Zelophehad’s Daughters

Everything I Know about Feminism I Learned from the 1970s

Posted by Beatrice

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?

39 Responses to “Everything I Know about Feminism I Learned from the 1970s”

  1. 1.

    Juggling career and family typically entails a lot of sacrifices for women (and regrets, regardless of which choices/sacrifices they make). It is very easy to look at other women’s choices and see judgement when it wasn’t necessarily intended.

    This goes both ways. Career women can easily get the message that they’re being “selfish” if they put their toddler in day care instead of quitting their job (when the father, who also didn’t quit his job to stay home with the toddler, doesn’t face the same judgement).

    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.

    This kind of thing really bugs me. A man who hasn’t experienced this juggling-and-judgement pins his wife’s stress on other women. I don’t think it’s just a Mormon thing — I also wrote about it in a discussion of the deleted scenes in “The Incredibles” (of all places, lol).

    In reality, I think that increasing women’s choices and options naturally adds value and prestige to the role of motherhood. Since homemaking doesn’t require formal training nor is it paid, it’s very easy to place homemakers on a pedestal of empty slogans of respect and esteem while deep down thinking “you do this because you don’t have the skills or talents to do something more challenging.”

    In our modern feminist world, the situation is the opposite. Plenty of women (and even men) who have the talents and opportunity (or potential opportunity) to earn money and respect in the business and professional world choose nonetheless to stay home with their kids instead, demonstrating that homemaker is not just a role that one settles for but is a role that has value.

  2. 2.

    If one does a search at lds.org, most of the references from the 70s that refer to feminism talk about “…radical feminists…” or “…the radical wing of modern feminism….” So even within the church, the rhetoric allowed that there are various kinds of feminism, some of which may be more friendly towards mothers issues than the anti-motherhood versions that they are criticizing. I rarely heard (or can find references) to a blanket condemnation of all feminism.

    Also, to be fair, there were a lot of issues back then that warranted concern. For example, in the early 1980s Dr. Rita Ricardo-Campbell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a feminist who supported ERA, proposed to a congressional subcommittee that the social security dependent spouses’ benefits be phased out. She said, “My plan … recognizes the major socioeconomic changes of the last 30 years: the revolutionary increase in the number of women in the paid labor force….” Such a change would, of course, hurt families with a full-time homemaker.

    As far as where we get information about feminism, it may be different in the intermountain west, but outside of that area, where I have lived most of my adult life, I think that most folks (in the church or not) get their impression of feminism from people who claim to be feminists. When someone says to me, “So you must not be a feminist.,” because I was at home full-time with children, should I argue with them and insist that one can be at home and a feminist? I did that for a while, but after the third or fourth time, I gave up and said, “I guess not. But not every smart competent woman is a feminist. I respect the right of other women to make the best choices for themselves and their families. This is what is best for our family right now.”

    And yes, I have taken classes in women’s history/studies and read a lot about feminism, attended talks by feminist scholars, and been involved in and with feminist groups (I’m currently on the board of an organization that partners with feminist groups several times a year on issues of common concern). A few years ago our Relief Society book club read THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE, and so those ladies have a strong sense of what was entailed with second wave feminism.

    I stopped identifying as a femiist because of the lack of respect for motherhood by the feminists with whom I was dealing, which may not be representative of all feminists but are certainly a large and vocal contingent. For example, Linda Hirschman’s 2007 book, GET TO WORK! was a best-seller and was adopted as the “one book” by some college campuses. And she clearly discourages women from having children, certainly no more than one, and not taking time off to be at home with them. And there were several other books released around that time with a similar message.

    It isn’t just LDS who find many feminists to be unsupportive of motherhood. Shannon Hayes’ RADICAL HOMEMAKERS also raises serious questions about feminism’s lack of support for traditionally female work. And of course Ann Crittenden’s THE PRICE OF MOTHERHOOD toward the end raises serious questions about feminist groups’ lack of support and concern with mothers’ issues.

    There are certainly various wings and flavors of feminism, and I understand that not all are as stridently anti-motherhood as some. But is it really fair to say that those are “misconcenptions,” when they are, in fact, many feminists who have zero respect for the work of motherhood? The Ann Romney thing was one of the more recent cases in point. Hilary Rosen apologized under duress, but NOW President Terry O’Neill never did recant.

  3. 3.

    Naismith,

    Fair enough, thanks for your comments and perspective.

    One comment of yours stood out to me:

    When someone says to me, “So you must not be a feminist.,” because I was at home full-time with children, should I argue with them and insist that one can be at home and a feminist?

    I would argue that you should do what you were originally doing and state that you are a feminist, and you support a wide variety of choices for women including those who choose to stay at home. In this way, hopefully you would make people more aware of the variety of opinions within the feminist camp.

    I think this touches on the issue of how we as a society define feminism and the discussions about whether women should try to “reclaim” the word feminism. That could be a long discussion in and of itself. However, I think that in the original talk the speaker had the idea that feminists don’t support women who chose to stay at home (even various branches of feminism). To me, it is important to change that perception as well as to change the common perception that there is only one type of feminism.

    When I was a BYU student, I had a TA who taught our cross-cultural development class one day. The chapter he was teaching was on women’s issues worldwide, and he spent the whole hour telling a class full of women why we should not be feminists. I was really annoyed and was thinking “Shouldn’t LDS women also be involved in women’s issues and women’s opportunities?” To me, taking an interest in women’s place in society and the opportunities that women have falls under the umbrella of feminism. But I understand that some women don’t want to identify themselves that way.

  4. 4.

    Beatrice, why do you cling to a word that has an unclear meaning? I see nothing at all to be gained by identifying as a feminist. (Which I can’t anymore, anyway, because where I live now the feminists have flat-out told me personally that I am not one.)

    If you want to talk about specific issues, I am happy to work with you on those issues. But why waste so much effort worrying about the f-word?

    “However, I think that in the original talk the speaker had the idea that feminists don’t support women who chose to stay at home (even various branches of feminism).”

    Indeed. And that is NOT the fault of the speaker, but rather the women who treated his wife that way. I have been there. Not fun. Reign in your sisters if you don’t want people to think that feminists don’t support full-time mothers.

  5. 5.

    I don’t feel the need to rein in my sisters, they are entitled to their opinion as much as anyone else. However, I do feel the need to teach people that there are a variety of opinions and viewpoints within the feminist movement. Within any movement, there are going to be a variety of opinions and camps, and it frustrates me that people assume that all feminists believe the same thing.

    I do fault the speaker for assuming that because some women criticized his wife’s choices that the whole feminist movement doesn’t support women who choose to stay at time. It seems short sighted to generalize the opinions of a group a women to the whole movement.

  6. 6.

    I don’t think it’s just third-wave feminism that has talked about opening up those choices for men and women. The Feminine Mystique spoke specifically about removing that unnecessary choice between marriage/motherhood and full participation in society, about discovering the possibilities when women and men could share the fullness of human experience (opening up the home for men and the outside world for women), and about the need for something like the GI retraining bill, for women who wanted to enter the job market again after having stayed home when their children were young. Gloria Steinem wrote in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (published in 1983):

    The nature of work has been a major area of new understanding, beginning with the word itself. Before feminism, work was largely defined as what men did or would do. Thus, a working woman was someone who labored outside the home for money, masculine-style. Though still alarmingly common, the term is being protested, especially by homemakers who work harder than any other class of worker, and are still called people who “don’t work.” Feminists have always tried to speak of work inside the home or outside the home, of salaried or unsalaried workers. Attributing a financial value to work in the home would go a long way toward making marriage an equal partnership, as the Equal Rights Amendment would also do, and toward ending the semantic slavery inherent in the phrase women who don’t work.

    Second-wave feminism was focused heavily on the limitations of being a stay-at-home mom, but that doesn’t mean it was all about devaluing it, either. But that’s the image so many people were left with, and I think it’s because of the point you made—that in the 70s and 80s, most people learned about feminism through their conservative interpreters, and not from feminists themselves. It’s amazing how deeply those images have been rooted in society’s consciousness.

  7. 7.

    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.

    Beatrice, I think you put your finger on a huge problem for Mormon feminists. Growing up in the church, all I learned about feminism was that it was bad and that feminists were selfish women who wanted to abandon their children and their God-given role as wives and mothers to work outside the home. It was a damning caricature. Particularly as I raise my daughter in the church I’d like to hope we’ve advanced a bit, but sometimes I despair.

    I also think you’re absolutely right that the church’s involvement in the ERA continues to warp our discourse about feminism and about gender. We’re about thirty years behind on our homework.

  8. 8.

    Beatrice, I think you make a great point. The currently most senior GAs (President Monson and President Packer) were called during the same time period too (60s-70s), so I would guess their attitudes might continue to be shaped by what they experienced at the time.

    As far as your last question goes, I hope that as more members identify as feminists and act as feminist missionaries to their fellow members, Church members in general will become less suspicious of feminism. I guess that process will always be working against the top-down anti-feminist rhetoric you identify, though.

  9. 9.

    The previous Director of Graduate Studies in my department was a little notorious for being impatient with women who’ve chosen to have children alongside their graduate work, making remarks like “These women need to quit having babies and finish their dissertations,” and discouraging the Graduate Student Advisory Council from trying to set up co-operative daycare (the faculty, she claimed, didn’t want to have to hear about or deal with “personal stuff like that.”) I’ve often thought that this woman, who’s a fantastic professor and well-regarded scholar, should apply some of those Marxist and psychoanalytic theories she loves so much to her own ideology and policy habits, which could use a little feminist-Marxist deconstruction.

    But, apropos of this post, her attitude is widely condemned as retrograde and anti-feminist. No one thinks it’s a feminist move to tell women always choose public work over domestic. It’s regularly pointed out that she has no complaint about men who have babies while they’re in grad school, and that she seems uninterested in working to make systemic changes in the graduate program that would make it easier for women with children to finish their degrees.

    This is kind of emblematic of how I’ve experienced feminism as a grad student: for every shrill misfit who thinks women have to make an absolute choice between a career and a family (and that they should choose the former), there’s twenty more staunch third-wave feminists who want to make parenthood, for both men and women, easier to navigate alongside work in the public sphere, and to make the choice to stay home with one’s children economically viable.

    Interestingly, however, it sometimes seems like the Church is actually on the shrill misfit side of this equation, only arguing that when women make that absolute choice, they should always choose family. Perhaps the Church is still stuck on second-wave 70s feminism because the binary of SAH/working mother is exactly how the Church, too, imagines women’s choice: stay home or go to work. Third-wave feminism, which is very interested in breaking down that binary, might just not make sense to the Church while it’s so invested in keeping it alive.

  10. 10.

    Yes, Melyngoch, exactly. It frustrates me when LDS members state with pride that other people don’t support motherhood, but the LDS church actually supports women in this choice. Certainly the church does, but they offer little support for women who make other choices. We need to move beyond the idea that it is always going to be an either/or decision, and support women in a wider variety of options.

    I recently had a discussion with my sister who stopped taking on freelance art jobs when she had her children. Even though her children are still pretty little, she recently decided to take on an art job again. It brought her a lot of joy and she came to a realization that she didn’t have to wait until her children were all grown to be engaged in art again. She remarked to me that most of her former BYU roommates were currently involved in some kind of work outside the home. Hopefully we are slowly changing the mindset that motherhood has to be all or nothing for LDS women.

  11. 11.

    “I don’t feel the need to reign in my sisters, they are entitled to their opinion as much as anyone else.”

    Um, okay, but then who are we supposed to believe? When self-proclaimed feminists declare what feminism is, which differs from yours, can you understand why a lot of non-feminists are so confused and uncomfortable about the meaning of the word? This has NOTHING to do with what church leaders say. Everything with what we hear from FEMINISTS THEMSELVES.

    “However, I do feel the need to teach people that there are a variety of opinions and viewpoints within the feminist movement.”

    Which makes it pretty much meaningless. A feminist is pretty much anyone who wants to say they are. Whoopee pickles.

    I would rather just work on issues rather than arguing about who is a feminist. For example, I appreciate that women can have a tough time in business, so I always seek out a woman for any service, and a lot of women benefit from my dollars as a customer/patient/client. I have also hired about 20 mothers for part-time data entry jobs that they could do from home.

    And how do you feel that women would be so much better served if I let you teach me about feminism?

    “I do fault the speaker for assuming that because some women criticized his wife’s choices that the whole feminist movement doesn’t support women who choose to stay at time.”

    And the feminist who was so critical of the woman HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY AT ALL??@#??? Yeah, right.

  12. 12.

    The Feminism is perfect, but the feminists aren’t.

  13. 13.

    Naismith,

    I feel like we are talking past each other at this point, and don’t know that we are going to reach an agreement. I just don’t understand why the speaker didn’t say that some women criticized his wife and that it was frustrating to her. What possible point can it serve to make overgeneralized statements about the feminist movement instead of saying that women should support each other more? As you say, it is better to work on the issues instead of arguing about who is a feminist. I wish the speaker would have followed this advice.

  14. 14.

    It occurs to me that as long as there are harshly judgmental people who identify themselves as Mormon in our midst there will be people who encounter them and assume that their harsh judgmentalism is emblematic of Mormonism. And then when they find out that I am a Mormon, assume that I and every other Mormon are harshly judgmental as well.

    Drives me nuts.

    And similarly, as long as there are people who self-identify as feminists who are harshly judgmental or dismissive of others, there will be people who encounter them and assume that their harsh judgmentalism is emblematic of the feminist movement. And when they find out that I consider myself a feminist, they will assume that I and every other feminist are harshly judgmental or dismissive as well.

    That also drives me nuts.

    But as long as you have a movement, social or religious, that does not ride strict, unyielding herd on the way its members approach their philosophy or creed and how to live it in each moment of life (and neither the more organized religion of Mormonism nor the less centrally organized feminist movement does, praise God), that’s what will happen. Such is the nature of any organization or movement that has a huge group of self-identifiers, some of whom use the beliefs of the organization to justify dismissive or judgmental behaviors and also the nature of human beings who encounter those individuals.

    And it will drive us nuts. And spur us to educate. Some of which will be efficacious and some of which won’t.

  15. 15.

    Here’s what bugs me most about a story like the one cited in the OP: He seems to assume that women are either 100% homemaker or 100% career-focused (the church encourages this view, as pointed out by some commenters above), and that men’s choices and women’s choices exist in totally separate universes from one another. Both of those assumptions are wrong.

    In my case, I’m a highly-educated woman with a fairly successful career — and for the past several years I’ve been working part-time (currently 70%) so that I can have a day-and-a-half per week to be a homemaker and take care of my kids. Twice I’ve quit my job to move with my husband to another place where he has a good job opportunity (and, naturally, the opposite has never happened). Like most of the families I know, we’ve operated with a priority system that goes “(1) dad’s career, (2) the kids, (3) mom’s career.”

    I’m not complaining. I’m happy for the opportunities I’ve had — especially the balance between having extra time to spend on my kids while also getting additional fulfillment from my success in my career. I value the time I spend with my kids, and I’m not wishing to spend those days at the office. But, yeah, sometimes I look at my husband’s very prestigious position and wonder “Where would I be today in my career if our family’s priorities had been reversed?”

    That’s the elephant in the room of that guy’s story. If it’s simply those big mean old feminists who are making his wife feel like being a stay-at-home-parent is less than having a successful career, then why isn’t he clamoring to be the one to quit his job and stay home with the baby?

    The fact that he immediately blames other women (who may or may not be judging his wife in reality), I think shows a tremendous lack of self-awareness on his part.

  16. 16.

    MB nails it.

  17. 17.

    When self-proclaimed [Christians] declare what [Christianity] is, which differs from yours, can you understand why a lot of non-[Christians] are so confused and uncomfortable about the meaning of the word? This has NOTHING to do with what [Christian] leaders say. Everything with what we hear from [CHRISTIANS] THEMSELVES.

    A [Christian] is pretty much anyone who wants to say they are. Whoopee pickles.

    *****

    When self-proclaimed [Republicans] declare what [Republicanism] is, which differs from yours, can you understand why a lot of non-[Republicans] are so confused and uncomfortable about the meaning of the word? This has NOTHING to do with what [Republican] leaders say. Everything with what we hear from [REPUBLICANS] THEMSELVES.

    A [Republican] is pretty much anyone who wants to say they are. Whoopee pickles.

    *****

    When self-proclaimed [Star Wars fans] declare what [Star Wars fandoom] is, which differs from yours, can you understand why a lot of non-[Star Wars fans] are so confused and uncomfortable about the meaning of the word? This has NOTHING to do with what [Star Wars experts] say. Everything with what we hear from [STAR WARS FANS] THEMSELVES.

    A [Star Wars fan] is pretty much anyone who wants to say they are. Whoopee pickles.

    *****

    I’m trying to decide which of these terms we should throw out entirely because it’s clearly meaningless.

  18. 18.

    It’s interesting to watch the dialogue between second and third wave feminists. I think women like Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker did some good, however some of their ideas were very much anti-family and quite radical. Both Steinem and Walker have been so vocal that I think their ideologies became the face of the movement for a lot of people (not just Mormons). I read a piece written by Alice Walker’s daughter a year or so ago, very eye opening and heartbreaking. Hopefully third wave feminists can honor the successes of their forbearers while acknowledging some of the failures as well. I think some of the criticism of the feminist movement is intelligent and should be considered.

  19. 19.

    Great point, Crystal. Overall, I think it is best to acknowledge the complexity of the movement. So that means acknowledging the variety of viewpoints (both pro- and anti-familiy) as well as talking about both the successes as well as the problems.

  20. 20.

    Lady Gaga Eating Lady Gaga is awesome.

  21. 21.

    My experience has been similar to Naiasmth’s. I have seldom if ever heard any comment about feminists in church. The negative stereotypes about feminists are the result of the words and actions of feminists. It is a diverse movement, but the “anti-family” philosophies in the movement are not fringe

  22. 22.

    Just last week I went to an auxiliary training. After the stake RS leader spoke a high councilman added his remarks and began with the line, “I think of Sister X as a spiritual leader.” He also added that he thinks all of us in the audience as spiritual leaders. What a relief. Sigh. We have finally arrived… in the eyes of this one man. What do I do with this? How do I kindly and directly approach this man to explain that though I’m sure his words were well-intentioned his underlying expression is patronizing and condescending?
    The need for feminism and education is alive and well. Thanks for all your work Z daughters!

  23. 23.

    Feminism is discussed far less often in lds church settings than it used to be. But it still comes up at times. See this recent general conference talk by Elder Christofferson

    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/brethren-we-have-work-to-do?lang=eng

    and this interview with Elder Oaks

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-oaks-interview-transcript-from-pbs-documentary

    The problem I see in these comments and in the comments that the GAs made about feminism in the 1970s, is that they almost always only present one side to feminism. I am not arguing that that their comments are completely made up out of thin air. Yes, stereotypes do come from somewhere. However, I am arguing that the GAs consistently only present one side of feminism, which I believe to be a misrepresentation of the movement as a whole.

    Why would they do this? What possible purpose could it serve? It is a common psychological phenomena to treat groups you disagree with as being less diverse then they groups you agree with. This is why some pro-life advocates claim that all pro-choice advocates want to kill babies. And some pro-choice advocates claim that all pro-life advocates would rather see a women die then let her get an abortion. It is a tactic to vilify the group you disagree with. Yes, it is based on truth, but only a portion of the truth.

  24. 24.

    Re 23, maybe my search function is not working correctly, but I don’t see where Elder Christofferson mentions feminism at all?

    As far as Elder Oaks interview, he can hardly be accused of presenting only one side when he states, “It has some very favorable effects in encouraging people to maximize their service to mankind [and] to develop a talent. All of this I’ve had with my own daughters, of whom I have four, and I’ve felt the benefits of feminism. But also it has some troublesome aspects.”

    That seems an accurate and balanced approach to me.

  25. 25.

    Although Elder Christofferson never says the word “feminism” his comments (esp. at the beginning of the talk) clearly focus on issues that are central to the feminist movement.

    I freely acknowledge that Elder Oaks comments have some level of balance to them. It’s not that I think that this balance *never* happens, it’s that this balance rarely happens. And when it does, as in the Elder Oaks interview, the focus is on how feminism is bad for members of the church, not on how feminism is good. I think this can be seen in the statement that he leads with:

    “Feminism is clearly a point of danger to the Church because it draws the daughters of God away from a perception — or it distorts perceptions — about things that are very important eternally — marriage and family and responsibilities to posterity and so on.”

  26. 26.

    Those who rely on search engines will seek and never find.

  27. 27.

    “Although Elder Christofferson never says the word “feminism” his comments…’

    I think that if Elder Christofferson wanted to call out feminism, he would have done so. Why can’t we simply discuss his comments, without bringing the f-word into it?

    And we should give folks the benefit of the doubt. Just because someone is harsh and judgmental about a mother’s choice to be at home fulltime, I don’t assume that they are a feminist. But if they claim that their anti-motherhood stance comes from feminism, then they are contributing to the public image of feminism.

    I don’t understand the repeated insistence that feminism is never responsible for anti-family impressions.

    If someone was being harshly judgmental and explicitly claiming it was from their Mormonism, who would we say is responsible for the impression that Mormonism=judgmental? Would we say that it is all the problem of the person being criticized, who should know better? Or does the Mormon her/himself bear some responsibility for what they are saying? And do feminists never bear similar responsibility?

    Re #6, I totally agree with most of second-wave feminism and what Gloria Steinem wrote in 1983. But I am not seeing that reflected in the current feminist establishment, for example what the president of NOW said about Ann Romney.

    #17, I am trying to figure out how this fits. The original hypothesis was about a third party (the church) telling women what feminists stood for. As far as other examples, there is canon for most fandoms. What is the canon for feminism?

    Y’all claim that most feminists today are pro-family and respect the contributions of homemakers. But from where I sit, it seems that the pro-work, anti-motherhood voices get more press–stuff by Linda Hirschman, Leslie Bennetts, etc. This seems to be what Elder Oaks is referring to, and I agree that kind of philosphy can be a danger. And if those are the prominent voices of feminism that are being heard, is it the fault of listeners, or of those doing the speaking?

    Who are the best-selling pro-family feminist voices? I was hoping to get another recommendation for my RS book club.

    As for the church pushing exclusive motherhood, that’s not the message I got while at BYU when I was there from 1977 to 1980 (yes, those evil 1970s!). Marilyn Arnold was dean of women or something, and she was always telling horror stories about women who became divorced and had to support themselves, encouraging women to graduate even if they got married or pregnant. Sister Woods taught at the law school, and she and her husband had a nursery room set up between their offices; they staggered schedules to take turns caring for their baby. i remember many talks about getting an education that will allow you to earn a good salary in the least amount of time away from family, and have long-term career goals since motherhood is a time-limited career. And indeed, all my cohort of friends from BYU who graduated circa 1980, even those of us who were at home full-time for significant chunks of time, all of us returned to employment and even careers later on.

    And the church’s support over the pulpit for women’s education has been unwavering in the years since…loved Pres. Hinckley’s talk praising the nurse who is a married mother of three.

    I serve on the parent advisory committee for one of the state universities that some of my children attend, and one thing that bothers me a lot is that all their career counseling is aimed only at full-time employment. If a student thinks that she might need or want to spend some time focusing on children/family, some careers are better suited to part-time professional employment: pharmacy, physical therapy, accounting, to name a few. And this idea of sequencing family and career, perhaps part-time employment to spend less time away from family, is something that was frequently mentioned during my years at BYU. I greatly benefited from that counsel, and have been able to build a serious career being employed part-time.

    But this state university only wants to talk about full-time careers for women. No consideration of a focus on parenting for a season. In one of the more outrageous statements, a speaker at orientation claimed that liberal arts majors earn more than nurses. This is true when it comes to annual salaries. There are a lot of jobs where only a degree is needed, but in no particular major, and if you are willing to work long and hard, you can indeed succeed. But when it comes to finding a job and the ability to work flexible/part-time hours, nursing is far superior! And some nursing specialties earn more than primary care physicians, allowing a parent to spend fewer hours away from family.

    But the self-described feminists at that university don’t want to consider that possibility, and so young women are denied the advice that might help them in their lives.

  28. 28.

    1. No
    2. I don’t know; what do feminists think? Is there an official organization and platform somewhere? Isn’t feminism a rather convoluted idea, with no clear agenda? I mean, I gripe about women not being allowed to give the opening prayer in meetings, so many think I’m a feminist. What is the definition of a feminist anyway.
    3. I don’t know any women who put down other women because they want to stay home. I know a lot who envy those who can stay home.

  29. 29.

    I read this article recently…any thoughts?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

    I have a hard time communicating my exact thoughts on this, however it seemed to fit with some of the discussion going on in the comments section if not the OP.

  30. 30.

    Naismith, feminists of the last twenty years have concerned themselves with extending parental benefits for both men and women (Sharon Lerner); creating greater opportunities for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds (Rebecca Walker); resisting the reduction of women to their sexual attractiveness (Naomi Woolf); drawing the projects of second-wave feminism to address the problems faced by women of color (Gloria Anzaldua); ending female genital mutilation (Layli Miller-Muro); ending gender-based violence (Eve Ensler); promoting female voices in media (Jessica Valenti); resisting the silencing of rape victims (Jennifer Baumgarnder); critiquing the representation of women in the media (Jennifer Siebel Newsom); exploring the social and biological roots of gender discrimination (Cordelia Fine); contextualizing gender roles in social history (Stephanie Coontz); addressing a culture of maternal perfectionism (Judith Warner); promoting the welfare of refugee women (Natasha Walter); criminalizing sexual harassment (Catherine Mackinnon); promoting women’s human rights (Martha F. Davis); ending human sex trafficking; encouraging the participation of women in policy-making; educating women about reproductive health; educating women about abuse, and their legal rights relative to that; advocating for caretaker rights; and it goes on and on and on. It’s breathtaking how glibly you reduce this varied, complex, multi-focus wave of energy in the service of women’s (and people’s!) rights and welfare to Linda Hirshman.

    No one here is insisting that “feminism is never responsible for anti-family impressions.” The OP acknowledges, and comments thereafter acknowledge, that this is an element of some second- and third-wave feminist thought and rhetoric. Third-wave feminism has ties to LGBT-rights activism that some Mormons may find troubling; it tends to be fiercely pro-choice, which I understand may make some Mormons balk; it’s often very sex-positive in a way that many Mormons would likely find insensitive and inappropriate; and yes, there are ongoing debates about women’s responsibility, or not, to be engaged in the public (or the private) sphere (or whether there’s any real use in that binary). Various activist groups and individual scholars may disagree about the most important feminist issues, about the best way to make gender equality a reality, even about what constitutes gender equality – even what constitutes gender (or sex, for that matter) – and I realize that any thoughtful Mormon feminist will have to pick and choose what s/he wants to take from any wave of feminist thought. But I’m also pretty sure that’s true of any thoughtful feminist anywhere, Mormon or otherwise.

    And anyway, all of this is still rooted in the core claim that women are deserving of status, opportunity, protections, and rights equal to those of men. Feminism may have fuzzy edges, and it may admit a lot of different viewpoints, some of them quite dramatically in tension with each other, but I think the nucleus of it is actually pretty stable, regardless of how various feminist entities revolve around that center. So sure, it’s an ideologically vexed term, and not always a very precise one, but that’s the nature of identity politics and language: the more people want to identify with a word, the less precise it can be. That doesn’t make it meaningless, useless, or referentially arrested.

  31. 31.

    27 – Whenever people bring up a social safety net for women or moms, the idea is usually shot down pretty quickly.

    Not all mormons, but many mormons I know intensely dislike the idea of the government paying a family for children, paying social security to stay at home moms or dads, giving a year’s maternity leave, etc. These proposals are not seen as feminist, but as socialist.

    In many situations, the argument is that a man should support his wife and/or his child’s mother; and leave the state out of it. Which is fine, but that doesn’t always happen.

    If colleges and universities were to add family courses or counseling – I think they would need to do so for both men and women. And some colleges/universities discuss work/life balance, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re referring to.

    Again, I’m not sure that academia could or would support that.

    As an aside, I’m also not sure who said liberal arts majors made more money than nurses, but they are out of date with current economic realities. It’s true that liberal arts majors with law degrees may make more than nurses, but most of my liberal arts major friends have not had the job security (or family flexibility) that a nurse may have had.

    I will look for a modern pro-family feminist work.

  32. 32.

    Madeleine M. Kunin, The New Feminist Agenda

    Sharon Lerner, The War on Moms: On Life in an Family-Unfriendly Nation

    Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness

    Slyvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West, The War Against Parents

    Rebecca Walker, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence

    Joanne S. Frye, Biting the Moon: A Memoir of Feminism and Motherhood

  33. 33.

    I can’t speak to any of the titles listed above except the Valenti one, but it is NOT anti-parenting/anti-motherhood. She is talking about the difficult realities of parenting, from the perspective of a new mother.

    I can also trot out titles, though, like:

    Elinor Burkett, The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless

    I wonder if you’ve ever considered reading a book like Burkett’s? I’m guessing not, since you clearly never read Valenti’s …

  34. 34.

    Fiona: I think you misunderstood melyngoch’s list. It was meant to show that there are many recently published feminist books about supporting families and parenting–this was in response to a claim that no such books existed for someone to offer to an RS book club.

    So, her reference to the Valenti book was explicitly saying that yes, it is very much pro-parenting/pro-motherhood.

    And I’m sure that the Burkett book is equally fascinating.

  35. 35.

    “this was in response to a claim that no such books existed for someone to offer to an RS book club.”

    No, this was in response to a query as to who those voices were. Prior to that point, no commenter had offered a published work. (There is a huge difference between asking and claiming.)

    I was appreciative of the list. However, our book club has a general policy that books be available in the public library, and some of those are not in our public library, or have only one copy. Also, how many of them have been selected as a “one book” for a college campus?

    During a season when I was a mother of preschoolers, my favorite book was “Feminist Parenting: Struggles, Triumphs & Comic Interludes” edited by Dena Taylor. But when I mentioned it to the feminists around me, they said it was dated and not a reflection of current feminism. It is no longer in print.

    “It’s breathtaking how glibly you reduce this varied, complex, multi-focus wave of energy in the service of women’s (and people’s!) rights and welfare to Linda Hirshman.”

    Actually, I didn’t. The feminists around me are where I get my cues as to what feminism is. Surely if I went to grad school where others did, or lived next door to the folks in the Taylor book, I would have a different view of feminism.

    My thesis has always been that many folks get their opinion from feminists, not from mindlessly following what church leaders say.

    Also, of course non-feminists work on those same worthwhile issues. There are lots of other groups addressing the same concerns.

    But we each have to decide with which groups we want to affiliate. In the Southeast US, there has been a massive shift of political parties as former Democrats become Republican or try to go independent.

    I reached what was for me a tipping point where I could no longer identify as a feminist, given what feminism means in this day and in the place I live.

    I still have a strong belief that women are deserving of status, opportunity, protections, and rights equal to those of men. So do all of the non-feminists who I know personally. But the differences in what that means and how to get there are great enough between me and the feminists around me that I choose not to identify as a feminist. Not because I just listened to old church leaders.

  36. 36.

    “The feminists around me are where I get my cues as to what feminism is.”

    Why do you get your cues for what feminism is only from those around you? Why wouldn’t the long list of feminists that Melyngoch listed also inform your perception of what feminism is? Why wouldn’t what people have said on this blog inform your perception of what feminism is? I find it problematic that you limit your perception of feminism to only those around you when you clearly have access to a wide variety of feminist thought.

    Maybe your experience is different, but in my experience many members of the church have not sought out a depth or diversity of feminist thinking. Instead, when they come in contact with someone who criticizes motherhood/family/SAHMs etc, they feel that that person is representative of the entire feminist movement. To me this is just as problematic as assuming that because I know some Republicans, or Muslims, etc in my everyday life that I know what the entire body of that group thinks.

  37. 37.

    Naismith, it sounds like the only conversation about feminism you’re willing to have is with the feminists in your neighborhood. If that’s the case, I guess I’m not sure what you’re doing on our blog.

  38. 38.

    “The previous Director of Graduate Studies in my department was a little notorious for being impatient with women who’ve chosen to have children alongside their graduate work, making remarks like “These women need to quit having babies and finish their dissertations,” ”

    This, too, is an old problem. Susan B. Anthony used to get exasperated at Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s pregnancy announcements :)

  39. 39.

    […] Everything I Know about Feminism I Learned from the 1970s […]

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