Why I disagree with “Mormon Feminists”

Published by Erica on

The following is a relatively free-hand rehearsal of my thoughts. It has been thought through, but not particularly edited much. FYI. 

There has been a great deal of hoopla going on lately in regards to “Mormon Feminists.” Sunday marked a Facebook-wide push for women to wear pants to church. It garnered a lot of attention from many news outlets such as NPR and FOX. Personally, I was too busy with my life to really get caught up in things, but I knew enough of the movement to know that I would not be joining the ranks of pants-wearers. According to their comments, these feminists advocating pants at church did so in order to make a statement and push for united sisterhood. According to one of the Facebook groups

The creators of this event are feminists who recognize pants are a symbol of much larger issues that require addressing. This event is the first act of All Enlisted, a direct action group for Mormon women to advocate for equality within our faith. We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the LDS church and its members to acknowledge the similarities. We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS church today stems from the church’s reliance on – and enforcement of – rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality.

I must declare that I do not agree with this type of thinking. I do not think we should be using a place of worship as a place to stage, what amounts to, political posturing. I recognize that there are politic of faith, and many people have extremely strong emotions on both sides of the spectrum. I respect that we all do and should have differing viewpoints in regards to the cultural, non-doctrinal aspects of religion. I believe that these differences make our worship and religious cultural experiences richer through their diversity. They celebrate the individuality of each person, while highlighting the similarities that bond us together as followers of Christ. But I feel like what many of the “Mormon Feminists” do, particularly the most vocal ones, is divide to conquer. 

A cursory read of posts on blogs such as Feminist Mormon Housewives quickly reveals the agenda of its adherents. The tag line itself spells it out explicitly: “angry activists” (followed by various culturally common tasks such as “with peaches to can” or “with bonnets to sew”). I do not believe that a group founded on anger can properly solve any kind of problem. Anger muddies the water and distracts from the issues at hand. Many of the posts are from women expressing their deep frustration with the church system. 

I read one where the mother shared profound sadness and and sense of disconnection with her daughter regarding the receiving of her Young Womanhood medallion. The mother was supremely upset that her daughter’s leader and bishop handled the matter so quickly and without the fanfare associated with a young man’s Eagle Scout award. Her anger blinded her from realizing that Boy Scouts of America is not an LDS-based organization. Her argument couldn’t hold water, because by nature the two awards would be different. What particularly bothered me about the story was the blame: it was the institution’s fault. She was not culpable in making the experience memorable for her daughter. I disagree. I recall completing the requirements to receive my own medallion. With my good friend, who also received her award at the same time, we and our parents coordinated with the bishopric to create a special Young Women’s activity. For our weekly activity, we had a special barbecue where all the Young Women could come and celebrate their accomplishments and our sisterhood. My friend and I received our medallions, which was the primary purpose, but it focused on our accomplishments as young women and helped to set an example for the rest of our younger sisters. Why didn’t this mother talk with the YW president or bishopric to see if such an option was available? 

I believe that many of the perceived injustices against women could be alleviated if women proactively proposed solutions. There are ways to make the Young Women’s program as fulfilling and empowering as the Young Men’s program. Scouting is its own program, but why not have interested young women meet together to do those kinds of activities? I realize that these women might argue that it is the responsibility of the institution to provide equal programs for men and women, boys and girls. To them, I would suggest that they research how many of the Young Men’s activities are actually for scouting, a non-LDS based group. I would also suggest that many Relief Society sisters are just begging for someone to propose target shooting instead of quilting nights! Go ahead and be that positive voice to suggest such activities. That is a proactive way to solve what you see as a problem.

Getting back on track with the pants and feminists though… I consider myself a progressive woman in the church. I am educated. I am single. I am confident to go to church and sit by myself if I want to. I worship in the ways that bring me closest to God. If you need to wear pants to feel connected to your God, then by all means do so. I support you. If you feel disconnected from sisters in your ward – I understand. I’ve been there. It’s tough to navigate female relationships, particularly with cultural norms playing a role. I don’t feel like wearing pants is going to help me connect with you though. I don’t see how pants are demonstrating your pain and anguish with the church. I respect that you perceive yourself as a victim or lesser participant. I would suggest that you are an empowered woman who can do everything in your power to change that. 

One last thought on “Mormon Feminists” and why I disagree with them – unity versus divisiveness. One major claim of the pants movement was to unite women. In fact, many of their movements and arguments are based on the idea that we women need to unite and let our voices be heard. What bothers me is that the quest to have a resounding voice often results in subjugation of differing opinions. These feminists were thrilled (as was I) with the lower ages for missionaries. What a step forward for our sisters, daughters, etc! Truly it is a great opportunity. But what of the women who still choose not to serve? Will these feminists express them same love and understanding to women who consciously chose to remain more “conventional” despite the broadened options? I don’t believe that the “Mormon Feminist” discourse leaves a place for women who believe in progress but desire the conventional expression of life, faith, and devotion. They distinguish themselves through their strong views, which naturally draw lines and boundaries. As long as they put themselves in opposition to other women, they will never achieve the ultimate goal of unifying all women together as simply women. Clothes don’t make the woman. They really aren’t even important at all. Your sister is important. I believe that if we focus our energies and efforts on getting to know our sisters and loving them, we will effect greater change than any pants movement could do. 

Categories: soliloquy


VictoriaMurray · December 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm

There will always be a group complaining about something. My sister is in a ward where half the women wear pant suits and it doesn't matter. No one makes a big deal out of it. I find the women who wear tight and short clothes are more out of place even though they have on a dress. If people are so caught up in what others are wearing, are they really living the gospel? I think people are missing the point of why we go to church.

Erica · December 19, 2012 at 6:27 am

That's what I was trying to get at towards the end… clothes don't matter. Pants, tight and short dresses…. those are not what the gospel is about. I think it is very important we seek to love the people and not judge them on what they wear. I also fundamentally disagree with the "mormon feminist" approach, but thought I'd clarify that last part in case I wasn't very clear.

Mostly Jessica · December 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I am not a feminist Mormon either. But surely you can see the inequality of money spent on programs for young men vs for young women. Young women get one or two campouts per year depending on age. Young men get one every month because of scouts. Have you ever served in scouts? It is not its own program – it is deeply integrated in the young men's program. Campouts is just one example.

Amy · December 23, 2012 at 3:28 am

Thanks Erica- I agree with you! I don't see how wearing pants to church is going to achieve anything productive. I also think that there is some sort of misunderstanding with church doctrine- if you are trying to become equal with men in the church by wearing pants, you must not fully understand what the role of women is in the church or in society. The argument that "rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality" is something that the LDS church relies on is completely false. What "reality" are they talking about? My opinion: they are misunderstanding what a wonderful thing it is to be a woman in the LDS church and society, and thus accepting what the world says women should be, and rejecting what prophets have said for years. I understand that there should be some changes- maybe making the Personal Progress Program be more of a big deal, or having more campouts, but I also think that should be something determined on a ward by ward basis. (I know I would not have gone on a campout every month, it would have been a deterrent from activities for me…) In the end, I don't think women uniting and wearing pants is going to change revelation of the church as to what women's role is.

Anyway, thanks again Erica. I think you are great.

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