I had my first feminist/existential/faith crisis at a very young age. I was maybe twelve and I’d gotten in trouble for doing less than my usual stellar on a test (or something like that. The exact details are foggy.) What I remember most though was a feeling of hopelessness. I sequestered myself in our driveway and starting shooting hoops, tears streaming down my face. After awhile my dad joined me, wordlessly rebounding and letting me just shoot and cry.
We sat on the wall by the driveway and he asked me what was wrong. All these tears couldn’t just be about my mom’s overreaction to my mediocre mathing (presumably). I cried and asked him what the point was. Why was I killing myself trying to get good grades to get into a good college to get a good job if all I was supposed to end up doing was stay-at-home mothering? Saying that deep-seated fear out loud for the first time sent me into a new wave of sobs. My dad kept his arm around me and let me cry, then let me know–in no uncertain terms–that he wanted me to do whatever I wanted to, and be whoever I wanted to be, regardless of what I heard from teachers and leaders in church. My dad, rather firmly, told me I had to figure out what the Lord wanted from me, Kaitlyn. Not in terms of my role as a woman, or as a potential wife and mother, but as an individual daughter of my Heavenly Father.
That afternoon changed my life. Not only did I learn to trust in myself and my relationship with my Heavenly Father, but my dad became a safe space for me–somewhere I could go when I had doubts, concerns, and crises of faith. For years, conversations with my dad soothed my troubled soul, especially as my questions about gender inequality, church history, and current doctrines and policies grew.
I felt that feeling of safe, sacred space again in late October of last year, when I attended a panel discussion for the newly published Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. I walked into Writ & Vision, a bookstore and art gallery on Center Street in Provo by myself. I had been active in the YMF community for a short time, and I’d started a podcast about feminism and Mormon culture, but this was the first real organized gathering of Mormon feminists I’d ever been to.
I was nervous and alone. I walked in the narrow entry and bought myself a copy of the book. Peeking into the meeting room, I was overwhelmed by how many people came to hear these women speak. I found a stair to sit on, passing a professor I knew on the way. We nodded at each other in mutual acknowledgment and it felt almost cinematic.
As I sat on the stairs, waiting for the discussion to begin, I ran my hand over the smooth cover of the book and felt, for the first time in awhile, reverence. And that feeling of warmth and sacredness continued as I heard Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright talk about the women who gave their time–and in some cases, their church membership–to speaking out, uncovering the voices of the past, and creating space for current voices to be heard.
During the panel discussion I was overcome with a feeling that could only be described as spiritual. Tears came to my eyes and I felt an unparalleled sense of community. This tiny, narrow bookstore was filled to the brim with true sisters, brothers, and allies.
When I left the event, I felt so inadequate. Like a particularly effective conference talk, my reunion with the great Mormon feminists made me see all the ways I wasn’t living up to my feminist potential. I resolved to be more diligent about reading the sacred words of my sisters and foremothers and rededicate myself to the cause.
But then you know–last semester of my senior year.
So when I got the opportunity to review Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings for the YMF blog, I jumped at the chance. A deadline! A purpose! I can do it!
My original February deadline, however, came and went as I feasted upon the words of my sisters. Reading Mormon Feminism was an exercise in study and restraint. Sample thoughts: If I underline every line, does it make the underlining irrelevant? and FU-, I mean, UGH Patriarchy!
As I read, I was also experiencing another kind of faith crisis–the one that comes when you lose your faith in someone. My dad, who has always been my spiritual safe space, was ceasing to be so. Our conversations about church-related and social issues usually left me with, if not answers, at least a sense of comfort. But my questions have been getting too difficult, my social commentary too constant, and my questioning of church leaders too disconcerting. My heart broke when I realized that I could no longer count him as an ally or trust him with my feelings. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve been through.
The best thing about Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings is that the book itself is a safe space, a community and a sisterhood you can carry with you. As I read I felt the same overwhelming sense of peace and comfort that I felt in Writ & Vision. It’s a feeling of not being alone, of reading and knowing these women and their pain and their hope because you have that same pain and that same hope. I found that every question, every doubt, every prayer in my heart has been felt by others. Reading Mormon Feminism is a symbiotic experience between authors and reader that’s effective and deeply, deeply personal.
Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings is essential reading for feminists, allies, and future feminists and allies at all levels of the belief spectrum. If nothing else, I hope the book will increase empathy for the those who try to navigate their faith in difficult waters.
Loves: history of women giving blessings, the Church and the ERA, analysis of both equality and inequality in the temple, inclusion of perspectives from women of color, LGBT issues, Chieko Okazaki on “The Proclamation,” gender-swapped essays, poetry, inclusion of different levels of feminist perspective