I was a radical feminist for about 48 hours in 1995. Sitting in the Marriott Center as a 20-year-old BYU student, I listened to President Hinckley read the Proclamation on the Family for the first time to the assembled masses. And oh how I seethed! It felt intolerable to be defined from outside, to be told who I am and why and what that meant. I remember walking directly to the library afterward, sitting at a carrel and furiously scribbling my objections on the back cover of the packet of readings for my feminist literary theory seminar. Gender was a social construct! A performance! I get to choose what it means for me to be a woman! The packet told me so!
Time passed, the anger ebbed. But the Proclamation has persisted, indeed grown in prominence over the years. Despite my initial recoil, the Proclamation is the future of gender for Mormonism. It makes a provocative, challenging, and internally tense set of claims about gender, claims that defy both conservative and progressive wisdom. Boiled down to its essence, the Proc makes two related but orthogonal philosophical claims (as opposed to sociological claims) about gender: 1) “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” And 2) “Fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
In other words: sexual difference is real, and sexual equality is real.
It’s not at all obvious how both claims can be fully true at the same time, but the Proclamation commits us to both. It’s my argument that Mormonism’s metaphysical materialism helps us make sense of these claims. What would a rigorously materialist reading of the Proclamation look like?
You’ll have to come hear my talk, “A Material Girl in a Material World: Mormonism, Materialism and Gender,” to find out. Please join us at 9 AM Saturday at the Provo City Library for a full day of exploration.