Wait, She’s a Mormon AND a Feminist?!
What does it mean to be an LDS Feminist?
This is a huge topic and not something that can be easily condensed to anything less than a PHD dissertation. But I’m going to go ahead and try to tackle it anyway. It’s something that I’ve put a lot of thought into over the last few years and although I’m sure my understanding and worldview might change over time I’ve finally rested on a place where I feel at peace.
Feminist is a word that I’ve often been afraid to label myself, especially in an LDS setting. It’s wrought with so many complicated feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions. I’m afraid that if I suggest to someone I’m feminist then they automatically assume I’m for women being ordained to the priesthood, that I don’t believe in innate differences in gender and therefore the family proclamation.
First and foremost I believe that all men and women are equal in the eyes of God. That is simply what I believe feminism is about. Women are in no way less. I think starting from this simple point most would agree on.
This is where it gets a little more complicated. Does that mean men and women should be treated in exactly the same ways? Do we have exactly the same capabilities? This is where I begin to get twisted up in what I believe and don’t believe. I do believe that we socialise our children into gender norms in a lot of ways. I’ve seen it with my own two children. I’ve consciously tried not to but it’s very, very difficult. Let me give you some examples.
My daughter loves pink and purple, princesses, sparkly things, ballerinas and every other girly thing imaginable. I do think that in part it’s because she really does like those things, but on the other hand every single time she wears a pink dress, especially if it’s sparkly somebody (and often many people) comments on how beautiful she looks. Without fail. How can I separate the fact that she probably enjoys that feedback from whether she genuinely would choose those things despite the feedback she would get? I can’t.
Another example is my son. He very rarely gets any comments on the clothes he wears, unless it’s something he is particularly excited to show somebody. However, every single time he is around a ball and kicks it or throws it we all clap madly and exclaim him such a natural at sports. Although it is true and he does seem to have an affinity towards it, there still remains the question in my mind of whether these traits are something that is true to him or something with which we unconsciously encouraged him.
Back to my thoughts on gender, as I said, I do believe that we socialize our children in many ways to their gender. The idea that men should be the ones out working and women should be home watching over and caring for kids seemed old fashioned to me even if it was something I always wanted. What really bothered me was that I believe not everyone would want that and that somehow if a family decided it was best for the mother to be working and the father to be at home, that they were somehow going against the gospel.
My feelings have shifted a lot over the last year. I’m always striving to reconcile myself to the gospel. I love this gospel so much but I haven’t always had the easiest relationship with it. I’ve always had questions and beliefs that don’t seem to fit within what we are asked to believe. And so I’ve constantly put myself to work because I want so much to be a faithful Latter-day Saint. This year my husband was laid off from his job and at that exact time I was asked if I would like to fill a maternity position at a doctor’s office. Although I’d always been a stay at home mom and my son was only 2 at the time, we both decided it would be a good idea and it would give my husband the opportunity to find a job to which he really connects.
Over the year what I’ve discovered is that although my husband is genuinely a wonderful father, a loving and patient man, that the shift in the dynamic of our family have been large. I have no real issue with fathers staying home with their children. What I’ve seen that has caused the most difficulty is becoming the provider in our family while still trying to hold onto that nurturing role. I do believe as the Family – A Proclamation to the World states:
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
It was something I always sort of passed over in the past in that casual and somewhat dismissive way. Now I have seen that there is a divine design to it. It doesn’t say that mothers shouldn’t work. How I’ve come to understand it is that women are nurturers. Whether they stay home, work or even work two jobs, they very rarely relinquish that nurturing role. And so the role of provider on top of the role of nurturer becomes a very heavy burden to carry. Instead, if men are able to provide, it equalizes the roles allowing each to carry the burden of watching over the family.
The Family – A Proclamation to the World goes on to say:
“In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
I’ve only now come to see that this is true. If we allow ourselves to hold onto the sacred responsibilities we have been given by divine design it really does equalize us. And to me this is what being a feminist has always been about. Not feeling as if I am somehow inferior because I was born a girl. I’ve wondered in the past if the reason why men where the providers and usually the ones in higher leadership positions was because women were seen as inconsequential in everything except child birth. I knew this wasn’t the case but I didn’t feel I could say why this wasn’t the case. Now I see the roles we were given was one of the greatest gifts and something that allows us to help our spouse as an equal partner.
What I’m not saying is that men should never stay home to watch their children, I’m also not saying that women should never work. Sometimes, life circumstances call for us to take on situations that are different from what we would call ideal. What I am saying is that despite the opinion that women staying at home and men working is oppressive to women, I’ve shifted to see it as an equalizing force. I’m not arguing that it is for everyone, but I do believe that our roles were created and have continued to be encouraged in these ways because it was divinely designed by a Heavenly Father who knows us so much better than we know ourselves.