Sunday Spotlight is a series where we profile individuals in the Young Mormon Feminists community to hear their stories and get to know them a little better through Q&A or their personal narratives. This week we talked with Leone.
Kia ora koutou,
My name is Leone and flip it took ages to think about and write all this down.
I’m 25 years old, still single for another month and a bit – in March 2014 my fiancé and I will be sealed in the Hamilton New Zealand temple. This past weekend I received my temple endowment. It was an experience. I’m glad my mum was my escort.
Ethnicity-wise, I’m a New-Zealand born Samoan but also claim Pakeha (European) and Maori ancestry (Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa). Sadly, I’m not a fluent Samoan speaker.
I was born into the Church; my parents met at Institute while they were both studying at university; Mum was a government scholarship student from Samoa, Dad was a recent RM from South Auckland (read: the hood) and they got married two or three years later in the temple in Apia, Samoa.
Both my parents work; my dad is a high school teacher and my mum is a university lecturer who just recently received her Ph.D in Pasifika Education. I turned out okay. I love my parents. Both sides of my extended family have placed an emphasis on pursuing higher education while marriage seemed to be a case of ‘ok well if it happens, it happens; temple marriage is the ideal — but no pressure’.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2010, majoring in English literature and Art History. Within those two majors I gravitated towards the juicy topics: women’s studies, indigenous identity issues, art from the Pacific diaspora, post-colonial theory, visual representation of Maori and Pacific people. I’m interested in issues that affect Maori and Pacific people in New Zealand.
At the moment, I’m studying a Graduate Diploma in business part time while I work at Auckland Museum in the library department.
What makes you a [Brown] Feminist?
Do I believe that all people (Men, Women, humans in general) are entitled to equal rights and opportunities? That we all have the right to choose who we want to be and how we want to live our lives? Yes! A thousand times yes! Cool, so that’s my starting point for my feminism, and it’s a work in progress as I come to a clearer understanding of how and why those rights and opportunities have been denied to basically everyone who isn’t straight white and male, and how to act to change it.
It baffles me why Feminism is the big scary F word. Past its basic and essential definition, the beauty of it is that its fluid and every individual can choose how they want to do it according to their own life experiences. The guaranteed end product people get from feminism is empowerment, for themselves and others. I feel I’m doing it right when the following becomes second nature: I’m asking questions; I’m practising not taking things at face value; I’m educating myself on why something is off; I’m calling out instances of injustice and unfairness, prepared to defend/develop my viewpoint against criticism; I’m listening to others, and validating the lived experiences of others different from me.
In saying that, my feminism is inextricably linked to my being a young Pacific Island woman. I’m still figuring this part out, but I want to develop my feminism in a way that reflects my ethnic and cultural Pasifika identity and is relevant to issues that affect this community specifically. Point is, there’s room in Feminism to do this, and there’s a need for it.
What makes you [still want to be] a Mormon?
This is the church I was born and raised in. The gospel and the church have shaped my life experiences from birth. I have seen how the gospel has been able to bless and turn people’s lives around. There was a period of three or four years when I switched off attending church because I couldn’t see the point – it wasn’t doing anything spiritually for me, same rote lessons, I was a bum on a chair every week. I’d moved up from Youth to YSA at that point. Basically the issue was I’d been coasting on my parents and depending on their testimonies and hadn’t bothered to find out for myself. I’ve had a few sweet and tender spiritual experiences since then, and I feel good about continuing to learn in the gospel, work towards being a better Christian, and develop my own little testimony from inside the church. Plus, President Uchtdorf, Jesus, and our Heavenly Parents all want me here, who am I to turn the invitation down.
What makes you a [Brown] Mormon feminist?
I was a teenager when I somehow stumbled upon the Feminist Mormon Housewifes blog, my first look into what Mormon feminism looked like. It intrigued me that this forum seemed to a mix of active members and inactive members engaging in really robust, straight up discussion about church-related grey areas. I’ve followed and participated in the Young Mormon Feminists Facebook forum for a few months now and it’s been a great disruptive/constructive experience. Much empowerment. So wow. I feel like I’ve been learning a lot and have been able to practice lots of what I mentioned earlier – listening, arguing clearly, opening up my mind to others’ experiences in the online setting and in real life too.
While I profess a desire to keep the gospel in my life, here’s a brief list of things in LDS church culture that just don’t sit well with me at all:
- Awful, heinous, enraging Law of Chastity object lessons.
- Outward dress policing.
- LDS dating culture.
- Always getting asked: “Why aren’t you married yet?”
- Benevolent racism in the church
- Benevolent sexism in the church
- Most chapters of the Eternal Marriage Institute handbook
- The static culture-for-sale premise of the Polynesian Cultural Centre, at BYU-H
- That phrase ‘In the world, not of the world’
I know it’s possible to worship and increase my spirituality without those things. I know it’s possible to grow my own testimony, practice my own personal agency, but still identify real faults of the institution without having my own faith and membership being brought into question.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Raising feminist children, strengthening a loving marriage based on equal partnership, owning my own business, being happy.
What’s your take away message for all of us?
I love the YMF community! More please.