Making Inequality Visible: Mormons Seeking Women’s Ordination are Turned Away from Priesthood Conference by Aimee Hickman


DSC_0023 - Copy (2)Earlier this month, nearly 150 women were turned away from listening to the leaders of their church. The first weekend of October in the Mormon (LDS) Church is set apart for church members world-wide to hear messages from their leaders. The conference takes place in 5 two hour segments of speakers and music. The Saturday evening segment is called the Priesthood Session–a meeting all priesthood holding men and boys aged 12 and up are expected to attend. This year a new demographic asked to attend the Priesthood Session. Ordain Women, an activist feminist group which is petitioning LDS Church leadership to prayerfully consider the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood, arrived at the conference doors and respectfully asked for admittance. These women were turned away one by one until the doors were closed and blocked.

On October 5th, I eagerly watched Twitter and Facebook feeds in anticipation of the news of the day: would the many dear friends I had who were petitioning LDS Church leaders for admittance into the Priesthood Session of General Conference be allowed to participate? The first word I got was from Ordain Women organizer Suzette Smith’s simple status update: “They said no.”

women comfort each other after they were refused entrance

Though I was crushed on behalf of my friends who had placed themselves in such an honest and vulnerable position to ask for this mere token of equality, I would be lying if I said this wasn’t the outcome I expected and maybe even wanted. For as much as I seek equality for myself, my sisters, my daughter, I want the Church to be transparent in how unequally it treats its men and its women–for the inequity to be fully revealed beneath the platitudes and pieties surrounding the discourse of Mormon womanhood. As I was confronted with the image of a green garbage truck blocking women from the standby line for tickets into the Priesthood session, this inherent inequality was exposed in all its metaphorical and literal ugliness. This image, and all it represents, does Mormon feminists’ work for them.

An Ordain Women participant being turned away

I believe the most compassionate, as well as PR savvy move the Church could have made that afternoon was to quietly and respectfully allow this reverent group of women admittance to hear the words of their revered prophet and apostles. Such a move would have offered ammunition to Ordain Women detractors who may have used such generosity as evidence of the Church’s respect for prayerful women.

But instead, Church leadership chose a course which opened wounds and stifled hope. Poring through the photographs of women’s faces taken in the moment they were being turned away will stay with me for years. In each face one could see hope, fear, pain, joy, power and purpose. Each face, one after another, was looked into and turned away by a church official. The image of an entire congregation of women watching as fathers and sons dashed by them into the conference center, averting their eyes as though avoiding sin, will haunt me.

An Ordain Women participant at the moment she is refused entrance

And I believe these images will continue to haunt all of us in ways that will both enervate and empower. The exposure of one more symbol of inequality will do more for the cause of Mormon feminism, and the Ordain Women movement in particular, than if those sisters had been quietly ushered in to participate in a rather forgettable church meeting.

To the members of Ordain Women I say, yes, the Church said “no.” But YOU made them say it. And that’s saying something!

Aimee Hickman is a graduate of the University of Utah and the Co-Editor In Chief of the Exponent II magazine, a publication which has been sharing Mormon women’s experiences since 1974. Aimee currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and three children.



Categories: Mormonism

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51 replies

  1. I’m sorry, but with the best will in the world, I cannot imagine showing respect, let alone ‘reverence’, to people who would show me none. Doing so simply perpetuates institutionalised inequality. Like the house slave forced to bow her head before the master.
    Except Mormon women are not enslaved by law, but through their own volition.

    Respect is meaningless unless it is reciprocated. To give respect to a person who holds one in contempt is simply masochism: when the masochism is inflicted by men as a class on women as a class that masochism takes on a sexual colouring which will lead to some very dark places indeed. Is that what you want for your daughters ?

    June

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  2. I say we begin where we are. Who knows where what we begin will lead us?

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  3. Is there any good reason for women to remain in a church that sounds so misogynistic? Good luck to all women!

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    • Barbara,

      From what I understand of Mormonism, there are many good reasons to remain in the church. If you leave, you lose your family. If you leave, your lose your community, and Mormon community is a wonderfully supportive community. And for most women, if you leave, you don’t have the tools to live outside the church. For just that reason, I know of at least one half-way house for Mormon women who have to leave abusive relationships and, therefore, their family and their community.

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  4. Why, my dear sisters, are you willing to reverence a patriarchal misogynistic church? If you are attracted to priestesshood come and join the Goddess Movement in its various ways! Life is so full of beauty and mistery…I say no woman should waste her life respecting those who don´t respect her.

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  5. Aimee, thank you for your this terrific post.

    I actually find this story hopeful. Scores of women were willing to stand up and tell the leadership of the church what they wanted, even though it went against notions of ideal Mormon womanhood to do so. They were willing to do so, not just in writing, but by putting their physical bodies in men’s presence so that men would be forced to see them and interact with them. They were willing to face condemnation from their friends and families for doing this.

    There is something burgeoning among Mormon feminists — less fear, more action, more sisterhood, greater vision. May it continue.

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    • Yes, absolutely Caroline, I am with you. Aimee, this is a hopeful story indeed! I think it’s very powerful to stand before those who would prefer that you passively comply with the status quo, and instead resist and protest these unjust structures and systems. I stand with you from afar and cheer you on as you stand your ground. May streams of women follow your courageous steps and participate in creating new realities. Rage on, sisters!

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  6. I think hetero women are really wedded to their privilege. Sonia Johnson has written so brilliantly on becoming a radical feminist. Someone above mentioned the real possibility of women losing families, and that’s true. This is the risk of freedom women. I recall decades ago when I came out as a lesbian, I risked everything, my job, my biological family, friends, all the goodies of so-called “social acceptance.” Hetero women friends freaked out…. But you know what? At least I know I no longer support institutions that completely and utterly have no respect for women. The Mormon church and its male leaders are laughing behind closed doors. They really believe they are the priesthood and women are inferior beings.

    I can’t imagine a black person in America reverently listening to any white supremacist ever. This is mind boggling, the placating, the groveling, the complete delusion of the sadorituals and the mascochism that is mormon womanhood or should I say hetero mormon womanhood.

    What would it take? I don’t know. This is 2013 women. Surely when you all were girls, you hhad some idea of feminism. I knew all about feminism by the age of 13 or so, and that was back in the pre-Internet days, back when there was no visible lesbian anything where I came from.

    I’m an average person. I read a lot. I was indoctrinated into the same male dominated churches you folks were. So I don’t know what to say, it is mind boggling. But you must get something out of it. Social acceptance and motherhood are like heroine sometimes, mormonism is truly cult-like, but all patriarchy is the cult of the male, the cult of the male priest. Imagine a 12 year old boy being the priesthood? Imagine a 20 year old young woman who has a 12 year old boy in authority over her? If this isn’t messed up, I don’t know what is.

    Yes, you do have to walk out. This religion can’t be reformed, and yes, you will lose a lot. What in goddess’ name do you think freedom is a cake walk? Slavery is so seductive male love is so seductive, but you are holding back feminism. The mormon church is a deadly enemy to women, it is my enemy, and you are willfully aiding my enemy. What should I think of this really?

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    • Turtle woman, you and I have often agreed about a lot in the past, but I feel I must respond to your post here.

      I am a hetero woman (though one of the most formative and passionate relationships of my life was with another woman) and a mother and a grandmother. I do not think that my heterosexuality, nor my motherhood, diminish my feminism is any way shape or form.
      Sexual choice (between consenting adults) should, in any half civilised society, be a matter of personal choice, and I deeply resist the idea that we can predicate a person’s political beliefs on the nature of that choice.

      Any woman should, by right of birth, be a feminist. Sexuality is a negotiation between our own sweet natures and or own proud choice. Feminism is not the automatic preserve of one sexual choice and one alone.

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  7. I must say, I agree with many of the individuals that have commented on the misogynistic nature of the topic of this post. However, I am deeply troubled by the author’s statement:
    “I believe the most compassionate, as well as PR savvy move the Church could have made that afternoon was to quietly and respectfully allow this reverent group of women admittance to hear the words of their revered prophet and apostles.”

    I find no sense of redemption in this overall statement and frankly reduce this down to a form “male worship.” You can only get reverence, respect, and agency through the male leaders (your prophets). While I know and understand the complexities of Mormon theology and practice, specifically in regards to the man being (basically) the head of everything, (we can get into the “partnership” narratives later and/or the role of the woman in the family) I find a statement like this to be one that does not enhance agency but rather inhibit it. Granted, we are defining agency VERY differently here.

    Some of the most important actions by activist groups have been done by literally beating down the doors or refusing to move until their demands are at least heard (ACT UP, etc.) Here, in this statement, and incident (which is one of many), the Mormon Church and its “revered [male] prophets and apostles” refused to even listen to peaceful and engaging women, who they often call and praise as their partners, except in regards to Church hierarchy.

    These are great first steps, as Caroline mentioned (putting their bodies in male spaces, etc) but more action is needed.

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    • John, I don’t think you are being fair. How is the topic of this post misogynistic? Women are pushing the envelope and trying to enter spaces that have been prohibited because of their sex. Is Ordain Women’s mission radically feminist? Clearly not. It’s liberal feminism all the way — trying to insert women into existing structures. But that does not make it misogynistic.

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      • We define feminism and agency very differently but I am still troubled by the statement:“I believe the most compassionate, as well as PR savvy move the Church could have made that afternoon was to quietly and respectfully allow this reverent group of women admittance to hear the words of their revered prophet and apostles.”

        This signifies male worship for me and glorifes a type of misogyny put down by the male Church hierarchy against the women (that they glorify as partners). When you only find reverence through the male godhead, what is left for you to find in yourself without a man welcoming you not only into the Church hierarchy but also the Heavenly Kingdom?

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      • John, why on earth are you assuming that just because some women revere a male church leader/leaders, they don’t also revere women leaders, or women friends, or women whatever? If someone said they revered Gandhi, does that mean they are male worshippers? Obviously not. Also, why on earth are you assuming that Aimee and all sorts of other Mormon women are not revering and worshipping Heavenly Mother? You are making assumptions that are unfounded and unfair.

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    • John, I understand the inherent contradiction in revering the power source that appears to be maintaining one’s oppression. If these women were seeking to maintain the status quo, then perhaps you’d have a case for why such behavior is masochistic. But that’s actually the opposite of what the Ordain Women movement is about. A better way to express what I meant is to say that these women revere the priesthood offices–that they believe that the way the church is organized (with prophets and apostles who speak for the church) is inspired by God. But they are making a case for their own inclusion in that structure. The fact that the Ordain Women movement is advocating for women to be ordained to the priesthood so that they too can preside in those offices gives them reason to reverence those positions. Rather than reverencing these leaders’ maleness, Mormon feminists are reverencing the offices they are advocating for women to inhabit.

      You are welcome to disagree with the notion that Mormonism has divine authority of any kind or that the male leaders of the church are worthy of reverence, but please don’t conflate that with Mormon feminists merely upholding the patriarchy when they are actively working to upset the notion of authority being located only in maleness.

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      • Aimee —

        That’s the way I interpreted your statement about reverence. And I applaud you and the women who courageously risked disapproval and utlimately even excommunicatiton in demonstrating their belief that women should be ordained. Brava!

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      • Aimee/Caroline,

        I guess my comments then come down to stats and questions:

        -Do more Mormons place higher significance on God as Male or the Heavenly Mother? I know the Heavenly Mother movement is vital but in the end, does it have the same power/authority/access to Church hierarchy that worshipping the God the Father does? I know there are groups and women out there that worship the Heavenly Mother but in the end, what is her role in regards to God the Father? or more specifically, God as male?

        or more simply: Who has more authority (and yes, this does depend on the person answering the question) Heavenly Father or Heavenly Mother? I know we talk about celestial equal partnerships but there seems to be bigger questions that are not answered or skirted around. Men as Priesthood Holders, etc.

        I do not think that we are going to see eye to eye on these matters but I will clarify that although I still stand by my above comment, I am not saying that these women does not revere female Church leaders/figures. However, I am doubtful of their role/power because of the many presentations that I have sat through, some done by you Caroline, in which many devout Mormon women (and men) discussed how the Church hierarchy took away much of the original power the Relief Society had and gave it back to the male laity.

        That only adds to my doubts and statements like the one above, only stress the original patriarchal and sexist language that has been and still is present in many Church teachings/dealings.

        I know you both risk a lot in speaking out and I applaud your beliefs as I too think women should be ordained, I just worry and am skeptical about what individuals are buying into when it seems so oppressive and naturally anti from the outside.

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      • John, you are seriously going to stand by your original comment about the “misogynistic nature of the topic of this post”? (Whatever that means.) Really? Are you calling the Ordain Women movement misogynistic? Are you calling Aimee’s central point — that this event was valuable because it exposed structural sexism — misogynistic? I’d like to know more about where you see Mormon feminists, who are taking great personal risks to expose and challenge patriarchal barriers, being misogynistic.That’s a pretty stunning claim.

        No Mormon feminist is going to argue that there are not sexist and problematic structures, policies and teachings within the Mormon tradition. We certainly agree on that. I just hoped that this blog could be a forum where Mormon feminists would be safe from accusations of misogyny.

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  8. I guess you start from where Reality is. I know nothing about Mormonism, but the fact that scores of women turned up, waiting to be let inside, and for the men to see them standing there being denied entry, was a powerful, rallying call, if you effectively have no status in the church. So well done to those courageous women.

    And yes, I agree that to be part of something which is so out-dated and disrespectful to the gifts which women bring seems nuts. I wouldn’t be a Mormon. But it seems pointless judging others for what they want and CHOOSE to believe….

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    • Annette – I don’t see it as a matter of judgement, but of a certain kind of necessary clarity. If you chooses to believe that you are an inferior person who must show, but will not be given respect, then so be it. But let us not pretend for one moment that this is, in any way shape or from, a meaningful exchange between adult persons of equal status.

      And if you believe that the teachings of your church insist on the lesser worth of you and your daughters, then that again is your choice. What sickens me is not people’s choice of faith, but the masochism enforced by a wholly spurious appeal to the supposed authority of that faith . (Whose authority ? On what grounds ?)

      I am a mother and a grandmother. Is my near on 70 years experience and knowledge of life of less account than the opinion of a twelve year old boy ?

      June

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      • June, I understand your perspective, but I continue to salute these women. They remind me of the women of the “Black Sash” who used to stand, every Friday afternoon, on the corner of a major street in Johannesburg, in silent protest with placards against apartheid. This happened every week, in the 7 years I live in that country. God bless them, they gave me hope. (I’m not South African, my family were economic migrants to the country.)

        These Mormon women give me hope too. Who knows what might happen next, as a result of their resolve to stand at the doors, yet not be allowed in?

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  9. I’m stunned by all these dismissive and patronizing comments on this post. This blog should be a place where women of different faith traditions can come together to celebrate one another’s attempts to break down patriarchal walls. So much for that vision of solidarity and sisterhood.

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    • I feel this is a very reductionist view of the comments here. Having read (and loved) many of your posts, we know how personal Mormonism is not only as a faith but also a lived experience for you (and the other Mormon women (and men) writers on this blog) but there is nothing wrong with seriously questioning and critiquing the points brought up in Aimee’s post. We know radical feminism would not fit in with many of the tenants of Mormonism and since this is a place where ALL viewpoints are allowed, we have to be willing to hearing and read the critical (and sometimes harsh) comments along with the good and glorifying ones.

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    • For me, solidarity and sisterhood means being honest with my sisters critizicing what I consider to be a wrong point of view. To break down patriarchal walls means to stop accepting the patriarchal faiths, where the divine is seen only as a male- shaped god without a corresponding female divine archetype. Which leads to underestimate women as less important than men, though they are called “partners” (this is actually patronising them).

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    • Caroline —

      I, too, am disappointed by what appear to be dismissive voices on my beloved FAR, where until now I have found (mostly) real comradery, respect and support. I keep coming back to read what’s here, because this blogsite really has until now demonstrated that women and a few men from differing religions with a common desire for greater feminism in the world can interact respectfully and LEARN from each other. I know we still can do that. But I think this blog post and its responses demonstrate that, as Xochitl says, patriarchy is alive and well, and unfortunately worming its way into our discussion. Divide and conquer is its tactic. We can’t let ourselves fall for it.

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  10. There is nothing dismissive or patronising about analysis and response: on the contrary, what is patronising is to treat anything a woman says as being above criticism, simply because she is a woman.

    To challenge a position is to take it seriously : in other words, to accord it the respect so clearly lacking for women among the generality of Mormon men.

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  11. Here’s the thing – patriarchy is alive and well, we all know this. And patriarchal habits and patterns are deeply embedded everywhere – literally, everywhere. So what I find reductionistic are the suggestions that this tradition is beyond reform or that the actions of these women are somehow deficient.

    We jump much too quickly to the kind of critique that is about tearing down the position of the other. It’s so easy to do that – especially to do that from afar through the inhuman medium of the computer screen. Aimee, Caroline, and the women written about in this post are doing the very hard work that throughout history has been the means of effecting change. What they are doing is exactly what brings about change! They are standing firm and tall, as Caroline states, to break down patriarchy. And as Carol states – we start where we are; and as Annette stated, who knows what will happen next!

    The last thing I would want them to feel is unsupported, much less belittled, by this feminist circle. They already have a huge and difficult task before them – and not without support of many from within their church I am sure. But they are the ones breaking ground in their context so that they and others will have something new and liberating in which to take part. They are doing hard work in their communities.

    Analysis and response – yes, of course. But also en-COURAGE-ment and support. And in our analysis let’s not fall into the patriarchal pattern of naming and re-narrating another’s experience for them; she has her own voice. Instead let’s offer our experiences, ideas, and reservations in such a way that all of us in “this community of thinkers will be nurtured as we explore diverse and new directions at the cross-section of feminism and religion.” That’s what this space is about; so please do your part to making it so.

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    • You make great points but I worry that if we are not truly allowed to express our feelings/frustrations/questions then in the end, how are we ever going to get answers?

      We do start where we are but sometimes where we are and where others are is a great distance, both positively and negatively on all ends.

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      • John, I have been thinking about this discussion all morning, and I am wondering if part of what you not saying here is: “How can you stay in and ask for equal rights in the Mormon religion that through its political contributions in the Prop 8 Campaign fanned the flames of gay-hatred and kept gay people from being able to marry in Calif. for 5 more years?” To me at any rate, this question is one that needs to be asked. Perhaps the answer would be “we are working on that too.” Or???

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  12. Here’s part of what I posted on Xochitl’s essay “Our Sisters’ Feminism.”:

    As individuals, I think we can disagree respectfully with each other, realizing that our perspective isn’t the only one. But when I’m interacting with someone from a different religion than my own, especially one that I know very little about, I’m also cautious as well as respectful. And when it’s a whole movement within a religion that’s not mine, I’m willing to leave their tactics and strategies up to them, unless it seems to impede feminism or degrades women as a whole, and then it affects me as well. I responded to yesterday’s post about Mormonism’s denial of women’s potential priesthood in that second way, as a report from a movement within Mormon feminism. And I certainly don’t think this Mormon feminist action negatively affected me. I believe it’s moving our whole movement forward. Brava! Brava!

    This post reminds me of a song by Betsy Rose and Cathy Winter that I used to perform in the 1970s: “Don’t shut my sister out,/ Trust her choices,/ Her women’s wisdom and her will to grow,/ Don’t shut my sister out,/ Trust her vision,/ Her intuition of her own way to go.”

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  13. I have been following the Ordain Women Facebook page and website. Although I would not choose to be Mormon, I find reading the stories of women and men who are standing up to Mormon exclusion of women to be inspiring. As a group they are saying “we don’t want our daughters to experience what we are experiencing and have experienced in the Mormon church.” Some of them stand on the borders of Mormonism, some are very much within, and others have already stopped practicing but still care about the tradition they were born into. I also find this post inspiring. More power to all of you!

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  14. PS, a careful reading of the post suggests difference among the women protesters. Some may simply have hoped to be let in to a patriarchal structure, while others were hoping to expose the patriarchal structure and open eyes to the (violent) patriarchy clothing itself in language of separate roles.

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  15. I mean no disrespect to people here who have expressed their lack of sympathy for remaining within, and working within, a religion that is so formidably patriarchal. I only say the following because I hope you will understand how your words marginalize us. Many of the comments here are exactly the sort of attack Muslims (wherever we hail from on the gender-sexuality spectrum) who call ourselves feminist experience at the hands of non-Muslim feminists. Your words tell us that we will never be good enough for you because our way of unraveling patriarchy is not your way of unraveling patriarchy.

    I heard back from people that a famous Jewish feminist thought a paper I gave on the beating verse in the Qur’an was apologetic, next to useless because it did not involve denying the divinity of the Qur’an. It is as if she said, “Women can only liberate themselves if they liberate themselves as I have done.” In so many words, it seems that I was informed my feminism was inauthentic.

    Your words tell us that we cannot be your sisters. We are cast out of the house as too deluded to know where and how our autonomy can be gained. If you want feminism to reach women, then you have to reach out to us as sisters do. Sisters who care for one another no matter their path (which does not imply agreement only mutual commitment to one another and an effort to understand each other). Xochitl’s blog and the comments of other women here such as Carol have moved me so much for their acceptance and understanding of that kind of feminism.

    But I have to say, too, how sad that I have wept this morning because such acceptance and love was *so beautifully* offered to us in Xochitl’s blog. I surprise myself that I care whether or not you accept us. Reading some of these comments reminds me that being with feminists sometimes is not unlike being with patriarchal men and waiting to find out of we will be accepted as ourselves not as they demand us to be. But you know, Dr. Wadud has never done any of this hoping to be accepted by feminists. God bless her, you engage her as a feminist as she is or you better turn and walk away. She continues to light the way before me.

    Again no disrespect, I’m really trying to help you understand what it feels like to be on the other side of your comments.

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    • Dearest Laury, thank you for your aching honesty. I wish I could give you a hug. I, too, am really astounded by the vitriol I’ve read the past two days. An atheist would have a field day here…. :(

      I think we’ve largely forgotten how to be gracious. Makes me think of that Stephen Covey saying: “first understand, then be understood.” Opinions which reek of: “we’d so not be a Mormon – ever!” are very unhelpful. It requires quietness and humility to ask the ‘why’ questions, in ways that allow the author/speaker to clarify.

      Religion and faith is so complex; shades of illuminating clarity, and utter darkness. And what I’ve learnt from many women is how most of us are aching and striving to create a more human, collaborative and compassionate world, and the rockiest area is in our faiths.

      Please let’s not follow the male/ego model by condemning attempts to change. Leave open the possibility of deeper understanding and connection……

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    • Beautifully stated, Laury. Thank you.

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  16. Laury – can’t you see how your response moves from ….’expressing their lack of sympathy for remaining within…’ to ‘…exactly the sort of attack…..’, thereby conflating the two phrases ?

    Analysing and critiquing a position is NOT the same thing as an ‘attack’, and agreeing with every thing a woman says, and every position she takes, on the grounds that she is a woman, is NOT the same thing as sisterhood.

    These pages are either about a free and open dialogue, or they are about sisterly support. They cannot be about both of these things all of the time. For myself, I think women are perfectly willing and able to enter into vigorous debate, which can and often will challenge all kinds of preconceptions.

    The fact is, that while there is a general consensus among the majority of women posting on these pages, there is a small minority of us for whom the Religions of the Book – all of them -are and will ever remain, by the simple fact of that same monotheism, irredeemably misogynistic. One god means a male god (a phallocentric god) and a male (phallocentric) priesthood through which He must be worshipped.

    Now, certain positions follow from such profound differences, the consequences of which must be radical disagreement from time to time. How to square the circle ? Either we exchange ideas in free and open debate, or the minority group must temper their responses in line with the sensibilities of the majority.

    Further, I would ask Jewish, Christian and Muslim contributors to stop and think for a moment and try to understand how the overwhelming force (a force which might even be construed as an ‘attack’) of the consensus in which they all share serves to marginalise those of us whose feminism – a feminism of the soul and spirit no less than their own – originates from a necessary rejection of the monotheism we believe created and perpetuated so many patriarchal systems in the first place.

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    • Dear June,

      I think you have misunderstood me. I don’t need consensus. I need what Xochitl describes in her blog. Sisters who will disagree on all sorts of points and who remain committed to each other as sisters and as we each carve our own paths. For myself, I tend to see feminism as a collaborative effort in which each of us is breaking through oppressive patterns in our own spheres of interest and influence. We critique each other. We share resources. We spur each other on to do the difficult things.

      But we do not insult each other with comments such as:

      “Like the house slave forced to bow her head before the master.”

      “If you chooses to believe that you are an inferior person who must show, but will not be given respect, then so be it.”

      If you don’t think being called a “house slave” is an insult then you need to google “ad hominem attack.” That is not a criticism. It is not constructive. It is insulting. It’s marginalizing to those of us who are working very hard–yes, in ways you may not understand–to transform our own traditions.

      If you think such efforts do not work, then consider the progress made on Muslim woman-led prayer since 2005 when Dr. Wadud forced the discussion onto the global table. Women and people of all orientations and sexualities have been making changes sometimes through engaging the tradition, sometimes through direct action, or both.

      I co-wrote an article engaging traditional legal arguments on the permissibility of woman-led prayer to force an acknowledgement of its legality even if one was not going to enact it in one’s own community. The article has been downloaded thousands of times (so this does not account for it being forwarded by email or reposted on sites I do not control) from ISPs all over the world. I get acknowledgements all the time that the paper made a difference in the way people view things. I recently received a message from a young man in Northern Iraq who wants to start praying behind women in his community.

      I also pursue direct action. I co-founded a gender-equal/lgbtq-open and affirming mosque in Toronto. We also help people to establish mosques of their own. We have helped start such mosques in Georgia, Washington DC, Virginia, London Ontario, London UK, Montreal, Chicago, and most recently Boston. What has happened as a result of Dr. Wadud’s work and the work of so many other people on this issue? Woman-led prayer is becoming normalized, little by little. So much so, we’ve even got the “patriarchs” admitting that there are legal grounds for it. I don’t need the patriarchs approval personally. But I do need to be one of the many all over the Muslim world who is working tirelessly to crack open the boundaries of male-control over religious authority.

      Women in more conservative communities are getting women into positions of authority in every possible way excepting women leading prayer. They are working to get more women on the boards of mosques, to transform mosque space, to have women giving a pre-sermon before the Friday prayer is performed, and much more. They may not take things as far as I would like or arguing from grounds I would agree with, but they are making it work for them. Probably the best example of this is Dr. Ingrid Mattson who when she joined the board of the Islamic Society of North America had to pass notes to express her opinions because her voice was considered a sexual organ that had to be concealed. She hung on and fought. It was not too many years later that she became the president of ISNA. Again, not my path but my sisters are working it and making changes that empower women coming from a similar place.

      And take a look at working being done by http://www.musawah.org . Hard work and powerful change.

      House slaves for sure.

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  17. Thanks to all of you for your comments here–whether critical or supportive. I always appreciate a productive conversation about how we can enact feminist ideals wherever we are, and recognize that we need both criticism and support as part of that discussion.

    What is not especially constructive are comments which suggest that being a true feminist is incompatible with seeking change within a patriarchal structure (as I understand it, that may actually be one of the definitions of feminism!). As one who spends a lot of time being told by some strident members of my own faith community “to just leave” if my views are incompatible with Mormon culture and teachings, it is equally as disheartening to hear that from fellow feminists whom I hoped would cheer the efforts of those trying to empower and make change for other women within the Mormon church. It is a very liminal space–being considered a radical apostate by some members of my faith, while being considered naive and placid by some of my fellow feminists. It has been helpful and heartening to read Xochitl’s, Laury and Annette’s words and know that we have sisters supporting the efforts of feminists working within patriarchal structures–who recognize that it’s in our collective feminist interests to cheer positive changes wherever we see them. Thank you.

    It may not make sense to some why women continue to participate in a community that does not recognize or reflect their full value–to throw out words like “masochist” or “glorifying misogyny” to characterize their actions by working within the patriarchy. But imagine the radical act it is to be able to recognize and reject the constraints one has been enculturated to accept and dare to work for change within that structure. By doing so, Mormon feminist are laying a groundwork for continued change in the church–for a rhetorical shift that could eventually arrive at the kinds of practical and institutional changes most of us here would applaud. Shouldn’t that be cheered? Isn’t there a way to divorce our own bias about what we think Mormons believe and instead recognize that these women are using their faith to empower their action? While there’s no doubt that some members of the Ordain Women movement are relying on a sound intellectual feminist tradition to inform their participation in this movement, many are also empowered by Mormon teachings which enliven their sense of the divine feminine, and confirm that church doctrines can change through “continuing revelation.” These Mormon feminists believe that they have a role to play in bringing divine revelation into the world which will institute the gender equality they believe they are entitled to. Rather than passively accepting the status quo, Mormon feminists are empowered by their own sense of purpose and capability and are infusing the whole church with that spirit. If that isn’t feminism in action, I don’t know what is.

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  18. Judith Plaskow and I are working on a book in which we respectfully disagree with each other’s choices–hers to stay in Judaism, mine to leave Christianity and embrace Goddess ecofeminism. If statistics were the only question, i.e., how many Jews believe God is male, or history, is the God of the Bible portrayed as male, Judith might have left long ago. For her the issues are as she would say, “more complex than that.” She believes and hopes that Judaism can become something that it has not been in the past–if enough Jews want Judaism to change, it will change. Judith believes Judaism in the US has changed radically in the past 40 years–in many ways more radically than Protestantism and Roman Catholicism–so who knows what the next 40 years could bring?

    The same could be true with Mormonism. If Mormons believe that God has called a female and feminist prophet, then Mormonism will have changed. I hope the work Caroline and Aimee are doing is laying the ground for that possibility.

    PS I don’t believe in the prophetic model as the source of “revelation” for a community, my leanings are toward individual conscience and participatory democracy and not giving “the power of a special relationship to God or Goddess” to anyone, but that is another question.

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  19. I have only, with this recent spat, come to fully understand that this forum is not, as I thought, a place for vigorous debate, but a self-help group which can, and will, come down hard on radical dissent.

    Laury – nothing that you say addresses the fundamental point I raise: where on these pages is there room for the minority voice ? Or, come to that, radical anger ?

    The majority view here is monotheistic, consensual and reformist. Well and good. But any deviation from these conventions is slapped down as an ‘attack’. From my perspective, monotheism (with its inevitably phallocentric priesthoods) is a profoundly masochistic place for a woman to be, and I am not going to censor that view simply because it makes some people uncomfortable. But this is not an idea anyone is even prepared to discuss, let alone tolerate.

    I can only conclude that the pagan, Godessian ( surprise surprise,spell check won’t accept ‘Godessian’) post-Freudian, radical lesbian, polytheistic, or all the other varieties of dissenting voices within feminism, have no real place here and are allowed only as tokens – for as soon as any of us deviate from the conventional parameters we are accused of all manner of betrayal of feminism itself .

    Clear thinking, honest debate, and the discussion of ideas which challenge convention will never harm feminism: they are its life blood.

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    • Dear June, I firmly believe that radical anger is necessary. [I posted some thoughts earlier but have removed them for privacy’s sake, if you got a notice of the comment in your email, then you have it all there for you]. I feel awful that my comments suggested that such anger was not valid.

      I only meant to say that I think such anger should be directed toward its proper objects, not those who are taking steps towards change…..even if that is change that we think does not go far enough or that we think may not even work. I think where we disagree with those who are working for change constructive critique is required.

      If having space for radical anger means that you have to be able to express your anger irrespective of the object, then do what you have to do. You just cannot expect me to be there to take the blows. It may not be for others, but for me that is abusive behavior. So that would be demanding me to be a victim of your abuse in order to be a proper sister to you. I did that trip for about 15 years. No more.

      We can make space for each other and cut each other the slack that Carol calls for below. But we all have to do it in ways that are healthy for us as individuals. You and me both.

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    • “I can only conclude that the pagan, Godessian ( surprise surprise,spell check won’t accept ‘Godessian’) post-Freudian, radical lesbian, polytheistic, or all the other varieties of dissenting voices within feminism, have no real place here and are allowed only as tokens – for as soon as any of us deviate from the conventional parameters we are accused of all manner of betrayal of feminism itself.”

      This statement assumes that people like me, who are monotheists in a traditional(ish) path, cannot utterly affirm the realities Pagan, Godessian, Atheist, Polytheistic, Radical Lesbian, and other dissenting voices.

      The words of a medieval Muslim mystic sum up my monotheism:

      My heart has become capable of every form;

      It is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for anchorites,

      And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka‘ba

      And the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur’an.

      I follow the religion of Love: whatever way

      Love’s camels take, that is my religion and my faith.

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    • Dear June —

      I’m a pagan, polytheistic, Goddessian, Wiccan practioner and I don’t feel at all censored on this site. Nor do I feel that the consensus is monotheistic, consensual, and reformist. There are many radical polytheistic voices here. For e.g. within the discussion of why women leave their birth religion or not (https://feminismandreligion.com/2013/04/29/deciding-to-leave-the-religion-of-your-birth-by-carol-p-christ/) , I wrote the following. No one burned me at the stake for my words, nor even criticized them:

      “At 28 or 29, I discovered Goddess spirituality and felt immediately that I had come home.
      Why? 1) No original sin! It still brings tears to my eyes when we dedicate children in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, and the minister says, “We do not use water in this ceremony to wash away any supposed sin. We believe that children come into this world with all the promise and limitations of our species, but that they are born innocent.” I believe in some deep way that the belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins is highly dysfunctional in our lives. It’s like advertising: first define a problem (original sin) that has a solution that you can sell (Jesus’s death redeems us). 2) Goddesses and Gods. Since I’m a feminist woman in a committed heterosexual relationship, I need a symbol for both the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine. 3) Polytheism: As one deity among a polytheistic pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, the Goddesses represent active tolerance within a sacred multitude. 4) Sex is seen as sacred, not dirty or to be restricted in religiously sanctioned ways. 5) The immanence of my religion: a) Goddess as the central symbol of Wicca is both the creator and the creation. I am a part of the sacred whole, She is a part of me. b) This way of viewing the divine also makes it much easier for us to see all of creation as sacred, and this ecological understanding seems extremely important at this time in history. c) Immanence also gets rid of the mind/body, spirit/matter split that I think causes great difficulties within our culture. 6) Goddess as power-with and power-within: Instead of the power-over divinity of Christianity, the Goddess represents the sacred spark within me that motivates me to create a better world in my own small way and the co-creative power of my interaction with the world, human and non-human. These are some of the reasons that I am glad that I left my birth religion…I think it’s difficult for those of us who grew up in the hegemonic religion, i.e. Christianity, to understand the power of being an outsider religiously. Although this was not your main point, it leaks through in every paragraph. I believe that to leave one’s oppressed minority religion would be very difficult. But to leave the hegemonic religion when you realize how oppressive it is—especially when you see it oppressing you personally—is easy.”

      That said, I think there are ways to give feedback that are hurtful and ways that are useful. In fact, in a wonderful internet talk I listened to last night, Paul Ekman (name?) on “being human” made the distinction between constructive and destructive emotions. Constructive emotions are those that facilitate further collaboration within a group and lead to something that is beneficial to the community.” I think this definition goes a long way towards describing what helps to push this discussion on FAR forward and what impedes it. I try to use “I” statements when I feel critical (as you can see above), and that helps people to know where I’m coming from, but not that I’m imposing my belief system on them. “You” statements are often seen (often rightfully so) as blaming statements. I don’t see this forum as a self-help group, but as a respectful discussion of how we as feminists can change the world through our religions.

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  20. What I am hearing here is that a lot of us have felt silenced or not listened to by other feminists. This can happen to us no matter what position we hold: monotheist or polytheist, Goddess, Mormon, Muslim, (other forms of) Christian, and other religions. Don’t get me started on how I have felt silenced, unfairly dismissed, ignored (in other contexts not on this blog) by Christian feminists who while they are a minority in their traditions still affiliate with a tradition that has hegemony in the academic field of religion and in theological studies.

    For me the choice is not between clear thinking and honest debate and sisterly support. I think both are and should be part of this blog.

    At the same time those of us who are women in a patriarchal culture, those of us whose lives have been are situated within other interlocking oppressions, have probably all been unfairly dismissed, silenced, or ignored. Unfortunately some of us have felt this silencing and dismissing from other feminists.

    I think it is always an ongoing struggle to create a community in which there is enough trust to disagree openly and strongly and allow all viewpoints to be heard. But we are working within a context in which in many ways the deck is stacked against us. The larger culture is patriarchal, racist, classicist, heterosexist, and still dominated by (patriarchal forms of western) Christianity. Whether we have stated it in this particular train of thought or not, we have (probably) all been wounded by patriarchy, racism, classism, heterosexism, and patriarchal forms of Christianity.

    I hope we will all stay in the conversation with each other and find ways to be both supportive rather than dismissive, as well as critical and honest. Not an easy task. Maybe we can cut each other some slack.

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  21. At some point those who affiliate their faith choices with the old “My way or the Highway” need to get a grip. There is more to the spirit than religionSSS. However, more importantly, there is more to dignity than ANY ONE view or any one’s view of it.

    It’s all well and good for a few white women of privilege to pretend that OTHER women just don’t know what they are doing if they are NOT giving up the core and essence of any faith to join some other faith (god, gods goddess or god-lessly defined).

    I have practiced 3 religions, the BLACK Christianity of my birth, the NON-theist Buddhism of choice and Islam (also of choice). I benefited from ALL of them, and learned from each of them. In between I did a number of things not all of them pretty, not all of them sacred, and yet not all of them futile.

    I’ve lived in 6 countries and travelled in almost 50–all for gender, justice and faith.

    In the end, I can ONLY see that the universe is vast and that the people on this planet–NOW NUMBERING OVER 7 billion–are NEVER going to be just ONE faith. But since I want to celebrate my OWN humanity, the task is for me to ACCEPT unconditionally their humanity.

    If a Mormon woman (also white and also western) who sticks with her faith AND feels passionately about change within it, can bring you all to this level, imagine what you would do with a bush woman in Africa or Asia who is transformed by the very fiber of her faith commitment.

    Oh I know what you would do…you would SAVE her.

    No wonder “third” world women equate feminism with colonialism.

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    • I think Amina’s brilliant and farsighted comment is the perfect ending for this conversation.

      “But since I want to celebrate my OWN humanity, the task is for me to ACCEPT unconditionally their humanity.” Beautifully said.

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      • Caroline, are these revered prophet(s) and apostles all men? Why can’t these women and the Ordain Women movement get this on their own? Why do they need to go and get it from men?

        The Ordain Women movement is not misogynistic but that action of only being able to obtain reverence, etc. from a patriarchal and sexist institution that is practically turning these dedicated and faithful women (who these men also like to promote as their partners/help meets on all other accounts not having to do with Church Authority) away at the door is shocking and only supports many radical feminist claims on this blog (which often go overlooked because there is no space here on this blog for it) to leave the Church because they’re never going to get anywhere. It just seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors to me and this post only added more doubt in my mind about positive progress for the Ordain Women movement on all fronts.

        Also, you seem to be ignoring all the other comments/questions I made and are only focusing on this aspect, which, I do not think we’ll ever see eye to eye on. I had some very specific ones regarding Heavenly Mother, outside of Mormon Feminist Circles and her relation to Heavenly Father, her roles, etc. that I think will help others on this site dispel or enforce their suspicions, etc.

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      • John, there are ways that radical feminists can productively and compassionately question the efficacy of efforts to enact change within patriarchal institutions. Goodness knows, Mormon feminists have those conversations all the time. But lobbing accusations of misogyny — which I’m sure you know is defined as the hatred of women — at feminists working for change is not one of them.

        As for all your other questions about Mormonism, I’m uninterested in threadjacking here any longer. You and others who are interested, however, are welcome to read my other posts on this blog which cover nearly all your questions.

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  22. Dear friends,

    Thank you. We have a lot of rich content here. I am very grateful for each of you and for your willingness to share of yourself with openness and through difficulty. I appreciate the work we each have done to both be understood and to understand. I think it’s ok for us to pause, take a breath, and give ourselves the time and space to think through all that has been exchanged.

    I trust you. I sincerely believe we are each putting our best foot forward. Ours is a life long journey, we don’t have to do or die this second. Let’s take our time. Let’s keep showing up – as you have done. It really is our humanity which is at stake, and our willingness to recognize one another’s.

    “La lucha continues!”

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