Ain’t I a Mormon Woman?

Anti-suffragists respected women:

“To man, woman is the dearest creature on earth, and there is no extreme to which he would not go for his mother or sister.” – J. B. Sanford, anti-suffrage Senator, 1911.

The woman asking for the vote, though? She’s so dear she should be arrested, beaten, and force-fed in prison.

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Real women have curves.

Any women without curves? A fake. Ignore her. 

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Women are too precious to work outside the home, and far too delicate to undertake the difficult tasks that men do.

Except, of course, for African-American or poor women. They don’t count.  

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Patriarchal systems thrive on divisions between people, particularly women: a good woman deserves respect and protection and praise and all the glorious constraints of the pedestal. Any woman who steps outside those expectations, though–by not being attractive enough, by asking for things, by being too mouthy, by not being white or middle class, by having too many children or too few children or no children at all, by violating any standard that exists in anyone’s head–can be rejected, shamed, abused, or, at best, ignored. They’re not real women, after all.

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And now, consider these statements:

“They [LDS women] stand strong and immovable in faith, in family, and in relief.” [“Women in the Church”, lds.org]

They [Latter-day Saint women] believe that by divine design, women and men experience the most growth, joy and fulfillment together, not in isolation. [“Women in the Church”, mormon.org]

“I don’t think women are after the authority. I think they’re after the blessings, and are happy that they can access the blessings and power of the priesthood…They’re happy to let someone else hold the umbrella, because we have different, complementary roles, and are happy with that. [President Linda K. Burton, in a 2013 conversation with other female Church leaders.]

“The women of the Church are not complaining about it [not having the priesthood.] They have a strong organization, a very strong organization, with 4 million-plus members. I don’t know of another women’s organization in the world which does so much for women as does this Church. They are happy.” [President Gordon B. Hinckley, in a 1998 Larry King interview.]

All of these statements seem innocuous, but they’re still playing the patriarchal definition game: Mormon women, by the descriptive assertions here, don’t have doubts. They love families. They’re straight, and probably married. They’re happy. They don’t complain. They. are. happy.

This kind of rhetoric divides, even if none of the speakers explicitly intend to do so. Still, there’s an implicit framework here: the (idealistic) description of a “Mormon woman” draws a boundary around some women, our women, who are acceptable, and, in so doing, asserts that some other women, those who don’t meet the description, those that have doubts, or aren’t straight, or, worst of all, complain about not having the priesthood, don’t qualify for the label.

I’m certainly not the stereotypical Mormon woman–is anyone?– but I care about being a Mormon, and a woman, and a Mormon woman. And yet, every time I read or hear that kind of statement from fellow Mormons, intentional or not, that identity shrinks a little bit, chipped away at by those who would rather pretend I don’t exist. It feels…well, the best word is probably lonely. It’s a reminder, however subtle, that I, and those like me, have lost the in vs. out boundary game, and have failed to be “real” Mormon women. With definitions like these, we are outsiders, safely ignored or insulted.

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A response on the Facebook event page for Wear Pants to Church Day, 2012. 

 

4 thoughts on “Ain’t I a Mormon Woman?

  1. 1

    Great points, Petra. Particularly the tightly-drawn boundary to keep unmarried, childless, gay, or insufficiently submissive women out of the “ideal.” What a sad ideal. And if can add to your quote list, here’s another of my least favorite to tell women what they should (and should not) be:

    “Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.”

    (Margaret D. Nadauld https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/the-joy-of-womanhood?lang=eng)

  2. 2

    Well said! This is why I get mad about getting called “sweetheart” at work. I think it’s also the reason my super orthodox Mormon mom cries through Mother’s Day talks. So often when people talk about how wonderful or sweet women are “by nature” it doesn’t come across as a compliment so much as a suggestion that any woman who doesn’t perfectly conform to the speaker’s ideals is broken or perverse. Sometimes I really wonder what’s going on in male church leader’s heads when they assert that women are naturally nurturing and spiritual, and yet feel that it’s necessary to remind and pressure women to follow that nature. Either it’s natural or it’s not.

  3. 3

    Oh, Ziff, that quote hurt me so bad when I heard it. As a rather loud, strong and ambitious teenager I just felt crushed.I also remember hearing things like, “Women give and give and give and never complain.” It always sounded more prescriptive than descriptive.

  4. 4

    I remember that day I heard it. I am brash, tough, and many times rude. I was listening with ears, and my heart open. I was inspired that day to ask God what he wanted me to be. I did, and He answered. I was given a path to attain godly characteristics. Because I had the spirit with me, during, what could have been an offensive moment, I was inspired to ask. To come unto God. All those traits are not for me. But I know which are, which will fulfill my growth, and which will help me be like God.

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