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 Melissa Cole.
My name is Melissa Cole. I’m a proud Boisean and a rather ashamed Idahoan I am happily married and mom to a one year old, Dekan, who is wicked smart and always making me laugh. He loves playing with babies and dolls, cooking, basketball, sparkly things, and dancing so I think I’m pretty ok at feminist parenting so far. I serve as a 2nd counselor in the YW presidency of my ward and I love it. Who else gets to serve the Lord and go LARPing at the same time?
I’m highly uneducated, as I’m a two time dropout from Timberline High School and Boise State University. That does not deter me from studying in social justice, plant and human biology, environmental science, carpentry, and art. I’m very skilled with my hands. In my spare time, I like to bike with my husband, upcycle junk, garden, and play mandolin/guitar/ukulele. I have just started getting into slam poetry, a hobby of my husband’s that I appreciate.
I was born in the middle of two brothers and a horde of boy cousins, so I played the way they did and had a hard time getting the Disney princess craze or basically any “girl stuff” as a kid. I never outgrew my hate for makeup and fashion, even though it meant I went on a whopping zero dates in high school. In order to hang onto my self esteem, I told myself that I wasn’t less of a woman for not conforming to gender stereotypes, but I was more of a woman for not needing to use my boobs for attention. I was obviously internalizing some of the sexist messages I was marinating in on the daily. Thankfully, with a little help from the good people at the Anasazi Foundation, I got over my perceived superiority and began to see others as human beings equal to myself.
My mom was an incredibly strong woman. She did everything two parents normally do, but she did it while battling chronic pituitary tumors and Cushing’s disease. Having an example of a woman that appeared to have no limitations showed me how senseless gender roles are. Our family had a lot of difficulties in life, but her faith never wavered. I look back on my young self and wonder how I ever made it through all of the struggles, but then I remember I always had her example and my testimony of the gospel pulling me forward. Scripture study was a source of great strength to me, and after each new obstacle was overcome, I was able to believe that there was someone watching out for me. I’m able to see the Lord’s hand in my past more clearly than I’ve ever learned how to see it in my present, but knowing that helps keep me going.
As I aged into a singles ward, priesthood leadership more frequently consisted of my peers, and it was more apparent to me that the problems caused by an unequal division of labor desperately needed to be- and could be- dealt with. The 2012 election seemed to really exacerbate the cultural issues with the church, and my discomfort pushed me into activism. I think I dragged my baby to more marches on the state capitol than I did to ward activities. I found Young Mormon Feminists after my mom showed me the post (https://youngmormonfeminists.org/2013/03/17/confronting-the-naked-facts-of-male-immodesty-one-kneecap-at-a-time/) It really hit us both. I remember laughing to tears and then talking about it for hours. How could we really not see how harmful and bizarre the messages women get from church and American culture are? I started becoming more aware of the importance of feminism in my faith. I started participating in YMF on facebook and got hooked! I love it when people start speaking their truths and I’m all over here like
<) )╯ooh preach it
( (> ooh preach it
<) )> ooohh
I am learning a lot and becoming a better feminist, so I’m very grateful for that space. I can never read enough links. This gets my justice complex into trouble when it comes to things like politics and church history, but so far it has not consumed me enough to seek therapy. My husband laughed and told me the other day that I am a personified sword of Gryffindor, plunging into even the most toxic and corrosive material to re-emerge with only what adds to my strength. This is probably what allows me to sit through any cascade of utter crap at church without killing anyone…well, that and having easy access to articles about Pope Francis.
My favorite scripture is Romans 15:4. It reads,
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
I take comfort in the scriptures, especially the accounts of Jesus’ ministry. He stood up to the religious establishment of His day and taught the importance of charity above traditions. I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I recognize now that the church as we know it is not as closely aligned with the gospel as it could be. The God of scripture has always needed people willing to challenge the status quo and ope n hearts to new truth. It is difficult to weather sometimes, but I am determined to stay and try to be the change I wish to see in the LDS church. I would like to see a church that ordains women, fostering gender equality in both word and deed. I crave more knowledge regarding Heavenly Mother. I would like to see the culture shift and be more accepting of questions and discussion, rather than emphasizing trickle-down spirituality. I would like to see the leadership step up and work to heal the wounds problematic teachings and policies have caused. I believe it is time to widen the stakes, and I feel compelled to work on creating room for more kinds of people here. I think unapologetically being myself and being honest about what I believe allows others to feel more comfortable doing the same. I try to be a member missionary by treating others as Christ would have, so that they may know the joy that comes from experiencing true charity and seek to provide it for others as well. I’m not very good at it, but I haven’t stoned any prophets yet so I think there is still hope for me. I’m just trying to be a better me so that I can be more useful around here… feminism is helping, and that’s probably all you need to know about that.