A sometimes charged little
threadjack discussion has been going on in Julie’s latest book review, over a statement by Adam. Adam’s initial statement was “In my experience, the more sympathy and prominence paid to feminists, the more excluded people like my wife feel.” Adam’s reasoning is, I think, a good example of a broader phenomenon which I think deserves closer scrutiny, and which I will (with Julie’s permission) focus on in this thread. That is the argument that any movement towards feminism in the church necessarily demeans or diminishes Mormon women who do not consider themselves feminists.
If this argument is accepted, that every step forward for outspoken Mormon feminists is a step backward for often silent Mormon women who are perfectly happy the way things are right now. This is a serious consequence, and that makes an examination of Adam’s assertion important. Is Mormon feminism really a zero-sum game?
(Note — this thread will focus on the question of whether Mormon feminism is a zero-sum game as regards Mormon women. It is a separate question whether it is a zero-sum game as regards male-female relations).
It seems to me that there are several possibilities. Without making any claim to answer the question definitively, I think it may help to discuss the ways in which we could answer the question:
Yes, Mormon Feminism is a Zero Sum Game
A. Attacks on traditional women.
It seems possible that Mormon feminism is zero sum because feminist arguments invariably devalue other women. That is, our Mormon feminist, Justine,* cannot make her argument (“Mormon women ought to have a greater role in church administration,” for example) without taking gratuitous swipes at her traditional-Mormon counterpart, Danielle.
In addition, Danielle may feel insulted by the implication that Justine believes that Danielle really ought to be a feminist, and that if she knew what was good for her, she would adopt a feminist position herself.
B. Devaluation of traditional roles.
Similarly, it seems possible that Justine is capable of making her arguments without personal attacks on Danielle, but that her arguments devalue things which Danielle holds dear. If Justine asserts that “gender roles are all sexist” and this argument becomes more broadly accepted, then perhaps Danielle, a believer in gender roles, may feel that her beliefs have been devalued.
C. Derivative effects.
Perhaps Justine’s arguments, if accepted, will result in a less robust social network for Danielle. Perhaps some of Danielle’s friends will themselves accept Justine’s views. Perhaps support for what Danielle views as important traditional women’s roles will dwindle, and Danielle will suffer. All of these effects may not be Justine’s direct goals, but they may nonetheless turn Justine’s gains into Danielle’s losses.
D. It’s zero-sum and that’s good — a feminist argument.
The argument can be raised that Danielle is only feeling what Justine has had to deal with for some time. That is, the distribution of contentment among LDS women has been vastly inequitable, with Danielle receiving large shares of contentment and Justine receiving very little. Thus, a distributive justice argument can be made that the zero-sum nature of the process is exactly appropriate.
E. Political or theological consequences.
Danielle may believe that Justine’s arugments, if accepted, will have profound political or theological consequences. She may believe that advocacy of a pro-choice position will result in more abortions; that advocacy of women working will result in more adultery, and so forth. Thus, Danielle may view it as her duty to fight Justine to prevent those broader issues. Danielle may believe that the consequences of Justine’s arguments will affect her family directly — her own children are more likely to become sinners, for example.
Danielle may also believe that it is theologically dangerous to examine certain subjects.
F. Feminist troublemaking results in rollbacks of gains achieved by less ostentatious non-feminists.
This is the argument that many of the gains sought by feminists could be better achieved through quiet resistance on an individual level. By openly challenging church heirarchy, Mormon feminists actually harm other women as the inevitable crackdowns result in rollbacks of gains acheived by quiet nudges of non-feminists.
No, Mormon Feminism is Not a Zero Sum Game
A. A rising tide lifts all boats.
One argument is that Justine’s gains will translate into gains for everyone else, including Danielle. Justine will be happier, and that happiness will be passed along to others. Danielle need not begrudge Justine her gain; the trickle-down to Danielley will compensate her for any loss.
B. Danielle just doesn’t know what’s good for her.
There is a paternalistic argument that Danielle may simply be repressed, and not know it. This argument is that every woman is a closet feminist, even if she doesn’t know it. This is an argument which is deeply disrespectful of Danielle’s current beliefs. However, if valid, it does give the result that Mormon feminism is not a zero-sum game.
C. There’s room in this tent for all of us.
In addition, it can be argued that Justine’s gains need not come at Danielle’s loss. Justine can gain further participation in the church for herself and for other feminists, while Danielle may be free to stay at home and raise her children and stay out of the fray entirely.
D. Feminists actually protect non-feminists.
This is the argument that strong feminist women will stand up for the rights of women everywhere, and that non-feminists will benefit from the gains forged by feminists. This argument may be somewhat condescending to the extent that it assumes that non-feminist women are unable to take caref of themselves.
Those seem to be some possibilities, though I’ve almost certainly missed other arguments. (Which ones am I missing?).
A number of these ideas came up on Julie’s thread. For example, “this tent is big enough for all of us” seems to be the theory of Julie’s comment 6, Julie’s comment 41, Julie’s comment 46, Melissa’s comment 60. “Feminists gratuitously insult traditionalists” seems to be the theme of Adam’s comment 7, Minerva’s comment 13, Minerva’s comment 18, Minerva’s 27, Christina’s comment at BCC, Nate’s comment 43, Elisabeth’s comment 44, Melissa’s comment 60, Rosalynde’s comment 73. Devaluation of traditional roles was a theme of Ivan’s comment 38, Rosalynde’s comment 73. “Feminists protect us all” is reflected in Melissa’s comment 17, Nate’s comment 43, Melissa’s comment 60, Kris’s comment 61, Brian Jeffries comment 96 (where the idea is criticized). Mark Martin’s comment 95 focuses on derivative effects.
While some of these thoughts have been addressed in the comments to Julie’s thread, they’ve been intermingled with discussions of a dozen other things that came up in her book review. So hopefully we can use this separate thread to focus on the single issue. Is Mormon feminism a zero-sum game? I don’t know that we can answer that question definitively, but it sure sounds fun to try.
*Note: I ran an early draft of this post by the permabloggers, and there was some discussion about the names I had originally used and whether they implied that one position was better than the other. In the current iteration of the post, I’m trying to avoid use of any names that would seem to privilege one position over the other. To do this, I went to a random name generator. That is, I picked the first two female names from my spam e-mail this morning; I determined the order of the names ex ante as well. Our two participants thus became Justine and Danielle.