When I Became A (Mormon) Feminist

Monday, January 31, 2011

Quick note: As I wrote in my blog's description, "I examine daily style and the occasional wandering thought." This post is more on the "wandering thought" side of things. Feel free to read along or skip ahead to a post that holds your interest. No hurt feelings, either way.

LDS WAVE put out a Call to Action this month for all the Mormon feminists out there to write about when they became feminists (you can read the Call to Action here). I've been trying to write a summation of my experience for a while, which is always hard to do when it comes to things that are really dear to my heart. And that should explain why I'm doing this on the very last day of the month.

And also, since every blog post needs pictures (right?), I'm using these fantastic images from Caseface123 on Flickr. She did a project featuring people holding up signs of what the word "feminism" meant to them. These were some of my favorite pictures from her photo series.

I have to start out by saying that there are many kinds of feminists - not just in the sense that each feminist is a unique individual, but also because there are several strands of feminism, each one with its own pet projects, values, and history. These strands include (but are by no means limited to):

Liberal feminism
Conservative feminism
Socialist feminism
Postmodern feminism
Crunk feminism
First-wave, Second-wave, and Third-wave feminism
the Riot Grrl movement
Sex-positive feminism
Black feminism
Amazon feminism
Cultural feminism
Equality feminism
Difference feminism
Essentialist feminism
Third-world and Fourth-world feminism
French feminism
Libertarian feminism
Material feminism
Separatist feminism

... I could seriously go on and on. What I'm trying to get at is that, while the word "feminism" carries certain connotations (both positive and negative, depending on your perspective), it can really mean a variety of different things. Whenever I express my feminist opinions, I'm a little nervous that I'll be labeled unfavorably, even by people I love, because they simply have a different idea of what the word means. As I'm writing this and realizing that it will probably be read by a few people I don't know (and some I do know) ... it's nervewracking. Fingers crossed that I'll make sense and that everyone will be nice.

Being a feminist isn't something that happened for me in an instant, as the result of one dramatic event. In a way, I think this attention to the needs of women has always been a part of me; when I was but a wee one, I had experiences suggesting that, perhaps, I was born caring about women's issues. I've grown up and increased my knowledge of the world around me, becoming more sensitive to feminist ideals a little at a time, having moments that made me wonder.

So, I've written up a brief list of the moments that made me more and more a feminist. This list isn't and could never be exhaustive, but it's a good start. Looking over this list, it's astounding how many of these moments came during church meetings and religious outings. I become more certain all the time that being a feminist isn't a rebellion from my Mormon upbringing or my Mormon beliefs; it's a natural extension of those things. In other words, I'm a feminist because I'm a Mormon, not in spite of it. And I suppose that's why I call myself a Mormon feminist -- because the combination of these two belief systems is the most accurate descriptor I can find.

I became a feminist when I was four, when a primary teacher (drawing from the words of a favorite Mormon hymn) told me that in heaven, there are no single parents, so we must have a Heavenly Father AND a Heavenly Mother. This knowledge felt very special, and I told my parents all about it on the way home, like I had big news for them.

I became a feminist again during a primary class, when a substitute teacher was talking about Mary, Jesus's mother, and discussing her virginity in a really insulting way. It felt wrong, totally irreverent, and I thought to myself, "Her sex life is none of your business."

I became a feminist when I saw my aunt working so, so hard to take care of her kids as a single mom.

I became a feminist when I attended my first Girls' Camp at the age of 12 and felt incredibly close to Heavenly Father, like I was precious to him as a unique daughter.

I became a feminist when I stood up in church and repeated the Young Women theme, affirming every time that I was special, that all women were.

I became a feminist when I spent time with my amazing Young Women leaders - women of all ages and life situations who were funny, smart, beautiful, strong, skilled at teaching and leading.

I became a feminist when I noticed that girls couldn't pass the sacrament, that moms couldn't be in the bishopric, and that dads couldn't be in charge of Primary.

I became a feminist when I heard boys my age spreading sex-related rumors about girls I considered friends, whether I thought the rumors were true or not.

I became a feminist in 9th Grade, when I worked on a writing assignment with a classmate. She wanted to write about how girls should only wear dresses because wearing pants was for boys. I thought her idea was stupid -- people should wear whatever they want to wear.

I became a feminist when I realized that the young men at church got to go on elaborate camping trips every month and earn all kinds of neato badges, while the young women had makeover activities and one (totally fun) camping trip a year.

I became a feminist by singing in church choirs and hearing the beautiful harmonies that could be made between sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses -- between the voices of men and women, working together.

I became a feminist when I went to the county library and picked up the anonymous autobiography of a woman born and still living in the Middle East. Reading about the oppression she and her female family members experienced broke my heart.

I became a feminist when a young woman in my ward was assaulted at a sleepover by her friend's older brother. She received zero support from our Young Women leaders and had an incredibly difficult time feeling safe ever again.

I became a feminist during the unit on women's suffrage in my AP U.S. History class. I learned that feminists fought for my right to vote, work, learn, and be myself, and I began thinking of myself as a feminist.

I became a feminist as I excelled in high school in literature, creative writing, and performing -- working hard like I was taught to do at home and at church.

I became a feminist when my high school girlfriends and I started calling ourselves the Gamma Girls. We were the coolest. We read books (including Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" during lunch break); we alternately went to dances together and lamented over not getting asked.

I became a feminist when I felt strongly impressed that I needed to go on a mission. I became a feminist again when I heard people talk of sister missionaries in a pitying way (as in, "Too bad she couldn't find anyone who wanted to marry her").

I became a feminist when I decided that I wanted to be a high school seminary teacher and then found out how difficult that would be simply because I'm female.

I became a feminist the millions of times that I wished the scriptures would mention women as well or as often as men.

I became a feminist when I earned my own money.

I became a feminist when a guy-friend of mine made sexist jokes just to get a rise out of me. It always hurt my feelings and made me feel less, even though I halfheartedly laughed along to make him think it didn't bother me.

I became a feminist when I heard baby blessings in church; the baby girls' blessings would always talk about finding a worthy young man "who would take [her] to the temple," and the baby boys' blessings would always reference finding a worthy young woman "who [he] could take to the temple." Why the difference? Why this "taking" and "being taken," instead of both willingly walking inside together?

I became a feminist as I delighted in dressing modestly and honoring my body, but I felt frustrated at the same time because the most frequent reason given for dressing modestly was that it would help young men keep their thoughts clean. I wanted to dress modestly for myself, not for boys.

I became a feminist in Relief Society meetings, feeling the power of sisterhood.

I became a feminist in college, reading tons of feminist essays and thinking to myself, "That's a very good point."

I became a feminist while living in Portland with my closest friend.

I became a feminist in a Salt Lake City bookstore, realizing from out of nowhere how strange it is that women traditionally change their last names when they get married.

I became a feminist while watching and performing in "The Vagina Monologues."

I became a feminist when I got married and felt what a joy it is to have an egalitarian man for my husband.

I became a feminist when I realized how hard it was to believe in myself and how impossible it was to love a body that just didn't measure up to the world's stupid perfection.

I became a feminist when I became an aunt to one nephew and four nieces, looking at them and seeing the precious, valuable people they are.

I became a feminist when I cried on the phone with my mom, feeling certain that God loved me less because I'm a girl.

I became a feminist when I realized (and every time I re-realize) that I am in charge of my own life, that no one else can do this for me, and that I am a valuable work-in-progress

I become a feminist more and more as I think about becoming a mom someday. I feel such awe and majesty when I think of carrying and delivering a baby. The responsibility of teaching my children the worth and beauty of all people is staggering to me.

I become a feminist every time something makes me feel sad to be a woman. I take that sadness home with me and pray my guts out, asking Heavenly Father to give me a hand and wipe my mind of all these feminist ideals if that's what he wants for me. It seems like it would be so much easier to have a brain that didn't notice this stuff. You know what? No matter how hard I pray to be a different sort of lady, God has never given in to my demands. I take that to mean something; maybe all this thinking will get me somewhere that God needs me to go. Maybe this is an essential part of me, something that I couldn't change if I still wanted to be myself. I can't say for sure, but I do wonder. After all this list-making and all the living I've done, I sort of suspect that I became a feminist when I came into being.


  1. I, for one, am so so grateful that God didn't wipe away your feminist beliefs. You have so many valuable ideas to contribute to this ongoing conversation of equality.

  2. wow. you are such a thinker. and a great writer!

    "I became a feminist when I heard baby blessings in church; the baby girls' blessings would always talk about finding a worthy young man "who would take [her] to the temple," and the baby boys' blessings would always reference finding a worthy young woman "who [he] could take to the temple." Why the difference? Why this "taking" and "being taken," instead of both willingly walking inside together?"

  3. this is such a cool post, i love it!! especially the quote pics. :)


  4. Even though I know bits and pieces of this, it was really interesting to read it all compiled in one place. And I have to say, S.K.S.H., that I feel you live up to your ideal of valuing each person and individual choices and opinions very well. I have seldom met someone that I feel more comfortable expressing an opinion to, whether it is contrary or affirming...and to me, that is one of the greatest compliments I could give.


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