Monday, January 16, 2012

Question of the Week: How Does Faith Inform Your Feminism?

I'd hate for this post to exclude atheist readers, so I'm hoping we can all interpret the term "faith" very loosely - it could mean a faith where you worship, your faith in a divine being, or even just your faith in tomorrow. But the overlap between faith and feminism is something that's of key importance to all of us here at NAW - and the backlash that religious feminists face both within religious communities and within feminist communities was the impetus for us even creating this blog. Sadly, too many people see faith and feminism as inherently opposed concepts.

But I was thinking back to a women's studies class I took as an undergrad. One of the first things that our teacher had us do was sit down and make a list of the things we believe that informed our research. For those of us who were LDS, it was an amazing thing to admit that our belief that men and women have divine potential impacted all of our research - it was a driving force in our efforts to elevate both men and women, but also a bias to be aware of as we analyzed information.

For me, my beliefs drive my feminism, even if there are moments where my feminism and my religion intersect in ways that confuse me. Because the ideals that drive my beliefs and my feminism are inseparable, I will always believe those discrepencies to be worth working out.

So, what about all of you? How does your faith inform your feminism, and vice versa? If you don't consider yourself a feminist (yet), how does your faith inform your beliefs about gender?


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially in the sense that I feel like the LDS culture in a lot of ways limits women as far as what they are allowed to pursue and derive pleasure from. I grew up in the church, and believed all my life that in order to be a good woman, I would have to derive my greatest pleasure and satisfaction from being a stay-at-home wife and mother, and that if I had other pursuits or interests, they could not be more interesting or satisfying than my children, and that it would have to be something domestic, like scrapbooking, cooking, couponing, sewing, or photography. If any of my pursuits took me out of the home on any kind of regular basis, it could not be more frequent than once a month, and it would have to be with other female members, preferably ones in my ward/branch. Oh, and it can't cost/take up any money, cuz spending money on myself is bad, especially when we're poor. So, if my interest/pursuit did not meet these requirements, I would either have to give it up/let it go, or I would be a bad/failure as a woman/mother/member/person/etc.

    Come to find out I really really want a career as an actor. And I'm married with two kids, both my husband and I are still in school, and we live in my parents' basement. By all accounts, it's never going to happen. And yet I'm the most fulfilled when I'm doing things to seriously pursue a career in acting/film. When I'm not pursuing it, I'm deeply unhappy. So I've been struggling with figuring out what I feel is right/the best way to be a good woman/wife/mother/member/person, and still feel fulfilled as a person. Mostly it means that I'm studying the scriptures/family proclamation a lot, and tweaking/adjusting what I thought it meant to be a good woman, and what family life in the Lord's way means, and what wanting a career means. Incidentally, my husband is much more okay with me going out and loving my job and being the breadwinner than I am, but that's not to say that he's a mooch. He just loves being home with the kids more than I do, and he loves seeing me happy and doesn't want me to go through life unfulfilled. The way he sees it, his job as the husband/father is to ensure that the family is provided for, and if he knows that what I'm doing is providing, then his job is to support me in that; and my role as the mother is to nurture my children, but that doesn't mean that I am the *only* one who can do any of the nurturing. If my primary priority is ensuring that my children are loved, are being taught the gospel, and that they come before all other things to both me and my husband and we're spending lots of time with them, then my job as the nurturer is being accomplished.

    Wow, that was way longer than I was anticipating... hope it made sense :P

  2. Diana, it makes complete sense to me, and I'm happy that you and Dale are finding ways that you can readjust your plans in order to fulfill your responsibilities as parents, while still supporting each other's needs.

    While I was taking WS courses at BYU, one thing we did each semester is we'd start off by reading over the Family Proclamation, and then we'd break down what each component meant. And it was amazing to us how much the application of the principles it includes were left up to us. When we start to think that it's impossible to be a good mother without staying home with the kids and never leaving them more than once a month, or that it's impossible to be a good father without earning enough money for the mother to stay at home - well, I think we're becoming prescriptive in a way that Heavenly Father never intended.

  3. This is interesting, and I'm going to comment in detail, if you don't mind. Most of my comments will focus directly on The Family: A Proclamation to the World, because I feel that's a driving force in the way I see things.

    Diana's comment is remarkably similar to something Dr. Muhlestein once said in class as we were talking about gender roles and how we interpret The Family: A Proclamation to the World. He said that his primary responsibility as a father is to make sure his family is protected and provided for. Sometimes that means he specifically does that: financially, physically, spiritually, educationally. But sometimes it means he deliberately delegates. His wife works. She makes more money than he does. She's a better "financial" provider, so he delegates to her. Sometimes a school teacher or police officer or neighbor gets to help fulfill that duty. But the point is, it's his job to make sure it's done. It his his wife's job to make sure the children are nurtured. Sometimes that means she does the nurturing directly. Her children's well-roundedness would really suffer without that influence. But sometimes she delegates -- to dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. What the proclamation actually says is this:

    "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed."

    Everyone has "other circumstances" to some extent. And I think if we keep the core principles and goals in mind, adaptation is our best resource IF we are adapting in the best interest of the family. I think friction or troubles arise when our adaptation is merely an excuse to justify selfishness or worldliness or whatever. But that's for each individual to judge, and we know ourselves and our families best. Sometimes we really do need to give up certain personal interests on behalf of our families. Other times, our families will most benefit by accepting the fact that they need to sacrifice something.

  4. I also think it's really important, as Elder Cook reminded us last October, that we not judge each other either way. I know we hear a lot about women at home judging women who work. But it cuts both ways. In the academic world (and, I suspect, the work world) we often look down on women who choose to stay home. Sometimes staying home REALLY is the best thing. It REALLY can be fulfilling. And for many, I think it REALLY is an important part of female identity. (A good example, by the way, is my friend Monique, who is one of the most intelligent people I know. She also happens to be one of the most amazing parents I have ever observed. She easily could have succeeded in the graduate school/career path. Easily. And she just didn't want to. Her motherhood is a conscious choice in the best of ways. You can access her awesomeness here:

    Just prior to the section about parental roles, the proclamation says this: "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities."

    I was thinking about my own family, as I re-read this this afternoon. My dad's mom was a single mom for most of her children's growing up years. She's awesome. My mom is also a single mom (has been on and off). She's awesome too. My family is a pretty good family. But I think it's dishonest not to admit that we would have been a stronger, more successful unit had my parents been more cohesive, and equally present in our lives. I think my siblings and I could have avoided unnecessary difficulties personally and collectively had my parents focused on making the principles listed in the above paragraph the center of our home. Faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities are not gender specific principles. They apply to all of us, and should inform everything we do regardless of our gender or our marital status.

    I think that those who are single have many of the same responsibilities as those who are not single. We are still expected to live our lives faithfully, prayerfully, compassionately, etc. We are still to repent, to respect others, to love, to work, and to participate in wholesome recreational activities. We are still responsible to become the kind of person that could participate in a wholesome, functional family -- because one day we will have that too, and we need to be prepared for it. I think it is a huge cop-out to say, "Well, I'm single, so that proclamation just doesn't apply to me." Or, "Well, I'm single, so those temple covenants don't apply to me." They do. And as single men or single women I believe we will be equally accountable for the ways in which we approached the counsel and commandments given concerning familial responsibilities.

  5. Finally (I promise), this fantastic paragraph: "Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations."

    This is an absolutely co-dependent paragraph. PARENTS (like, both) are to rear children in love and righteousness. To provide for physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve each other, to keep the commandments and be good citizens. I think single parents are amazing, and can raise great kids. I really do. But I think that children have a better chance, and often a more healthy sense of self when they have TWO parents helping them out. I think marriages that focus more on cooperation than whose job it is to take out the trash or mop the floor are more likely to succeed.

    A wife is not adequately loving and caring for her husband unless she is supporting him in his interests, endeavors, efforts to grow and develop, etc. She must help him in his fatherhood as well as his business, and let him have a golf day with the guys once in a while. :) Conversely, a husband is not adequately loving and caring for his wife when he expects her to do EVERYTHING at home, and still have dinner ready for him when he arrives from work. He's got to support her motherhood, but he also needs to be supportive of her interests needs. I think "expectation" is the trouble there. There has to be communication and mutual agreement about what roles may constitute.

    I was talking to my mother's mother (who was happily married for over 50 years before my grandpa died, and who also worked for much of their married life). I asked her how they did it. She said something I find very telling, "Well, when he came home from work exhausted and frustrated, I tried hard to make him comfortable. He usually came off the night shift. So I made sure he had something to eat, and that the sheets were clean and crisp so he could sleep comfortably. I left a little 'to-do' list on the fridge for when he woke up. But I didn't bother him with it upon his arrival. When I came home tired and frustrated with sore feet, he would often have dinner ready, and the kids would be doing whatever they needed to be doing. Or perhaps he'd take us out for a hamburger. At any rate, he tried to make sure I wasn't bombarded with problems upon my arrival home. It wasn't like it was law -- we just cared about each other, and tried to make life easier for one another."

    Isn't that great? It's not like either one of them was stressing about whose eternal role it was to be home and all domestic. They just looked practically at their family situation, did the best they could to be involved and aware of needs, and did it because they cared about each other. I think that's what the proclamation is getting at.

    Anyway, this is a book...and I'm sure I got far more out of it than anyone who reads it. But mostly I guess I liked Diana's comment, and I think that sometimes the roles and expectations we give ourselves come more from a mis-reading of gospel texts or conference talks than anything the brethren actually say. :)