On the evening of this past Women’s Equality Day (August 26th 2013), I sat in a Buddhist temple in Salt Lake City (pictured above). The smell of incense made me feel like I was breathing in reverence, and I was enthralled by the striking beauty of the gold figures and artwork before me. It was night and day from my traditional LDS worship experience.
An outstanding woman, Pastor Monica Hall, spoke at this event, which was an interfaith prayer service to conclude the day of fasting for gender justice in all religions. Her words carried power; it felt like, to borrow a phrase from Tender is the Night (forgive the cliché), she sent her words to me like letters, as though they had left her some time before they reached me. She was bold, unapologetic, and full love and confidence. You can read more about this event here: I am referenced as the speaker who was moved to tears at the very sight of a woman conducting the meeting.
Pastor Hall made one statement, one phrase really, that was embedded so beautifully in her eloquent remarks that it caught me like wind in my chest. She was talking about “creating resistance to power that excludes.”
I was overwhelmed at that moment, because I feel very strongly that this is the perfect expression for my own life: to create resistance to power that excludes. To recognize when people are being left out, hurt, trampled, and forgotten- and to advocate for change in the people or institutions that perpetuate systems of exclusion.
Several things have come to a point for me since that night. I’d like to lay out just a few points of my Mormon feminist manifesto, a work in progress:
1. Faith is not something you possess. It is not something you can measure the volume or weight of, not something you can scale: faith is not stagnant. Do not tell me I need more faith as if I can go buy it at the Mormon church with my tithing, scripture reading, and meeting attendance. Faith is an action. Faith is a leap. Faith is desire, hope, a yearning.
2. I want to stop labeling people. There is no binary between choosing to stay in the church or choosing to leave- there is a spectrum of involvement, participation, and belief that is individual, or can be if we are able to manifest our authenticity. There is no binary between TBM (true-believing Mormons) vs progressive Mormons- there is a spectrum of those who identify as Mormons. While labels can in some ways help us to articulate where stand and this is helpful, labels can also drive us apart and cause us to think in dogmatic and oversimplified ways.
Similar to the false dichotomies of in/out of the church and TBM/ProgMo, we women must stop saying we are “not the typical Mormon woman.” A wonderful article from the archives of the Exponent II magazine titled “Requiem for the Typical Mormon Woman” expresses this better than I ever could. Essentially, everyone thinks they are not the typical woman, revealing that we have allowed a standard to be created through experience or through our flawed perceptions (who IS this “typical Mormon woman,” anyways?) that makes us see women as categories, as caricatures, as uniformed objects. We must cease to deny women’s individual, diverse selves; we must cease to flippantly write off women who we assume are robots without identity who are not worth our time, who by other-ing we may place ourselves above them, calling ourselves “not the typical Mormon woman.”
3. There is not a limited amount of beauty or truth, such that we will somehow hit our quota, nor is there one way to access beauty or truth. What is it about beauty in other places and traditions that threatens beauty in ours?
In many ways, I feel that being raised Mormon taught me that there is a codified way to connect with the Divine, which taking a literal interpretation of our church manuals sustains. But as I learn more about myself, about Deity, and about the myriad ways to experience spirituality, I am struck by how comparatively dogged-minded I was- how dry, blank, and quiet so many aspects of my past religious experiences have been. And I think of the times I have felt closest to the sacred- for me personally, they were always when I was singing or producing music, outside among the trees and green, or communing with a friend in their joy or grief. I lament the opportunities to grow in my understanding of God that I missed out on because I was worried about doing so through the “proper channels” and in an “appropriate” way.
4. I believe that “We can do better” is the rallying cry of Mormon feminism. For a religion so saturated with fundamentally hopeful doctrine regarding eternal progression and the power of the Atonement to help us when we fall short, for a church with such a rocky history accompanied by a belief in fallible leaders, for a people who are supposed to bear one another’s burdens – it is heartbreaking to see us insist on silencing one another’s concerns, ignoring potential for improvement, and excluding anyone who thinks differently from us. These do not happen everywhere, nor does everyone participate, but these behaviors and lesser or more extreme versions of them are too common in our wards and leadership across the globe.
“We can do better” is more than a desperately fervent plea- it is an assertion, a declaration, a demand erupting from the scarred, empty, shamed bellies of Mormon women and their allies who hunger for change. It embodies the idea that such change is not only possible but necessary. “We have done better” rises up from the dust of our Mormon foremothers who lobbied for rights, who fought for suffrage, who broke their backs to care for their families and meet the sky-high expectations for them as women. “We will do better” is a statement that includes the speaker in a movement that recognizes the power of working within communities to make things better. We might not agree on what that “better” is, but we must ensure that we contribute to an environment inclusive of all voices, concerns, and viewpoints, so that we can even discuss what “better” would look like.
5. I want to create resistance to power that excludes.
None of this is new. Mormon women have been thinking, feeling, talking about, and taking action for each of these points for almost 200 years. They have not thought or felt or acted alike, but they have participated in this tradition of authentic and honest engagement that engenders self-respect as they have, in ways large and small, loud and quiet, quickly and over time, effected change in their communities and Mormonism as a whole. I hope to carry on this legacy in my own small way.