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 WomenÂ 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 profileÂ 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.