Guest post by Lydia
It wasn’t feminism that began my journey into the wilds of what the Mormon “bloggernacle” often terms a “faith transition.” It was the question of gay marriage that bothered me. Thanks to the examples of the many wonderful gay Mormon people that I witnessed trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, I found myself increasingly conflicted about the Mormon church and my own role within it. I wondered, “why not leave?” I thought that it would be much easier to transition away from the LDS church than to remain and fight for something that seemed to be impossible according to the dictates of the church: a healthy, happy life that followed the church’s focus on families and other positive aspects of doctrine and embraced homosexuality. I spent more and more time researching these questions, beginning with the blog By Common Consent, and eventually finding a group called “Young Mormon Feminists,” where I found likeminded people who were dedicated to the Mormon church but openly critical of some of its policies, the very same policies that I found so objectionable.
The Young Mormon Feminists were a window into a slew of other questions about the church that alternately infuriated and paralyzed me. I wanted to leave, to stop thinking about the messy aspects of Joseph Smith’s polygamy practice and Boyd K. Packer’s distressing thoughts about homosexuality. But I was still at BYU, studying the one subject I ever really cared about (Russian literature) and building a life for myself in Provo, UT. I was stuck, I was frustrated, and I was angry and scared of expressing any discontent.
As I entered into frank discussions with my peers on these topics and many more, I began to recognize how disadvantaged and hurt so many women were by the church that they were raised in and dedicated their lives to. I recognized how my own upbringing had shaped the way I viewed myself as a woman, the things I valued in myself, and the expectations that I held for myself. I realized that I had always assumed, despite rarely dating in high school or college, that I would never really have to work or build a career for myself because I would be able to rely on my future husband, preferably an RM, to care for me and support our children. Then and now, I can’t even imagine myself having children! But still, since before I entered the Young Women program I had built up these expectations of what my life was going to look like, what my life should look like, and I was devastated when my expectations of marriage went off rail when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend.
Feminism, especially the feminism that I’d read about all through high school as a Jezebel devotee, had always made sense to me outside of my Mormonism, but within the church I found myself focusing on the incompatibility of feminist action with church structures, doctrine, and culture. Feminism worked outside of the church, sure, but within the church I was trapped in my “gender role” and stifled by the various expectations (modesty, attractiveness, inherent female spirituality and capacity to nurture) that were taught in my home ward and reinforced when I got to BYU.
So I found myself, at the beginning of my last year of college, expecting to wait out my time at BYU, then get out of Provo and experience the world outside of Mormonism. Then, somehow, I ended up spending more and more time with the Young Mormon Feminist group members and hearing unique, individual experiences of faith, confusion, frustration, and redemption related to the church. It was especially exciting when I found women articulating exactly how I felt about inequalities within the church, as in one inspired “Ask a Feminist” post on the Women Advocating for Voice and Equality website, when the author listed reasons for feeling inequality within the church and included: “I feel unequal because men conduct, men preach, men speak. Men teach us how to be women.”
The wave of feminist activism that crashed into Mormonism during the “Mormon Moment” of the past year and a half was especially inspiring to me. At first, I was frightened by the thought of participating in protests that affected the church. I was uncomfortable with the idea of making sacrament meeting a place for making a political statement. But when I realized that such an action was making so many people so angry at women for making an absolutely innocuous fashion choice, I decided to participate. I planned to wear pants on December 16 (although I didn’t end up doing it, for personal reasons.) I also attended the first public meeting of the Ordain Women movement during April 2013 General Conference. I support the online petition “All Are Alike Unto God” that urges general authorities to take non-doctrinal steps to encourage gender equality within the church. I credit amazing, dedicated feminist friends for encouraging and facilitating my participation in these events, which helped me to realize how deeply connected I feel to the LDS church, which remains the most important institution to have influenced my life and the lives of most of my family and friends.
Even though I felt deeply uncomfortable with many aspects of the church, the feminist activism that I was able to participate in helped me to find a place for myself in the church. Of course, this place was very different from the one I expected for myself throughout my youth; marriage is still not high on my list of priorities, and I am especially hesitant to raise children in a society that I perceive as deeply, perhaps irrevocably, sexist and limiting. But it was still my place, one where I found love and acceptance and deep faith that coexisted with confusion and disappointment.
Right now, I can’t defend Mormonism, due to many faults that I perceive within the church that limit women, harm gay people, and contribute to patriarchy in millions of ways, large and small. But I can’t leave Mormonism, either, even though I once assumed that leaving would be inevitable. There are many like me; I know because I’ve spoken with them personally, listened to them at the Sunstone Symposium, and read their blogs and articles. Finding a feminist voice in a patriarchal structure is enormously difficult; but that is the challenge that I want to embrace throughout my life. That’s why I need feminism: it helps me to recognize the strength that I have to believe in something so problematic and to navigate its inconsistencies with an open heart. I need feminism to help me recognize the many problems that I see with the church, and then to provide the tools and support that I need to find my place in the midst of those problems. I believe that in the absence of feminism, my connection to Mormonism, the faith of my fathers, would be dead.