Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Myth of New Mormon Feminisms

Recently there has been a lot of talk about a new or resurgent Mormon Feminism developing. With so many words and discussions about it, one would think it was a reality rather an expectation. The truth is that a “war” between Mormons and Feminists happened, and Feminists lost. There was a time when Feminists were very active with staging protests, holding marches, signing petitions, writing letters, mobilizing grassroots forces, and making bold calls to action. In the end those Feminists either left the LDS Church or were ex-communicated. Despite minor changes, the goals they had didn't materialize.

The last time there was any “action” of note taken was after Sister Beck’s now famous talk about the importance of defined female roles. Feminists sent roses to LDS Church headquarters to protest her message and newspapers filed a report. The response from the intended target? A courteous thank you. Concerns behind the gift were promptly ignored. Other recent activities have gone unnoticed or are personal to individuals with no direct social impact.

Perhaps there have been some changes over the years that Feminists wanted, but ultimately they were minor compared to the agitations. The Priesthood is (unless you count the Temple Endowment) still limited to males, discussions of Heavenly Mother (beyond personal musings) cannot cross boundaries into worship, and men are considered the head of the house with the nuclear family the Celestial standard. Larger issues might not be realized because of the Patriarchal nature of the LDS Church and its doctrines, and woman aren't interested in the ultimate goal of getting the Priesthood. Recognizing the current conditions, Mormon Feminism had to be re-defined contrary to the past, making it less about taking men's roles. It is now talking about women from the past, attending obscure lectures, and writing on blogs. However, oppression of the LDS Priesthood remains a big issue that has gender envy just below the surface.

As has been noted for many years, the word "choice" is the central theme of Feminism. Ideally there would be respect for the single mother, the working woman, and the married housewife. Variety of female roles as they choose is supposedly the hallmark of achieving equality. The reality is that some varieties are more equal to the movement than others. Motherhood (especially of the married to a husband kind) is still looked down upon as a anti-Feminist. As a self-described Feminist mother explains about a Feminist commentator who discusses Mormon Mommy blogs:

But I think what irritates me the most about this post is the author’s assertion that she is a “feminist” while she simultaneous judges other women’s life choices- the key word being “choice” here- due to her own failure to understand and accept their choices through their own words. She substitutes her views on the value of being a stay-at-home mother, and the possibility that any one might enjoy it, for the subject of her fascination. She continually discredits the idea that these mothers might actually enjoy what they do because it just doesn’t jive with her own perspective of what constitutes self-actualization (I guess? or proper womanhood?) as a “young, feminist atheist.”

These Mormon mothers, based on what we know of their perspectives, appear to love what they do. But that’s still not okay with the author. As soon as she seems to come to grips with the idea that maybe some people are happy as mothers (as they lead “simple” lives), that not all families are miserable and mired in power struggles like the “friends” she knows (who are, coincidentally, Ph.D. students…), she symbolically discredits their happiness and contentment by countering it with negative information on Mormon domesticity. Ultimately, the Mormon mothers lose their subjectivity as the author “others” these women, for no other reason than that she cannot understand or relate to their lifestyle.

She isn't the only blogger who read the article and came to the same conclusion. No matter how much Mormon Feminists try to be both Mormon and Feminist, they continue to trip over the lines drawn by both. There is a demarcation that can't be simply swept away by appeals to diversity. The LDS Church has articulated a religious expectation for gender roles and the majority of non-Mormon Feminists a different social expectation. The true choice might be to decide if you will be more of one or the other.

Mormon Feminists can talk, gather, and write blogs and papers all they want. There is a history of Mormonism and Feminism. The apostate martyrs called "The September Six" will always be a reminder that unfettered Feminism doesn't have a place in the religious community it sought to influence. Unless there comes a sea change in the definition of Feminism and Mormonism (as has been indicated there isn't), then the current movement consists of rhetorical self-contained nods to a movement that no longer has any power within Mormonism and no respect outside. Its ship has sailed. Its history has been written. Not sure what new chapters everyone is talking about.

Comments can be made at The Millennial Star if you would like. You can also read my religious conservative and moderates discussion.