Today is International Women's Day. Since it fell on a Sunday, I was at church today and it was the subject of a talk in sacrament meeting coinciding with the upcoming Relief Society Anniversary that will be celebrated in my branch later this month.
The RS president in my branch gave a nice talk about all the usual RS values: sisterhood, charity, service, motherhood, etc. But there one part in her talk that bothered me.
She started off by mentioning how she remembered an International Women's Day years back where Norwegian women protested with a slogan that I can translate as "Don't give up on your demands!" Upon hearing this, a sister in the congregation let out a laugh that sounded just a tad like mocking to me. The RS president went on to say, very proudly indeed, that never in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the sisters "demanded" anything of the like.
Let me start off by saying that I'm not implying here that LDS women should start "demanding" things from the Church. When it comes to things like the priesthood, most Mormon women I know (myself included) have no real interest in obtaining it. Most of us probably don't even feel unequal, unless you count things like polygamous temple sealings -- which most probably don't give much thought to until they find themselves involved in one.
But are LDS women marginalizing the efforts and accomplishments of feminists -- the things that we are supposed to be celebrating and giving thought to this day? The reason why I say yes is because I used to do it myself. Just a few years ago, I could have been that sister laughing at feminists in sacrament meeting.
I'd be lying if I said that I was a good feminist. And to be perfectly honest, I have to say that more often than not, I have viewed the feminist movement as something negative: women telling me to burn my bra, wear pantsuits, or make sure that every kid in the country grows up in daycare while mom climbs to the top of the corporate ladder. But the older I get and the more I learn about history and the world around me, the more thankful I am for the women who went before me and paved the road so that I have as much access to the highway of life as my husband. Yes, I'm even thankful for those terribly "demanding" feminists who never "gave up."
I think that most LDS women have a cynical view of feminism (as I did) because they believe that the only aim of feminists is to pull them out of their homes and force them to work while their kids get shipped off to daycare, even though they have chosen of their own free will to be a stay-at-home mom and love it. They feel that their choice of lifetyle is being mocked, devalued, and discouraged. And I certainly think that sometimes this is the case.
But let's look at the other side of the coin. Is there not a Mormon equivalent of the die-hard, anti-traditional, bra-burning feminist? Aren't liberal, career-oriented, childless women generally looked upon by most Mormons as being selfish -- or perhaps even having an active hand in the breakdown of the family? We often hear how the traditional family is "under attack," which was reiterated in church today. And who is "attacking" it? I think that many LDS women think that feminists are. Perhaps that's why the word "feminist" still instinctively conjures up a negative feeling in me until I actually consciously think about it. And the more conscious thought I give it, the less threatened I feel by feminists.
But just as troublesome to me as die-hard feminists telling me that my place is in an office and not at home, is Mormons telling me that my place is not in an office but at home. Mormons can sprinkle as much sugar as they like on it, but the message is always the same: a woman's place is in the home raising children and it's not just where she should be, but where she should want to be. And a woman who doesn't want to be, or chooses to be childless, can perhaps barely be called a woman at all.
In her talk, the RS president addressed the concern that some have about a church that excludes women from the priesthood. Her explanation was that women make up for it in terms of equality by being "partners" with the Lord and giving birth to children -- something that men can't do. I sat there wondering where that leaves me. And I sometimes wonder whether I'm the only woman in the Church who is wondering. At times it feels like finding my place in this world is a lot easier than finding my place in the Church. Personally, I'd like to have some say in what my role in this life is.
So what do you think? Are LDS women a bunch of femiphobics? Can they really appreciate what the feminist movement has given them without mocking it?
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