No Longer Afraid of the F Word

Last year my 20 year old son recommended I read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I don’t think I had ever read an explicitly feminist text before that and it was an eye opener. I was surprised by how much the experiences of the women she wrote about resonated with me. Married at age 19, I didn’t complete my college education since my hubby was in school. I was a stay at home full-time mom with four children that had experienced “the problem that has no name.” Learning about some of the early feminists in history that had impacted things that I took for granted was eye opening. I was amazed at their courage and tenacity and the sometimes terrible sacrifices they made. It was also enlightening to learn about the women in early church history and what they were able to do. Some of the well known women’s names were the early church feminist pioneers as they worked to empower women in the church and provide opportunities for them.

During this same period of time I became familiar with the Ordain Women movement and began interacting with some of the participants and supporters online. It took me a while to understand who they were, what they were trying to do, why they felt this was appropriate and their reasons for stretching cultural church boundaries in their methods. I read what they wrote, asked questions, listened and became supportive from a comfortable distance. My family was already trying to navigate a mixed-faith situation after my husband’s and my faith transition; I wasn’t sure I wanted to add anything more to this challenge. I posted, commented, liked and showed support online, but that was as far as I got and I didn’t typically put anything on my personal FB wall.

Their October event came and went and I watched from the sidelines. It was frustrating to see the way they were portrayed and the things being said and written about them. Much of this disturbing stuff came from members! I found myself becoming more and more of an ally as I realized the challenge they were facing and how hard they were working to try express why/what they were doing. In February I finally decided to submit my profile and officially endorse what they were doing and made the plunge into public support. I knew they were planning on asking for tickets in April and really wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend.

Fast forward to Saturday. There I was walking through the rain and hail in a line of supporters headed toward Temple Square. I stood for two hours waiting my turn to speak with Kim Farah, the woman who stood in front of the Tabernacle, whose job it was to tell us that we could not have tickets. As I moved forward I was surprised at the support that people displayed. Several men moved along the line letting us know how much they appreciated what we were doing. One man purchased a bag of new towels and gave them to women who looked cold and wet. Another man stopped to genuinely ask about what we were doing and why. He listened and asked questions and didn’t judge or condemn. Nobody on temple square asked me to leave, gave me instructions of any kind or made it clear in anyway that they wanted me to get out of line. The statement released later in this Deseret News article came as a complete surprise and is disingenuous at best.

When I got closer I wondered what and how I would express myself and why I had driven from Montana to do this. It wasn’t hard to find the words once it was my turn and I shared why this was important to me as a woman, my sadness that leaders were unwilling to actually listen and speak to us like she was doing and my hope that things could change. She asked me questions, told me she cared – that was why she was there – and hugged me. I was surprisingly emotional afterward as I stepped away and found two young women watching the entire scene. They were not members and asked me what we were doing and I explained it to them between wiping my eyes. I described the heartache and difficulty and why so many of these women were trying hard to help change the church that they loved into something healthier.

On my drive home by myself mulling things over for those hours I realized the impact that book my son had recommended had on me. I had just experienced my first true public display at supporting something feminist. It had forced me to step outside my comfort zone and opened me up to criticism and scrutiny. People were now judging my character, motivations and I was being called divisive. Being surrounded by this group of intelligent, articulate, hardworking and savvy women was motivating. Watching them reach out to each other and extend support, empathy, sacrifice and friendship, as they worked to empower and encourage women, was what I felt the vision of Relief Society was about.

I’m no longer afraid of the “F” word…..I’m inspired by it.

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10 Responses

  1. Holly says:

    This is so good, Alison.

    It was a privilege to stand by you in the line.

  2. Alison says:

    You too Holly. I’ll walk through rain and hail with you anytime.

  3. that is dont have to be afraid of the f word. i support women feminists a hundred percent and i feel tthat women should be aloud to hold the priesthood.Gods priesthood is everyones priesthood which is for men and women. the church in past pratice has been progessive and changing and should continue to evolve and change.i will help you in any way to make change in the church. i have no fear as the church to me is not my eternal salvatiion.all men and women are created in the eyes of God equally anf this matruarchy authortiarianusm of men being superior then women has to stop.women are not inferior to men at.all
    women should beable to hold the priesthood and serve the lord at any capacity since there are wonen pastors and reverands and priests in other christian denominations.the swedenborgian church is a excellent excample of having women ordained pastors.look at joyce meyers ministry

  4. ed says:

    Until reading your experience I have failed to understand the necessity of the word ‘feminism’ – why should we use a word that applies to half of us instead of another (like humanism) that applies to all – was/is my attitude?

    As long as there exists a bus, people of the female variety, if they (foolishly?) choose to ride it, ought to be able (like their male counterparts) to select to sit where they want.

    Hmm, is that feminism or humanism, still not totally sure, but I’ll continue to think about it. Should I be hopeful that one day the word ‘feminist’ is no longer needed?

  5. chanson says:

    Beautiful and inspiring story! I wish I could have been there to stand by you and Holly and the rest!

    I am disappointed by that dishonest and polarizing PR statement by the CoJCoL-dS. And I’m surprised to find myself feeling disappointed by this one, but it’s even lower than I expected them to sink.

  6. Just Jill says:

    I’m happy the event went well. I think the ‘Ordain Women’ movement is raising important issues. I send my best wishes and as much positive energy as I can muster their way.

    I was uplifted by your experience. Seems like you felt buoyed up and supported by the encounters you had. I’m glad that positive feelings were there; it proves that, as you said, important conversations are taking place. Good for you for finding your feminist side.

    That being said; I remain a pessimistic supporter of the movement. It seems the vast majority of active church members have entrenched and are linking arms to stand against these brave women and men who are speaking their minds and hearts.

    My first emotion is anger; I get so frustrated and angry to see the cycle of abuse and mind control that happens over and over in the church. Then my heart gets heavy and I feel empathy and pain right along with these women. Then I feel relief that I no longer belong to, or believe in, an organization that is so false and so controlling.

    I can’t completely jump on the band wagon and join these women and men in their effort to make positive change. But from the sidelines I watch and cheer their efforts. At the very least they shine a light on one of the many ‘isms’ that exist in the Mormon Church.

  7. Alan says:

    I’m curious, what led your son to recommend Friedan’s book to you? (I ask, because when I was 20, I routinely wanted/pushed my mother to be more feminist, but had to come to terms with her belief that the Church is fine as it is.)

  8. Alison says:

    Alan – My son is a voracious reader and has read a number of things regarding feminism. He is quite opened minded and felt like it would be a book I would really enjoy and relate to…..he was right! What was cool was I helped him move from Portland and he and I listened to a portion of it together in the car while we drove. He asked me questions and we had a great discussions. One of those super cool Mom experiences.

  9. Alison says:

    Chanson – I wish you could have been there too. It was a pretty interesting experience. I’m surprised by the church statement in that it is just so blatantly a misrepresentation of what occurred. What’s fascinating is that since there was not a lot of media it’s their word against all of our stories. We know who the members will listen to and believe which is sad. They know that too. 🙁

  10. Alison says:

    Just Jill

    I can relate to all you expressed! So many emotions about the whole thing.

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