Some days, I whine about being a feminist- I wish I could just go back to being a Mary Sunshine! I could just be happy to go to church every week, confident in my efforts at righteousness and not have to worry about any hard questions with no answers. And I certainly wouldn’t have to grapple with any other Mormon feminists – wondering whether I have to prove that I’m smart enough, educated enough, liberal enough, angry enough, victimized enough, feminist enough – it’s exhausting to be a member of this limbo shadow world, belonging nowhere.
Once in a while, though, feminism opens up a whole universe full of possibilities for me and I can’t help but thrill at what life might be like in a world where women could truly live up to their potential. Can you imagine it? I can!
What would our wards be like if women knew, understood, and loved all aspects of real, eternal womanhood? Would we form supportive communities that would celebrate each others’ advancement through the biological landmarks of birth, menarche, childbirth, menopause, and death? Would we openly share wisdom to help each other through every aspect of a woman’s life as role models and sisters without feeling awkward or ashamed of natural womanhood?
I can picture a girl being born into a circle of women like this, full of family, friends and neighbors. She would be raised as part of a rich tapestry of diverse women who loved and challenged each other. She would grow up with a solemn, confident understanding of what it meant to be a girl, a friend, a sister, a lover, a mother, a mentor, a woman, a priestess, a goddess. Can you imagine the young women’s program in a community like that? Imagine growing up, finding your identity, choosing a husband with a support system like that behind you!
Imagine what life would be like if all women had permission, from themselves and others, to act like grown-ups. To stop feeling ugly or dirty just because they have body hair and stretch marks like grown-ups are supposed to. Not to be embarrassed or worry about being viewed as aggressive or nagging just for having brains and opinions like grown-ups are supposed to. Not needing to manipulate or play dumb or act coy to try to get what we want. Loving ourselves enough to know what we want in the first place?
Would we quit hiding behind our husbands or our families or our victimhood and start seeing ourselves as vital participants in a community? Would we quit buying into the whitewashed, sterilized version of womanhood and start seeing ourselves as responsible, capable agents unto ourselves? Would we finally start seeing each other as actual sisters? Would we lift other women who didn’t understand yet and show them their own beauty and power?
I’ve been a part of groups of women that fulfilled some of these goals but failed at the rest of them – enlightened feminist groups that shunned outsiders with snobbery and one-upping, supportive LDS relief societies that dwindled and stagnated with lack of accountability or authority, lively family circles that collapsed under petty competition and gossip. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Just because it’s a long shot doesn’t mean I can’t raise my own daughter in this kind of world. I can try to build it here, now, with my friends and neighbors. I think that’s what Mormon feminism ought to be – building, not fighting. We should be teaching, supporting, encouraging, and growing, not arguing with small-minded opponents. So many of us approach it as though it’s a war to be won – our soldiers against your soldiers, whoever has the biggest guns and the most anger wins. But our problem isn’t lack of soldiers or weapons. We don’t fight darkness with flame throwers, we fight it by lighting candles, one by one, until the world is illuminated and everyone can see what they’ve been missing this whole time. We don’t preach the gospel by torching the Vatican, we preach it by knocking on doors, by starting conversations.
So go light a candle today!