Today’s guest post by Mary Ann is pragmatic advice for those seeking more gender equality in the church.
Have you ever tried to mediate a tense reconciliation between two opposing factions, only to hear one of those parties say something that makes you just want to scream, “Dear God, why, why, WHY would she say that?” That’s often how I feel when I watch a liberal progressive member attempt to talk to a conservative mainstream member about gender equality. For some reason, both parties tend to have an uncanny ability to sabotage the conversation without even recognizing it.
Since I have a vested interest in trying to keep conversations about Mormon gender equality going, I decided to share my observations on how progressive liberal Mormons tend to make these conversations jump straight to the “irreconcilable differences” bin.[1]
1. Reference a polarizing figure.
Just for fun, go up to a Vietnam War veteran and say the words “Jane Fonda.” Chances are good you’ll get an emotional response, possibly including a few colorful expletives. There are certain public figures that are extremely polarizing (George W. Bush, Che Guevara, Bruce R. McConkie, etc.). Most people will be fairly passionate about classifying them heroes or villains. Please understand, your Mormon feminist foremothers are not heroes to many people in the church. Unless you know your companion is a fellow feminist, be extremely cautious about bringing up names like Sonia Johnson or Kate Kelly. If they’ve been excommunicated, consider them polarizing.[2]
2. Use words in strange ways.
“Agitate” has two common uses in our daily life.
–“I am agitated because my child keeps smearing poop all over the wall.”
–“The dumb agitator keeps putting holes in my clothes. Apparently I’m overloading the washing machine.”
Please be aware that if you play a word association game, “annoy” or “irritated” will likely be the first things to come to mind when you say “agitate.” Unless you want to label yourself an “annoyer” or “someone who really wants to irritate people,” then you are likely sending the wrong message (if “activist” is what you mean, just say it). I don’t care that you are justifying an entire operation on President Hinckley using that word, he was a saavy press guy from a previous era. Using words in technically accurate yet strange ways was permissible for him, not you.[3]
3. Disparage sacred cows.
If you make a comment that is not consistent with the Primary songs “Follow the Prophet” or “I Love to See the Temple,” your conservative conversation partner will hit DEFCON 5. Think carefully how you would feel if someone truly believed President Uchtdorf was a polygamist child molester like Warren Jeffs.[4] Feel that gut emotional response? That immediate urge to defend someone you absolutely adore? Understand that to most members, the temple and those who they consider prophets, seers, and revelators (FP and Q12) are all sacred cows. Do NOT go there.
4. Claim to represent all Mormon women.
Mormon women have widely different experiences in this church. Do not assume that because you’ve been in some really awful situations that every woman has experienced the same. Seriously, there are Mormon women who have never felt the church has mistreated them. To dismiss those women as deluded or close-minded will not get you anywhere. Everyone, and I do mean *everyone* (myself included) has some sort of selective vision. Open up your vision to understand WHY someone legitimately does not see inequality in the church. If you are able to display an *accurate* and sincere understanding of the opponent’s position, you will earn respect.
5. Make someone feel unsafe.
Most people understand this pretty much shuts down any conversation. Understand that aggressive tactics (physical confrontation, yelling, marching en masse, etc.) can make people feel unsafe, even if there’s no ill intent. One person’s testimony that they felt physically unsafe in the presence of a Mormon feminist “agitator” will go a long way towards discrediting the entire movement. [5]
6. Dismiss recent advances as “not enough.”
Look at what’s happened in just the past few years:
–Women saying prayers in General Conference.
–A General Women’s Session being approved by the Brethren at the request of the female auxiliary presidencies. That General Women’s Session being classified as an official session of General Conference. The General Women’s Session now getting first billing on the webpage where all members access talks from the most recent general conference.[6]
–Female auxiliary leaders becoming permanent members of the highest priesthood executive councils.
Seriously, LOOK! Considering what we are dealing with, these are huge. I get that there’s stuff to nitpick on all of them, but THEY HAPPENED. To suggest that we are not making improvements is just wrong. We are. We may be moving slower than a lot of people would like, but we are making progress. Recognize those improvements. Don’t dismiss them as surface gestures. A word often used to describe Ordain Women by people I knew? “Greedy.” If you have to fake it, fine, but display some sort of gratitude for the advances that have been made if you are going to insist on more.
Please, please help keep these gender conversations going. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
[1] Yes, I’m targeting Mormon Feminists. One, conservative members aren’t likely reading this blog. Two, the onus is always on the party attempting to change the status quo.
[2] That goes for movements/statements associated with those figures: ERA, Ordain Women, etc. (Cough, #equalityisnotafeeling, cough, cough)
[3] While you’re at it, put orthodox, heterodox, orthoprax, and heteroprax in the same category. It took awhile for me to figure out what people on the bloggernacle meant using these terms. Unless you’re talking to someone who can speak liberal progressive Mormon, just don’t.
[4] Something like this may or may not have happened, and I may or may not have flown off the handle.
[5] Yes, those testimonies exist. Congratulations.