One of my Mormon feminist friends once made an observation to me about feminists who were able to stay and even thrive within the Mormon Church, versus the ones who left or were forced to leave. She saw that the more pragmatic and cynical feminists seemed to be able to remain practicing, whereas the idealistic feminists were the ones who didn’t stay.
I thought this was an intriguing framework: the idealistic ones who can’t endure the dissonance between what they know in their heart is right/just and what the Church teaches about gender eventually leave the Church, whereas the pragmatic or cynical ones who see patriarchy as inescapably infusing almost all institutions (universities, corporations, etc.) or who decide to weigh the pros and cons and stay for various reasons including community, family, heritage, and root belief in core Mormon teachings tend to be able to make Mormonism work for them.
This gave me pause. Where do I fall in this framework? I would characterize myself primarily as idealistic, but with a strong pragmatic streak as well. I have a deep attachment to principles and it hurts and troubles me when I see principles of equality and justice violated. However, I can and do compromise those principles by operating within a flawed system – the Church – because I hope for a possible greater good that can come from it. Good for my family, good for my immediate community, and good for myself as I learn to navigate a tradition that despite its problems nourishes and sustains me on some fundamental level, and as I learn to love, serve, and see the good in others with whom I disagree on some important levels. Upon deeper reflection, I admit that I also compromise out of convenience (sad, but true).
Another coping mechanism for the pragmatic feminist may also be a certain degree of detachment. One can exist in a world of pain and despair for only so long before building up armor for protection. That armor, often in the form of decreased investment or belief, protects. But it also separates and creates some critical distance. I think that transition from painfully believing that God is behind current teachings on patriarchy and gender roles, to believing that some/all such teachings are cultural holdovers from an earlier era is a hugely liberating turning point that many pragmatic Mormon feminists eventually experience.
And here’s a tangent….as I was thinking about the upcoming birth of my child, and how much I admire those feminist women who do natural childbirth and home birth because they find it so empowering to have more control over their experience, I was struck by how once again I am willing to compromise principles for convenience. Because for me, when it comes down to it and I’m in intense labor pain, I’m ready to sacrifice some control for the convenience and pain control of a hospital birth. Maybe I’m more of a pragmatist than I thought…