism is not a niche specialty relevant only to other women, but essential to understanding the lived history and theology of our faith tradition. If you are a current Dialogue subscriber, you will soon be receiving the Spring 2020 issue of Exponent II in your mailbox. We are excited for Dialogue readers who may not be familiar with our work to add Exponent II to their libraries by subscribing to our quarterly magazine. You can read more and subscribe at www.exponentii.org. We are all richer when women claim power through sharing their voices. May they be heard. 

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9 Responses

  1. samjam says:

    When w̶o̶m̶e̶n̶ people do start talking, they are often met with hostility, condescension, disinterest, or closed doors. In this environment, it is hard for w̶o̶m̶e̶n̶ people to confidently claim power.

    FTFY

    • Elisa says:

      I don’t think this comment is worth responding to, but I will just note that you proved that her original language is accurate in the way that you treated it here.

      Sure, we should be aware of how we interact with others regardless of gender. But to act as though women’s voices aren’t uniquely marginalized within LDS culture is ignorant.

    • MargaretOH says:

      Hi samjam, I’m not quite sure what you’re criticizing so I’ll offer two responses:
      1) If you’re calling me out for using binary language and not recognizing other forms of gender marginalization, I hear you. I should have used more inclusive language. This is an issue that, frankly, we’re figuring out as an organization, as we want all marginalized voices to feel like they are welcome and safe at Exponent II, regardless of gender expression or identity.
      2) However, the reason I didn’t use “people” is because I specifically was not talking about white men. And if you’re trying to tell me that men’s voices get the same weight as women’s in Mormondom, I’m going to simply disagree.

      • When you turn a general problem into just a women’s problem you diminish your voice, demonstrating either a fundamental misunderstanding or a fundamental dishonesty or fundamental partiality, and alienating those who support full equality and inclusivity.

        Do you think that men take satisfaction in the skin colour or gender of those who marginalize them?

        Do you actually want to understand the nature of the problem and solve it? Or just capitalise off the problem?

        I suspect that when you finally “claim power” you will be as well received as those you complain of, and you will complain about that.

        – but wait! That is the situation right now!

        What you complain of is normal life within the corridors of power.

        it is always a continual fight to be heard and understood and not marginalised on any of a spectrum of criteria.

        Failure to demonstrate comprehension of that is a failure to demonstrate the understanding necessary to participate as an equal, and if you can’t even fake understanding of that how can you expect anyone to take you seriously?

        Especially when your modus operandi is to willfully perpetuate the same fault you complain of, albeit with different parameters.

      • MargaretOH says:

        Wow, you put in the fun in fundamental, Sam Liddicott! Thank you so much for explaining all that for me.

  2. Heather says:

    Margaret I am so excited for this issue! You have a gift for curating art and stories and voices in such a satisfying way. Thank you.

  3. R. Porter says:

    I see that exponent has deleted some of the comments entered here. So are you advocating equality while censoring comments?

    • Violadiva says:

      /mod None of the comments left on this post have been unapproved, deleted or altered in any way. Comments which violate our comment policy may be censored or removed. We moderate all violations equally.

  4. Barbara Ann Gleason Roberts says:

    As a woman who is trying to seek after the pure love of Christ, I find that seeking after power is antithetical to my desire to become like my Heavenly Parents, my Savior and exemplar Jesus Christ.

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