How do you raise strong, feminist daughters in the Church?

Dear AMG:

What’s your experience raising daughters and with the Mormon Church? How do you do it? I have a 13 month old daughter. I am struggling with what I will teach her and model for her. Where do you draw the line? How do you say listen to this, not that (when talking about talks given by people in the church)? I am a convert, so I don’t know what is being taught in young womens. I guess I’m just generally not sure how I will convey to her the good things about the Church, but still teach her important things like what feminism promotes.

KB

Well, KB, since my daughters are only 5 and 7 years old, I want to start by professing a big dose of humility with this parenting business. There are wise women and men reading this right now who have years and years more parenting experience. In fact, I want to just hurry up and finish the column so I can scroll down and read their comments right now. I still have a lot of learning to do.

In many respects, I think the Church provides a more favorable environment than the non-LDS mainstream for young women’s development because Mormonism strongly mitigates against the sexualization of young people and prioritizes their spiritual and intellectual development. (After getting letters here at AMG from young women under 18 who’ve felt bruised and battered by their first forays into sexual activity, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s a terrific idea to delay as long as possible. But ECS made a great point here about the dangers of portraying young women’s sexuality as a threat to young men.) Mormonism also taught me to take myself seriously as a reader and a thinker, and it taught me the strength that comes from making difficult but good choices.

In other respects, I do worry about the impacts on my daughters of being raised in an institutional environment where almost all positions of visible congregational authority are reserved to men and where men are designated presiders and providers simply by virtue of having been born male.

Funny thing is, so far, my daughters seem not to notice the whole patriarchy business. One day on our way home from church, I was telling my daughters (in a very even-handed way) about how at times conservative Mormons have promoted the idea that women belong in the home rather than in positions of public leadership. And my then six year-old said, “Are they crazy? Don’t they see that women run everything at church?” And she started naming all her primary teachers and leaders. “They’re not just staying at home,” she said. “They’re in charge!” That’s when I realized that from her perspective as a kid in primary, women did run the church.

My daughter saw her primary class that way in part because she is being raised by a Mormon feminist mom and a Jewish pro-feminist dad in an egalitarian marriage. What we model at home really matters. And especially because I was not a regular church attender for the earliest years of their lives, I have always felt that the responsibility for my daughters’ spiritual education rested primarily with me.

So there has never been a time in my daughters’ life when they have not heard God consistently characterized by both me and my husband as a He and a She, a Mother and a Father. I have also shared with them at home as much Mormon feminist knowledge and outlook as possible to give them resources they may not get in more traditional Mormon settings.

I have tried to talk openly and compassionately about differences among Mormons. This lesson came home to them very early because as pro-LGBT equality Mormons in California, Proposition 8 had a huge impact on our lives. My daughters know that there are conservative Mormons and liberal Mormons, that some of us rooted for Proposition 8 (like Grandma) and some of us rooted against it (like Mommy), but that we are all still Mormons and that we definitely still love Grandma even though we may disagree with her on some things. It is often considered taboo to talk about differences among Mormons, but I am hoping that by modeling an open and respectful attitude towards difference my daughters will understand that they have the support from me they need as they shape their own standpoints and perspectives as well as the right to find a path in Mormonism that works for them.

Finally, I have emphasized prayer and the process of seeking spiritual knowledge, because no Mormon teaching has been more pivotal or revolutionary for me than the belief that each of us can ask God directly and individually for help and direction in any circumstance.

I hope this helps, but I’m ready to shut up and listen. Readers, what wisdom can you add? What else should KB bear in mind as she raises her baby girl, and me as I raise mine? Send your queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

About these ads

7 Comments

Filed under parenting

7 responses to “How do you raise strong, feminist daughters in the Church?

  1. TaterTot

    “I still have a lot of learning to do.”

    I don’t know Joanna, this post is very wise. You present some really good ideas on teaching your children about differences in the church. Thanks for this.

  2. Hi Joanna,

    The strongest female members in the Mormon Church I know and have known are single. With all the pressure to get un-singled, they have to be strong. Hell, if it wasn’t for strong women in it, it wouldn’t exist. (The Church, not Hell. Well maybe Hell, too! Is there a Female Lucifer?) From my readings of Mormon history, polygamy made for strong women, too. Again, they had to be, but at what cost?

    There might well be a Mother In Heaven, but fact is, it is not taught much and if there is, what strong feminist woman do you know who would want to be pretty anonymous and be an in-the-background helpmate? Sounds like a Molly Mormon Mother! 3M – that is even shorter than “I Am” and they rhyme!

    One could argue that the reason most Christian Churches are very patriarchal is because men wrote the history and put themselves in charge. However, Jesus was a man. Was He single? Did He have female Apostles? Who knows? If it was important, don’t you think He would leave a record around about His marriage, and His female Apostles? Is that Sexist? Ask Him!

    I would teach your daughters to be themselves, to live in the Spirit (is the Holy Ghost female?), find out what they are good at and do it. They will have the strength they need without necessarily being Mollyized. Are you sure their needs would be best served in the Mormon Church? Facts are facts. Maybe Jesus isn’t sexist because we only know what men wrote about Him, but do you think your daughters will find their feminine selves in any Christian Church, let alone a Church where polygamy was taught as an Eternal principle? For that matter do you think raising them to be “strong feminist daughters” is that important? How about raising them to be their true selves, whatever that is? Maybe they are Molly Mormons at heart! ;-)

    Mostly sincerely, but a little facetiously, but definitely sexist, ;-)
    Glen

  3. I am working on an interesting ethnography depicting that women indeed run the church. Part of my literature is “Keeper of the Drums: Female Aboriginal Leadership and the Salience of Gender” by Julien et al. It’s from a journal called Advancing Women in Leadership. I think your daughters may take interest in the high points of it.

  4. Jon Shurtleff

    Many a male leader understands that the women run the Church. I do. I’m an Elders Quorum President but I’d be helpless without my wife. I council with her about everything, preserving confidentiality, of course. She is generally wiser, kinder, more loving, closer to the Spirit and understands the Gospel better than I do. I’d be helpless without her.

  5. I think that part of the answer is helping girls to recognize the power that they have and how to express it. Our modern view of power can be very oriented to a classic male version of power and I think even in the church we think power is something men should exhibit. A woman doesn’t have to act like a man to be powerful and in fact it’s a disservice to herself to think this is what power looks like. Kathryn Lynard Soper wrote an excellent piece on this subject:

    “Emergence—Women and their Power”
    By Kathryn Lynard Soper

    http://ldsmag.com/component/zine/article/6587?ac=1

  6. I’m going to have to disagree on the “women run the church” meme. They do a high proportion of the scut work. There’s a difference. Remember President Hinckley discussing the difficulties of being the only healthy member of the First Presidency for a long period when Pres. Benson was ill? He said it was a terrible position to be in because

    “I had complete responsibility, but absolutely no authority.”

    President Hinckley was awesome and he’s always going to be one of my favorite church leaders. On this one, though, I think “Cry me a river, Brother! That’s only what every single woman in the church faces, every single day of her life.”

    The “Man is the head, but women are the neck” philosophy of power is no good. It generates women who manipulate, and men who kvetch about women being manipulative. I don’t want to ride where that bus is going.

    I have a three-year-old daughter who will be entering Primary this January. Don’t know what exactly to do to keep the walls from closing in on her. I’m mostly counting on her having a mad scientist for a mother going a long way.

  7. I also tend to think that raising a feminist boy in the church will be much easier than raising a feminist girl.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s