Nurturing grace and fighting perfectionism in Mormon feminism, part 2a: Grace.
This is the second of a four-part series on grace, anger, social media, and Mormon feminism.
I wrote this past month on the blog about my experiences learning about intersectional and Mormon feminism. I want to talk now about the different ways we relate to one another, particularly in social media spaces. The majority of social media interaction I have is on Twitter, but much of this applies in other spaces as well.
I want to start out by saying I am not referring to excusing intentionally bad behavior or unkindness or willful harm of others. We are never allowed to behave in those ways. It is never okay to act that way. And when we do, there are often serious consequences. People will rightly call out what we’ve said or done. We might lose opportunities or relationships or potential relationships. Healing and healthy dialogue stops. This type of behavior is ungodly.
I am also not referring to the tendency to lean into our blind spots or the places that make us feel overly comfortable and lead us to ignore our privilege. Even if it feels very uncomfortable, it is necessary and holy for us to engage with and understand the various forms of privilege we have experienced.
I see our relationship between one another as Mormon feminists and women+ as being dialectic, meaning it contains opposite components. On the one hand, I strongly feel that we need to acknowledge all of our humanity and show kindness and grace and love toward one another in our interactions as Mormon feminists. Each person deserves compassion as they make a good faith effort to learn and express themselves and ask questions. On the other hand – and equally important – is learning to negotiate our own and others’ anger and harness it toward the oppression we seek to dismantle. This part of Mormon feminism is especially gritty and messy and uncomfortable at times.
I have seen situations on Twitter where people have been attacked or criticized for expressing an experience or idea related to intersectional feminism generally or Mormon feminism specifically in an inelegant way. I have also seen situations where people have been criticized for not using a specific intersectional feminist term correctly, or for expressing an opinion that is different than the majority of those in our community, or within the majority of those who often speak in social media spaces. These types of interactions create an environment that is not conductive to safety, sharing, and our growth/learning as feminists/activists.
Because our identities and experiences as Mormon feminists and activists are diverse and deserving of compassion and understanding, I also believe there needs to be a place for grace and humanity in Mormon feminism.
What I mean is that if we are genuinely making a good faith effort and doing the best we can, expecting perfection in each other in our feminism or activism and punishing or hurting one another when we naturally don’t do things just right is just another form of perfectionism and oppression we are perpetuating toward one another.
Though I consider myself well educated and able to discuss most intersectional feminist issues, in my own personal social media interactions, I am often nervous to express a certain opinion because I feel anxiety and fear about how my ideas will be responded to. This often keeps me from expressing my ideas personally in social media spaces. As I discussed last month in my blog post, I was not raised understanding feminism or social justice, and it can be new and vulnerable using and expressing these ideas in front of others.
As Mormon women, we are all operating under the oppressive power structure of patriarchy in some form. We are often not taught about how to manage conflict and the strong emotional responses (e.g., defensiveness, anxiety, anger, fear) we might have during these dialogues, and especially if others directly address or question something we have said or done. We are taught to fear and avoid our own and others’ anger at all costs. Just as intersectional feminism helps us understand the complex intersections in others’ experiences and identities, it should also help us understand the complex intersections in our experiences and identities as people who talk about and engage with intersectional feminism, Mormon feminism, or activism in general.
For example, I am a White, highly educated Mormon woman with a significant trauma history. Some of this trauma is with women. Because of my trauma experiences, if I express myself and make a mistake, it is exceptionally distressing to be told I’m wrong or said something bad or hurt someone with what I’ve said. I do not want a free pass to act unkindly, ever. But these experiences sometimes complicate my ability to express myself. Because of these experiences, I am very aware of how difficult it can be to assert yourself even in primarily female spaces. It can be terrifying.
Sometimes I also wonder what our dialogue and interactions about intersectional feminism and/or Mormon feminism would be like if we were in the same room vs. on social media. All of us experience different forms of oppression and I think if we could attend to vital in-person cues (e.g., facial expression, body language, tone of voice) this would matter. I think it would be easier in some respects because we can clarify and make ourselves understood a bit more easily, and others are able to show compassion and kindness and validation in more concrete, direct ways. I understand this is often not possible, but I wonder what might happen to our interactions on social media if we were to consider one another’s humanity in the ways we choose to respond to one another when discussing important issues related to intersectional feminism, Mormon feminism, and activism.
In her powerful essay, “Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Audre Lorde writes about how white women and women of color negotiate difference and their feelings of anger. This discussion has important applicability to the ways we manage anger as women+:
“The strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing up to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter. The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”
All of us deserve safety and support in “standing up to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter” (Lorde, 2017, p. 31-32). I hope there is a Mormon feminism where all of us are continually safe and supported to grow, evolve, and express our ideas – in good faith, imperfectly, with grace directed toward others and ourselves. I am so grateful to the women+ I know who make our spaces this way.
Some questions to consider:
What role do you believe anger plays in Mormon feminism for us individually and collectively?
What role does anger play in social media interactions? How does it impede supportive interactions between people?
What types of messages would help yourself and others feel comfortable sharing their ideas in MoFem spaces?