Not asking Permission: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary Exponent II Issue
“What I say is that women should not ask permission, they should just act.” — Claudia Bushman in the upcoming anniversary Exponent II magazine
I love this idea that Claudia Bushman articulates in her article in the coming 40th anniversary issue of Exponent II. In one of the very first conferences I participated in with Claudia Bushman seven years ago, she hosted a discussion about women in the church. One of the points she made at that conference was similar — that women should come up with ideas and carry them out, working outside of church-sponsored forums. Think that the church should be more involved in humanitarian work, Claudia asked? Then start a humanitarian organization. Think that we need more books that highlight Mormon women’s voices? Write them yourself. Stop looking to the institutional church to carry out these projects and do them yourself. Make your own opportunities for leadership, vision, and community.
This advice resonates with me. While I would love the institutional church to change its ways and create more inclusive practices for women — and I have certainly picked my battles to create more visible roles for women in my ward and the church at large– I also love this liberating vision that Claudia sets forth. That we act on our consciences, without always seeing the need to ask for permission from church leaders. (Joanna Brooks proffers this advice as well in her recent Dialogue essay and in this 40th anniversary Exponent II issue.)
My imagination runs away with me when I think of all the things we Mormon women might do if we gave ourselves permission to act as we see fit. In her article, Claudia mentions women giving blessings to one another and to their babies in their homes. Some of the most spiritual experiences I have had have involved women giving and receiving blessings, so I reflect with gratitude and thankfulness that other women have given themselves permission to do these blessings– which have in turn emboldened me to do the same. Recently I have experimented with prayer practices that involve Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. This was a leap into the unknown for me, but it felt right to model to my children a seeking after God that acknowledged both our divine parents. They will make their choices ultimately about how they wish to connect to God, but I feel good that they will have some variations to pull from in their spiritual tool kit.
What else might we Mormon women do, if we authorize our own actions, without looking to church leaders for permission? Judy Dushku’s humanitarian organization in Africa is one example of a Mormon woman simply taking action and doing important work in the world. Cecile Pelous, French LDS fashion designer who sold her home to build an orphanage in Nepal is another example of a woman who saw need in the world and acted outside of church forums. When asked why she didn’t just let the church take care of this kind of humanitarian work, she. She responded, “This is the Church. Me. I’m a member of this Church, and this is the Church doing this.” This attitude inspires me to examine my conscience, step up, take responsibility, and do good in the world — without or without church leaders’ approval.
One way that I would love for us Mormon feminists to authorize our own actions and stop looking to the institutional church for approval and direction is to engage in generating our own practices. For several years, I’ve felt that the Mormon feminist community should begin creating its own rituals and products, objects and acts that we can pass down to our daughters to buoy them up as they confront the often spirit-crushing confines of patriarchy. Here are some ideas of practices and products that Mormon feminists generated at a session at a Sophia Gathering a couple of years ago.
- produce art that features Mormon women and Heavenly Mother
- create Mormon feminist liturgical calendars
- institute a practice of Quaker-style clearness committees, to help women discern for themselves how to move forward with their lives
- compose Mormon feminist songs and anthems
- generate rituals of banishing and healing
- engage in blessing rituals of women and babies
These are all practices and products that I would love to have available for my daughter and for myself, to help us navigate our women’s lives and bind us to our Mormon women’s community. I love many things about Mormonism, but among the best is the way we Mormon women can do sisterhood. Nowhere else have I found such full-hearted generous support and good intentions. I envision a world where more and more often, we women can look to one another, lift one another, and creatively connect to the divine together. When we give ourselves permission to act, amazing things will inevitably follow.
When you think of giving yourself permission to act according to your conscience, of instituting practices that would be healing and spiritual for you, what comes to mind? What are some of the things you would love to do and create, regardless of church leaders’ approval?