I Was a Mormon Feminist, But I Give Up
Recently, the Mormon Church excommunicated the founder of the organization Ordain Women, Kate Kelly. For the last year Kelly and her followers had been articulately challenging the traditional LDS view that only male members may receive the power of the Priesthood, the spiritual governing authority bestowed on its leaders.
Ordain Women had attempted to raise an intellectual discussion to no avail, with the exception of stale “Women’s roles are already important!” diatribes from incensed authority figures.
Before I go any further, let me be very clear: I was born and raised Mormon. My family baked casseroles and pie and canned foods for storage. I grew up on horror stories of lost-virginities. I hated the sin but not the sinner. Or at least I tried to.
But my life was more jagged than it seemed. By the time I got to college (at Brigham Young University no less), I had fully subscribed to the lifestyle of a spiritually uplifted Mormon woman. I refused to argue with any of the pseudo-intellectual babble that my male, return-missionary friends spouted while arguing against homosexuality or while trying to reason why the Church refused to ordain black men to the Priesthood until the 1970s. After all, they were men and thus knew more. They had a direct line to the governing power of the Church that I did not.
I took the highest calling I could and served as president of my church ward’s all-women organization, the Relief Society, for two years. I allowed grown men, in private meetings, to pepper me with questions: Have you ever skirted the line of moral transgression? Did you associate with organizations that supported same-gender attraction or the lifestyle and have you ever struggled with same-sex feelings? Have you ever engaged in oral sex?
The worst part was the submission. The child of a fiercely intelligent Asian mother, I had been raised to never shy away from a challenge. I wanted to be NASA’s first female shuttle commander. I thought that I could become the first female president. In church meetings, I was informed that my greatest dream should be to become a wife to a righteous man and later, a mother. I had no idea what I wanted anymore.
But life has a funny way of shining a light when you least expect it. in 2010, I was unmarried and broke, but planning on spending a few months in the Middle East anyway to study and “clear my head.” I had stopped attending Church as well; after years of bowing to strict rules, the final straw was a regional Church leader telling our young, single congregation that “dating a non-Mormon boy was a bad idea.” He claimed it would lead to questionable behavior, like drinking coffee.
I had had enough. “Women are strong! We’re capable! We can do anything men can do,” I would say. Shut up and make me a sandwich, said the cheap seats. “We’re done being virginal sex fantasies!” Modest is hottest, sluts, yelled the boys club.
My own family even got in on the action. “Women are just fundamentally different,” said my father and brother. “They can’t handle the same things men can. That’s why God put men on the earth, to be leaders.”
The person who surprised me the most was my mother. In response to my assertion that some women were calling for more authority positions within the Church, she exclaimed angrily, “These feminists! They want to be part of everything the boys do! They have to stick their noses in everything.” It was a crushing blow.
So when Kate Kelly came forward in early 2013 and took the stage as a voice for the underrepresented, it was as if someone had opened the window and let in a healthy dose of fresh air.
“Many Mormons respond to questions about the inequity of an all-male priesthood by insisting that men and women have distinct but equal roles,” she argued. “Women have motherhood, they argue, and men have priesthood. What they fail to acknowledge is that fatherhood is the appropriate parallel to motherhood. Priesthood power is separate and distinct from parenthood and gender. Rhetoric that uses motherhood to circumscribe women’s lives has been used throughout history to deny women access to the voting booth, political office, education and employment.”
They censured her. In a letter received June 8th, Kelly states that her former bishop announced he would be convening a formal disciplinary council in her absence to discuss her “sins." After a hearing for which Kelly was not present to defend herself, she was excommunicated. Her temple marriage has been revoked and her eternal family broken up. “I feel like being invited to a council of this sort is akin to being invited to my own funeral,” she mourned. In response, many of her weary supporters say they plan to leave the Church as well.
There has been a post circulating entitled “An Open Letter to Mormon Feminists” in which the author, a woman named Kylee Shields, pleads with her fellow Mormon women to not leave the Church in anger. “Don’t leave,” she begs. “Don’t leave because your questions matter. Don’t leave because you change the dialogue. Don’t leave because I am better with you. Some will understand. Stay.”
Pleas like this are the death throes of a waning movement. I have no doubt that the Mormon Church will continue on for a very long time, but the fight for equality is coming to an abrupt end. With her beautifully phrased yet misplaced compassion, Shields is essentially telling Mormon feminists that they should stay for the greater good.
“I am better with you,” she says. “Don't leave because in my diversity I feel safer knowing you are fighting the good fight next to me.”
It’s like telling someone who just got shot seven times to stay because you need moral support.
What the Church fails to grasp is that feminism is unique because every woman is unique. Not every woman is born loving children and wanting to become a wife. Personality and orientation dictate how they react to situations and how they will develop into adulthood. To force all women to bend to a certain mold and “assimilate,” as certain leaders have instructed, is unrealistic.
I remember reading something once by my favorite author, Tana French. She described the wild horses that run free through the vast wilderness of Wyoming and South Dakota and recalled them being taken in and broken by ranch hands. “Every now and then,” she wrote, “there was one that couldn’t be broken, one wild to the bone. Those horses fought the bridle and the fence till they were ripped up and streaming blood, till they smashed their legs or necks to splinters, till they died of fighting to run.”
We’re tired of fighting. Perhaps it is best that we cut our losses and seek solace where our livelihood isn’t questioned.
When the Mormon Church chose to censure and silence one of its strongest female voices, they sent a clear message that a woman’s worth is dependent on her willingness to submit.
We don’t need your pity or your forgiveness -- we need you to let us go.