On Terry Tempest Williams
I believe I have read everything Terry Tempest Williams has written. I have followed her as she has contemplated and worked through the tangled relationship that exists between family and the LDS Church, and the heavy right leaning philosophy of both, as she has moved in an opposite direction. In the current issue of The Progressive (April 2011), she discusses her position on abortion and Republican politics in some of the strongest language I think I have seen her use. She says, The defunding of Planned Parenthood by the House of Representatives on February 18 cuts into the fabric of basic human rights and the dignity of each of us to follow the path of our own destiny. Continuing she says Irresponsible is the key word that makes my heart race as a woman watching this debate on the floor of Congress. She adds, Birth control is perhaps the only thing in my life where I have been utterly responsible. My husband and I chose not to become pregnant. We are childless by choice. I have never had an abortion, but I was always grateful I had that choice if I found myself in a situation where I need to make that decision. Who has the right to legislate a womans heart, she asks. For a man, especially a man we dont know, who thinks he has the right to tell us not only how we should feel, but what we should feel, and what is at stake is a hostile and aggressive act. But here we are, she says, having to endure a group of conservative men masquerading as caring about women, so much so that their pontifications within the halls of Congress are now putting five million low-income women at risk who get their contraception and reproductive health service from Planned Parenthood.
Williams titles this essay, The Moment I Became a Feminist. She describes that moment telling us that after she published Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, she was called in by a General Authority. She knew that she had cross some doctrinal lines, even telling that she and her mother had given one another blessings. None of those issues concerned this General authority. His concern was that she had declared that she wasnt going to have children. Among other things he said: Just as a mother bird has no choice whether or not she will lay her eggs, she must. God insists. So the eggs you possess, over which your husband presides, must also come forth. Will you choose to become a Mother of Zion, or will you allow your womb to become empty and barren, defying the faith of the women who came before you.
It was at that moment that Williams says she became a feminist. In that moment, I realized that to control a womans body and deny her the choice over her own reproductive health is to silence her individual voice and rob her of her innate power, which is the power to choose her own lifes path. To control women is another way of controlling nature. She concludes her essay by pleading, may Congress finally treat us as full human beings, women who refuse to be controlled as chattel, as cattle, as egg-laying birds.
While Terry Tempest Williams is addressing that final plea to Congress, is she addressing Church leaders as well? Is she too in danger of excommunication for her bold and strongly voiced position? Or is she too well known, and respected outside Utah and the Church? However the Church treats Ms. Williams, either ignoring her or taking some punitive action, you have to consider this woman who has systematically examined the prevailing beliefs that surrounded her and tested them against her own perceptions and experiences, and found those prevailing beliefs wanting, even though she is a staunch supporter of family and community bound by spiritual roots. But in the end she has the courage to listen and trust the still small voice, which always comes from within, never from without.