Growing up in a Mormon community made for, in many ways, an idyllic childhood. I felt very safe and loved by my family, and was taught the importance of kindness and service, among many other values that I still hold dear to this day. However, I also knew from a very young age that there was something different about me, and it had to do with my role as a girl.
I remember feeling deep discontent with patriarchal power structures and how everyone around me just accepted them. In the Mormon church, men hold all authority through what is called the priesthood. Women can hold some auxiliary positions in the church, but they are often in charge of other women or children or act in a supportive role to male authority. We are taught that their most important roles in life are as wives and mothers, and that our salvation depends on being married to a worthy man who holds the priesthood.
I remember desperately searching my scriptures and church materials as a young girl for stories about women, but they seemed to be scarce and uninspiring. Once I reached puberty, my Sunday school classes placed a lot of emphasis on virtue and modesty. It always felt to me like boys could grow up to be anything they wanted, but that girls needed to prepare for marriage.
In school, I was taught about the women’s suffrage movement and learned about women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. These women weren’t afraid to use their voices to bring about change, and they inspired me. I recognized their refusal to accept and adhere to the status quo, which was something that I was trying to reconcile within myself.
I recognized a refusal to accept and adhere to the status quo, which was something that I was trying to reconcile within myself.
I remember being surprised to learn that not all women were on board with the women’s suffrage movement. They reasoned that voting was a responsibility they didn’t need or even desire. This struck me, because it was the same argument put forth by many women in my church concerning the priesthood. This never sat well with me, but since strong women who questioned authority were never rewarded in the religion and culture I grew up in, I mostly kept my opinions to myself and tried to be a “good” Mormon girl.
Feminism didn’t feel like a safe topic to explore: when referenced, it was spoken of with disdain. Feminists were labeled as threats to the traditional family. They were angry, bra-burning man-haters with dangerous social agendas.
As I entered my teenage years, I began to do my own research and came to the realization that feminism simply meant the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes — and I didn’t see anything wrong or evil about that. I began to notice how difficult the Mormon religion could be for those who didn’t “fit the mold” due to their sexuality or gender expression. The faith could also be very difficult for women who didn’t marry or who didn’t — or couldn’t — have children.
Feminism offered options that my church didn’t value. When I explored it, I was relieved to learn that I no longer had to adhere to impossible beauty standards, that my worth as a human being was not determined by my ability to get a husband, and that I didn’t have to accept power structures at face value just because “that’s the way God wants it.”
Now, as an adult, I have grown into the woman I believe I was always destined to become.
Now, as an adult, I have grown into the woman I believe I was always destined to become. Leaving a high-demand religion is a process, and I spent many years deconstructing my belief system and the indoctrination that came along with it. When I finally left the Mormon church, I found that my politics changed, as I was free to fully embrace feminism and spirituality rather than dogma.
I still have a hard time identifying as a feminist at times, because I know it can be a loaded term for many — that’s something I’m not perfect at. I know that I need to acknowledge my privilege as a white, straight, middle-class woman and own the fact that I still have much to learn and improve upon.
My conservative upbringing may have helped pushed me toward feminism, but I have since released all guilt from deviating from the expectations about womanhood placed upon me by others. What I’ve come to know is that the feminism I was warned about throughout my upbringing isn’t at all what feminism is really about. And now that I’m married to a wonderful man and have three sons, I am determined to teach my children to fully value and respect women and people of all gender expressions.