I mentioned in my last post that I found FMH in the spring of 2005. I periodically looked at the bloggernacle that year, but much of my time online was spent on another, mental-health related message board, and I didn’t have time to be involved in many more online activities. Also, while I was intrigued by Mormon blogs, I was also intimidated, and I have to admit that I was uncertain that I would find any welcome there. In Mormon contexts I’ve so often felt like an outsider, and I worried that the same dynamic would be at work online. So while I was interested to see people discussing such a wide variety of questions, I didn’t follow the blogs very closely.
I’m not sure what shifted, but in December of that year, I decided to start commenting on FMH. I picked the handle “Lynnette” because it’s my middle name. And I was quickly hooked. My sister Eve was commenting as well, which made it even more fun. But while I loved FMH, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to want to have a blog of my own. I emailed Eve, “You know, I keep thinking that it would be fun to start a blog . . . But I’m worried that a) it would be too hard to keep up with it or b) it would be too easy to keep up with it, to the detriment of other areas of my life.” (As it turns out, both A and B have been challenges.) But we kept talking about the idea. And at one point I wrote, “So what’s the OT story about the tribe in which there are only daughters, so they go to Moses and ask to inherit? I can’t remember where to find it, but maybe we could name ourselves after them.”
We started ZD in January of 2006. We were originally thinking that we wanted it to be Mormon women in academia, with an initial group which included several of my sisters, as well as my close friend Seraphine. But we quickly decided to broaden it so that we could include more family members (which in retrospect was a really good decision).
It’s hard to overstate the impact blogging has had on my relationship to Mormon feminism, and even on my life more generally. I have to admit that I was nervous when we started, even though we were using pseudonyms, about possible ecclesiastical repercussions for blogging about feminism. But I figured that there were too many feminist bloggers for the church to go after everyone, and that’s only gotten more true over the years. I’ve especially enjoyed blogging in that it’s given me a space to write out a lot of frustrations, and to become more comfortable articulating my views on various issues. Sometimes it’s admittedly made me crazy. But, contra my fears of never being accepted in the LDS blogging world, I’ve met so, so many fabulous people through blogging. Especially because of that aspect, I think it’s actually on the whole made me feel more positive about the church, and more at peace with being an LDS feminist.
Nonetheless, church attendance has continued to be a challenge. After dropping out for a while during my first year in California, I decided once again to give it another try, and I’ve followed my usual pattern of having periods of going regularly, and periods of going once in a while. I’ve had teaching callings in the last two wards I’ve been in, and that’s been good both because I enjoy teaching, and it’s been a way to stay at least somewhat connected to the community.
At this point in my life, the things that make church difficult don’t have a lot to do with belief (or the lack thereof). I consider myself a believer in some basic way that I can’t always articulate, even if I’m agnostic about a lot of particular questions. And while I certainly get worked up about feminist (and other) issues at times, I also have periods of feeling fairly mellow. There are things about the church that I deeply disagree with, but on the whole, I’m okay with disagreeing. Sometimes I hope for change; sometimes I’m more discouraged. (Prop 8 was really, really hard.) But what makes church the most difficult on a week-to-week basis, at least at this point in my life, has to do with what I said in my last post about the challenges of feeling like I don’t really belong. I actually quite like my current ward, and that helps a lot. But church, especially if I’m depressed, can still be brutal in its ability to make me feel like a failure.
Navigating both the worlds of academia and of Mormonism has also continued to be a challenge. As I posted to my siblings years ago, early on in my work in theology:
You go to school and it seems like everyone is bending over backward to accommodate diversity, to the point of watering down their own beliefs until there is nothing left, or you see this insane feminist theology, or whatever, and you start thinking, this is nuts, and feeling conservative. Then you go to church, and hear that all other faiths are bad or a bunch of patriarchal hooey, and think, wait, I do believe in diversity and feminism after all! It’s weird to be on the boundary of two worlds like that.
I thought I’d somewhat worked through my concerns about fairly representing the church, but the issue became more acute for me again when I taught a course on Mormonism a couple of years ago. I agonized over what it meant to be balanced, and how best to structure the course and my approach. How, for example, should I talk about feminist issues in a way that was fair to the diversity of views among Mormon women? It was one of the more challenging things I’d done. But it was also a lot of fun to have a place where I could bring my worlds together like that.
People have sometimes asked me if it’s gotten better, if I’ve found answers that have helped with negotiating those dual commitments to the academy and the church, or just with my questions more generally. I think the best response I have is that I haven’t really resolved the issues—but the questions have become more familiar. I’ve become more accustomed to living with them.
And something else that’s been helpful for me has been the rise of Mormon Studies in the last decade. Suddenly there are Mormon-related conferences everywhere, which have given me numerous offline spaces to grapple with various aspects of Mormonism, including feminism, in an academic way. And as with blogging, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of great people who’ve been asking similar questions. A conference that was particularly influential for me as a feminist was one titled “Mormonism Through the Eyes of Women,” which took place at Claremont a couple of years ago. (I blogged about it here.) I did a paper on the problem of female salvation in LDS theology. This was one of the first times I’d publicly presented on Mormon feminism, and that was a little scary. But as it turned out, the conference was fantastic, and energizing, and it felt good to have a voice in it.
Looking back over the last few years, I see a theme—the thing that’s made the biggest difference in my relationship to the church has been meeting so many other people who have wrestled with similar questions. I’ve come to doubt that we can really resolve each other’s concerns, whatever they may be, by coming up with neat answers, but I do think we can accompany each other on our various journeys. For me, at least, that’s been tremendously important, that I’ve had sympathetic listeners and spaces where I can talk about the things that are hard for me.
My views on various feminist issues are still a work in progress. When I first encountered other Mormon feminists, when I first went to Sunstone all those years ago, I remember that I was uneasy with the idea of women getting the priesthood. I didn’t want to be one of “those women.” I was also a little suspicious of discussion of Heavenly Mother, which often seemed to veer in a direction that was more New Age-y than I was comfortable with. Those topics in particular are ones about which my views have changed over time. I can matter-of-factly say that I’m okay with the idea of female ordination, and I’ve become a lot more interested in Heavenly Mother. This shift hasn’t been because of some dramatic turning point, but has simply arisen from years of conversations about these topics, and a variety of personal experiences. (For some of my earlier thoughts on these subjects, see here, here, and here.)
So those are some of the pieces of my history with feminism, and with the church. (This was only supposed to be one post, but evidently I enjoy talking about myself.) I don’t really know where I’m going next. But I’ll probably blog about it.
(perhaps to be continued in a few years)