Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Feminism Means God Loves Me and His Daughters

This post is the first in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

a woman who reads by Caitlin Connolly

Over the last year I've read a lot of different perspectives on feminism. Some Mormon writers (see here and here) are resoundingly in favor of identifying themselves using the term. Others (try here and here), for very well-thought out reasons, feel differently.

We as members of the Church recently rode quite a wave of confusion over this topic and other, connected ones, and I at least have found it interesting to see how such a wide variety of people have responded to the commotion. There are voices who have advocated questioning, and reminded us that only through inquiry does needed light and knowledge come. And then there are the voices who have affirmed what we already know and that have reminded us of the commitments we've made, of the loyalty we should feel, of the support we owe our Church and our leaders.

And you know, it seems that everyone has made a good point. That everyone is right.

But how is that possible? How can everyone be right? I don't really know. As is so frequently the case, I have only my personal lensmade up of my own experiencesavailable to me to access the perspectives of others. So, today, I'd like to offer mine.

To me, the word feminism has taken on many meanings over the years I've spent with it. But the meaning that has stuck is this:

Feminism: (n.) Evidence that God loves His (and Her) daughters and that They want, in the end, for Their daughters to be fulfilled in every righteous way.

You won't find this definition in any dictionary. I suppose it's my own connotation. Something I've come to after what feels to me like a long time.

In the Fall of 2010 I took a class about literary theory wherein we spent a few weeks covering the feminist critical tradition. We talked about the history of the feminist movements, and the academia and art that sprang from these movements. We had several long and impassioned conversations about how feminism interacted with the Gospel, about the questions that feminism raised.

I was completely spellbound with the unit. Previous units generally left me feeling groggy. Reading even one page of Jacques Derrida has that effect on me I've found. But this one, it enlivened me. Awakened me (to use a word that may be overused in feminist circles). I discovered that there were many things about being a woman that I had always felt, but never accepted.

Namely, I was hurt and I was angry. I didn't understand how God could allow such atrocities to be consistently enacted on His daughters. I couldn't see why, even today, women are subjected to oppression. Not only was I dissatisfied about these large scale abuses, but I found myself at unrest with the smaller things. The little messages that our culture (and even the culture of the Church at times) sends to its women. Messages that they are less than their male counterparts.

In nearly an instant I saw where so many of my own insecurities had come from. I saw that much of my lack of confidence had to do with a silent, a subtle buying into these and other falsehoods. And I was upset.

But I had another, perhaps more interesting response to all of this. As I could see myself so clearly resonating with feminism I looked inside and wondered, "Am I a bad person? Am I about to lose myself and my faith?"

So I decided to ask God what I should do. I went to Him in prayer, fully expecting him to tell me that I needed to run from feminism at high speeds. You can imagine my surprise when my answer was that I should proceed. That I should continue studying feminism. That God had a plan.

I decided to take His (and Her) advice.  I wish that I could tell you about all of the wonderful blessings that have come into my life because I did. But, as this is a blog post, and a not a novel, I'll limit it to just two.

Firstly, my confidence in myself and in my God have both grown alarmingly. I know now that He (and She) love every part of me. The part of me that is passionate. The part of me that wants her voice to be heard. They love the part of me that questions, the part of me that wants to make a change, to use my God-given capacities for intellect and leadership. They created all of these bits of me, and each of them have a purpose.

Secondly, feminism has been a great gift to me because by nature I am a creature of questions. I have so many. And I feel that God has given me, through feminism, a structure for asking the questions that my soul has needed answers to. It has taught me how to seek.

As time has gone on I've realized a few important things about all of this. Much of my experience with feminism could be strictly personal. I believe that God would not give everyone the same answer he gave me. In fact I know he wouldn't. God speaks our language, and often that means that he speaks the individual language of an individual daughter or son. (See 2 Nephi 31:3)

I've also realized that feminism is not an end-all. So if you asked me, "Amber, are you a feminist?" I would probably laugh before saying in most truthful tones, "Of course!" But then if you asked me, "How much does this matter to you?" I would pause and tell you in equally truthful tones, "Not as much as you might think." Because the identity that matters to me the most, the identity that were you to ask, "How much does this matter to you?" and hear the response: "More than anything" is, as before, two-fold:

Firstly, I am a daughter of God.

This is an identity that will never go away; an identity that has been integrally tied to me since my spiritual inception.

Secondly, I am a disciple of Christ.

This one, however, is an identity of constant choice. If called to, I would put (and sometimes already do) my identity as a feminist on the altar of discipleship.

I think that we are all called to do that in some way or another. While the sacrifice being made might be different, these two identities are common among all of us as Latter-day saints. We are all the offspring of divinity, and hopefully we are all striving to be disciples of the best of that offspring. So maybe we can unify ourselves around that. Perhaps if we do, we can find the light we need.