Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Desperate Mormon Housewives

The current issues of Bust magazine has an article entitled "Despearte Mormon Housewives." (Bust doesn't put their content online, but I encourage everyone to find a copy of the magazine and read this article). It's an interesting look into the rise of feminism among Mormon women. As it turns out, many women who practice Mormonism are dissatisfied with the fact that they have no opportunities for leadership in the church. Additionally, many of them want to pursue careers and occupations outside the role of "mother." Unfortunatley, they're not getting any support at home or in church. And they can't really talk about it to each other, as such discussions are frowned upon. A few extremely vocal Mormon feminists have even been excommunicated (although nobody fears a mass purge of feminists, as that would be bad PR for the church).

Because they can't talk to their families, church leaders or even each other about feminism, Mormon women interested in the issue are turning to the internet, specifically the blogosphere (or as some Mormon women call it, the "bloggernacle"). Although there are a few feminist Mormon sites out there, the powerhouse is Feminist Mormon Housewives. In this site, discussion is focused on how to balance feminist ideology with Mormon faith. Because the vast majority of these women are in the role of homemaker, a lot of the discussions also include stories about their home lives, parenting, etc. But there is also a lot of talk about political issues, and how feminism affects their lives. There's a book club which reads texts like The Feminine Mystique and The Price of Motherhood (the latter of which I wholeheartedly endorse). These women definitely want to see change in the way their religion views women, and I think that's great. I'm not sure how far they will get if they limit themselves to the internet, but I really like what's going on at this site. No, I don't agree with everything they say (heck, I have a lot of problems with feminist ideology as well), but I think this shows that change is on the horizon.

Ironically, Mormonism did not start out as an anti-feminist faith. Originally, women had leadership roles in the church. They were not on completely equal footing with men, but they did have a voice. And Mormonism believes in a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. But after Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) died, male leaders revoked the rights of women (another example of religion, which I think is more or less benign, becoming bad in the wrong hands). Furthermore, they claimed that people could not pray to or discuss the Heavenly Mother because she was "too sacred." Therefore, women had no voice, and they didn't have anyone to even relate to in liturgy. It looks like things might be changing again.

It makes me really happy to see that Mormon women are looking to theories and ideas outside of their religion. I imagine their struggle to find a balance is incredibly challenging. I hope that their online discussions help them find the solidarity they need to enact change within Mormonism as a whole. And I think that the rise of feminsim in Mormon circles is going to improve a lot of other things as well. Mormon women are learning that feminism, which they identify with a secular lifestyle, doesn't have to completely conflict with their beliefs. They're discovering that feminists aren't out to annihiliate families or destroy their beliefs. I think that by learning more about feminism and how it can have a postive influence on their lives, it's going to mean fewer negative stereotypes about those of us who are completely secular. And I think that with feminism as a common ground, there will be a potential for better dialogue between religious people, atheists, agnostics, etc.