Recently a MormonHub user posted a forum conversation entitled “Why Feminism is Bad.” Instantly intrigued, I followed the link and read the post. What I saw sincerely disappointed me. The first several comments consisted of a group of people (mostly men) discussing what they thought of as feminism, which they imagined as a prideful group of women who want to take away what men have and keep it for themselves.
A few feminists spoke up to defend their position and the group immediately shut them down. I replied, but then I realized that in this environment, I would not be listened to. I wouldn’t be seen as fully human, simply letters on a page. In fact, I found myself writing less than compassionately in trying to defend my side. It’s easy to dehumanize online posters, but those conversations can’t get anywhere because people just end up further entrenched in their point of view. But I knew I had to say something, so I’m saying it now.
Because, as this previous MormonHub article suggests, Feminism goes hand in hand with LDS faith.
First, Can we Just Define Feminism Real Quick?
Just so were all on the same page, here’s what feminism really means:
Feminism IS: A multifaceted movement focused on creating equality between the sexes. Different people think we can accomplish it in many different ways, but the important word here is equality.
Feminism is NOT: Anti-man, anti-father, anti-marriage, anti-family, anti-Christian. Feminism is not trying to remove men from the picture. We just want to bring attention to very real inequalities between the genders and figure out how to reconcile those.
If you don’t believe that’s what modern feminism is about, I get it. Divisive issues like abortion and gender expression distinguish LDS feminists from those in mainstream feminism. But that’s okay! This country needs diverse voices on the side of gender equality.
For example, in this Forbes Magazine article, a prominent feminist talks about how feminism fits into many different belief systems. Do I agree with everything she says in the video? No! Are we both still feminist? Absolutely! You don’t have to agree with conventional feminists on each individual issue to recognize and combat gender inequality.
However, some people in our church misunderstand the purpose of feminism, and they mistake feminism at large with outrageous actions by a few individuals within the movement, painting all feminists as stereotypical bra-burning militant feminazis. That type of thinking just serves to dehumanize and ostracize people who think differently. But I’m sick of people telling me what I am. I’m tired of people who aren’t feminists trying to tell me what feminism is. It’s like when non-members try to tell you how wrong and evil Mormons are. Doesn’t that just drive you crazy?
So let’s get this straight – I am a feminist; I am NOT a part of Ordain Women. Protests don’t change Church policy, revelation does. I am happy with my position in The Church. Furthermore, I am firmly pro-life, but acknowledge (as does Church policy) certain exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when health complications endanger the life of mother and/or baby. I believe that these ideas are common among the majority of Mormon feminists.
But we also see much that has to change with regard to the way we treat women. As an LDS woman, I need feminism! Here are a few reasons why.
I Need Feminism because of Mormon Culture
- Because as a child I was told by other women in my family that I couldn’t be a doctor because “it makes having a family impossible”. I need feminism because of internalized sexism.
- Because when I teach Sunday School, people talk over and interrupt me, even though I’ve prepared and studied the subject thoroughly. But when my husband teaches, he is listened to and respected. Needless to say, I find this extremely frustrating.
- Because children who misunderstand the roles of women in the home, in the workplace and at church, grow up to raise more children who misunderstand the roles of women. Fairness and respect do not come naturally, we must teach them.
- Because LDS men are free to jog shirtless, and boys can show up to mutual in tank tops and shorts, but we teach young women modesty. Either modesty is important for all of us or none of us. And the covenants we both make when we put on sacred garments tell me that it’s important for all of us.
I Need Feminism Because I Deserve to Feel Safe
- Because one in four women faces domestic abuse.
- Because when I go into an empty bathroom alone, I check every stall to make sure no one is in there. I’m not alone in this. Many women I’ve spoken to do that. This is why we go to the bathroom in groups. It’s not just to gossip. We’re all low-key afraid to go places alone. Meanwhile my husband thought I was joking about those bathroom anxieties. Because he doesn’t have to worry about that. He’d never even thought about it before. Is that equality?
- Because a reasonable, intelligent man once told me that he spent some of his college nights
driving around cat-calling women. He thought we secretly liked it. (We don’t.) Sexism is inadvertently socialized into us all from birth, so that sometimes good, kind, reasonable people don’t see the problem until you spell it out for them. I’m a feminist because I want to facilitate honest, compassionate conversations about gender issues.
- Because women who dress less modestly than I personally choose to, deserve to be seen as human individuals with agency, not objects to be acted upon.
- Because particular clothing styles or makeup choices do not imply you’re okay with anyone else touching your body. We need to talk about and define consent. We need to talk about and define what chastity really means. Chastity in thoughts and actions must be seen as a choice for men and women, and certainly not a result of particular clothing choices. The argument that men are just “programmed” to think immorally about exposed skin insults the agency and intelligence of men. Stop doing it.
I Need Feminism Because it is of God
- Because the gospel clearly supports feminism. “All are alike unto God…” The Atonement is for everyone. All of human kind has divine potential and can become like our Heavenly Parents. Because we believe in Heavenly Parents as a unit.
- Because Christ showed compassion, love and respect for all the women in His life. He forgave the woman taken in adultery. He cared for his mother. After the resurrection, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. He loved everyone equally.
- Because “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood,” D&C 121: 41. Translation: you can’t use your priesthood powers and responsibilities as an excuse to dominate people! But people still try that trash.
I Need Feminism to Protect my Sisters Across the World
- Because over 200 million girls and women have suffered genital mutilation. And they still occur in many places worldwide, despite being acknowledged as a dangerous human rights violation that can lead to urinary problems, infections, excessive bleeding and numerous other health complications.
- Because worldwide 33 million fewer girls than boys attend primary school. Girls who can’t attend school turn into women who can’t read to their children or balance household finances, let alone work to provide for their family. Education allows us to contribute to society in meaningful ways. Without it, people become a drain on society and a burden to their families. Failing to educate women creates a vicious cycle of financial hardship, diminished perceived value, and neglect.
- Because every year over 15 million girls marry before they reach adulthood. Many then have to leave school, become victim to sexual or physical abuse by their adult spouses, and carry and bear children at dangerously young ages. This practice must stop.
- Because women and girls around the world deserve a voice. Someone has to speak for them, and feminism is how we do so.
Even considering all the above reasons I call myself feminist, I understand people’s confusion about where it stands in the LDS Church. Critically, feminists use the word “patriarchy” differently than we use it in The Church. When feminists talk about “the patriarchy” we are referring to the systematic ways men dominate women in our society (of which there is ample evidence). When Mormons talk about “patriarchal order,” we are referring to a system of organizing families and congregations under priesthood authority. These words might be homonyms, but they mean drastically different things.
Oppressive patriarchy bear no resemblance to the patriarchal order that God has set forth.
Despite some differences in philosophy, Feminists and Mormons believe the same vital truth—men and women were created to be equals. Imperfect people, human nature, and modern culture sometimes disrupt that equality, but we must bring balance back. That is the cause we should all fight for.
For more perspectives on LDS feminism, watch this 3 Mormons video on feminism and keep the conversation going in the comments below.