A group of bloggers from The Exponent have set up a new organisation/website/blog/something called WAVE, which stands for “Women Advocating for Voice and Equality.” It seems to be an LDS feminist advocacy group. My early feeling is that it’s possible for these birds to become a force to be reckoned with. The trick will be getting people to take them seriously. I spent a little time this evening poking around their site, and provided they can overcome the following they do stand a chance.
WAVE have a list of goals:
To advance the cause of gender equality within the LDS church.
What do they mean by gender equality? With a catchy moniker like WAVE, I get the idea that they intend to be a force that slowly erodes at existing structures, rising and swelling without any risk of being stopped.
Ooh, though . . . problem, lovies.
WAVE is a gender exclusive organisation. It’s a nice acronym, but “Women Advocating for Voice and Equality” implies that this is a separatist organisation, and that men have no role to play in ending the war of the sexes. That is not likely the intent, but the name of the bloody group will give most traditionally-minded men the picture of a sewing circle of overeducated housewives clucking about social theory. It may be a bit late at this point, but as they have yet to accomplish more than launching a website, it may be worth considering a rebranding that includes men in the process of striving for gender equality in the LDS Church.
There’s also a “Vision Statement”:
1. We will provide a safe place for women and men to discuss their struggles with accepted gender roles and disparities of gender equality in the LDS Church.
Considerations: Doesn’t the Internet already offer the opportunity for anonymous safe space to discuss these struggles? What is WAVE going to offer that isn’t currently in existence? What is the plan to build community? Why would a WAVE-ite choose WAVE over the other locations for unofficial discussion of LDS doctrine and culture? What does “safe space” mean? Will the site advertise that it will employ a data policy that makes it impossible for the owners and members of WAVE to discover the identity of someone who chooses to remain anonymous?
2. We prayerfully will work with local and general leaders to be guided in highlighting and shaping policies that allow for the more full participation of our sisters and daughters. It is our hope that by joining with leaders, WAVE can help to aid in the church’s retention effort of women.
“More full participation”? Not completely full? Are you just asking for a little equality? Does working with leaders mean that belief in the truthfulness of the LDS Church is a central tenet of WAVE? What is the plan for interacting with cultural, non-believing, cafeteria, and atheist Mormons? With a goal like retaining members for the LDS Church, perhaps this point ought to be clarified to include a statement saying that WAVE believe in the LDS Church as being true, and that it has a goal of increasing its membership through fighting attrition (and perhaps attracting new converts.) Working from within the system is a better approach than the “storm the gates” tactics used by people like Sonia Johnson. But the caveat is that the existing LDS authority structure is designed to shut out public opinion. Individuals may privately bring their concerns to bishops, who usually ignore them. Being too meek and prayerful may not create meaningful change. Conversely, a very careful path will need to be plotted to avoid being looked at by LDS authorities as being subversive bra-burners disguised as flowered dress-wearing, wooden bunny-painting Relief Society ladies.
We will actively engage members of the LDS church in good causes and promote social justice for women both within the church and in the larger world.
What is the definition of “social justice” being advocated here? For the majority of women in the world, the ability to control if and when they have sex and with whom is not a choice available to them, a point that is sometimes lost on educated first world feminists concerning themselves with only making 80% of what their male counterparts make. What is WAVE’s position on cultures and religions with entrenched gender inequality? Will you pick specific causes, such as third world education or domestic violence shelters and promote these? What exactly do you want to promote? Female priesthood? Gender-balancing the temple ceremony?
We envision a church where members will seek further light and knowledge in understanding how doctrine affects women. Our organisation will encourage members to understand the rich history of women within the LDS religion, to develop every spiritual gift that God promises in D&C 46 and to claim the blessings of heaven.
This goal is probably the most concrete, and likely the most attainable. But it will only happen by linking into the massive army of disaffected Mormons online, healing the breaches between current and former Mormons, and making lots of friends to cross-pollinate ideas. It also means actively recruiting men, especially priesthood leaders, to join the cause openly and without fear of ecclesiastical punishment. This means a few martyrs will be required. At least a few Stake Presidents will need to risk the ire of Salt Lake and appoint female bishops (as with the Catholics) before Mormons at large wake up to how rigid their gender structures are. In the gay rights movement, homosexuals were unable to gain meaningful political ground or social integration until heterosexual allies joined in the cause. There can be no form of apartheid in quests for equality, or what results is a separatist organisation, not an equality movement. A psychic shift that causes LDS people to ponder the gender implications of the temple ceremony and assigning gender-based wardrobes of white shirts and ties or lacy socks and curls cannot happen without the extensive participation of men. (WAVE might want to seriously consider that name change.)
There are other obstacles to overcome, mostly related to the fact that WAVE’s board of directors is currently made up of ten white, educated, middle-class cisgender women and a token male. Eight of the women have advanced degrees or are working on an advanced degree. All appear to have at least a US Bachelor’s degree and appear to be married heterosexual parents. None of this is a problem. There is nothing wrong with being white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual, married, or a parent. I note this here only because there are things to learn from this lack of diversity and pitfalls that need to be actively avoided. WAVE’s website oozes academic, theoretical feminism of the type usually acquired by intelligent white women who rarely worry about where their next meal is coming from. The luxury of western feminism is something I hope all women will have one day, but for the time being those of us who have it need to constantly remind ourselves that there are women without the intellectual and economic resources we’re lucky enough to have been given. WAVE need to find a way to communicate with those who are poor, uneducated, traditionalist and non-English speaking. The WAVE board will need to be extremely careful to avoid offending women who are often intimidated, jealous, or resentful of intellectuals who speak as if they know what’s best for all women and occasionally denigrate the lifestyle they’ve been forced into. The biggest mistake feminists can make is to tell traditionalist women that their barefoot, pregnant, aproned lifestyle was a massive waste of their potential. Even if this is true in many cases, it’s not the way into an old-fashioned woman’s mind.
In an early success of outreach, Tresa Edmunds has landed two pieces in the Guardian. It’s good for Mormonism to get some messaging out there that doesn’t come from the spin doctors of Salt Lake, but I doubt that Edmunds understands that the typical Guardian reader views her as an amusing brainwashed oddity from among the pantheon of American religious fanatics that exist in that enormous wibbly-wobbly mess of redneck land between the important bits on the East and West coasts. Op-ed pieces in major publications will be enormously helpful in promoting an alternative view of Mormon women, but the key will be balancing scrutiny of gender discrimination by the LDS Church with not looking like a silly housewife with too much time on her hands.
If WAVE are trying to upset the gender applecart, they’re going to need to spell out specific changes that they want to see. If their actual goal is gender equality, then eventually they’re going to have to come out and admit that what they’re after is female priesthood. Mealy-mouth pieces in the Guardian telling us things we already know — “[Mormon women] aren’t the submissive wives of caricature” — aren’t going to change anything. Edmunds’ piece is biased by the fact that many of the practical realities of LDS gender inequality do not affect her as badly because her priesthood head chooses not to exercise his privilege. But that privilege remains, and the way she flagrantly overlooks it is a disservice to women who have abusive priesthood heads. We know that Mormon men overwhelmingly do not beat their wives. That does not make them equals. Campaigning for an end to the Doublespeak would be a worthy goal for WAVE. The Proclamation on the family says that men “preside” but that they are “equals” with their wives. “Preside” means “to come first.” If you come first, then those that come after are not equal. As long as Relief Society is an “Auxiliary” — an appendage, an afterthought — it will not be the counterpart of Priesthood. Beginning with concrete goals to change the language the LDS Church uses to describe men and women and the way they relate to one another would be a great place to start. Recommending revisions to certain key documents, or asking questions such as “why don’t members of the priesthood begin their meetings by chanting a list of gender-based duties?” can go a long way in getting ordinary Mormons to re-think their position on gender. Without a concrete list of goals, WAVE’s efforts are just academic gobbledegook that won’t create real change.
WAVE will also need to recognise that an inevitable side effect of upsetting gender structures will mean that Mormons who are not married heterosexual parents will want to reap the benefits of work done by feminists. If WAVE catches on as a movement, it will have to consider the potential implications of what it is asking for: removal of the requirement that LDS bishops be married males, recognition of homosexual relationships as equal to heterosexual relationships, and female General Authorities. When WAVE proposes seemingly harmless changes like allowing women to wear suits to church, having female missionaries serve for as long as male missionaries or allowing female primary presidents to have male counsellors, LDS leaders will look beyond and see those truly earth-shaking changes on the horizon, and so they will push back on any erosion of gender roles. Any group seeking to implement those changes will need to have a very clear plan for exactly how far they want to take this and be prepared from criticism from some who will think they’ve gone too far and others who think they haven’t gone far enough.
Some practical considerations to conclude: WAVE should have a Twitter account. Online success depends on tapping a whole lot more social media than just Facebook. The site’s appearance is also a bit WordPress generic and there aren’t feed links or a clear understanding of which blogs do what on the site.
For my own part, I think a movement like this is pointless unless the ultimate goal is total and complete abolition of gender roles in the LDS Church. Nobody will take WAVE or anybody else seriously if all they are after is a little equality. Women didn’t get the vote by asking for a little suffrage. You either have the vote or you don’t. Mormon women will not be practical or theoretical equals until there is no extra privilege that comes with being a male in the LDS Church. Best of luck to WAVE — they are either on a fools’ errand or they may be the right combination of mommy bloggers with the time and energy to make a difference.