not in Primary anymore

clarifying cosmo

This week, Cosmopolitan magazine published an article about a BYU sophomore “fighting the sex ban at BYU.” This story (and several that have followed) mentioned that it was finding a group called Young Mormon Feminists that galvanized her to action.

This sensationalized story misrepresents the character and mission of YMF and in so doing harms our work.  As its founder, I’d like to set the story straight.

Young Mormon Feminists was organized in 2012 as a safe space for younger Mormons navigating issues of faith and feminism.  We are not affiliated with BYU. We are not an on-campus club, nor do we have any official ties to BYU. At the same time, neither are we banned from campus as some stories have implied.

YMF seeks to support meaningful dialogue with the BYU community around issues impacting women, including but not limited to modesty rhetoric, sexual violence, racism, women’s role in the LDS Church, sexism in the workplace and higher education, and religious freedom. We host this blog, a Facebook group, and a Twitter feed.  Each Monday night, we hold “Feminist Family Home Evening” off campus in Provo as well as in many locations across the country to provide a space where young people can share perspectives and learn. Our participants include highly observant LDS Church members as well as those in faith transition. 

There are no organized efforts by YMF, or by any individuals that I know of, to challenge BYU’s policy regarding the law of chastity.

The enforcement of sexual chastity through the BYU campus honor code is a difficult subject and that enforcement has disproportionate impacts on women. But sensationalizing this issue does not help us. Rather than a story about one BYU student’s sexual choices, it would be nice to see the media cover the broader issues BYU’s Mormon feminists are tackling. At the very least, the media could cover how BYU’s policies relating to chastity negatively affect queer students, who are not allowed to hold their partner’s hand, on or off campus, without fear of discipline including expulsion.

Anyone interested in participating in or observing Mormon feminists’ endeavors for equality with an eye towards understanding and not just page clicks will thus see that we are more than a titillating news story about BYU’s restrictions on premarital sex, and I hope our readers of all stripes will keep that in mind.

27 Responses to “clarifying cosmo”

  1. Natalie L

    I think this is an excellent summary of how many have felt. Once the initial “excitement” of being recognized in a national publication wore off, it became glaringly obvious how narrowly it seemed to define YMF. Thank you for writing this bc it needs to be out there. We, you, all of us are so much more than this single topic. Thank you Hannah.

  2. McKenzie Meade

    While I dont agree with or support in any way BYU`s honor code ortheir teachings about certain things, being a private university, they have every right to make whatever rules they want and say who’s in and who’s out. Its not unlike Harvard, who turns people away from attending more often than not it seems. Though I personally believe that BYU takes their rules and teachings to the extreme, I understand them. I choose not to attend or strive to attend BYU for this very reason.

    About the article specifically. On an average day, having read her personal blog and being facebbok friends, think that the author is a talented writer. However, I believe that a lot of important information was left out, creating holes within the story and questions among thise of us who have also lived within the LDS church. I find it unfair to have this be the face of what Mormons and Mormon Feminists think and feel in the mass media. (Also I thought it crappy to mention the group, as if this was the message that the group presented, instead of one iduvidual).
    These are just my opinions. I get what the author was maybe trying to do, however I believe it shouldnt have been handled and presented to the world in the way it has been.

    Thank you for this article, Hannah. Beautifully written.

    • Erin

      McKenzie, I think it’s also important to note that though the article was written in first-person POV, those were not actually Keli’s exact words. She was interviewed by a writer for Cosmo, and they then put together some of the information she gave them into the piece they thought would get the most buzz. Keli is not the author, really, but the subject of the piece.

      • McKenzie Meade

        I actually didn’t know that. Thank you for letting me know.

  3. Eric

    As always, well put, Hannah. I hope many who are reading the other more sensationalized articles will find their way to this post. There’s so much dialogue to be had!

  4. Kim Baccellia

    Not surprised considering it was from Cosmo. I do agree that the reporters should have reported on other more important issues that LDS feminists face.

  5. Morena

    The thing is, Keli even says it; everything she said about “sex positivity” and disagreeing with the Honor Code, it all came from associating with YMF. She learned to be “sex positive” because of you. Not everyone in YMF may agree with her, or like how she’s portrayed YMF, but YMF is the environment from which she learned and developed the opinions she stated in the interview. Like it of not, these are the types of women you attract, the types of women you develop. This IS a part of you.

    • Lark

      Morena, that doesn’t really make much sense. Keli also went to BYU and was raised in the Church. She could have just have easily said that she learned agency at Church and therefore, believes that sex positivity is a good thing. I have been a blogger with YMF for nearly a year now and am involved with many feminist Mormon forums. There is a large diversity of opinions on what healthy sexuality looks like. Keli found a subgroup within a group that she agrees with. That’s not YMF, that’s simple confirmation bias within a group of people.

      • Morena

        “But my attitude changed after I joined the Young Mormon Feminists, a group that’s not endorsed by the Church or BYU. We talk about how the Church doesn’t see women as equal to men and how BYU is slut-shaming. The school’s honor code forces women to dress modestly — no skirts above the knee — supposedly to help men control their thoughts. The group helped me reclaim my sexuality and realize my sexual assault wasn’t my fault. I’m now in a questioning phase with the Church.”–from Keli’s interview with Cosmo.

        Sounds like she developed her attitude and opinion after joining the group and hearing the same attitude and opinion from other group members. Yeah, it might be a subset of people, but it’s still a group opinion. Enough that she heard it enough to believe it was a group opinion and adopt it. Like I said; not everyone in the group may agree with her (obviously there will be a diversity of opinions) but there are enough people who do that she was comfortable referencing YMF as the source of her sexual awakening and reclaiming.

        If you’re going to say it’s simple confirmation bias within a group of people, then I guess Curtis’s post about trans people is also that, since not everyone in the group agrees with him. Or the posts about other smaller “groups” within the group. There are plenty of YMF who don’t like the Honor Code, who’ve openly admitted they think the law of chastity is misogynistic, who’ve talked about masturbation and porn positively. These ARE the members of your group. A lot of the vocal members too. At what point do you take responsibility for the environment you have created? YMF is a place where they feel safe discussing these things, and spreading their opinion. And you’ve let them. So you’ve accepted their message. Then you go and distance yourself from Keli when she receives national attention and points to you as the source of her opinion.

        If you will accept the “quiet” blogs and voices in your name that don’t gather attention based on the subject, but shame a girl who gathered national attention in your name, you might what to re-evaluate what you actually are promoting. Especially to your members.

    • hannahwheelwright

      You say this as if it’s all bad things. I don’t contest at all that Keli learned about sex positivity from YMF. There are many, many different issues discussed here and lots of people interested in talking about them. This post is neither a denial nor an apology that members of the YMF community disagree with the honor code, BYU, or the church. It is simply meant to clarify that there are no organized efforts by YMF to challenge BYU’s policies regarding the law of chastity, and issues relating to chastity and sex positivity are far from the focus of the group- both characterizations that were not clear from the media coverage.

      • Nancy

        I’m glad you’re finally admitting that YMF leads people away from the church. It’s sad that you’ve founded a site that has this as its fruits.

      • Dollie


        YMF does not lead people away from the church. It actually strengthens many people’s testimony of it. As for those that do leave the church, it is often because they were not aware of the dark past of the LDS church and cannot deal with it when they find out. This is not YMF’s fault, it is not Hannah’s fault. Also, just because someone leaves the church does not mean they are doomed, many people find a lifestyle that fits them better, and we should be happy for them.

  6. Shuan

    Thank you for your clarification.
    I admit that when I read the Cosmo article and other articles that spawned from it I got really upset. I am personally just beginning to really examine feminist issues within the church and this article almost made me want to stop and continue how I always have been regarding to Mormon feminism – uninformed and uninterested. There was such a focus on a matter I personally feel bears little to no weight compared to how sexual assault is handled within the church. I also feel it casts a bad light on the school when it already is looked down upon, by some, for the honor code. I could go on and on but all in all, I summed up that article to be someone who wants their cake and eat it too. Now, I do not know Keli so I can not and should not form any judgements or think what I got from the article is how she actually feels & wants to accomplish. I understand that Cosmo took the interview and tweaked it so it very well may be that Keli’s words got twisted and distorted. Either way, I hope this whole thing passes really soon and there’s a focus on what really matters.

  7. alice

    All over the blogosphere women and men too are finally talking about the ridiculous modesty standards that make mothers feel they need to raise garment-ready toddlers. They’re finally showing some willingness to face head on the fact that Mormon women are saddled with the responsibility of Mormon men’s libidos. And now you want to back away from a young woman who is standing up for her right to feel comfortable in her own skin? You’re going to leave her out there alone twisting in the wind while you publicly say “that’s on her; we didn’t have anything to do with it”?

    Shame on you. Shame on you! I wish I could think of a stronger way to say that but I can’t so I’ll just repeat. SHAME ON YOU!!!

    • hannahwheelwright

      Nope actually my post says nothing about leaving her “twisting in the wind” about her “right to feel comfortable in her own skin.” I said that news media who jump on a story about sex at BYU and characterize YMF as a group focused on “fighting the sex ban” sensationalize our cause and thus have a negative effect on our work. If you read any other posts on this blog, you’ll see many members of the YMF community discussing the horrendous aspects of modesty rhetoric to which you’ve alluded.

      • alice

        It may not be the text but, believe me, the subtext reads that way and I really think you should examine your instinct to behave in such a defensive way that you need to run for cover when the discussion is frank.

        I read the Cosmo article. It was about the farthest thing you could get from “sensational”. This brave young woman is willing to say that she owns her own sexuality and refuses to be slut shamed and you, in turn, try to duck and cover as though she were some kind of slut instead of a person with healthy attitudes.

      • Nancy

        Yes, both men and women being covered from their sleeves to their knees is just sooooooooo “horrendous”. How do you live with yourself? Of course, you liberals expect life to be without limits or consequences….

    • hannahwheelwright

      My personal opinions on the law of chastity and slut-shaming are not relevant to this post, and it humors me that you assume by not explicitly giving a YMF stamp of approval on Keli’s views that I am running for cover. I’m not going to pick a fight in these comments about whether the story was sensationalized- I absolutely felt it was and wanted to highlight that journalists making a buck off of an already problematic obsession with Mormon women’s hymens is unacceptable and detrimental to our work here.

      Any BYU student who wants to say loud and proud that they’re having sex and are prepared for the consequences of the Honor Code are free to do so, and we can talk about my personal opinions on that separately. When YMF is pulled into the picture and characterized in a way that contributes to confusion and misunderstanding, I’m going to make a statement.

  8. Harlequin

    Since when is an article in Cosmo considered to be a serious piece of journalism anyway?

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