Guest post by Michaela Peringer
As most Mormon feminists know, ‘feminism’ has become somewhat of a four-letter word in many Mormon circles. And, as most Mormon feminists know, there’s no real reason for that. In my experience, having lived in and out of the BYU bubble for the past several years, defending feminism in the church has come to mean defending gender equality against the incessant line of “Yeah, but…”s in Mormon orthodoxy.
You can imagine the situation. Someone says something offensive. Not wanting to let the matter go unchecked, you speak up and tactfully expose the offending party to the inherent sexism in what they said. And they come back with one of many “Yeah, but…” excuses. “Yeah, but men have the priesthood so they should have more power in their homes.” ”Yeah, but women are supposed to use their education to help them raise children, not replace their husbands as the primary wage-earners.” “Yeah, but if God intended for women to have the priesthood, He would have given it to them by now.” And the infamous, “Yeah, but you know what I mean.”
Defending Mormon feminism against these hordes of arguments can be exhausting. While logic and most LDS doctrine leads to the conclusion that men and women are equal and ought to be treated as such, centuries of sexist practices and customs that would suggest otherwise have been engrained into many facets of Mormon culture. Unfortunately, these hints of sexism can be found in most corners of our homes, classes, and chapels, and their pervasiveness is something that can’t be ignored. Confronting sexist behavior is one thing, but how can you prepare yourself for the string of “Yeah, but…”s to follow?
To overcome the trap, you have to understand how it’s set up. As Mormons, we are used to the thought of being a “peculiar people,” and we teach our youngest members to stand against opposition in defense of our, what the world would call ‘strange,’ beliefs. Fighting for what we know is right is what we do as a church. It’s what our prophets and leaders have done. It’s what our founders did. It’s what we’re told to do from childhood. Learn about your faith, pray for your testimony, and defend it with everything you’ve got! It’s no wonder so many of our LDS brothers and sisters, and so many of us as Mormon feminists, are adamant in standing up for our beliefs, especially in the face of opposition. We were bred to do this. When we come across an interpretation of doctrine that is different from our own, we may be quick to recoil from it for fear that it might be of the Adversary. This is a defense mechanism that develops naturally for some members of the church; others, not so much.
As a given, no matter how well-intentioned a “Yeah, but…” may be, there is no excuse for sexism. But once you realize that your unyielding defense of Mormon feminism is tied to the same principles as their unyielding defense against it, you can come to understand how to shape a more compelling rebuttal to each argument you come across. In defense of our common faith, we Mormon feminists must be willing to engage in thoughtful discussions with our brothers and sisters in support of gender equality, within and out of the church, without allowing the offensive nature of these statements to impede on our ability to do so. Because of the offensive nature of the “Yeah, but…”s we encounter, it can be easy to respond in a manner proportionate to the offense given. While this might assuage the immediate displeasure of having to defend yourself against such an offender, the greater purpose of helping bring our anti-feminist brothers and sisters to a better understanding of the Mormon feminist cause is too easily ignored.
As Mormon feminists, we must draw from the counsel of Elder Bednar “to act and choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.” By choosing to tactfully push back against “Yeah, but…” excuses for sexism among fellow members of the church, we can create an environment that is conducive to Gospel discussions which will expose people to the reason-based and doctrinally-sound cause of Mormon feminism. At the very least, our conduct in situations such as these might convince someone that Mormon feminists are not the radical group of semi-apostates they once thought we were.
That in itself is cause enough.