Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Talk to a MoFem

With the recent campaigns that have been going on (Pants, Let Women Pray, and now Ordain Women) lots of faithful LDS members seem to have forgotten how to be good christians (lower-case "c" is intentional). I know lots of people who have grown up with the Church a certain way all of their lives are confused about why some LDS women and men are unhappy with the current cultural climate. They wonder how so many people can be discontent with a belief system that has brought them so much joy, peace, and community.

But a lot of them are really terrible at expressing that. So, I have come up with a few guidelines for how to talk to someone who identifies as a Mormon feminist or just someone who supports these campaigns.

I don't know who made this, but it wasn't me, so all credit to that person.

1. Do Not make assumptions about them. Many people approach Mormon feminists with questions of why they want to be a man, why they want to have the priesthood, etc. There are a lot of things wrong with doing this. For one, it's extremely rude. You're forcing the feminist you are talking to to immediately go on the defensive. You're not going to get a good conversation out of this.

Another, you actually have no idea what a particular feminists grievances or goals are. Some Mormon Feminists want women to have the priesthood, some do not. Like general feminism, this is not one organized movement where every member thinks exactly the same. This is a broad spectrum where many feminists are different from one another, though they usually share the common goal of "equality." Equality, however, means different things for different people.

And lastly, quite a few Mormon feminists are men. Assuming that we are a bunch of angry women is discounting the large male population.

2. Do Not use sexist language. For years, women have been called "hysterical," "screeching," "crazy," "overreacting," and more. I saw a woman yesterday wondering why we all "had our panties in a bunch." Again, saying stuff like this is just plain rude and not going to contribute to a polite conversation. It's also being sexist, which is really not helping the problem. (And again, it's also awkward when you are addressing men, even if you don't realize you are.)

3. Do Not bring our testimonies or spirituality into question. So many times I've seen that if only we'd read the scriptures or prayed more, we'd find peace. This is another assumption. People who say this to us are assuming that we haven't prayed or read scriptures about it. Many Mormon feminists have been devout members their entire lives. They hold callings in their regions and raise religious families. Many of them have prayed and studied to find answers. Through a combination of revelation, scripture study, and studying what the prophets have written, they have come to the conclusion that activism is their answer.

Also, many of what the Mormon feminists are working against is not doctrinal. For example, in the Let Women Pray movement, there was no doctrinal foundation for a woman having never said a prayer in General Conference before. This is merely a cultural tradition, or a policy that did not necessarily have spiritual guidance in its creation. When it comes to dismantling cultural norms, I do not believe you need to have the strongest testimony or full activity in the Church.

This also includes not blasting Mormon feminists with scripture quotes or conference talks. Many of them are already aware of what you are trying to share with them. If you honestly are curious about what they think about a specific talk or quote, you may calmly and respectfully ask them. You should not just throw it at them.

4. Do Not tell them that the problem absolutely does not exist. This comes in many forms. There are women who say they are perfectly happy in the Church, so everyone else should be. There are people who like to point out to all the places where the Church/LDS culture excels from a feminist standpoint, so nothing else that goes against that exists. Whether or not you have seen or experienced an inequality or problem that one Mormon feminist sees does not matter. You could live in a great ward where things aren't as bad. You may not have experienced a certain issue that another Mormon feminist has.

5. Do Not tell a Mormon feminist to just leave if they are unhappy. This is not productive, and it is very dismissive of their feelings. People who grow up LDS often find they have a hard time leaving. Many Mormon feminists have a very strong testimony of gospel principles; they also don't want to leave all of the positive parts of the Church behind. Besides which, deciding whether or not to leave or stay is a very personal decision, and one that should not be made by you.

6. Do Not tell a Mormon feminist to "get a sense of humor," "get a life," or to not be so easily offended. Again, just because you think something is a funny joke and not at all offensive doesn't mean it's wrong if someone else does. Just because you think something is a non-issue doesn't mean someone else sees it the same way. These phrases are also very dismissive of someone's feelings. You're also making another assumption - many feminists have senses of humor and very full, enriching lives.

Listen. This should be really simple, but so many people seem to have forgotten this. Mormon feminism is new to a LOT of people. At first, it may seem contrary to a lot of things you have learn in Church your entire life. It is normal to be confused and to have questions. The best thing to do is to ask a Mormon feminist about it. You can ask them why they feel a certain way. You can ask them what their take is on a particular scripture or conference talk. You can ask them what their personal experiences have been with certain issues. You can ask them what they believe. 

Mormon feminists want their voices to be heard and their thoughts to be shared. You do not have to agree with everything a Mormon feminist says, but you should engage with them in a polite and respectful manner. 

If you have any questions/suggestions about how to talk to a Mormon feminist, please comment. If you have any questions about Mormon feminism, you can also comment, and I will do my best to answer or redirect you to a place with an answer. 


  1. Love this! Numbers 3 and 4 are big ones for me especially. It's completely inappropriate to judge someone's testimony, and it's obnoxious to claim that a problem doesn't exist if *you* can't see it.

    I'd also add that, while it can be helpful to refer to scriptures or other quotes, don't get into a quote war when you're having a discussion. You can dig up quotes for ANYTHING from Church archives. (Well... almost.) Quotes are better for essays, where they can be explained in detail and supported by other resources.

    1. Those are great points. Thanks so much for sharing!