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From One Who Left

Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, was recently excommunicated from the church I was born and raised in. The sad thing about this is she believes in that church a lot more than I do, wanted to belong a lot more than I do, but my name is still on the records and hers is not.

I wasn't a part of Ordain Women because it didn't feel like my fight anymore. But I can't help but sympathize with them as I've watched this controversy go down. I can't help but relive the frustration and disappointment from my own struggle. It's hard for me to turn away and not care.

I think what has gotten under my skin the most is to see the things said, and the blogs posted by members. Most of which I found either illogical, misinformed, sexist, or insensitive. So to my Mormon friends, I'm not going to try to change your minds. But let me at least try to explain why the arguments you throw at Mormon feminists just aren't sticking.


"Feminists just want everyone to be the same."
No, actually, feminists want everyone to be free to be different. To be their authentic selves even when it disagrees with prescribed gender roles.

"If women had the priesthood, men would slack off, and we women would have to do even more. When only men have the priesthood, they are forced to better themselves. Whereas women are born awesome, so we don't need that extra boost like the men do."
This one comes in slightly different variations, but the general theme is always the same. What I hear is that 1) women, stay in your assigned sphere so men can feel useful and strong and 2) men are kind of useless if they aren't micromanaged by the demands of the priesthood. 3) Women couldn't possibly handle being mothers and clergywomen in their church, but somehow men can be fathers and bishops. Demeaning attitudes towards men abound in this argument, even while we're being told that it is feminists who "just hate men."

"Men and women have different strengths. They are just different."
You know what else we are? Unique individuals. Mormon feminists, and feminists in general, ask you to see the individual before their gender. Because not everyone fits perfectly into your black and white stereotypes, and that's okay.

"Men can't have babies, and you don't hear them complaining about it."
Priesthood is not the equivalent of motherhood - fatherhood is, and you downplay its relevance by saying otherwise. Just because a man can't birth a baby doesn't mean a woman shouldn't be a ward clerk or Sunday school president. How does that make sense? Because it kind of sounds like you're reducing women to the function of their biological parts.

"There is already female leadership in the church."
Yeah, there is. But tell the whole truth. They don't have the same governing power as men. In the church, you will find women with titles, and they will be included in important meetings. But at the end of the day it is the men who decide the boundaries of how far their input and opinions will reach. Male leaders are more visible in the church, and their words carry more weight.

"These women need to be proud of being a woman, they should enjoy being feminine. I don't understand why they want to be just like men."
Feminists are the last people I would accuse of not being proud of their own gender. On the contrary, it is their deep sense of self worth and empathy for their fellow women that compels them to speak out. Pointing out ways you feel mistreated and marginalized is not the same as saying you dislike being a woman. And plenty of feminists are feminine, but even if they aren't, so what? Is it a sin now not to like high heels and dresses? And no, there is no penis envy, thank you very much, only the wish for parity.

"These women are just on a power trip."
Firstly, this is just another aspect of sexism that penalizes women for aspiring to power or leadership because it is unbecoming of a sweet little lady under patriarchy. Secondly, it is not just about power. It is about representation, and priesthood holders are what matters and what is counted when funds are being distributed and big decisions are being made. One example: My friend lived in St. Kitts, and only one room in their small chapel had AC, and the men decided to use that room for all three hours because they reasoned they were hotter in their suits. When the branch asked for money to extend the AC to the other rooms where the women and children met, they were told there weren't enough priesthood holders in their small branch to qualify for any more funds. Even though they outnumber the men, the women and children DO NOT COUNT. In other removed corners of the world, women are dependent on the presence of men to administrate, even though the women are capable and largely outnumber the men. Even though the surrounding society may produce men who are blatantly sexist, women better qualified to be spiritual leaders will be passed over. It is short sighted to say these women only want power. And if the priesthood is about service rather than power, wouldn't it be more accurate to say these women desire to serve in the same capacity men do, particularly when there are no men present to do the job? That doesn't sound bad to me.

"These women are a small minority who don't represent the majority of the women in the church."
Here is a great response to that particular argument. If you don't want to read the whole thing, here's the most pertinent point: "...the next time you're tempted to discount-well, anyone-because they're not in the majority, I encourage you to remember that as a Mormon, you're a pretty significant minority yourself."

"The blessings of the priesthood are available to all through the nearest worthy male."
Welcome to learning how to be the neck that turns the head, also known as being co-dependent. Remember this later when you're accused of being a controlling nag, passive aggressive, over-emotional, manipulative, or needy. All symptoms of a woman who has been raised to think power and authority reside outside of herself. To put it plainly, this is an unhealthy mindset to foist onto women.

"This church is not ruled by men. It is ruled by God. The order of the church is God's will."
When the Mormon church was founded, women could not vote. They could not own property if they were married. The idea was that men were responsible for women, and voted on their behalf. Women were like children, dependents to their husband. A man could be held responsible if his wife did something illegal because he was considered her legal guardian. It was called feme covert. It was a commonly accepted idea that women were the weaker sex, in not just body, but also mind. Do you really think that mind-set didn't influence the men (and women) who formed the early church? That all the previous history of sexism in Christianity, and in the Bible, did not affect their view of women? You're sure your prophets are totally above the cultural prejudices of their times, is that it? Unless your prophets are infallible, it is possible that they may not always be the perfect middle man between you and the divine. I agree with Rock Waterman, a blogger who is also facing excommunication, when he says, "Male only priesthood is not a doctrine. It is a tradition."

"But Mormon men are so super nice and respectful to women. They dote on us, they cherish us."
Saying that a lot of Mormon men dote on and cherish women isn't enough, true as it may be. You can dote on a child, you can cherish a pet. Treating someone as autonomous, capable, and equal to you requires more than just making sure women have padded chairs and a flower on Mother's day. Making an effort to ask for their input in your predominantly male meetings, where men hold all the administrative power, is not good enough.

"If you don't like it, leave."
In my case, done and done. Unfortunately for some women it is not that simple. They sincerely believe in the gospel even if they feel the organization is imperfectly run. They may have other reasons for staying. Maybe their marriage depends on it, or their kids have to attend because a spouse demands it. Maybe they feel like Mormonism is their tribe, their family, and as imperfect as it may be, you don't abandon family. But keep on telling them to leave, they probably will eventually, and you'll have succeeded in weeding out the undesirables. Congrats! But forgive me if I'm not buying it when you say how inclusive and diverse the church is.

"If you don't believe, then why don't you leave it alone."
Because I care. Because it matters. Because it impacted my life. Because this is a woman's issue, and that interests me. Because I live in a predominantly LDS state, and that dramatically affects my state's politics. Because I am sickened at how quick people are to dismiss a woman who dares to say a contradictory thing against patriarchy. Because carrying patriarchy on into the future is a lost opportunity on the part of the church to challenge deeply embedded sexism across the world.

When you tell me how great you've got it as a woman in the church, chances are good you live in a first world country where the advances of women's rights have benefited you. Chances are good that you've never experienced spiritual or religious abuse at the hands of an all male leadership, felt the powerlessness of that situation. And if you have heard of such a thing happening, you've already dismissed it as an isolated case. And all I'm saying is that it is not an isolated case, it is a symptom of a power imbalance that will continually disenfranchise women and privilege men. Women will continually chafe against it. Women, like me, will continue to leave. This will not go away, every generation of girls born into the church will come up against it. I hope you'll do better for them than the church did for Ordain Women.




Last modified: 2017-08-22 14:25:33

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Name: Victoria (164 weeks, 4 days ago) www.livingbrilliancenow.com
Very good argument. I especially liked your reply - "If you don't believe, then why don't you leave it alone."
Because I care. Because it matters. Because it impacted my life. Because this is a woman's issue, and that interests me. Because I live in a predominantly LDS state, and that dramatically affects my state's politics. Because I am sickened at how quick people are to dismiss a woman who dares to say a contradictory thing against patriarchy. Because carrying patriarchy on into the future is a lost opportunity on the part of the church to challenge deeply embedded sexism across the world.
Name: Shane Conner (164 weeks, 4 days ago)
Loved the blog. So many great points. One more argument you may want to include for following the tradition of sexism, is that church has admitted that its leaders followed the tradition of racism. See the church's article on "Race and the Priesthood" https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-pries... They admit that tradition and culture influenced church leaders into denying black men the priesthood until 1978 when the church changed its mind. Now this change of mind is being lauded as good and moving forward. Time to remove the tradition of sexism. Time to move forward.
Name: Lynn (164 weeks, 4 days ago)
Loved every word.

That is all.
Name: Emily Schofield (164 weeks, 4 days ago) schofieldeachdayisagift.blogspot.com
Beautifully written Hillary! I've left, but many other women stay for various reasons, and honestly, I care about this issue because I still love them deeply.

"If you don't like it, leave."
In my case, done and done. Unfortunately for some women it is not that simple. They sincerely believe in the gospel even if they feel the organization is imperfectly run. They may have other reasons for staying. Maybe their marriage depends on it, or their kids have to attend because a spouse demands it. Maybe they feel like Mormonism is their tribe, their family, and as imperfect as it may be, you don't abandon family. But keep on telling them to leave, they probably will eventually, and you'll have succeeded in weeding out the undesirables. Congrats! But forgive me if I'm not buying it when you say how inclusive and diverse the church is.
Name: Megan (164 weeks, 4 days ago)
BOOM!! YOU NAILED IT, SISTER!
Name: Kyle (164 weeks, 4 days ago)
I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. I have not read much about it, but a thought comes to me now. You talk of how feminists want to be free of gender roles. However, the church's definition of a family (about which all other aspects of the church revolve) relies heavily on gender roles (i.e. that marriage be between a man and a woman). Many claim that there is no doctrine stating that woman cannot have the priesthood (and I also cannot think of anything that makes such a statement outright). I can think of strong doctrine that support the doctrine that marriage be between a man and a woman (The Family: A Proclamation to the World and several chapters in Doctrine and Covenants). This implies gender roles. How can the church get rid of gender roles, without harming the integrity of its doctrine?

Anyway, as I said, I have not really been following this debate. If my question has been answered previously, please share!
Name: Todd (164 weeks, 3 days ago)
Hillary,

I really, REALLY appreciate your respectful tone. Thank you for that!

I think it's important to remember that Kelly wasn't excommunicated for thinking or believing differently; she was excommunicated for actively trying to sway others' to her way of thinking through demonstrations and political action. She was, in fact, proselytizing her way of thinking over the church's current understanding. She was "setting herself up" as an authority.

Of course, she has every right to do so! Just as her bishop has the right to separate her from the flock for doing so. Her excommunication was not about the merits of her belief, it was about her actions.

I am heartily sorry when I hear stories like the one you related about the "brethren" in St. Kitts. They should be ashamed of themselves! But, since we are all imperfect, maybe they'll learn to be more selfless like the Savior! Maybe we all can.
End of comments.



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