The phrase “Mormon feminism” appears to many as an oxymoron. It may seem difficult for a member of a faith that has been criticized for its patriarchal leadership structure and rhetoric about gender roles to believe such equality is possible. But, at a recent conference hosted by UVU, many members of the faith were willing to grapple with those contradictions.
The UVU Center for the Study of Ethics hosted a conference titled Women in Mormondom March 7 and 8. The event, named after a 19th-century LDS book, asked the question, “What stories do modern Mormon women want told about their lives?” and offered a space to discuss timely and important issues.
Some of the topics covered were female religiosity, suffrage and activism by Mormon women, feminism within the church, and the concept of a Heavenly Mother. Speakers ranged from writers, such as Fiona Givens and Kristine Haglund, to activists and historians like Sharlee Mullins Glenn and Bryndis Roberts.
“I think conferences like this are crucial and I’m glad that our school hosts them,” said Alex Monroe, a junior literary studies major. “Many of the speakers opened up conversations about things we don’t really talk about in the church, at least not beyond careful, surface-level conversation.”
The keynote address “Feminism and Heavenly Mother,” was given by Fiona Givens, co-author of The God Who Weeps. Her lecture explored the history of the feminine divine — a concept that has been “shadowy and elusive, floating around the edges of contemporary Mormon consciousness,” according to Givens.
During the panel discussion, many women asked how they could discuss these oft-taboo topics among members of their congregations. Those who have tried, they said, were told not to speak of such things or were labeled as “heretical.”
Glenn referenced a time she spoke up during a Relief Society lesson. She admitted to her peers that she often struggled with her feelings about LDS temple ceremonies. Voicing that concern, she said, changed the tone of the meeting.
“You can change the environment of your Relief Societies,” Glenn said. “If you speak up, people will realize they have permission to be honest. Create safe spaces for people to discuss their greatest fears. We are not heretics. We are talking about important things, and that’s okay.”
One audience member asked why these changes in theology and rhetoric are taking so long to enter the mainstream conversation. She noted that discourse on the topics were published in the early days of the church.
“We need more women in history. Historians tell the stories that they can relate to,” Brown said. “We need to be diligent about making sure other stories are told.”
Monroe said that conferences such Women in Mormondom are a good start.
“To hear [these concepts] treated like serious academic topics rather than taboo points of quiet conversation feels significant,” Monroe said. “I think there’s a lot more progress to be made and conferences like this can act as a catalyst for that progress.”
Photo illustration by Johnny Morris.