Earlier this year I read the new release Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women, edited by Jamie Zvirzdin, who is also one of the contributors. It’s a book of twelve different essays by twelve very different women and how they have defined their Mormon womanhood.
Their stories deal with almost every walk of life and perspective: at work, at home, single, married, young, old, mother, childless, lost, found, wounded, whole. This book has traditional conservative women and unorthodox liberal women in it. But mostly it has women who do not fit into a box or a type or a label; we are complex, we are a varied, we are legion. What this book asks of us is to see each woman and value her for who she is and where she is at; to see if we can find the beauty of another’s life experience different than our own.
One essayist described how empowered she felt leaving academia and choosing to be a professional stay-at-home-mother. I’m not nearly as conservative as she is, but I am a stay-at-home-mother and I too feel empowered owning my choices; there was a bridge that linked us together as I identified with her situation. I wanted to meet her and walk over the bridges that divide us and meet in a mutual place of understanding. Later in the book I laughed out loud as I read Jamie Zvirzdin’s essay on the shattering of her idol of the “perfect Mormon woman.” It was so funny because as she introduced her idol of ideal Mormon womanhood, I realized I wasn’t the only person who had done the same thing: I had a literal image of the “perfect daughter of God” and I held myself up to her and measured myself against her all the time: “What would she wear in this situation?” I’d ask myself. My own personal idol shattered the same day my own identity as a Mormon woman did: I received an answer to prayer that I wasn’t to have more children, and somehow I had to rebuild my identity as a woman outside the womanhood = motherhood paradigm. It was liberating and comforting to know I wasn’t the only one with a shattered idol of mormon womanhood.
Every single essay spoke to me. I laughed and wept and was outraged and joyful with these women. This book invited me to hold their hearts in my hand and love them for their unique spirits and viewpoints. I felt like this book was a hidden, priceless gem, showing me a path to a united sisterhood: seeing each other.
I don’t know about you, but every week we attend Relief Society with our guards up. A few months ago in Relief Society our lesson was “On Being Genuine” by Elder Uchtdorf, and it was the best lesson I’d ever experienced at church. Women were being very, very close to being vulnerable by sharing why they feel they can’t be themselves at church. We are close to sacred female space—we just need to take the next few steps. We can never hope to create this space if we don’t drop the judgment and truly focus on seeing and loving each other for who we are. I believe this book is one of the answers on how to take that next step.
I’ve been pondering the concept of sacred female spaces since this summer since attending a Mormon women’s retreat, and a few months ago a friend sent me these pictures from the Parliament of World Religions that happened in Salt Lake City:
A “Red Tent” of Women’s Sacred Space. I haven’t done biblical research into the historicity of the red tent; but Anita Diamant wrote a book, “The Red Tent” which refers to the tent in which women of Jacob’s tribe must, according to the ancient law, take refuge while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts. There is much to criticize the ancient “red tent” for, women are not unclean because of biological processes, etc.; and yet I think that our modern world and church has lost a lot by no longer having these sacred female spaces.
Our Mormon foremothers used to gather women together in love and support during labor and delivery. I suppose the closest we get to this is in the temple. But imagine if instead of thinking of Relief Society as a class, we thought of and treated it as sacred female space? I look around at my Relief Society and at Mormon women in general and I see lines in the sand, so many things increase the distance between each other. What would it be if we had a space that set every difference aside and each woman pledged to hold each others’ heart in their hands; no judgement, full of support, empathy, and love. Deep down that’s the true beauty of this book, that’s exactly what it does. It respects and values each voice, experience, and perspective. Each woman is incredibly unique and also a proactive participant in their own life, defining their womanhood on their own terms while navigating the cultural pressures of Mormonism and womanhood at large.
My one wish for 2016 would be that Relief Society book clubs read this book together and talk about how we can value our differences, how we can be united without requiring uniformity, and how we can hold each others’ hearts in our hands (be charitable). I want to buy a copy of this book for every woman I know; it’s my “must read” book recommendation for this year. Five full stars.
For other reviews of Fresh Courage Take, see: