by Hannah Wheelwright
I’ve always been a feminist. I just didn’t know it yet.
In the last semester of my senior year at my all-girls boarding school, my English teacher curiously asked the class if we considered ourselves feminists. Many of us shifted uncomfortably in our seats, anticipating the twinge of generational disagreement we expected our answers would cause.
“Well…not really. I mean I know women are equal. Just…” said one girl.
“Just WHAT?” my teacher cut in promptly, with an exasperated tone.
I tried to explain. “I mean we all know women are equal, but so many feminists seem like their message is that men are pigs and women are these superior beings. I know women who were denied the vote would get frustrated and rightfully so, but there just isn’t a need for that kind of attitude nowadays. Honestly sometimes I think I might be an anti-feminist.”
Today, I am ashamed that those words ever left my mouth, much less formed in my mind as a coherent response to the occasional extremes of feminism. I repeat now what my teacher said then: “If you believe women and men should have equal rights, you are a feminist. There’s no way around that. It’s that simple.”
I was the only Mormon at my school, and hadn’t come to terms with my own unique feminist plight yet. I was just another activist liberal, new to the feminist scene compared to the legacies of heroines whose stories were my bread and butter, fed to me by passionate mentors at my all-girls school. I remember frequently whining to my friends that I did not appreciate having feminism shoved down my throat. Now all I can think of when I remember those complaints is the quote by Alyssa Rosenberg: “I am sorry people are so tired of me writing about misogyny. I occasionally get tired of living in a world defined by it.”
Coming to BYU was what made me realize everything I had thought or assumed about the feminist movement was wrong. I saw every stereotype about women placing the entirety of their self-worth on their status as a wife and mother, women accepting men as superior beings in both intellect and spirituality, women accepting the extent of their accomplishments in life to be restricted to their abilities to procreate. Having spent three years of high school immersed in the infuriating stories of women who fought valiantly for their liberties, I was enraged to see women actively perpetuating such limitations.
While I appreciate that not all women share the same opinions and ideals that I do, I feel that there is a gap of misunderstanding. When a stay at home mom feels that her motherhood is being viciously debased and invalidated by feminists who solely champion the achievements of working moms, we need change. When young girls are taught from Beehives, to Miamaids, to Laurels that they should keep their list of perfect husband traits close by at all times and develop only the talents that will aide them in securing and wedding that husband, we need change. When those same girls are assaulted and made to believe that they are no longer virtuous and are like a board with nails torn out of it, or a used car, or a wilted flower, we need change. When girls are taught that their self-worth is plainly visible to be judged based on their apparel, we need change. When women and men do not enjoy equal status in an institution, and the women’s cries for equality are ignored, put down, or vilified, we need change.
When a trembling woman looks up into the heavens and fearfully articulates the question burning in her heart, about whether Heavenly Father really cares just as much about his daughters as his sons, and why He has allowed so much injustice to rage around the world both inside and outside of the restored LDS Church, we need greater understanding. As with all revelation in this dispensation, starting with Joseph Smith’s first prayer, we must ask for that understanding, from ourselves, from each other, and from God.