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 Holly Huff.
What’s your name, what do you do, and what do you want to be doing?
My name is Holly Huff. I grew up State College, PA, though I have learned to love my Utah roots. I am the oldest child in my family, and I have three younger brothers. I currently live in Provo, UT, where I’m majoring in American studies with a minor in women’s studies at BYU. I’m about to begin my fourth year of school this fall. I’m passionate about development work and cultural inquiry, and I love any chance I get to talk about big ideas with interesting and thoughtful people. I’m pretty into good soup and floral dresses.
What led you to identify as a Mormon feminist, and how do you claim that title now?
When I turned 12 and entered YW, I underwent a 6-year barrage of lessons about the unmatchable importance of temple marriage and motherhood for women. Though I had a mix of leaders that included some wonderful role models, I took away a clear message that my worth resided in my relationships to men: to priesthood leaders, to a future husband, to the sons I would raise to be church leaders, to a Heavenly Father.
I have been uncomfortable with the roles of women as prescribed by the Church for as long as I can remember. For years, I thought I was the problem—I was too proud and stubborn to accept God’s will. I believed that God had made things to be this way, and any inequalities I chafed at were divinely appointed and an indication of the true value of men and women. Recognizing that my ambitions did not fit within the church narrative for women, I internalized many sexist attitudes. If women didn’t pursue their dreams or accomplish great tasks, I didn’t want to be like other women.
As I began college, I found a friend who had similar concerns, and I began to claim the label of feminism. (I remember adamantly asserting that I was a feminist for the first time in a Spanish conversation class, where my inferior language ability stripped away the connotations of the word.) Through the classes I took and the new people I befriended, I became more sure of my own convictions. For the first time, I considered that God did not approve of the inequality I saw in the church. I began to value things I had previously written off as feminine and therefore weak, including emotional strength, aversion to violence, and family life.
Around this time I began a serious faith transition after engaging with church history for the first time in a meaningful way. It was an incredibly painful process, and it is still difficult for me to see the enormity of the task before those of us who have high hopes for Mormonism, but I have found a lot of peace in calling things as they are and ceasing to make my ambitions fit within the restricted sphere often set before me at church. Most importantly, I am convinced that God is not a perpetrator of this inequality, and that assurance is worth everything to me.
What issues are you most passionate about related to Mormon feminism?
Though there are many things that can set me off, I get particularly angsty when it comes to the history of female blessing. Mormon women used to give blessings of healing and comfort. The church’s retraction of this gift of the spirit really grieves me. I want to see women call upon the powers of heaven for those that they love.
Briefly, a few of my other concerns: We need to see female leaders through the entire church administration. Those voices and decision-makers and role models are vital. And we have got to stop framing women as the guardians of sexuality. Women’s bodies are not pornography! Gender roles are the worst: we can contribute to our families and wards in whatever way is most meaningful and suited to us, regardless of sex.
How do you handle attending BYU as a Mormon feminist?
At the height of my distress about church, I thought I would have to transfer to another school. Attending a church university seemed deceptive. I felt like people made immediate assumptions about me and my values based on my presence at BYU, and I was no longer comfortable being part of this student body. I can’t say it’s totally comfortable now, but I’m not nearly so worried about it. In part, this has come as I’ve sought out like-minded friends. I love the women’s studies minor, where I’ve met many of these people! Truly a haven of sanity on campus.
When it comes to classes, I’m very picky about professors; I will read their CVs if I’m on the fence. During class discussion, where I hear many comments that begin with, “Well, as we all know” I try to be mindful of when it is important for me to make a comment. I no longer feel like I have to constantly voice my objections— I have the confidence in my own opinions to be silent at times. But I will speak up when I judge it necessary.
Also, counseling. I love the BYU Counseling Center (Public service announcement: their services are free to full-time students, and they are wonderfully sensitive about church stuff). I’ve found great support there for the serious depression I experienced as I worked through my faith transition.
So I’m handling it, though it is hard. But just as I don’t want other people to presuppose they know me, I’ve learned not to make that assumption about other people. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people who are open-minded and accepting. I try to think of it as an exercise in finding commonalities with people who hold very different opinions than I do.