Merry Christmas, AMG family. And profound thank yous to the AMG readers including Carole, Dan, Kim, and others who have supported the Family Acceptance Project this holiday season!
This week’s question grows out of last week’s Pants to Church Sunday, a grassroots-organized event that united Mormon feminists and their allies in a quiet demonstration of visibility and hope for renewed conversation about traditional gender inequalities in the LDS Church. If you read some of the coverage (like this New York Times piece), you may also know that a modest gesture like wearing pants to church engendered a fierce backlash from some quarters. And this week, we’re going to speak to it. Here’s a letter from a sweet sister pants warrior:
I stopped going to church about six years ago, and my separation from
the community and tradition I grew up in was painful for years. After
finding your blog and going to the Sunstone conference this year,
however, I have felt an incredible amount of peace and hope—I felt I
could belong in a progressive Mormon community, and my feminist voice
could be heard and valued.
Because of this recent reconciliation, the online backlash to Wear
Pants to Church Day was especially discouraging. Even though I have
separated myself from mainstream Mormonism and didn’t encounter
face-to-face antagonism, it was hurtful to read comments from people I
grew up with telling Mormon feminists to get out. Like others who
followed the discussions, I read that I don’t belong, that my
experiences with inequality are based on personal weakness, and that
God’s word on gender will never change.
I love the faith I grew up in and want a place somewhere inside, but
after last week I have the old sense that I am not welcome–that my
experiences can’t fit within the Mormon framework. I want to be part
of the change for greater acceptance within the church, but I also
want to be part of a community where my voice is valued.
Did you feel any of this? Do you have any advice/encouragement for
fellow Mormon feminists who took an online beating?
Oh, beloved pants warriors. I know it’s time for egg nog and sugar cookies, but let’s take a collective assessment of our post-pants-to-church-Sunday selves.
Y’all doing okay out there?
What a wild week that was. And mind you, I wasn’t even an organizer! Nor a Facebook pants warrior engaged in one-on-one combat with the pants-haters! But after hours, on the Facebook, oh yes, I tried to help bandage the poor pants warriors who came back night after night rhetorically bloodied and bruised.
And yes, it was daunting. To be out there and berated by Facebook’s Mormon posse comitatus, those self-selected defenders of “the faith” who assume the right to revoke the baptismal certificates of anyone who doesn’t worship their way. Plenty of them out there. Men as well as women. And guess what? Though they be numerous, none of them are the boss of the great Mormon movement. This is a movement made up of millions upon millions of us who have loved the faith, and each of us has a say in shaping its future.
So, yes, we took some heat from random jerks on Facebook.
Did anyone take a physical beating?
Did anyone go to jail?
Did anyone lose a job?
Did anyone lose a home?
Did anyone lose a life?
Because that’s what feminists around the world face and have faced. Across time. And all the time. From the iron-jawed angel suffragettes who were beaten for demanding the vote early last century. To the men and women in India this weekend protesting the government’s lax prosecution of rape, who were struck with batons and fired upon by water cannons, and the young Pakistani girls disfigured by Taliban acid attacks because they wanted an education.
None of this, sister pants warrior, is to say that what you faced didn’t hurt. I do remember my first in-box full of mean mail. And my second. And my third. And how I learned. I learned to set my Facebook privacy settings high, to bounce messages from people who reeked mean, and also to listen to people I disagreed with who may have had a point, even when it was uncomfortable. And not to take it personally.
And most of all, I learned not to let people get into my head. After all, would you let a threatening stranger get past the front door of your house? No? Then, why let them in your head? To take up residence in the living room of your brain and tell you that you don’t deserve to live? That you don’t deserve your own faith? That you don’t deserve to claim Mormonism—a religion so many would write off as ridiculous and incredible, but which you, mighty heart, have found reason to love?
Yes. You can choose not to let them in. You can choose not to engage every random self-appointed meanie who gets up on your Facebook wall, or inbox, or Twitter feed. You can choose not to read the on-line comments, which will be predictably cruel, semi-literate, and marginally insane. You can save your breath and energy. There’s plenty to spend it on.
As Mormon feminists, we’ve just witnessed the largest concerted Mormon feminist effort in history. After three decades of having the dominant message in our culture being “feminism = excommunication,” a message that has made us afraid to be in our own church, grassroots Mormon feminists found a way to renew our courage, find allies, and wordlessly but firmly insist we have a place here too. Not so easy to get rid of us. Not so easy to write us off. We claim this faith too, in its difficulty and its beauty.
Did it hurt, the cruel reaction? You bet. Was it productive, the restarting of a frozen conversation? You bet. Did we confront our own fear? Yes. Does one feel a bit tired and even perhaps exposed after confronting one’s own fear, so publicly? Yes. And did Pants Sunday reveal we have so much work to do? Yes.
We’ve got to keep being public. We’ve got to keep the conversation going. Most LDS people—including many, many Mormon feminists—just don’t know Mormon women’s history like we should. We’ve got to teach ourselves (start with the links embedded here) and build the resources to educate the younger ones coming up. We’ve got to build scholarship funds for Mormon feminist single mothers. We’ve got to fund publications like Exponent. We’ve got to write books on Mormon feminist thought, experience, and theory. We’ve got to finish our college educations. We’ve got to spend less time in private Facebook groups, and more time on public blogs like Feminist Mormon Housewives where our conversations are recorded for history, because Mormon women’s history matters. Less time fighting with strangers and more time talking with men and women who want to learn. Less time worrying about what others think and more time knowing our truths and living our lives.
Sister Pantswarrior, we Mormon women are raised to crave approval. But this world needs leadership, and leaders by definition can’t wait for others to approve before they identify and act to meet needs. Think of our Mother Eve. Don’t crave approval. Know who you can get some nurturing from when you need it, because we all need it sometimes. But more than approval crave knowledge. Crave wisdom. Crave courage. Crave oxygen. Crave humor. Crave solidarity. Crave community. All of these make the lumps that come with Mormon feminism—and you can certainly handle them–so much easier to take.
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