Monday, November 10, 2008

Feminist and Mormon? Not incompatible--Well, not necessarily

So, over at Feministing, a Mormon feminist posted about her precarious position of being a feminist Mormon, amid the Prop 8 battle and the post-8 backlash against the Church. A lot of posters there are sympathetic to her plight and apologetic for hateful statements or stereotypes they or their allies may have made about Mormons, even while they admit they're very frustrated with her church (technically, my church as well, though I've got a pretty nice resignation letter I'm perfecting and mustering the courage to send in).

While I could talk about Mormonism, feminism, bigotry, and GLBT issues until I was blue in the face (and I may on this very blog, when I have more time to sit down and I'm in a less tense emotional state about the entire matter), I'd instead just like to talk about one pet peeve of mine in particular. It isn't unique to the issue of Mormonism and feminism, but I hear it when these two identities are being discussed quite often.

Now, I'm not really one of the "yay for a diversity of feminisms" types who applauds plurality just for the sake of applauding plurality. Sure, a diverse amalgam of good things is good, but I don't bow down to different feminisms if I think they're flat out wrong or bad (see: Individualist Feminism). In other words, I'm not one to say "hey, don't criticize her feminism, it's a feminism, and therefore, it's great!" That's silly. But one thing I do hate is when people tell other people that some of their beliefs or identity categories are "incompatible" with feminism.

Yes, you guessed it, we have several commenters in the Feministing thread telling the original poster that they don't feel bad for her because her conflicts are just a problem associated with trying to reconcile two irreconcilable identities. This may also come in the form of "psh, feminist mormon? Oxymoron!" Now this isn't to say it isn't fair to tell a feminist she's being hypocritical in any given instance. Sure it is. Sometimes feminists are hypocrits and sometimes they do and say things that are bad for womankind. And they should be called out. But that's entirely different from calling two very subjectively defined belief systems (feminism, Mormonism) incompatible. To call them incompatible assumes that your understanding of what beliefs are associated with both systems is the only one, or at least, the one the person in question subscribes to.

So here's my point. I don't object to telling people that *insert belief or identity here* is incompatible with feminism because it hurts their feelings or it's limiting or it denies the beautiful plurality of feminisms. I object because it's just a dumb argument to make, given that people not only define things like feminism in a million different ways, but also define their mormon beliefs in a million different ways. Some women like just the doctrine. Some women like the power structure. Some women hate both, and love the welfare-based culture of the Church. So please, stop telling other women certain identity categories are oxymorons or incompatible or irreconcilable. I'm a big fan of "feminist infighting," because I think it forces us to constantly improve our senses of justice, but I think we can do better than knee-jerk generalizations about really complex belief systems.


ln said...

Word. It can be really frustrating to see people shouted down in the name of some monolithic, violated Feminism, as I know you've pointed out in the past. And, not to blindly embrace pluralism (as you rightly warn against), but it would seem that a woman's experience inside the Mormon church ought to be respected and listened to, not necessarily as "a voice of feminism," but certainly as a voice all feminists ought to hear.

Arvilla said...

Absolutely. If we start marginalizing women who associate with patriarchal institutions (or accusing them of colluding with the patriarchy) we're going to have no one to talk to...But on top of that, it's not important just to respect and listen to them, but there's a lot to learn there as well. I mean, come on, if I've gotten nothing else out of my experience in Mormonism it's a lot of insight on dealing with patriarchs and trying to talk some sense into them.

Virginia Harris said...
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T said...

Seriously, individualist feminism is bullshit, if not an outright oxymoron. I like how libertarians are perpetually coming up with new names to make their view (bare-knuckles capitalism) sound attractive... It's also interesting how most all of their arguments start by assuming what they set out to prove, or require us to think about politics in terms of some weird thought experiments about Robinson Crusoe and isolated islands inhabited by one person.