In our living room hangs the artwork above and the following poem:
My mother, my daughter, Life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve,
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us a New Day,
See, I am with Child
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
-Painting and poem by Sister Grace Remington from the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey (you can buy a print here)
The first time Caleb showed me this my reaction was, “Wow, this really illustrates how central to the plan of salvation women are.” And we are! We are at the heart of the plan of Salvation. Critics have accused church leadership of denying responsibilites to women, labeled women within the membership brainwashed, and sought through political means to require changes that fit their own personal agenda. They have done it in the name of feminism, but I feel that my faith is uniquely feminist and I have compiled four reasons why I feel Mormons are Feminists too.
But first we have to establish what definition of feminism I am talking about since this word carries with it A LOT of different and diverse ideologies. I ascribe to a simple, broad, and historical definition.
Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women. (I highly suggest taking some time and reviewing the entire Wikipedia article and it’s many quality links as well. )
Being a feminist does not mean that you must wholly ascribe to all factions that fall under the feminist banner, but it does mean that you believe and value women for their unique contributions to society. I have found this to be true within my religion.
Early church leadership spoke up for the rights of women
As early at 1870 women were given the right to vote in the Utah Territory. Not yet a state, many opponents of polygamy thought that if women in Utah were given the right to vote they would vote to end plural marriage. To their surprise this was not the case. Brigham Young himself was a proponent of voting rights for women and their education.
“As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief Societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large.” -Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young.
Eliza R. Snow was the second president of the Relief Society and a great example of the power and responsibility given to women within the 19th century church.
“Snow’s presidency emphasized spirituality and self-sufficiency. The Relief Society sent women to medical school, trained nurses, opened the Deseret Hospital, operated cooperative stores, promoted silk manufacture, saved wheat, and built granaries. In 1872, Snow provided assistance and advice to Louisa L. Greene in the creation of a woman’s publication loosely affiliated with the Relief Society—the Woman’s Exponent. Snow’s responsibilities also extended to young women and children within the church. She was a primary organizer for the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association in 1870 and assisted Aurelia Spencer Rogers in establishing the Primary Association in 1878.”
Sister Snow also did a great deal for emphasizing the role of women within our doctrine and penned the beloved hymn, “O My Father” which specifically mentions the teaching of our Heavenly Mother.
Doctrine affirms and uplifts the roles of women
Not only do Mormons believe that we have a Mother in Heaven that is side by side with our Heavenly Father, we honor our biblical mother Eve as a champion of God’s plan instead of a sinful impediment.
“And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled… for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Moses 5:11
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we see women as partners with men, working together to fulfill the purposes of God.
“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world …will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and… are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball ,222–23).
LDS women are encouraged to plan their family according to their own conscience
The definitive document on the current Mormon theology regarding the family is “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This simple document outlines basic roles and responsibilities of both genders and our family relationships. It specifically states “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” and then continues and says, “circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” Like every other principle taught in the gospel, we need to prayerfully study out in our own hearts, minds, to find the right course of action for our own personal situation.
Practically this means there is open room for interpretation. It also means that people in varying circumstances can both be considered righteous followers of Christ. For example, my friend Lanae and I lead very different lives. They are homesteading and home schooling their children. I run a photography business and send my kids to the local public school. Lanae is crafty, an amazing cook, and well read. (I am two out of those three but I’m not going to say which ones.) As varied and different as our opinions and lifestyle choices are, Lanae and I are close because we both believe in the principles mentioned above from the Family Proclamation. We don’t judge each others lives to be better or worse, but instead we learn from our differences and value each other.
Now you may be asking how is this a feminist principle? Easy. No one has forced either of us to make life choices based on our gender. My religion does not consider me sinful because my life isn’t a carbon copy of all of the other sisters in my Relief Society. Additionally, my church has no official position on birth control, political party affiliation, family size, career choices, etc. This allows each woman the freedom to live her life as she sees fit. I will admit that there are cultural trends within the membership that occasionally lead to unkindness, wrongful judgement, and pain. But I would encourage all women to remember that we are in this together and unite in our common goals instead of seeking to justify our own choices by belittling or offending others.
Equality doesn’t mean sameness
Hardcore feminists, here me out on this point. In mathematics there is the concept of an equivalent expression. This is when expressions have the same value, even though they may look a little different.
5 x 12=60
5 x (2 + 10) = 60
(5 x 10) + (5 x 2) = 60
50 + 10 = 60
It is the opinion of some that because women are not called as bishops, or given the priesthood that the church is trying to demean women. I disagree with this logic and assert that women are given great responsibility within the leadership of the church. I was a primary president for 3 years. Our ward is the largest in our stake and our primary composed half of our active membership. Over 100 members were under my care each week and I felt complete and total freedom to run my organization as I saw fit. My bishop never micromanaged me, or belittled my efforts. I was an active participant in our ward council and I felt my opinion valued. More importantly my calling (and any calling for that matter) is done through priesthood authority. When I was called and set apart as president of that organization I was given priesthood keys to oversee the responsibilities that go along with it. The expression of my authority did look different than the bishop’s but it was an equally valuable expression of priesthood authority.
In the temple, women are called upon to preform sacred priesthood ordinances just as men are. Our responsibilities are different, yes, but that doesn’t make one less valuable. We are the ones that are assigning weight to callings not God. The apostle Peter specifically stated:
“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. ” Acts 10:34
Elder M. Russell Ballard taught:
“In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In other words, in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife” (“This Is My Work and My Glory,” Apr. 2013 general conference).
Feminism is a part of the restoration
In 1830 Joseph Smith organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with the purpose of restoring all of God’s truth once again to the earth. I believe that women have a vital role in that restoration and that many wonderful opportunities lay ahead for us. As a church we have made great strides towards educating women, helping ease the burden of poverty, teaching them to value themselves, and empowering them to raise the next generation. These are fundamental feminist principles and they align with the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Do we have farther to go? Yes. Are there members that hold on to sexist ideals? Yes. Can we make a difference? YES. We need to be unified with our sisters. In-fighting amongst women damages us all. Resentment towards priesthood holders is petty and small. Let us come together to see the glorious plan God has in store for all of us, just as the picture and poem above so beautifully illustrates two different women unified in the common cause of Christ.
And in case you needed them, here are a few more links: