Kate Kelly is the topic du jour on all the really cool, edgy Mormon Mommy blogs. You know Kelly, she’s the one who made a big fuss on TV trying to interrupt a priesthood meeting in Salt Lake. And now she’s in the news again complaining that the church that doesn’t share her views is telling her, “you don’t share our views.” Growing up Catholic, there were lots and lots and lots of Kate Kellys, most of them wearing nun shoes and navy skirts. They reminded me of seagulls attacking a lighthouse – unsightly, annoying and seemingly unaware of the indifference of their prey. The real activists in the Catholic church were sitting in the pews, or failing to sit in them. The current American Catholic church is almost unrecognizable to most adults who grew up attending. The demographics have changed, and the needs and values of the faithful are simply different. There are many fewer casual weekly attendees. There are faithful who were reared in another country and culture, there are families who are extremely committed and traditional bordering on reactionary, and a bonus sprinkling of activists who want the church to be more progressive. The people in the pews are the ones with the power. They are the flame and the mirrors. They barely notice the seagulls.

Barely. But they do notice. I worry that Kate Kelly’s media-sponsored tantrum and the local churches’ response to it will have an effect on the power in the Mormon church. According to The Cumorah Project, worldwide, the ratio of men to women in the LDS church is 49 to 51, with international members having a significantly higher rate of activity among women than men, and even stateside, the activity level of women being slightly, but consistently higher than men. I’m sure that most of us have noticed this in our local wards. The Relief Society room has pretty close to the same number of bodies in seats as the opening exercises of priesthood, despite the presence of young men in priesthood and the absence of young women in Relief Society. Women are responsible for most of the actual work of the church at the local level. They’re the ones running the primary, leading the music, planning the parties and the dinners, organizing funerals, lifting the weak and comforting the afflicted. Of course, the men do some of this themselves, but a preponderance of the hands-on week-to-week dirty work is done by the sisters. We are the ones with the power, and yet, women in the church feel and often act helpless despite our power. We spend a lot of time and energy asking for permission and waiting for approval rather than taking responsibility. This might be common practice, but it is certainly not doctrinal – not in the church that exhorts its members to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause.” DC 58:27 Nor is it the legacy of Brother Joseph who explained that Mormon authorities “teach correct principals and let them govern themselves.”

When I was in Young Women’s for a short time after I was married and before I was heavily pregnant with our first baby (such a short time), the Wednesday night activities were being planned on a 3 subject rotation, so one week was cleaning, the next week was cooking and the third week was child care. Every bleeping week. EVERY bleeping week. Those poor girls. No wonder only 2 of the 15 made it to the temple. I was too young and too new to the church to make a stink, but I really felt bad for the poor kids. If you’re 13 and cleaning, cooking and tending babies are all you have to look forward to, then no wonder. No wonder Utah has twice the rate of anti-depressant use of California, and no wonder Utah women have twice the rate of anti-depressant use of men. Starting at 8 years old, girls in the church are given the message, loud and clear that they are worth half as much as their brothers. They meet for Achievement Days every other week, while their 8-year-old male counterparts meet every week. Their budget for Achievement Days is half that of the boys. They have half as many adults working with them. They do not have day camp, or pinewood derby or a ward dinner to showcase their talents and the work they’ve done throughout the year. The Young Women’s budget is equally dismal and depressing. Furthermore, unlike the boys, the girls have no chance to be mentored in their home visit duties, and there are no opening exercises combining adult women with the young women. I’m sure it sounds like I’m advocating for the boys and the girls to be treated exactly the same way. I’m not. Girls are different from boys and have different needs and interests. But that doesn’t mean girls are worth less effort, which is what they’re getting.

There is no reason for this. We are more than half the church and we take on well more than half of the responsibility for the daily operation of these programs. I know from personal experience that the squeaky president gets the workers and the money and the time she demands. I know from experience that the bishopric is overworked in the extreme and doesn’t want to handhold every decision, but if women insist on acting like little girls when they don’t want to do a job and ask how Every. Step. Should. Be. Taken. the bishopric will give in and politely tell those women to do the thing that causes the bishopric the least trouble. This is a church of volunteers. They’re not likely to fire you if you go ahead and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Even if they do, who cares?

If you are a woman in the church, the time for being a good girl is past. It’s time to be a grown up. It’s time for passion, for vision, for meaning. No one leaves a lasting legacy of staying out of trouble. It’s time to believe something. Please, let’s not use Kelly and the response she’s getting from the church as an excuse to double down on the virtue of being mealy mouthed. Let’s be Mary. Let’s sit at Jesus’ feet until we really understand the big picture, but then let’s get off our butts and put the plan into action. Let’s use the church as a tool to raise great kids, not a crutch to relieve us of responsibility. Be bold, be focused, be tough enough to withstand a little irritation from the men in your life so you can be part of something beautiful. No more half measures for our girls. Let’s help them gain skills beyond the 3 R’s and homemaking. Let’s broaden their horizons.

It’s no coincidence that Rose Wilder is both the mother of libertarian thought and a very early feminist. She was raised by pioneers, some of the toughest, most adventurous and likely the most skilled and innovative people in the history of America. She saw feminism in action. Her parents and grandparents had immense respect for each other and for their children because each member of a pioneer family helped to keep everyone alive. You have to admit, Ma was something else. It’s not just any woman who can slap a cow-shaped bear on the rear, realize her mistake in the dark, and then calmly walk back into the cabin with her daughter. And I imagine that Laura, being a tiny girl in a just-built, cold and draughty cabin in the middle of the night, sitting with her father, watching the wolves surround her home and howl at the moon – I imagine she acquired a fairly concrete understanding of the value of the work that kept her off the menu.

The women and the men who trekked West worked like mules and they depended on one another. They shared a common goal and that work and vision made them equals. Those women – Ma and her daughter Laura, and Laura’s daughter Rose, lived feminism. They lived it for real. They didn’t demand that some higher authority give them rights. They knew their own value and they commanded respect by being part of something important.

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening features Edna, a woman, who, even as she awakens to her power and desires, is stifled by societal norms and commits suicide. Sorry if you were planning to read it. It’s depressing anyway, and not very original – Ok, I guess it was original at the time, but that story line has been done to death. I do feel sad for the women who have experienced that story. I was on that path in my mid-teens, and it scared me senseless. I was lucky enough to escape before I had children depending on me, and to find a mate who shared my goals and was willing to work beside me to gain them, instead of treating me as a pretty accessory or a half-person who needed tending and instruction. There is no good reason for any woman to wait for a man to give her permission to live the life she desires. Outside of human trafficking and a couple other very rare circumstances, women in the United States have ALL the power. If we’re not using it, that’s on us. Kate Kelly is a ridiculous fame junky, not a serious feminist. Serious feminists don’t ask men for permission, they do what needs to be done.

There’s no reason for our church to be home to a single Edna, pre- or post- awakening. We are pioneer stock. We have a revolutionary doctrine that truly recognizes the divine potential in each of us. Our Mother Eve is no shameful slattern who ruined the good life for everybody. She had the courage to look ahead, to see what she could give to her children. She chose growth over comfort. She pissed off her priesthood leaders, but it was worth it. She gave us all the opportunity to become like unto the gods. We cannot fail to give our daughters anything less than Eve’s full legacy. She opened the gates and led us into the wide world. There is beauty here, even amongst the thorns and the filth. We need to make sure our daughters have all the tools they need to deal with the filth so they can enjoy the beauty. Homemaking is not going to cut it, and even if it could, why would we want them to choose a life of obedient drudgery? Because, in reality, raising children is about exploration, love and discovery, and the housework is just the price you have to pay to get the good stuff. If we want really exceptional women raising the next generation of little Mormons, we need to help our girls develop a life of the mind and a wide horizon of experience so they can inspire their children and show them how to find the flowers growing out of the manure. Because, after all, “if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” DC 122:7 They shall be for thy good, that is, if you are equipped to handle them.

Let’s add another Be to Hinkley’s ubiquitous list. Be Eve. Embrace the opportunity to leave comfort behind for something better. Do what needs to be done, and forget the naysayers.

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