056: Women and the LDS Church Part 2 — The Three Waves of Feminism in the USA

Any discussion of women in the LDS Church would be incomplete without first understanding a bit about the history of women more broadly within the context of 19th and 20th century America. Consequently, in part 2 of this multi-part series on Women in the LDS Church, we will hear from an LDS woman who also teaches women’s studies at a division 1 university in the US. She will discuss the 3 major phases of feminism in the United States, trace its history from the mid 1800s to today, and will conclude with her own reflections about being an LDS woman in 2007. We hope that this will set the stage for the rest of the episodes on LDS women, and most importantly, we hope that you enjoy the discussion.

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  1. Pingback: Zelophehad’s Daughters » Blog Archive » Mormon Stories Podcast

  2. I love this series! These are exciting times on the Bloggernacle, with issues of race being discussed on By Common Consent all week, and women’s issues here on Mormon Stories.

    One thing I’ve always felt a problem in feminism (and I’ve participated in both the second and third waves) is we seem to have difficulty articulating what are the actual wrongs that need to be redressed. I think if we don’t want to be dismissed as overpriviliged whiners who don’t realize how great we have it, we need to bring to the forefront the real problems that society has now, as well as the problems that have only recently been overcome. I’d love to just hear women’s stories about the discrimination and unfairnesses that they experience in their work, their families, school, social lives, etc.

    For instance, when I was young my best friend in my neighborhood was a boy my age. We played outside a lot, built forts, climbed trees, dammed the creek, put towels around our necks for capes and played Superman and Supergirl. A new boy our age moved into our neighborhood once, and for a week my friend didn’t want to talk to me. I found out the new guy had convinced him that playing with girls was sissy, and the two of them were shunning me. Later on it was resolved, I’m not sure how, but sense prevailed and we all three played together from then on. That was one of the first things I can remember happening of real gender discrimination.

    When I was in college, I found out my uncle (who was head of the Chemistry Dept. at my school) used to tell a story to his students of something I supposedly said as a young child that I don’t remember. Apparently once when my cousin threatened to beat my brains out over something (not a serious threat, but being silly) I supposedly retorted “Duh, girls don’t have brains!” Thinking back, I feel sure that was something my older brother must have taught me, that girls didn’t have brains. =)

    When I was in elementary school, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school. We had to wear dresses. It really crimped our style on the playground, as hanging upside down on the monkey bars is difficult when you’re wearing a dress. I remember tucking my dress into the leg holes of my underwear to get it to stay out of my face, and still be reasonably modest. Crawling around on the floor is also impossible in a dress. So even as a toddler, and on up through age 4, 5, 6, the clothing I was required to wear as a girl made active play difficult, and encouraged passivity.

    I asked my teacher in 4th grade why girls couldn’t wear pants to school and was told that the shapes of girls’ bottoms inside their pants would be distracting to the boys. That was the official reason why. On extremely cold days, it was acceptable for girls to wear pants beneath their dresses, and later on in the 70s pantsuits were a fad for a while, which were essentially a dress over pants.

    Those are a few of my earliest recollections, before we even get into academic and job situations. I’d love to hear other women’s stories about things they’ve experienced in their youth and later, about whether or not they questioned them or thought they were unjust at the time, and so on. Or, on the other hand, if some women feel at home in women’s roles, and if they feel like it’s a good fit for their personalities, personal goals, and so on, I’d like to read about that.

  3. Nice job on this– I thought Serephine did a great job of summing this all up. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in the last thirty years. I lived in Cache Valley, and until 8th grade, we girls had to wear dresses to school. In 9th grade, we could listen to the weather, and if the temperature was below 10 degrees outside, we could wear pants. After that year, we could finally wear “nice” pants to school. Boys, of course, could wear jeans all along. Jeans for girls weren’t allowed till after I graduated. Gosh, the stupid things that people worry about!

  4. Terrific podcast!

    As for the clothing issues previous comments have made… my older brother pointed out there really isn’t that much of a difference between the constant carping on girls for modesty and making women wear burkas in the middle east.

    “Your body is distracting to the boys.”

    The difference is the severity. The argment is the same.

  5. When I was 19 I had a job as a co-op student, working 6 months out of the year at a job as a sort of helper engineer or apprentice engineer at an office, and the other six months I was going to school. I was the only female engineer in the large firm, and there was this one engineer, he was like extremely OLD, you know? (Probably 30ish) =) But he was in the habit of coming up behind me while I sat at my desk working, and rubbing my neck and shoulders, like giving me a massage, without asking. I *hated* it, and I know I froze up and was extremely uncomfortable with it. I’m certain he could tell from my body language how creeped out I was by it. But he continued to do it again and again. I never asked him to stop, because he was like my boss or something. I didn’t feel I could. But I would just cringe whenever he did it.

    That was around 1977 or 1978, I guess, long before such things were mostly fixed by laws about sexual harrassment in the workplace. I wish I had known then to just tell him to please not touch me.

  6. I attended a high school in rural Arizona in an overwhelmingly LDS community in which the school superintendent was also the stake president. The student council when I was freshman class president was all girls and totally fed up with the rule that we had to wear dresses to school. So we all wore pants one day and dared them to suspend all of us, for the most part the high achievers in the school. I’m amazed that we had the nerve in 1971. On the other hand, it’s embarrassing to think that we considered it such a big issue in light of the world scene at the time, or rather, that the administration did. But it worked; we wore pants after that.

  7. Pingback: Episode 4: Mormon Feminism, Women, and Claudia Bushman Part 1

  8. Sam Singley (BMR), Black Mormon Republican

    It is a shame that more women in the church do not speak up about this issue. It is time they were given credit for all the work they have done in the church. I think the church fear the power of it’s women. I would love to have a women bishop.

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