Sunday Spotlight is a new series where we will profile individuals in the Young Mormon Feminists community to hear their story and get to know them a little better through Q&A or their personal narrative. This week we talked with Maddie Gearheart.
1. What’s your name, what do you do, and what do you want to be doing?
My name is Maddie (or Madeline) Gearheart. I live in Provo, UT, and I work in Orem as a marketing copywriter. I want to be doing so many things it’s hard to pick. But top of the list are building my own small house, traveling, and writing more and better poetry.
2. What led you to identify as a Mormon feminist, and how do you claim that title now?
It’s hard to identify the one thing that ultimately convinced me feminism was “true” (haha), because my awakening has been very gradual. There are at least two things I can remember, though. One was my literature degree. I’ve always been captivated by language, and learning to study words very closely showed me how strongly language both molds and mirrors our social constructs. I think the lack of gender-inclusive language in dominant usage was actually one of the first things that convinced me that there was systemic inequality between men and women.
There was also a turning point in my personal politics/religious orthodoxy that definitely had to do with me claiming feminism: I spent two years working as a tutor at the BYU Writing Center, where my co-workers had interesting, provocative discussions about politics and about Mormonism. Although uncomfortable for me at the time, those conversations increased my desire and ability to ask hard questions and allow myself to think about their answers. Even after I left the Writing Center I would obsess about the conversations we had at the tutor table, and as my views evolved I realized (among many other things) that feminism put a name to a lot of things I’d experienced before without seeing the social construct behind them. I now claim feminism very passionately in my own heart, although sometimes I still shrink in public because of all the stigma that term brings.
A dear friend of mine who was undergoing his own paradigm shifts once asked me why I was a feminist and not a humanist. It’s a great question. I don’t remember what I said then, but now I would say that I actually do claim humanism. But usually, social movements usually provide more momentum for each other rather than competing for attention (intersectionality is the fancy word for it), and since I feel personally disadvantaged by patriarchy, I feel like I will be a more productive humanist if I focus my own efforts on feminism (while always being sensitive to and supportive of the other movements as well).
I claim Mormon feminism specifically because I grew up in the Church and it was/is one of the central contexts of how I experienced life. It was one of the places I experienced patriarchy most potently (I mean, the very word is written into the doctrine). I believe in a much different Mormonism than I used to, but most days I am incredibly invested in helping Mormonism recognize and change inequalities or “differences” that do harm individuals and families.
3. What issue/issues get you riled up most and why?
I have a really difficult time with anything that casts women (whether accidentally or on purpose) as things to be “acted upon” rather than “agents unto themselves.” I validate that not every Mormon woman resonates with this problem, and in fact that not even every female Mormon feminist does. But throughout my life, as I have pursued profound and sacred truths in all the ways the gospel encouraged me to find them, I kept bumping up against this awful feeling that here on earth and in the eternities, women are invisible, supporting characters, accessories, assistants, props for men. Not actors. Not agents. Not equal leaders with men, but only followers. Always second-in-command. Even as goddesses! That message cuts me quick and deep whenever I hear/feel it, and seizing my own agency has been a major theme in my Mormon feminist evolution.
4. What would you say to people new to Mormon feminism?
A. Be braver and more outspoken than I am. But if you can’t be, respect your mental and emotional health, get the support you need, and baby step your way into activism.
B. Feminists are not immune to privilege just because we believe in social justice. Male feminists of course have male privilege, but female feminists can still have white privilege, middle-class privilege, able-bodied privilege, straight privilege, educated privilege, etc., and it’s important to actively inform yourself about that privilege and practice “checking” it even when a member of a less-privileged group is not “in the room.” Also, own your mistakes. If you’re ever called out on a privileged comment, and you backtrack to make yourself look better or stubbornly refuse to reexamine your stance, you’re obstructing the very goal you claim to be working for.