Introducing: The Mormon feminist
Ginnifer Goodwin, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Bill Paxton and Chloë Sevigny. The cast of Big Love , a show about a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family that aired until 2011.
I don’t know any Mormon feminists but I am beginning to wish I did. Mormonism was founded by an American prophet called Joseph Smith, a charismatic and handsome religious genius who married up to 30 women, many of them underage.
Smith was a treasure-diviner and ‘‘seer’’ who in 1823 was visited by an angel called Moroni. Moroni revealed to him the location of the buried golden tablets (conveniently, they were under a hill right near Smith’s house in New York state) upon which were inscribed a sacred revelatory text in an ancient Egyptian-style language.
Smith translated them, with the help of the angel and a ‘‘seer stone’’ and they became the basis of Mormonism. Once Smith had translated the golden tablets, Moroni the angel took them back again. (Cynics should note that corroborated evidence of religious events is notoriously difficult to come by. There is no CCTV footage of Jesus rolling back the stone of his tomb, either.)
Mormon feminists are important because they show that feminism is a weedy flower that blooms everywhere and won’t be killed.
Lately I have become fascinated by the religion, partly because I'm trying to work out who Mitt Romney is (as in, who he really and truly is, apart from the candidate with The Hair that the Republicans couldn’t take seriously last time around), and partly because I have been reading an excellent book on Mormonism and it history, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. And then of course there’s the polygamy thing.
The Mormon church (AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) officially rejected the (until-that-point divine) doctrine of plural marriage in 1890, but it is still practised by tens of thousands of splinter group Mormons across the United States.
Polygamy is illegal in the US but rarely prosecuted, unless authorities can prove that there is welfare fraud involved, or that the bride is underage. Krakauer argues in his book that polygamist Mormonism (ie the fundamentalist branch) is in many cases a cover for pedophilia, with the taking of child brides very common.
Mainstream Mormons, of whom Romney is one, totally eschew plural marriage, but the religion is considered extremely patriarchal, and in its fundamentalist form, it’s often compared to extremist versions of Islam.
Which is why the recent flowering of feminist Mormonism (Mormon feminism?) is so interesting. Blogs like Feminist Mormon Housewives, WAVE (Women advocating for Voice & Equality) and The Exponent proliferate on the internet. These blogs are an excellent counter-point to the terrifying ‘‘Mormon Mommy’’ blogs, where Mormon housewives bake cupcakes, post photos of their adorable children, rave about their amahhhzing husbands and generally try so hard to convince readers that their lives are SO SPARKLY AND GREAT that you can’t help suspecting they’re hiding something a little less sparkly.
The feminist Mormon blogs tackle difficult questions. How do you tell your children that the great prophet of your religion - the man you were brought up to venerate - was essentially a bit of a perve, who received a revelation from God about the divinity of plural marriage right around the time he started taking multiple child-brides?
How do you explain the callous and cruel way Mormon church routinely treats unmarried or divorced mothers? (This Vanity Fair report includes allegations Romney pressured a young unmarried pregnant woman in his church community to give up her baby rather than raise a child out of wedlock.) And how do you teach yourself to be cool with the fact that black men were only allowed into the priesthood in the late 70s, and only then under great social pressure?
I don’t know, and as a non–Mormon I’ll never have to find out. But to me, the Mormon feminists are important because they show that feminism is a weedy flower that blooms everywhere and won’t be killed. They show that the yen for freedom and self-determination applies to all women, and it will out, no matter how difficult the environment.