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 Riley.
1. Tell us about yourself
Hi! I’m an almost-22-year-old from the very diverse, very exciting Orem, Utah. Usually when people ask me what my hobbies are, I give them a blank stare and then feel bad because I have no hobbies. But the good news is, I do apparently have hobbies but they are really just crying about tv and crying about how much I love my dog Sadie. I’m really passionate about popular culture and how it affects society and while this has amounted to no marketable skills whatsoever, hey, at least I like something. I am also a very anxious, weird person! I have generalized anxiety disorder and depression, which has shaped a lot of who I am (positively and negatively). I’m currently a Communication Studies major with a Women’s Studies minor at BYU, where I feel very out of place, but we do what we gotta do to survive. I would also like to take this time to once again plug how great my dog Sadie is. She is the best dog of all dogs. Thank you for your time.
2. What makes you a Feminist?
Growing up, I struggled to balance feelings of anxiety and religious guilt with my feminist/generally liberal leanings. I went to a predominantly Mormon high school and I was very involved in seminary et al, and because of the way feminism was regarded by my peers and by individuals who are in positions of authority over me, I would have never openly identified as a feminist at that time. However, even if I wasn’t able to label myself as such until college, I’ve always felt that the issues feminism addressed were crucial and really affected me. Now that I’ve grown up a little and discovered who I actually am, I’m more of a bra-burning hippie liberal and if high school-me could see college-me, she would probably be really scared.
3. What makes you a Mormon?
My relationship with Mormonism is very complicated right now. Even though I’m comfortable with how I feel about Mormonism and don’t mind talking about it, I am still enrolled in BYU and so I can’t go into as much detail as I’d like to protect my academic status.
The way I practiced Mormonism during my adolescence was really unhealthy; I let obsessive compulsions and anxiety dominate how I viewed religion, but because it made me more outwardly spiritual, or whatever, I thought it was just how things were supposed to be. I was very much a letter of the law type of person, but only because I was afraid God would hate me if I didn’t do things exactly right. From age 12 to 18, I only missed about 5 total days reading my scriptures, which I thought was a good thing, but now I can recognize that I was only reading my scriptures every day because I had been told that good people do that, that’s what God wants from you, etc.
I genuinely thought if I didn’t read my scriptures, if I didn’t go to early morning seminary devotionals, if I didn’t pray morning and night, if I chose to do homework on Sundays, that Heavenly Father would hate me. Everything that I was doing sounded good on paper and it won the approval of a lot of church leaders, but I still spent so many nights during high school sobbing because I really didn’t want to read my scriptures but I wanted God to still be able to love me.
I went through an intense period of disillusionment during my freshman year at BYU, mainly because of the Book of Mormon courses I was enrolled in. A lot of what I was taught in those classes as gospel truth was fringe doctrine, quotes from early apostles in varying contexts, Brigham Young Journal of Discourses excerpts, Ezra Taft Benson quotes about the ERA etc.
Anyway, I had a really hard time reconciling what I was supposed to believe as truth in those classes with how I actually felt about them. It led to a lot of things that I had heavily relied on as a coping mechanism crumbling down. It was really hard for a while, but I’m in a really good place now.
IN CONCLUSION SORRY THIS IS SO LONG-WINDED. Basically, I have stepped away from a lot of aspects of Mormonism because it aggravated my mental illnesses in a bad way. A lot of aspects of Mormonism have been unhealthy for me, but there are a lot of aspects that I still love, appreciate, and recognize. In order to function as a real life human being, I’ve had to completely revamp my perception of Mormonism and how it fits in with my life, but I’ve pretty much figured it out and feel on good terms with everything as a whole!
4. What makes you a Mormon Feminist?
I think it is so important to reach a point where we, as a church, can accept and recognize that people have issues and doubts, to recognize that there is still so much room for growth as a community. I believe Mormonism and feminism should be and are compatible, but a lot of people are afraid of what that entails for them, which is okay.
I think Mormon Feminism is awesome and necessary because it allows us to take charge of our religiosity and paves the way for others to do so as well. It is so important because it means bringing church culture to a point where it isn’t so scary for fellow church-goers to be questioning things, to demand changes. It allows individuals to be held accountable for the missteps they’ve made, and move forward and learn from those experiences. It allows Mormonism to adapt and change in important social ways without necessarily compromising its core tenets. It allows me to reconcile my problems with the church. It allows me to have a place within the church, and it allows me to do so without spending empty, hollow nights sobbing in my bed because I’m afraid I’m not good enough. Mormon Feminism gives me the power to be good enough.
5. How do you think we, as Mormon Feminists, can improve?
I think that it is so, so important to make sure that we are practicing intersectional feminism. I have been raised steeped in privilege that I don’t often recognize, and I think that’s probably true for the large majority of mainstream feminism, which tends to be white feminism. For me, making sure that the feminism I practice is intersectional means always being open to listening, learning, and changing my perceptions. It means recognizing and acknowledging the way my privilege has affected how I practice feminism, and recognizing the shortcomings that potentially come with that. It means making sure that I don’t speak over others in discussions I, as a white middle-class woman, don’t have a space in. So I think that’s something I always need and want to be working on.
6. Anything else?
Not really! I often feel like I can’t articulate my thoughts in the way I’d like to, so sorry if this ended up as a hot mess of a blog post. Today, I am going to church, and going to church is hard a lot of the time. Sometimes reflecting on my relationships with the church is difficult and makes me sad, so I’d like to end with a poem that always helps me get through tough things:
The Thing Is Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
In case you needed further convincing that Sadie is spectacular: