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 Austin.
As a child, I frequently spent time at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a small neighborhood of duplexes, one of which housed another little girl about my same age, named Crystal. Together we spent most of our time outside, playing in the grass, making up stories about what was on the other side of some large shrubs in my grandmother’s backyard, and collecting piles and piles of giant pinecones that had fallen out of a fir tree in the shared yard between duplexes. What I remember most from that time, though, was playing in a grove of cherry trees nestled just behind Crystal’s house. The trees were perfect climbing trees for children our age, and we climbed them over and over again while making up scenes of being orphaned and/or escaping from predators. I have a distinct memory of one June day, when we decided to try to sell some cherries from the trees. Our fingers and faces were stained bright red with cherry juice as we picked baskets full of the small, round, fruit, and then we made big signs advertising our freshly-picked cherries carefully but artfully, in our first-grade handwriting. When we finished, we hung from the branches of the trees and proudly held up our signs, yelling to cars as they passed and hoping that someone would stop. I don’t remember if anyone ever did, but the memory of our time spent in that grove of trees is sweet, almost sticky, like the juice of those cherries dripping down our plump (still) baby cheeks.
One day my grandmother broke the news to me that one of the cherry trees, our favorite and the best one for climbing, was to be chopped down. I was heartbroken and angered, with all the rage a young child could muster. I asked her what could be done, and she told me that we could talk to the landlord, and that we could also stage a sit-in. After having my grandmother explain to me what a “sit-in” was, I was heartened by the idea of no longer being powerless. Crystal, her younger brother and I set to work making signs on construction paper saying, “Save our tree!” and plotting our grand rescue.
The day the landlord came to talk to my grandmother, my friends and I brought our signs to the grove and stood, facing out, hands clasped around the trunk of our favorite tree. We pleaded with the man to not destroy our beloved tree. I’m sure he was stifling giggles, but he calmly explained to us that the tree was old and falling apart, and could possibly cause damage to Crystal’s home. The tree was eventually cut down.
Even though we didn’t get what we wanted that day, I remember it as my inauguration into the world of speaking up. Through my early twenties I came to recognize and put words to my feelings about injustices I saw in the world around me. One of these was the inequality women faced in the world, and especially in my church, the Mormon church. I had grown up Mormon, and served in many capacities in the church, including in the Young Women’s program, in young single adult wards at BYU, and as a Spanish-speaking missionary in Houston, Texas. As I grew in the church, and especially as a missionary, I became acutely aware of the difference in power between men and women. As a 22-year-old female missionary, I was not allowed to hold any positions of leadership simply because of my sex. Instead, I was to follow all the direction given to me by the 19 to 21-year-old male missionaries. I noticed the broad narratives of motherhood and marriage taught in the women’s organizations in the church, and the focus on leadership and authority in the church’s men’s organizations. And, among other things, I was frustrated by being put on a pedestal, adored, and told that women were inherently more spiritual than men. It didn’t seem accurate, or fair.
Slowly, I came to realize that just like that little girl in the grove of cherry trees, I had a voice, and I could use it. With that, I found my place in the Mormon feminist community, and it has felt like home, with people who were equally upset by injustice, and who weren’t afraid to speak up. I have learned and grown a lot within the community, and am so glad to have found a place with like-minded people.
So, what am I up to now? For the past several years I’ve been teaching humanities and English to middle schoolers at Walden School of Liberal Arts in Provo, Utah. The winds of change have been blowing recently, however, and I’m currently home in Seattle (where I grew up), looking for education-related and/or writing jobs, trying to make some new friends, and considering possibly moving back. If you’re a feminist in Seattle, I’d love to hang out!
In my free time I like to read, write, talk, take photos, go on walks, and be outside, as well as forage, garden, and otherwise enjoy freshly-picked produce, including cherries.