Sunday Spotlight is a series where we 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 Jennifer.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a 24-year-old San Francisco Bay Area native currently living near Washington, DC, where I work for a nonprofit that administers a State Department foreign policy mission. I graduated from BYU two years ago with a bachelor’s in International Relations and French Studies, and I miss school like crazy, but I’m still not sure exactly what I’d study were I to go back. I love books, the internet, leisurely dinner conversations, long road trips, and anything else that lends itself to effective communication.
2. What events or issues led to your feminist awakening or consciousness?
Recently, I’ve been asked quite often why I feel the need to identify as a feminist. Surely as a person interested in equality and human dignity for all, I can identify as a humanist, and as a religious person I can focus on Christ’s message of love. I don’t deny the importance of these parts of my worldview, and the concept of Christian love (or charity), in particular, informs everything I believe and hope to become. However, I simply can’t deny that women are not regarded as equal to men in the church, in American culture, and in many other places throughout the world–and so I feel a need to identify as a feminist, as well.
As a teenager I considered myself a feminist by default: I could see how life had gotten better for women in the past, and I assumed that the general trend would continue as the world and the people in it moved forward, which seemed, of course, like a good thing. It was more difficult, though, to recognize which of the social norms from my own time were harmful and limiting, not to mention how and why I should become involved in breaking them. Most of the feminist issues I care most about now were simply outside the scope of my experience then.
My feminist awakening, then, was the realization that I did not live in a vacuum, and that my actions would always influence cultural change in one direction or another. When Proposition 8 passed in California, I had to face this truth for the first time: with the ban on same-sex marriage a reality, I regretted my decision to stand with the Church on the issue, and could only feel guilty about the summer afternoon I’d spent walking door-to-door in my hometown in California handing out Yes on 8 fliers. In the years since then, I have been working on building up the courage to more fully and honestly express and apply my personal moral values even when they appear to contradict official church policy, with more faith in the validity of the personal revelation I receive.
My feminist consciousness has also grown stronger as I’ve taken dating more seriously over the past few years. The self-sufficiency, honesty and vulnerability necessary for healthy dating relationships helped me articulate, develop and strengthen my beliefs and goals. Building relationships of all kinds with a variety of people, and taking the time to listen to their equal variety of opinions, has helped me identify and reason through ideas that resonate with me and further understand why certain other ideas don’t.
3. Looking forward, what changes do you hope for, and how do you plan to personally participate in those changes or being ready for them?
My greatest hope for change in the Church is to see the same leadership positions open to both men and women. One relatively straightforward way to accomplish this goal would be the extension of priesthood authority to women. Because holding the priesthood is a prerequisite to most leadership positions in the church–and, more to the point, a prerequisite to all leadership positions with power to effect significant policy change in the church through stewardship to receive revelation for mixed-gender groups of people, from local ward bodies to the entire body of the church–we’re building the kingdom of God in a male-dominated organization, and understanding all revelatory statements that apply to the Church as a whole as they come through the voices of men. I’m not convinced that ordaining women to the priesthood is the only solution to this problem, but it’s a great place to start the conversation. I believe that we as members of the Church have a responsibility to support, sustain, and pray for our leaders, which includes letting them know what we need. That is how I see myself participating in changes: by perpetuating conversations I find important, whether in personal settings, ecclesiastical interviews, or in broader forums as I feel comfortable participating in them.
4. Who’s your feminist icon/role model/favorite feminist person?
At the moment, bell hooks. I like that she writes toward a defined and cohesive feminist movement with enough nuance to create affirming spaces for everybody. My Mormon feminist role model is Carol Lynn Pearson, because of her many examples of unconditional, Christlike love.
5. What would you say to people who are new to Mormon feminism?
It’s okay to sift through new ideas at your own pace, and your feminist awakening doesn’t necessarily have to look like those of your feminist role models or peers. I think it’s important to keep an open mind: I’ve been influenced by a wide range of feminists, in name or philosophy, secular and religious, some of whom I disagree with vehemently on many issues. There isn’t a set linear journey to feminism, and I’m learning not to be surprised to find out that people in my life who don’t identify as feminists have given thoughtful consideration to feminist issues. Above all, it’s important to keep the conversation going.