At the same time, lots of Mormon women are perfectly comfortable with the roles they believe God assigned to them, including motherhood and nurturing. They would not want, they say, to “hold the priesthood.”
Now comes a third and, some suggest, growing group of Mormon women somewhere between these two poles.
They are not pushing for ordination, but they crave a more engaged and visible role for women in the Mormon church. It is a role, they believe, that their Mormon foremothers played — and one that could fit easily into the institutional structure without distorting or dismantling doctrine.
These women — some of whom consider themselves feminists, while others avoid that label — point to little changes that would pay big dividends: treating a president of the local Relief Society (the church’s main women’s group) like her male counterpart and assigning her to be a regular speaker at conferences and in worship services; quoting more women in sermons and Sunday school lessons; selecting more women to speak and pray at churchwide General Conferences.
Many of them agree that no meeting should take place in which decisions about women are made without a woman being present.
Talk about such changes is buzzing around the Mormon blogosphere and was discussed at a recent gathering of FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research). It has spawned websites such as Mormon Women Project and a blog called Young Mormon Feminists by a Brigham Young University student.
“There is a tremendous amount of pain among our women regarding how they can or cannot contribute to the governance of our ecclesiastical organization,” Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project, said at the FAIR conference. “We need to pay attention to that pain. ... The pain is real.”
These LDS women, McBaine said, are not trying to “eradicate the divine differences between men and women,” but want to be “used, engaged, recognized and appreciated ... in the broadest context of the Lord’s kingdom.”
If Mormonism’s first generation of strong and charismatic female leaders had seen this era, the modern women wonder, what would they think has happened to their legacy?
In the 19th century, many Mormon women had a strong sense of partnership within the priesthood. They were outspoken leaders of female organizations who oversaw their own finances, programs and publishing. They gave healing blessings to other women and their offspring. They spoke openly of women’s spiritual powers and being the offspring of heavenly parents — one of them God the Mother.
Mormon women were early suffragettes, forming alliances with national leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They were the first in the nation to vote and among the trailblazers to pursue professional careers in medicine, business and law.