Mormon Stories Podcast

John Dehlin interviewed me for the second episode in his series of podcasts on Mormonism and feminism. I gave an overview of the three waves of feminism, and didn’t really talk a lot about Mormonism at all (he wanted to start with a podcast that gave some background on the women’s movement.) Anyway, head over to Mormon Stories to give the podcast a listen. And if you feel I was misrepresenting anything, or if you want to discuss the history of feminism or other issues I raised, feel free to come back here and comment.

And while you’re over at Mormon Stories, give John Dehlin a big hearty thanks for doing this series!


  1. Interesting interview! I liked the discussion of the contrast between the 70s and today, showing the things that feminists have accomplished in that time. I would also like to hear more about women’s rights issues in other countries besides the U.S. I think the U.S. women’s movement needs to be put in the larger context of global conditions. I hope there is going to be room for more of that in this series.

    One thing I think about when I need encouragement is how far we have really come in my lifetime, as illustrated by changes in popular culture. A few examples that come to mind:
    1. The original Star Trek series had dozens of episodes with anti-female themes that are risible today, for instance, the woman who was frustrated in her efforts to become a starship captain who then took over Kirk’s body, and consequently failed miserably at commanding the Enterprise, because she was a woman and should have accepted that she just plain didn’t have what it takes to captain a starship.
    2. New Yorker cartoons from the 20s and 30s showing young women secretaries being mauled and groped by their bosses being depicted as a subject of light humor, not as a serious human rights issue.
    3. In 19th century Russian novels (mainly Dostoyevsky), university students passionately argue issues of the day at their parties, and women’s issues are among the topics discussed. At that point, the question was “The Woman Question”, meaning “are women sentient beings or not?” The discussions we have today pretty much accept that women are. at least, sentient. =)
    4. Disney movies from my childhood feature passive female roles, even the main characters in the movies like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Those girls took no positive actions to improve their situations. They were not actors themselves, they were acted upon. Contrast that with later Disney movies, which, while still problematic in many ways, at least feature girls who take charge of their own lives and head in some definite direction.

    I’d be interested to hear of women’s experiences of sexual harrassment, discrimination, etc. in their lifetimes. I think we need to tell our stories for these issues to be understood and for our feminism to be put in context.

  2. Excellent job, Seraphine. As someone whose background in women’s history and women’s studies is a little thin, I found your overview helpful. I thought the points you made about how life was different for women in 1970 (the year before I was born!) were especially revealing.

    In line with Tatiana’s observations about the old New Yorker cartoons, I remember reading a collection of jokes from 1940s Reader’s Digests that included some really outrageous sexism–wife-beating jokes, and dumb women jokes–that fortunately have become much more unacceptable.

  3. Thanks so much for doing this with John. It was a fascinating listen and I keep going over it. I wish more women knew their own history.

  4. Thanks, all!

    Tatiana and Eve, I think you’re right that the piece on the differences between the 70’s and today is telling. I think that often we think things were problematic for women 100 years ago, but I don’t think we realize exactly *how much* was changed in the past 30 years. I don’t accept arguments that 2nd wave feminists had very little to do with those changes. 🙂

    Tatiana, I also like hearing stories, which is one reason I loved teaching women’s studies. I got to hear lots of stories. And I agree there needs to be more awareness of women’s issues internationally. This is one area that I’m not anywhere near as informed as I’d like to be.

  5. I really enjoyed the podcast, Seraphine, and I learned a lot more about American feminism than I had in any women’s studies or feminism class I took. And you took it further than lit crit–it’s nice to break away from Helene Cicoux or Adrienne Rich and hear about feminism in a very real socio-political and historical way. Sometimes it’s tempting to only study it philosophically w/o realizing the true issues that we and our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers have faced. I appreciated your thoughts very much.

  6. Seraphine,

    I got one of the defective versions that cut out before the end. I think John has fixed that so I’ll have to go download it again. But I wonder about the Three Waves of feminism. You mention at the beginning that this is an “easy way” of looking at it. That seems to suggest that you may think it is a fairly arbitrary distinction. I just want to know your thoughts on that.

    From my perspective — trainined in folklore — whenever I see “three” of anything the first thing I ask myself is whether these are legitimate categories or just an attempt to create a sense of fullness or completion that the number three traditional provides. At any rate, I’d be interested to hear what you think about that.

    Great job by the way. I look forward to hearing the rest of the interview.

  7. I enjoyed the podcast, and I liked your voice, Seraphine. 🙂 I love to hear a woman who sounds confident and embodied, rather than the whispery, sweet spirit voice.

    An uneducated response to Glenn, I’m not sure about the three thing- I think we may be heading into a fourth wave of feminism.

    I appreciated the overview, although I had hoped to hear a little more about third wave. In discussions about women in the church, that might be less relevant I suppose. In many ways the church is still dealing with first wave issues.

  8. Glenn, I think the “three waves” model is useful for a number of reasons–it’s a way of organizing what’s a pretty broad and confusing movement, and it does give us a good sense of how things have progressed over the past 150 years. However, you’re right that to a certain extent that the “wave” distinctions are arbitrary. A lot of the issues that second wave feminists fought for were raised (though perhaps not focused on) by first wave feminists, there were feminists around in between the 1920s and the 1960s, etc. So, I guess my answer is that I think they (the waves) are categorizations that are useful in quite a few contexts (i.e. introducing people to feminist history, like this podcast does), but that we shouldn’t use the wave-model as the end-all-be-all model of feminism.

  9. AmyB, that’s funny to hear you say that, since in the academic world, I often get criticized for not being forceful and confident enough. 🙂 Still, my fiance said something like that too–he was in the room while I did the podcast, and he said something like “I like your confident, enthusiastic teacher persona.”

    I also would have loved to talk more about third wave feminism, but John wanted more of an overview (so that it would give people a way to orient Mormon women issues within a historical feminist context). And we only had a limited amount of time (as it was, he let me go over his usual hour-long time limit). And I think you’re right–we’re still working on issues raised by earlier waves of feminism. I’ll have to do a series of posts here on third-wave feminist stuff. If there’s anything you want me to post on, let me know!

  10. Seraphine,

    I really enjoyed the interview–nice job.

    I know you mentioned a handful of books, article, and essays during the interview, but I’d love to get your thoughts on an “essential reading list” for people (like me) who want to learn more about all three waves of the feminist movement in the United States. Any suggestions?

  11. Seraphine, I enjoyed your podcast while traveling a few hours to a cabin in the mountains. It was funny because my husband is usually the silent one, and I think my silence on this trip actually taught him a lesson 🙂
    I’m interested to hear more about 3rd wave feminism, and what kind of efforts are being made to change the way feminism is perceived. For example, my mother-in-law has some very narrow views of feminists, much like your description on the podcast. It makes sense that there were hard-liners in the 2nd wave feminist movement who were pushing for women in the workplace, etc., but weren’t there also women who advocated for women who chose to stay home? It seems to me like a pendulum, it has to swing to the opposite extreme before it comes back to the center.
    I also thought a lot about the way women were considered property in the late 1800’s. From my interpretation of the scriptures, that seems to have been the case through much of the OT,NT, and even BoM times. Of course the pervasiveness of the idea doesn’t make it right, but it does make more sense to me why it took so long for women to get the vote, for example, and why other aspects of the feminist movement have been stalled as well.
    Thanks again for the podcast, I look forward to future threads on these issues, and especially on feminism and the church.

  12. jessawhy, you’re right that the 2nd-wave feminists were diverse (it’s just my impression that the hard-liners just got more press). There was an article I read in college called “A Gender Diary” by Ann Snitow that really opened my eyes to this–Snitow discusses the division in 2nd wave feminism between those who said women could do what men could and were looking for more institutional equality (i.e. those who wanted to work and participate in “male” worlds) and those who were gender essentialists and wanted to use feminism to celebrate and elevate the uniqueness of women.

    I’m in the middle of a looking for a job right now (which is limiting my on-line time), but I’ll make a mental note to do some more posts on 3rd wave feminist issues in the future, since that seems to have caught the attention of people.

  13. I enjoyed parts of the broadcast, but look forward to more of the real story coming out. I participated actively in the second wave, with my mother who was a moderate. The bitterness and anger of the more radical part of the movement was frightening to me at 17, but it cemented my conviction that feminism was too important to leave in the hands of women who practiced the opposite of what they preached. The oppressive matriarchy I encountered, the spitting and nastiness was an insight, for me, into what was wrong with the second wave. Their need for power was never fully addressed, and books like Faludi’s which attribute the backlash to conservatives misses what led up to the backlash. The original second wave theorists, which I had read with such interest before getting involved, were determined to prevent anyone from changing their agenda. While it may all be seen as part of the massive polarization of american politics, it felt very personal and vindictive and the time.
    Having been so oppressed by women within the movement, especially the leadership, I am not surprised now when my sisters and friends, all highly educated and successful professionals, hate the word feminist. We experienced so much, and saw the battles first hand, it’s hard for them to forgive and forget, I think. I want to move on and embrace the third wave, and encourage Mormon women in particular to reclaim the word feminism, define ourselves and engage in the feminist movement without apology. There are so many women who need what we have to offer, our unique skills, experience with compassion and welfare efforts. We know that when we help a woman, we help a family. I believe when we help women we change communities. I hope we can find our place in third wave feminism and put the insanity of the second wave behind us.

  14. I have big hopes set for this meeting (organized and led by women under 30) and for a new wave of young fesiminm that is of and for our region. The first thing I want to share with you is that we set out from the beginning to be a network that depends very little on money. Read the full post here.


Comments are closed.