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 Lesa.
So. I’m Lesa. I am a Nutella addict and I refuse to admit it’s a problem.
I hail from the good land called Nebraska – it’s that state in the middle of the country that’s most likely responsible for the food you consume. Several years ago I decided to move to yet another consistently Republican state, the infamous Utah, for my advanced education. I’m about to finish an undergraduate degree in French with minors in International Development and African Studies. I focus a lot of my research on international women’s rights to education and health services, so if/when life turns out the way I planned, you’ll most likely find me working at a fistula hospital in Ethiopia in five years. Or something.
If you’re wondering how much a liberal feminist with communist tendencies is enjoying her time at the Lord’s university, the answer is: I’m in France.
But once my internship is over, I’ll be finalizing my previous responsibilities with BYU and then leaving forever. That’s a promise.
Gloria Steinem once said, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” According to this definition, I have always been a feminist. Never in my childhood did I feel secondary to my three brothers or any other male figure. I grew up with the influences of a heritage of strong-willed, highly educated women and the men that respected them. My family, and more specifically my parents, never made my gender any sort of issue – as far as I was concerned, the only thing that made me different from my male counterparts was how we learned to pee.
As far as coming to a concrete revelation in later years that I indeed was a feminist, I had to endure the three steps of feminist conversion that I have made up but seem totally valid.
My first negative gender experiences arose around the time I hit puberty. The girls my age were no longer interested in reading books or climbing trees; I had to gain new wisdom from magazines and school gossip in order to fit in, which was very much at odds with my tomboy lifestyle. My body eventually grew into its curves, and, like many women, I slowly learned to compare my body with the unrealistic standards that bombarded me at every turn. It wasn’t long after that I had several emotionally-damaging experiences with sexual harassment, a trend that continued through my high school years and is unfortunately something I still have to deal with regularly, even in the righteous town of Provo, Utah. The early education from my parents taught me that this behavior from others was inherently wrong, but I quickly learned that society at large would give me no voice in the matter.
Those sorts of experiences are just the tip of my feminist iceberg. For many years I felt surrounded by that confusion which eventually produced anger and sometimes even hate for myself and those around me. Being raised in the LDS church only added another dimension to the chaos I could barely understand. I felt a great sense of peace and belonging in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but simultaneously outraged and hurt by Church policies and personal opinions of other members who espoused the doctrine of the Church. I let the latter influence flare my rage, and it eventually led to a period of absence from Church attendance.
With the help of professors, books, and very patient family members and friends, I was able to learn more about my anger. I found out that I was justified in feeling the way I did and I felt validated by the other voices I found that echoed mine. I was able to find words to match my emotions and confidence to stop apologizing for my existence. My anger turned into a driving force that pushes me every day to, as Gandhi poetically phrased it, “be the change [I] want to see in the world.”
Feminism at large has given me identity as a woman and has helped me to understand masculine identity. It has given me purpose and meaning in my life. It has given me the courage to stand up and say, “No, that is wrong.” It has given me the courage to stand up and say, “Yes, this is me and yes, I believe this.” My thoughts and feelings and opinions and hopes and dreams are all valid and real because I am a person and I deserve them. Feminism has taught me that I am equal to everyone, which has shaped the way I treat the people around me. It has helped me grow in my faith and helped me to understand how God sees me and who He wants me to become, and it has helped me to see what God sees in others.
Today I identify as a Mormon feminist. More than just a feminist that happens to be Mormon, I believe that Mormon feminists have a specific responsibility to identify discrimination and marginalization within Church culture that has permeated doctrine and misrepresented the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a Mormon feminist, I am concerned that there are not more leadership positions within the church for women, even when there could be. I am concerned that prescribing gender roles can inhibit men and women from exploring their divine qualities and talents. I am concerned that cultural habits within the church promote inappropriate behaviors and discourage diversity.
I believe that God is there and He loves me. I believe Jesus Christ set a perfect example through his relationships with women, an example that has showed me what I am worth in God’s eyes. I believe these fundamental truths shaped my feminist beliefs into what they are today, and I am proud to be a contributing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
ps. Writing is my hobby. You are more than welcome to check out my blog at lesayoung.blogspot.com, which I quoted in this post for laziness reasons.