Episode 30: Critiques of Mormon Feminism


Join Lindsay as she discusses perceptions of Mormon Feminism with the cast and crew of the Mormon Expositor Podcast

12 thoughts on “Episode 30: Critiques of Mormon Feminism

  1. This was amazing! Thanks to all for taking time to have this conversation and share it.
    I’m an active LDS woman and consider myself feminist. Lyndsay, great job moderating and welcoming criticisms. Much needed. Brandt has a fantastic “radio voice.” Heather’s viewpoint was the most compellingfor me – partly because I’m a nurse and embrace science/biology and partly because in other ways her perspective are far from my own.

    Below are some of my favorite ideas, quotes, discussion points:

    –“We want you to be the maid and we want you to be really happy about it.” – ouch. so very true.
    — “[it seems that if you’re] invested in feminism, then you need to see things through a feminist lense.” – very good. (But also this via Gloria Stienhem: “In my heart, I think a woman has two choices: either she’s a feminist or a masochist.”)
    — “Being raised in mormonism I was unable to find joy in any of it [good things like social relationships and shared faith] – wow. amazing. true. (limiting aspects of religion in general)
    — “Stockholm syndrome” – very good point.
    — “We are animals. . .consciousness [higher life form properties, etc] is quickly discarded in extreme circumstances.” yep. often true.
    — “Feminism exists because of oppressive organizations. . . we wouldn’t need feminsts if everything was great for women.”
    — “I love everybody.”
    — “Brandt, you got gushy.”

  2. Really great podcast, honestly one of my favorites. I really wish we could have more open discussions like this. Honestly I could agree with parts of everyone’s points. At the end I thought, “Well I really thought I had figured out this whole Mormon feminism, but now I have to think and chew over some of their points”.

  3. I always enjoy listening to the raucous, frank discussions from the Mormon Expositor team. I love you all!

    Like Melody, I also found Heather’s perspectives to be the most interesting and I’m hoping we can get her back on the podcast to elaborate on her position more. I’m particularly interested in learning more about the specific aspects of evolutionary psychology that have informed her current perspectives about gender as an essential influence on our actions. When it comes to the nature vs. nurture debate over gender, I’m personally in the middle. I think both our biology and our culture have a very strong influence on our behavior and on our society; it’s difficult for me to figure out where we can draw the line between where gender biochemistry ends and culture begins. These difficulties lead me to ask these questions:

    — Can culture and history actually influence our behavior on a subconscious, even biological level? Richard Nisbett’s research over the last 40 years into this topic is especially intriguing in this regard. He’s done research into the cognitive differences between Asian and Western cultures as well as the South’s Culture of Honor that suggests the possibility of cultural influence on cognition and behavior. I wonder if historical and cultural gender norms influence our brain chemistry and behavior. My hunch is that it does.

    –From an epistemological perspective, is quantitative research the best way of understanding gender norms and differences? It’s important to recognize that psychologists and biologists who gather quantitative data about gender norms are examining trends in large groups of people. These studies do suggest that there are clear gender differences on a biochemical level, but I think it’s worth noting that these are only trends in large populations. They don’t necessarily account for outliers and individual differences from person to person. So while we might say that you are statistically more likely to behave in XYZ way because of your gender, there may be enough variation from individual to individual to open up the possibility for discussion of significant individual variation within those norms. (For example, if 10-15% of females don’t behave in sync with the norms for their gender, they wouldn’t be in the majority but they still would represent a significant portion of the population. This would suggest their behavior was normative for a sub-set of the population as opposed to being somehow “abnormal.”) I’m interested in looking more into the research.

    –Lastly, I wonder if one of the possible negative by-products of feminism is that it constantly puts gender at the fore-front of discussion. I think that discussions about gender can be counterproductive sometimes because they can cause us to obsess over gender as a marker of identity. (If you tell someone “don’t think about gender all the time,” they begin to think about gender all the time. It’s the whole “don’t think of an elephant” problem.) In my personal version of feminism, I’m hoping society can eventually move into more of a post-gender world. I’m not trying to say that we should refuse to acknowledge gender differences per se, but just that I’d like to see it cease as being one of the central ways we define a person’s identity (and by which we judge their behavior or the quality of their character). I’d like to see gender become something that is acknowledged but that we don’t really think about as much—something that’s not all that big of a deal. I’d like us to see people as human beings first rather than as a “male human being” or a “female human being” first. I’d like to see gender to recede into the background of our consciousness in some ways. But when feminists talk about women’s rights, it constantly calls out and draws attention to gender. It makes us think about gender all the time. Sometimes it makes us think of women as women instead of thinking of them as human beings. To a certain extent that’s unavoidable: you can’t talk about gender stereotypes without talking about gender. But I wonder if that works against us as feminists sometimes. (Side note: it’s interesting to think about the goal of the version of feminism I articulated above would be to achieve its own annihilation—to remove the need for feminism entirely.)

  4. Heather,
    Thank you for once again voicing my feelings. (You too Greg).
    It is interesting seeing the cultural pendulum swing over the past decade from the ‘Blank Slate’ theory of mind to one more rooted in genetics and biology. I feel like certain groups, particularly those who had built their philosophies on the premise of a blank slate, have been slow to catch up, such as some minority rights groups including feminism. Their goals are noble, but they need update their understanding of human nature to recognize the extreme power of biology and genetics and the implications that might have on concepts such as equality. (it might be equal to give your cat and dog both dog food, but it isn’t fair, because the cat doesn’t like/need dog food)
    However, I will say that for several years I had taken the same level of hardline biological determinism as yourself, Heather. While I still don’t believe in free will ( in fact, believe in it less than ever), I have come to shift more towards the middle in regards to the impact of culture vs biology.
    Part of this has come from studying history. Once I left the Church and realized that all the events which had seemed peripheral to REAL and important history, (the bible and BoM), was actually the most important stuff and crucial to understanding how our culture came to be the way it was, so I had a lot of catching up to do and have become passionately learning as much about about the subject as I can digest.
    One thing I find so fascinating about history is that it is like the grandest sociological study. You can see how a group that is genetically very similar behaves in different cultural environments and determine how their beliefs and behaviors change when the culture changes, either because of conquest, a new religion sweeping, or simply the march of time. Some aspects of human nature clearly stay the same, like many of our genders and some differ radically, also like many of our gender roles. Because of this, I’ve come to give culture more credit in it’s role in shaping our behaviors and perceptions of the world.
    I still cringe whenever I hear the term ‘cultural construct’, but I’ve come to believe that such things do exist (although few of the things which get that label actually are)
    (If you are unfamiliar with it, the podcast Hardcore History is amazing. I may even be my favorite. Epic 4 hour stories.)
    Also: A book called Nature Via Nurture, about the way genes and the environment interact is an excellent and fascinating book that helped me see more the effect our environment can play.

  5. I think one thing that minority rights advocates (of which I am one) tend to do that frustrates me is to say that because exceptions exist, for example, that some women want to be mechanics or some Asian people are good professional basketball players, that means ALL women are equally as good at men at being mechanics and ALL Asians are equally good as blacks at basketball. It would be like saying that because ostriches and penguins can’t fly, it is an unfair stereotype to say that birds fly.
    Of course, we should treat each person as an individual and not assume they will meet all the expectations we have of the groups they belong to, but to deny that IN GENERAL such attributes exist is dishonest. And in a sense, demeaning. We should CELEBRATE our differences, not deny them.
    I think the problem is that our society has conflated equality with sameness. That two groups or individuals can only be equal if they are the same. But we don’t believe mentally handicapped people should be treated with dignity because they have the same capacities as us, but because they are humans with feelings who deserve to be happy just as we all do.
    Sometimes I feel that in the effort to ‘overcome stereo types’, we do people a disservice and try to deny their individuality and what makes that group interesting or unique. If I may try to make-up a pithy quote: “Overcoming Stereo-Types, showing that no matter what you look like on the outside, we are all straight, European Males on the inside.”
    I think the only way we can have a truly just society is to acknowledge that differences exist between groups, that within those groups there is a great deal of variation and exceptions but that no matter who you are, what your strengths and weakness are, we all share certain fundamental human traits that for the most part we understand (food, shelter, community, respect, etc. etc.) and that we should fight to allow as many people to have as fulfilling a life as possible.

  6. The majority of contributors seem to misunderstand what feminism is. Feminism is not about gender roles or restricting men; feminism is founded in women and men being of equal worth; or in other words feminism is about equality of all. This is really two sides of the same coin. If you have a society that restricts women into only being able to find value in being a wife and mother, you also have a society that restricts men into only having value as a provider. Humans are more complex then the narrow roles they are assigned and feminism should be freeing for both sides, oppressive to neither.
    Speaking as a feminist, I think there is no group in the church more oppressed then men. Men aren’t allowed to dress as they want at church (only suits and white shirts) or groom as they want (no facial hair or long hair – but not too short hair either). They aren’t allowed to follow whatever profession they want (have to be able to support the family by themselves), and they don’t even get an equal say in reproductive issues (it’s usually the woman the decides family size). How would Hemingway fit into our wards? Not at all. Feminism is about removing this inequality for both sides. No woman should be told she is of less worth for having a job, just as no man should be of less worth for being a stay at home dad.
    Living abroad in the most feminine country on Earth(Sweden) a lot of what was prescribed as the “natural roles of men and women” just don’t exist here. Since I moved here I no longer feel self-conscious about my body image all the time, because my worth is not linked to how good I look. Women news anchors aren’t fashion models; they just look like regular people. Both men and women stay home with their children. Most men can cook. What should be liberating for women is actually liberating for men as well, because there is greater capacity to accept the individual. Who cares what your gender is, you should be allowed to embrace yourself as a person and do what you enjoy, not just what society has told you to enjoy. All gender roles serve to limit the potential of the individual; it should always be for the individual to decide what will best suits them.

    1. Agreed. Only when women and men have the same opportunities to influence their own lives and communities is democracy and freedom a reality.

  7. All else equal, if we woke up tomorrow and men were the ones that got pregnant and had to breast-feed would we be ok with the gender roles(/stereotypes) we currently have?

  8. Interesting podcast, as usual, thank you to all involved.

    Some of my feelings/thoughts: Although I’m not sure I’m a believer anymore, I have a difficult time not feeling under attack with many people who consider themselves atheist. I guess it just feels like there is an immediate dismissal of belief and therefore I can’t have any justified arguments. I think that to have productive dialogue about Mormon feminism, one must accept the idea that there are people who will continue to believe in the theology of Mormonism and will work from that framework, whether you personally find value in that or not. I am still working on not feeling defensive in discussions with atheists and while I can understand and accept an atheist’s position, perhaps the nature of atheism makes reciprocating that impossible? Not trying to be combative but honestly trying to understand why I feel my hackles rising everytime I engage in discussions of this nature.

    I also find Heather’s depiction of feminism different than how I see it – so many ways to look at/define/engage in the feminist movement, even among us LDS. I don’t see feminism as denying differences in the sexes, but allowing equal access to resources regardless of the differences.

  9. If you’re a man who’d like to meet and date Asian women for friendship or marriage, you’re definitely not alone. The Asian woman, with her beauty and traditional values is very desirable, especially to a society that seems to be losing its way with happiness in relationships. Not many will argue this fact as divorce rates go through the roof, and men seem to be more miserable than ever..

    My very own blog

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