One of the hardest things for me to deal with when it comes to feminism and the church is not directly related to any of the hot button feminist issues (i.e. not having the Priesthood, worrying about polygamy, etc). Instead, I have a tendency to get upset about the tension-filled relationship between feminists and non-feminists* in the church and how that affects my ability to be honest about my own life journey with other church members.
I am generally very wary about sharing my feminist views and goals with church members I know in real life. The reason is not that I’m afraid people will disagree with me (because most of the time they do, and I’m okay with that); it’s usually because most people who disagree with me aren’t okay with just leaving it at that. After hearing my unorthodox position on gender roles, instead of saying, “I tend to support the church’s position on gender roles because it’s been beneficial to my life,” they often add comments along the lines of “because you don’t support the church’s position on gender roles, you’re going to be a bad mother.”
On the other hand, I know quite a few non-feminist women who have felt belittled for their views and decisions (especially stay-at-home moms who have left profitable careers in order to raise their children). When it comes to relationships between feminists and non-feminists in the church, there’s lots of judgment and tension and bad feeling, and it’s not good for anyone. Feminists and non-feminists end up unable to share their differing experiences and learn from each other’s perspectives and testimonies.
So, I am writing this post in an effort to foster dialogue and understanding. I am curious about what people think are the best things we can all do in order to prevent or circumvent the cycle of mistrust and miscommunication between feminists and non-feminists. I am interested in hearing general suggestions, but also feel free to make suggestions pertinent to issues and debates on the bloggernacle.
I am going to end this post with a list of requests for non-feminists. I’ll also offer a couple of ideas about what I think feminists can do. Since I know a lot less about what non-feminists want from me and other feminists, the latter list of ideas will be brief, but I encourage responses in the comments.
So, here is my list of requests for non-feminists:
1. Give me a space to talk about my struggles with being a (feminist) woman in the church. Yes, I know that not all women are like me – many women are fine with the status quo in the church – and you don’t have to agree with my ideas, but I often feel discouraged and isolated. Being able to talk about how I feel helps me to not feel so alone, and I don’t get very many opportunities to share my (feminist) experiences with others.
2. Don’t make judgments about my character based solely on the fact that I’m a feminist. You have no idea what kind of mother I am going to be. Being a feminist does not make me devil-spawn.
3. Don’t tell me to “get over my issues” or that I’m “making something out of nothing.” Please believe that I have deep-seated reasons for my beliefs and actions beyond wanting to be stubborn or contradictory. Just as my religious beliefs are central to who I am as a person, so are many of my feminist convictions.
4. Please don’t pathologize my feminist views or assume that they’re something I’m going to grow out of once I reach a more “mature” state (i.e. when I get married, have children, etc). I am an intelligent, rational adult with well-thought out reasons for my feminist moral convictions.
5. Don’t assume that because I don’t have my issues resolved yet that I haven’t tried, haven’t prayed to God about them, etc. Yes, I know that dealing with my struggles with faith and trust in God is important. I am doing that, and it’s the reason I, personally, have not left the church. However, please understand that many of the answers that may be satisfactory to you may not address my particular concerns (and may, in fact, be part of the problem).
6. Don’t judge me (and feminism in general) by run-ins you’ve had with other feminists. There are feminists out there who aren’t nice. There are non-feminists out there who aren’t nice. I don’t say, “I think non-feminism is evil because a non-feminist once told me that I was going to hell.”
7. I welcome criticisms of feminism (it’s an imperfect social movement filled with imperfect people). But if you’re going to criticize feminism, please do some research and/or know what you’re talking about. Just like you don’t appreciate people saying to you “Mormons are Satan-worshippers because I saw it on a TV show (heard it from my preacher, etc),” I don’t appreciate people making judgments about feminism that are based on what they’ve heard in the popular media, from anti-feminists, etc.
In my interactions with non-feminists:
1. I will not tell non-feminists that they are being brainwashed by the patriarchy or that they do not value women just because they do not embrace feminist values. My base assumption will be that non-feminists value women, but they just do it in a different manner than I do.
2. I won’t tell women who have made choices such as being a stay-at-home mom that those choices are bad. I won’t impose the choices that I have made (i.e. to go to graduate school and pursue a career in academia) on other women.
Okay, now I would like others to chime in: feminist and non-feminist alike. Feminists: is there anything else you would add to my list? Non-feminists: What kinds of requests do you have for feminists? What kinds of behavior would you appreciate from feminists in order to make them (or interaction with them) less threatening or upsetting? Really, what I want to know is: how can feminists share their views without making everyone freak out and run for the nearest exit?
*If there’s a term the non-feminists prefer to be called by–“gender traditionalists,” etc.–let me know.