Poll: Age of Feminism?

Maybe it was a book or class in school, or a conflict with a priesthood holder at church. Maybe it was motherhood or marriage. It could have been a conference talk or an article in a newspaper, but whatever it was, there was most likely a time for all of us that helped to define how we feel toward feminism, whether within the church or out. What was it that helped you to identify yourself one way or the other? How old were you and what were you doing?


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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20 Responses

  1. Macha says:

    I don’t remember exactly when, but I know when I got to college that my thoughts on feminism were that it was essentially unnecessary anymore, that I wasn’t oppressed as a woman, and that all feminists wanted was the right to abortion. By my senior year, I was writing a 20 page thesis essay on the play Trifles, writing enthusiastic essays on the poetry of Eavon Boland, and reading The Red Tent in my free time. I was a full-blown feminist and much more aware of the anti-woman cultural beliefs in our society (disgust/discomfort with the female body, with women having traditionally “masculine” qualities, etc). And I definitely blame my Catholic college for it. Nothing like an arrogant seminary student to make you totally turned off by patriarchy.

  2. Amelia says:

    Macha, I had something of a similar trajectory, though my entry to college had me thinking formally about “feminism” as a Bad Thing, given my complete adherence to Mormon culture and teachings. By the time I graduated 6 years later I was a die-hard feminist doing most of my research and writing about gender issues who spent the better part of a decade doing as much of my graduate research and writing about gender as I could. And it was BYU that worked that change in me. 🙂

    I chose college for my age in the poll because it’s when the conscious change happened. But I definitely had feminist leanings much earlier. I saw the discrepancies and inequalities between the boys and girls programs in the Mormon church from a very young age. It drove me crazy that on the same night I was being taught at YW how to iron a *man’s* dress shirt, the boys were having a career night and that the YW never had activities that really helped them consider educational and career options. And it just made me spitting mad that every summer the boys in my ward got to go spend a week at what sounded like a very fun scout camp full of interesting activities (I had two brothers just older than me, so I heard all about these camps), a week waterskiing at Lake Powell, and a week backpacking in the High Sierras while the girls got to spend a week at Girls Camp where we did dumb craft projects, took a “hike” for a couple of hours on which we invariably got lost, and performed silly skits or talents. I think my discontent with that was a big factor in my dad starting a backpacking program for the YW in our stake. so yeah. I wasn’t an “official” self-identified feminist until I was a couple years into my college experience, but the leanings were certainly there much earlier.

  3. Starfoxy says:

    I listed college age in the poll because that was when I had my first kid. I followed all the advice I had been given in church and from my family. I married a good man, I ‘got an education’ (just in case!) and then started having kids. It was only after my first kid was born that I realized just how laughably inadequate my ‘education’ was for its intended purpose, and what a vulnerable position I had let myself be herded into.
    I had always been equality minded, but experiencing that vulnerability was what pushed me into full-fledged feminist thought.

    • Starfoxy, this makes me wonder. I always get worried about following the Church’s prescribed path for women, because I’m not sure it will be fulfilling for me. What might you have done differently if you were a feminist before you got married?

    • Erin says:

      My experience was similar (sort-of). I was in that college age-range (so that’s what I voted), but out of college. I had my first kid and realized that things weren’t all hunky-dory like I’d been promised they’d be. My degree has left me somewhat vulnerable as well. If I’d held off having a kid for a while the vulnerability maybe wouldn’t be quite so bad as I could’ve gone to grad. school and tried to get jobs. At this point my skills have diminished enough in my area that I’m probably best off to go back for something else. If I’d been more self-aware before then I probably would’ve at least minored or double-majored in something with more earning potential and pushed myself harder to conform less in order to minimize the vulnerabilities of my degree.

  4. April says:

    I was out of college (I had gotten a fluff degree and called it good) and had 3 young children. About 2 years ago we moved in next door to a widow with a 4 year old son… who was willing and able to get remarried, but wanted to stay sealed to her deceased spouse.

    Que serious issues for me from trying to sort it all out in my head… how could women be equal if we are not treated equally? etc etc. It firmly jolted me out of the “just do what they say” mindset to the “I think I’d better start doing what’s best for me.” mindset.

    Now I’m a full blown feminist.

  5. HokieKate says:

    I think it really started taking hold in my first year of grad school, which was year 5 at BYU. Sure, there were some issues with being a woman engineering student as an undergrad, but once I was a married grad student I was far more aware of others’ opinions that I wasn’t making the “right” choices with my life. Thankfully, I left with my MS and pursued a PhD elsewhere. I think I’d be living at the counseling center if I was still at BYU.

  6. motion de smiths says:

    I was in law school at BYU. I had never felt oppressed until I was in the heart of Mormon culture. It was something about the stark contrast between the empowerment of law school and the demeaning aspects of the church that got me to thinking. Then I read Women in Authority. And finally everything made sense.

  7. mraynes says:

    I have always been passionate about women’s issues, really I was just born a feminist. I had good models of feminism at home, my mother was very proud of her “women’s libber” days and my father was very equality minded. My mother once dressed me up as Emmeline Pankhurst (famous British suffragist) for Halloween when I was seven and I remember it blowing my little mind that there was actually a time when women couldn’t vote. But I admit to offering that sad and tired phrase, “I’m not a feminist but…” It wasn’t until my junior year at BYU after taking a US Women’s history course that I decided I needed to come clean about who I really was and fully embraced the title. I’ve never looked back.

  8. I didn’t really know any theory or history or anything about organized feminism besides suffragettes of the 1910s until college, but I was always noticing things that were unfair between the sexes and pointing them out. I despised that I couldn’t officially do things with the Scouts, for example, and tagged along with my dad from a very young age. During a discussion with the Young Men and Young Women in my ward, I stood up and talked about boys giving girls the wrong impressions about modesty. Etc.

    Once I did learn more about feminism in college, part of me was shocked at the outrages that had led other women to feminism (I specifically remember being disgusted at Freud’s idea of penis envy) and part of me was so proud that there were brilliant women fighting for what I had always desired.

  9. alex w. says:

    I had feminist leanings in high school–it came through literature, in reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and then when I went to college, my feminism became gradually more fully formed, from my English Lit classes and being introduced to feminist literary theory, from sites like The Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives, and from more liberal friends than I had in high school. I went from being “pro-life” (geeesh I hate that term. Of course I don’t like death.) to pro-choice, from conservamoderate to social liberal, from against gay marriage to for it. I don’t always own up to my ideas because I still have very conservative friends and a very conservative father who I’ll be living with again this summer, but I’m sure I’ll start talking more about my beliefs this summer. Should be interesting. Might get myself into trouble, but I’ll get over it. It’s part of who I am, now.

  10. Conifer says:

    I definitely became a feminist in high school, but it wasn’t until after college, when I was pregnant with my second kid, that I started really applying it to the church seriously. Some days I wish I hadn’t, because there’s certainly no going back.

  11. Caroline says:

    I was interested in gender issues from a young age. I remember passing by a church when I was about 12 and being shocked that the sign outside mentioned “Pastor Martha Graham.” Women could be pastors in other churches! Women could lead congregations! I hadn’t understood that before, and it felt immediately right to me. I then went to church and began wondering why girls couldn’t pass the sacrament.

    I remember reading a book as a young teen — I think it was the Laura Ingalls Wilder one where Laura gets married — where the main character insisted they take the word “obey” out of the marriage ceremony. That seemed so right to me. I was anxious because I didn’t know if MOrmon ceremonies used that kind of language. I asked my YW leader. She hesitated and said no. I felt a bit betrayed by her answer later when I found out what happened in the temple.

    In high school, I was also really affected by Ibsen’s play “The Doll’s House.” I was so intensely satisfied by the ending in which this infantilized wife decides to leave her marriage and find herself. How it resonated. I adopted the term feminist pretty early — in my teens, I’m sure.

    • Amelia says:

      Caroline, do you remember when you asked your YW leader about the “obey” thing? I believe the temple ceremony changed the “obey” to “hearken” in the early 90s so you may have been asking that question right about the time that language shifted, which could account for getting a not great answer. I don’t know if the sealing ceremony ever included the word “obey” or not. I dislike the sealing as it currently stands so intensely that I decided long ago that I would be just fine not being sealed in the temple. Now I sort of proactively prefer the idea of an interfaith marriage, though were the right Mormon man to come along I’d at least give him a chance. 😉 Even were I marrying a Mormon man, I wouldn’t want to get sealed first. I’d rather be married in a ceremony that resonates as truly celebratory and equitable, neither of which the sealing ordinance is in my mind.

      • Caroline says:

        Yes, I bet I asked that question right around 92 when I was 14 or 15. The recent language change could have affected her answer, it’s true. But I figured she knew what I wanted to know, and gave me an answer that was technically true, but not truthful. Whether the obedience idea came in the sealing ceremony or the endowment ceremony or wherever, I wanted to know about it. Oh well, the poor woman had a split second to figure out what to do. She took the easy way out, which is understandable.

  12. Naismith says:

    I was converted to feminism in high school, having been assigned to read the Feminine Mystique and tired of sexist policies (girls weren’t allowed to wear pants or take shop class).

    But I became a non-feminist later, when I realized that feminism did not have all the answers, either. After our second child was born.

  13. Madame Curie says:

    What a great question! I would say that my interest in feminism started sometime in high school, although I can’t pinpoint an exact moment. I went to an all-girls high school, and there was a lot of focus there on the importance of women in academics. I was annoyed that there wasn’t more focus on mathematics and science my senior year, whereas the boys’ school nearby offered AP classes in pretty much every science and Calc B/C. That was where I started noticing a real discrepancy.

    Noticing the differences took a decided turn towards changing the system in college, when I joined the Society of Women Engineers.

  14. LovelyLauren says:

    I’m only 20 and I’m pretty sure I’ve used the feminist moniker since I was about nine. Seriously, I did a class report on Susan B. Anthony and looked up the suffragettes in every history book I had. All of my reports on famous people were famous women. I remember covering Helen Keller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well.

    (Okay, maybe nine is an exaggeration, but I was definitely calling myself a feminist by the time I was 14).

    I hated achievement days and wanted to be in cub scouts and the first time I asked why women didn’t have the priesthood, I’m pretty sure I was still I primary. When I was in YW I challenged the lessons constantly and was always bothered that I seemed to be held to a higher standard than the doofy boys in my ward when they had all responsibility.

    My indignation began young.

  15. annon says:

    Traditional Mormon marriage has brought out the long emerging feminist within. I grew tired of my husband (whom I love dearly) criticizing me for “pawning off our kids” as I took them to a very loving babysitter so I could work a few hours a week. It is also annoying feeling like my education isn’t valued as highly because I am not the bread winner. For years my husband fostered a caustic, unhealthy, pornography addiction while dogmatically serving as the Elder’s Quorum president, and Young Men’s president. While I’m careful not to generalize my experience, I think both in our LDS homes, and in public meetings women are not respected as they should and as a culture we seem to be cluelessly missing the boat.

  16. maria says:

    My concerns about gender inequality began to really chafe at me while I was a missionary. The period of time I was teaching at the MTC afterwards was also pretty rough.

    But, hands down, my experiences while the wife of a bishop (age 25 to 31) cemented my identity as a feminist.

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