How my conservative childhood made me a feminist

Growing up in a Mormon community was, in many ways, an idyllic childhood. I felt very safe and loved by my family, and learned the importance of kindness and service, among many other values ​​that I still hold dear to this day. However, I also knew from an early age that there was something different about me, and it had to do with being a girl.

I remember feeling deep dissatisfaction with patriarchal power structures and the way everyone around me accepted them. In the Mormon Church, men hold all authority through what is called the priesthood. Women may hold auxiliary positions in the church, but they are often in charge of other women or children or play a supporting role in male authority. We are taught that their most important roles in life are as wives and mothers, and that our salvation depends on our marriage to a worthy man who holds the priesthood.

I remember desperately searching my scriptures and church records as a young girl for stories about women, but they seemed rare and uninteresting. Once I hit puberty, my Sunday school classes put a lot of emphasis on virtue and modesty. I always felt like boys could be anything they wanted, but girls had to prepare for marriage.

In school, I learned about the women’s suffrage movement and discovered women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone. These women were not afraid to use their voices to effect change, and they inspired me. I recognized their refusal to accept and adhere to the status quo, which I was trying to reconcile within myself.

I recognized a refusal to accept and adhere to the status quo, which I was trying to reconcile within myself.

I remember being surprised to learn that not all women agreed with the woman suffrage movement. They thought voting was a responsibility they didn’t need or even want. This struck me, because it was the same argument put forward by many women in my church regarding the priesthood. I never liked it, but since strong women who questioned authority were never rewarded in the religion and culture I grew up in, I mostly kept my opinions to myself and I tried to be a “good” Mormon girl.

Feminism didn’t seem like a safe topic to explore: when it was referred to, it was spoken of with disdain. Feminists have been called threats to the traditional family. They were angry, burned bras and hated men with dangerous social agendas.

As I entered my teenage years, I began to do my own research and realized that feminism simply meant the defense of women’s rights on the basis of gender equality – and I saw nothing wrong with that. wrong or wrong. . I began to notice how difficult the Mormon religion could be for those who didn’t “fit the mold” because of their sexuality or gender expression. Faith could also be very difficult for women who did not marry or who did not – or could not – have children.

Feminism offered options that my church did not appreciate. When I explored it, I was relieved to learn that I no longer had to adhere to impossible standards of beauty, that my value as a human being was not determined by my ability to find a husband and that I didn’t have to accept power. structures at face value simply because “that’s how God wants it”.

Now, as an adult, I have become the woman I believe I was always meant to be.

Now, as an adult, I have become the woman I believe I was always meant to be. Leaving a much-requested religion is a process, and I spent many years deconstructing my belief system and the indoctrination that came with it. When I finally left the Mormon Church, I found that my politics had changed, as I was free to fully embrace feminism and spirituality rather than dogma.

I still struggle to identify as a feminist sometimes, because I know that can be a loaded term for many – it’s something I’m not perfect for. I know I have to recognize my privilege as a white, straight, middle-class woman and acknowledge the fact that I still have a lot to learn and improve.

My conservative upbringing may have helped guide me towards feminism, but I have since released any guilt for deviating from the expectations of femininity placed on me by others. What I learned was that the feminism that I was warned about throughout my upbringing is not what feminism really is at all. And now that I am married to a wonderful man and have three sons, I am determined to teach my children to fully value and respect women and people of all gender expressions.

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