Mormonism, Feminism, and How to Participate in Both

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Being female doesn’t automatically make an individual a feminist. It is something that develops over time through choices and actions.

Many have weaponized the term “feminism,” which, in turn, has caused it to be associated with frivolous bitterness and overreaction. This has proved to trivialize the cause of feminism and has made the assertion, “I am a feminist” less of a credible statement and more of an absurd one.

What it is and What it Isn’t

Gloria Jean Watkins, otherwise known as ‘bell hooks,’ a feminist scholar, and social activist, clarifies that feminism should not be associated with identity. Setting oneself apart as either feminist or anti-feminist causes further separation between the two extremes. It has become unclear what being a feminist really means because so many things have been incorrectly associated with it.

The feminist movement will not be able to progress without the support of males. Feminism, simply put, is against sexism in any form and pushes against what has become contemporary feminism.

Mainstream feminism is anti-male, which is as destructive of a practice as upholding patriarchal ideals (patriarchy, according to feminist theory, is an unjust social system that enforces gender roles and is oppressive to both men and women.) Also, the majority of feminist work today “produces only tediously predictable lines of argument,” which is why many are becoming disenchanted with feminism.

The Key to Early Feminism: Awareness

Early feminists understood that women were as guilty of upholding sexism as men, the only difference was that men benefited from it more. It became evident, then, that women had to become more self-aware and change themselves before they could improve conditions and fight against patriarchy. Creating awareness helped women to realize the various ways in which they had been and still were being oppressed.

The use of consciousness-raising groups was one of the main ways in which awareness came to the forefront. Early consciousness-raising groups mainly consisted of women expressing their frustration at the many ways they were being oppressed, rather than actually strategizing about how to affect change. These early meetings were therapeutic to women and gave them the strength and the courage to stand up for themselves.

Everyone in these groups took turns speaking. In this way, everyone could be heard and feel validated. From these early meetings, discussion and debate about the issues that each of the women’s personal experiences raised became the early driving forces for action.

How Feminism’s Original Agenda Was Derailed

Another main propeller of feminism was the inclusion of women’s studies courses in the curricula of various colleges. The women who taught these courses endured unfair treatment at the hands of others, simply because they knew the importance of spreading awareness. They made the necessary sacrifices to bring feminism to the forefront.

Before long, women’s studies in the classroom had completely replaced these consciousness-raising groups. As the feminist movement began to receive mainstream attention, many of the women central to the movement were forgotten or ignored.

The feminist movement then transitioned into focusing on equality in the workplace rather than on sexism within female groups. Although an incredibly important issue, the focus of workplace equality is what began to morph feminism into an identity rather than a righteous set of values. As a result of this, the original idea central to feminism was lost.

What the Proclamation Says About Feminism

Feminism demands that all human beings be regarded as equals. The Family: A Proclamation to the World reminds us that equality is called of God.

Many believe that the proclamation preaches that there is a binary in regards to gender roles, and criticize it for this reason. This is true on some levels. God has given women the divine right and privilege to bear children. While men maintain the responsibility to exercise the Priesthood. However, being a male or female does not restrict you to one rigid way of behaving, as many believe this binary suggests.

The working mother versus the stay at home mother

As Jeffrey R. Holland mentions “What mothers do is an essential element of Christ’s work.” However you do it, however, is up to you.

We are all different and have diverse strengths and capacities. The Lord knows this and knows that everyone one of our situations is different. No one way of doing things is right for everybody. The Lord wants us to do what is best for our families, and no one, but the Lord has the right to tell us the best way to do this.

If a woman chooses to be a working mother, that is her decision. The Lord will give counsel specific to us, and the circumstances of our families. My mother has worked my entire life, and I commend her for it. Ultimately, her decision to work was the right decision for our family. She sacrificed a lot to be a working mother, but as a stay-at-home mom, you sacrifice a lot as well. Being a working mother may not be the path for everyone, but it is by no means against the Church’s teachings to do so. Prayerfully decide with the Lord and, depending on your situation, your spouse, what is best for your family.

Here’s one woman’s story about how she made the decision to work and be home with her children:

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many believe that feminism is against staying at home with your children. The misguided idea that being a homemaker is a demeaning lifestyle originated from radical feminist groups. This idea is in no way definitive of the feminist agenda. In fact, the idea of shaming any woman simply because of the path she chooses, goes completely against what is at the root of feminism— Being a feminist housewife is absolutely possible.

Feminism as a Label

We are a generation obsessed with identity, and social media has largely been a catalyst to this. In their desperate efforts to stand out, many feel the need to get on a virtual soapbox, shouting to the world that they are this or that. We are so concerned with being unique, that in our attempts to be distinct, we are becoming more and more radical. This is a major pitfall of this generation as it tries to remain afloat in these turbulent times. It’s like a child acting out for attention. It is a cry for help.

Be an advocate for equality, but instead of shouting about it, promote it through your actions. Saying you’re a feminist and actually being one are two very different things.

Promote feminist politics, not feminism as an identity. Many people are immediately turned off when feminism is even mentioned. This is a direct result of those who passionately, yet misguidedly, proclaim it in an aggressive manner. Anger and passion are two very different things, however, many seem to think they are interchangeable. The best way to fight aggression and/or oppression is not with more aggression or oppression.

Ironically enough, women are largely the ones responsible for contaminating the feminist agenda over time. It’s time for that to change.

Every Member a Feminist

As Latter-day Saints, we have a great responsibility to stand up for ourselves and for others. Be a force for good. Stand against abuse and oppression by supporting those who suffer from it. Be a group of women that lifts others rather than condemning, as so many “feminist” women condemn men.

Be an activist through acts of charity. Jesus Christ was, of course, one of the greatest activists for social change. He challenged generally accepted ideas and encouraged everyone to serve their fellow man. He taught by example, and this is what he intended us to do as well.

There is so much that Mormonism has and does offer to the feminist movement. As Latter-day Saints, we understand equality and how necessary it is to develop Christ-like attributes. We teach young men how important it is to respect women and recognize their divine potential. Mormon women have various outlets which empower and help them to recognize their divine potential, one of the main of these being the Relief Society organization. As one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world, it is a supreme example of the power women can have when they stand together.

Reverently Passionate

repentance, prayerThe spirit cannot reside where there is contention. The public arena, in which feminist issues are often at the forefront, has become a hostile place. It is impossible to remain true to feminism’s original objective of tolerance and acceptance without the spirit of the Lord.

When someone says something offensive or ignorant, respond in a Christ-like manner. Throw contention out the window and don’t invite it by claiming feminism as part of your identity. This is a needless practice. Progress only results from productive action.

Feminism is not an identity but a lifestyle. Don’t just say you’re a feminist; be one.

It is everyone’s responsibility to be a feminist. Whether you are male or female, practicing Mormon or not, it is your responsibility to lobby for equality not just in your words, but in your deeds. We are stronger together than we are alone. Let’s not create more separation by attacking one group or another. Let’s stand together, swallow our anger, and lobby for women everywhere by being humble and righteous upholders of all that is good.

In the comments below, tell us about the amazing Mormon Feminists you know.

 

Thea is a recent college graduate of Utah Valley University and is currently an intern for MormonHub. She got her Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in Literary Studies and a minor in Humanities. She also served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ in Mexico, and as a result, she has developed a passion for tacos and chalupas. John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway are among her favorite authors and she aspires to acquire a first edition from each someday. Her other interests include bearded dragons, the outdoors, and traveling.