A Review of "Should Mormon Women Speak Out?" by Claudia Bushman, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 41, No. 1. (This issue should be coming out very shortly. Keep checking the website.)
Claudia Bushman is a Mormon woman who has been speaking out since the late 1960's when she and some friends living in Boston met monthly for a "consciousness-raising" group. These women became the founders of Exponent II and put together the "pink issue" of Dialogue--vol 6 no. 2, an issue devoted to women's concerns--in 1971.
Speaking out by Mormon women has been met in a variety of ways by Church leadership since the 1960's. Some of the more publicized cases have tended to engender fear and reluctance to push the envelope. These cases influenced a generation of Mormon women, who were given the message that if their voice did not fit within strict parameters, they would be excluded.
More likely, an LDS woman who is speaking out will simply be ignored. Russell Ballard has recognized this, and urged Stake and Ward leaders to allow women a greater role in Church councils.
Claudia's article juxtaposes two sentiments: Eugene England, who opines that Mormon women writers are "more free, more daring, inventive, original in thought and unique in voice than Mormon men," and Susan B. Anthony's 1859 observation "why is it that all the pages of history glow with the names of illustrious men, while only here and there a lone woman appears, who, like the eccentric camel, marks the centuries?" Claudia comes to the conclusion: "Women do not speak out." Is her conclusion informed by the fears of the past when "women have spoken out and rued the day?" Or are women finding more of a voice in the Church today?
My personal opinion is that women have more of a voice in the Church than ever before. We see women speaking to a worldwide Church in General Conference. Women are being hired in greater numbers at Church universities. And the internet is one of the frontiers where this is happening. When women of the Church disagreed with RS President Julie Beck's conference talk, the internet was a forum for them to voice their concerns. It was also a place for women who agreed with Beck's sentiments to make it known. Though a number of women signed their names to an expression of disagreement with her talk, there was no official recrimination or disciplinary action. Regardless, there are perhaps some areas of improvement still worth considering which Claudia mentions in her article.
1. In the Church we tend to consider the basic unit the family rather than the individual, hearkening back to that old idea that the married man and woman were one, and that one was the husband.
2. Does having a voice negate the essential nature of women? What is the authentic nature of women and what are we supposed to learn in our sojourn on the earth?
3. Women used to have more opportunities to serve and develop their talents in Church work than they do now.
4. Our male hierarchy sometimes treats grown women as children.
In her article, Claudia proposes a practical program of action for Mormon women to encourage them to speak up and out. None of her suggestions are radical. I think that younger women will read the article and wonder what is the big deal. These women are already speaking out in their homes, their wards, and their stakes. Being more of Claudia's generation than many of the women on the internet, I relate to the fear she mentions. Experiences I've had in the past with male leaders are still very much a part of my life. These experiences, as well as the way women dissidents have historically been treated in the Church, make me hesitant to express my opinions in a Church setting.
I'd love to have some feedback from Mormon women to see how they perceive the woman's voice is being heard in their areas. Please take a minute to answer these questions in the comment section:
- Do you feel your leaders, especially male leaders, know you and relate to you from a position of respect rather than need?
- Are women's views well represented in your ward and stake?
- Are women presenting and carrying out their ideas?
- Are women given an opportunity to persuade and convince, or are their ideas silenced and ignored?
- Do you feel less respected in the Church than in your professional position?
- Do you feel that your voice is heard in the Church as much as you would like it to be?
- How many years have you been an adult (over 18) woman in the Church?
Claudia points to Eve as an example of the direction LDS women today should take. Though she recommends a strong course of action, she also reveals a bit of her trepidation: "[Mother Eve] had to pay for what she did, but she did not remain an idle princess in paradise. She took action."