At a recent FAIR conference, Joshua Johanson spoke about how he has negotiated the conflict between his same sex attraction and his religious faith. Something that struck me about this talk was a comment he made near the beginning about his wife’s relationship with the feminist movement and how it is similar to his relationship to the gay movement. He stated:
I am very lucky to have [my wife]. Not only is Alyssa incredibly beautiful, but smart too. She obtained her doctorate from Berkeley in chemical engineering. She has several publications and has won awards for her work. From all aspects, she had a bright future in the biotech industry. That is, until she got tangled up with another boy.
In January, our son Isaac entered our family, and Alyssa became conflicted between her desire to work and her desire to be a mom. People often spoke of being “just” a mom, as if being a mom wasn’t as good of a career as a chemical engineer. Too often these comments come from other women. Alyssa has been grateful that the feminist movement has enabled her to go to college and have a successful career. However, she also feels that they have debased the most feminine of roles, being a mom.
While I don’t doubt his word that some women disagreed with his wife’s choice to leave the workforce, I disagree with his assumption that their response is emblematic of the feminist movement. His comments, to me, represent common misconceptions about the feminist movement namely that 1-Feminists don’t support women who choose to have children, and 2-Feminists don’t support women who choose to stay at home with their children. His comments got me thinking about how many LDS members view the feminist movement and how they have learned about feminism. I would imagine that many LDS members have never read a feminist text, attended a talk by a feminist scholar, or followed the specific history of the feminist movement. Instead, it is likely that most LDS members have learned about feminism primarily through what the LDS church has said about feminism. In particular, during the 1970s when the LDS church mobilized against the passing of the ERA, there were a large number of conference talks and Ensign articles that specifically addressed many of the feminist arguments. After that time, while the role of women continues to be addressed in General Conference and church publications, there are less statements that specifically address tenets of feminism.
Even though the majority of the statements made by general church leaders about feminism were made in the 1970s, I believe that the perception of feminism that was put forth during that decade still strongly influences members of the church today. Many members were alive when those statements were originally made, and it is not uncommon for younger members to hear the statements quoted in our present day instruction. Even as a BYU student in the early 2000s, it was not uncommon for me to be taught church statements about feminism from the 1970s. For example, I remember being taught statements about the importance of women not being in the workforce (because they will become home-wreckers) that were from talks originally given in the 1970s.
It is my hypothesis that because many LDS members have primarily learned about feminism through Conference talks and church publications of the 1970s, many are unfamiliar with the tenets of 3rd wave feminism. Specifically, 2nd wave feminism of the 1970s focused on the limitations placed on women because they were expected to be stay-at-home moms. However, as the movement has progressed, feminism has come to focus on opening up choices for both men and women inside and outside of the home and validating the choices that people make. Specifically, as feminists have opened up more options for women in the workforce and broader society, feminists have recognized the need to support women who choose to stay at home with their children.
So, I will turn the question over to you. Do you think that it is accurate to say that most members of the LDS church have learned about feminism through General Conference talks and Ensign articles of the 1970s? Do you think LDS members have misperceptions about the ideas and goals of the current feminist movement? How do you think we can change those misperceptions?