Recently I was asked a few questions about Mormon feminist blogging, so I wrote down the following thoughts.
Mormon feminism has traditionally never had a place to go. We see quite a few feminists in the early Utah years, those who wrote in the Women's Exponent, agitated for women's right to vote, and staunchly defended the practice of polygamy. But these voices seemed to cease with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act and the turn of the century. Until the 1950's Mormon women seemed satisfied with traditional roles as mothers and homemakers, giving their energies to service in the Church. The first public instance we see of feminism in the twentieth century was when many women rallied around Sonia Johnson to support the ERA. This ended badly for all concerned, since the Church took a firm stance against the ERA, thus putting feminism outside the pale of faithful Church membership. Sonia's fight turned into a personal battle, she was excommunicated and became involved in additional activities inconsistent with Church standards. Unfortunately, during that period, Mormon feminism was associated with Sonia, so Mormon women felt constrained to stay away from both feminism and activism. Feminist activism continued to remain underground for many years, manifesting itself occasionally during all-women retreats where, for example, a sympathetic priesthood holder might be persuaded to bless the sacrament on Sunday morning and women would pass it to each other. (How daring!) (That was sarcasm, by the way!) But feminists who spoke out continued to be excommunicated from the Church well into the '90's when the September Six incident occurred. The excommunication of Maxine Hanks was a particular blow for Mormon feminism. She is a feminist theologian who compiled and edited the book Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (1992). She was excommunicated Sept. 19, 1993, ostensibly for this work (as was fellow contributor, Michael Quinn). Also particularly discouraging to Mormon feminists was the excommunication of Lavina Fielding Anderson, a feminist who did much work on exposing ecclesiastical abuse against women. The later excommunication of Margaret Toscano, who was also a well-known feminist and scholar on women's issues reinforced the stance of Church leadership against feminism. Because these excommunications were said to have been influenced not by local leadership, but by higher-ranking LDS leaders, the disciplinary actions were viewed as a strong message that feminism, and especially feminist activism was unacceptable for women who wished to maintain their Church standing.
I bring up all this history because I think it helps to explain the phenomenon of Mormon feminist blogging. In August of 2004 Lisa B* started the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives as a way to release her tensions over faithful Church membership and feminism. Ten years had gone by since the excommunications and very little feminist activism had been seen. But, because of this, the Church had not felt the need to take any public stances against it. The slate was clean.
Blogging proved to be the perfect medium to discuss feminist issues. First, the computer medium drew in younger women who were unaware of the past history of Mormon feminism and the possible danger of expressing their opinions. Second, women who may have hesitated to declare themselves as feminists felt comfortable participating in an anonymous venue. Finally, more liberal-minded women who were scattered among the wards and stakes of a worldwide church could at last exchange ideas and communicate with each other. Almost four years have passed, and now there are several blogs which can be said to embrace feminist Mormon issues, especially Feminist Mormon Housewives, Zelophehad's Daughters and the Exponent Blog. So far, the Church has not chosen to discourage this exchange of liberal ideas. Lisa and other feminist bloggers have slowly revealed their true identities by participating in Sunstone Symposia and giving public speeches, and have felt no repercussions. This is a major step for feminism in the Church.
As far as concrete, measurable things that feminist Mormon blogging has accomplished: I don't think blogging has affected Church policy in any way. Not yet. I am very skeptical that grass-roots movements are able to make any changes on such a strongly hierarchically-organized system as we have in the LDS Church. Additionally, I think that leaders at the top have only very, very recently become aware of the blogs and the subjects which are discussed here. I think the major way that blogging has supported feminists in the Mormon Church is the solidarity it gives them for thinking about ideas which have traditionally been discouraged in the Church. More LDS women are working outside of the home, which has happened independently of blogging. But blogging gives support and encouragement to these women when they do not feel it in the wards.
Another major accomplishment of feminist Mormon blogging is that it has strengthened other activist causes. For example, being "green" is often discussed on feminist Mormon sites, and many of the readers have been motivated to start living a more ecologically-based lifestyle. This is something which has never received Church-wide emphasis. A concrete example is Lisa's post "Who Needs a Toddler" on FMH where she says, "See, I keep a mason jar on the washer and I fill it with the lint, so I can compost it, because Artemis tells me I should, and sometimes I do try to live up to her shiny example." So a lot of us are composting and hearing about it and getting tips from our blogging. There's another recent post called "Eco-Friendliness: Cloth Napkins" by Artemis on FMH. Just one more instance of saving the planet I can recall at FMH is all the encouragement to use cloth bags when grocery shopping. The post "January C3 challenge" has comments showing the development of a consciousness of this issue on the part of feminist Mormon housewives!
One of the best examples I can give you is the October 07 peace march which FMH participated in. I think, if you want to know where feminist Mormon blogging is headed, this will give you an idea. As time passes, feminists are connecting through the blogs and getting together to support causes. One post describes a planned FMH quilt effort : "We will auction (ebay?) the quilt and 100% of the proceeds will be used to invest in Kiva microloans." And this year in her annual fund raising post, Lisa explained, "In the past I’ve taken down the button as soon as we’ve made enough to pay our server fees. This year I’m going to leave it up all day and any extra will be put into our fMh Kiva microloans."
I've concluded that blogging has given Mormon feminists a place to go. Our most radical ideas are not exactly welcome in Relief Society, and church leaders often feel uncomfortable with us and our causes. We're too few and far apart to make a difference without this unique way of communicating and coming together. We've just started to discover what blogging can mean to this demographic.
So, feminist Mormon bloggers, do you think the "blog" forum has accomplished anything? Has it made any difference in the Church or in the lives of Mormon women? What future do you see for feminism in the Church? Will blogging play a role?
Beckoning Roads: Chapter 1 (of 10)
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