What is an LDS Feminist?

In relation to my recent entry LDS Male Feminists? Where your heart lies… I have been asked to define what a feminist is.

A person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.

Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
The movement organized around this belief.

The relevant question is “can an active Mormon (Latter-day Saint) consider themselves a feminist?” In most cases, I believe the answer is no; at the very least, such a label would be disingenuous. I think it is possible to simultaneously be a feminist and a member of the LDS Church, but I have never met anyone who I think fits the definition as I have it in mind. What’s more, I’m confident that such a person would find their membership quickly revoked if they held true to their professed beliefs in feminism and, more importantly, acted upon those beliefs.

In short, I think a feminist is defined by their actions more than their stated beliefs. This follows from the mantra “if you want to know what a person believes, watch what they do.”

In the LDS Temple Recommend Interview, members are asked the following question:

Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

In essence, the LDS Church wants to know whether one supports causes or groups whose aims run counter to LDS Mormonism. Fair enough. I think that calling oneself a “feminist” requires a similar level of commitment to the ideals of feminism, and one measure of that commitment would be a denunciation of organizations that are actively fighting against feminist ideals.

The LDS Church is near the top of the list of organizations that are at war with feminist ideals. There aren’t many organizations still in existence that so obviously place women into a role of inferiority. What’s more, the LDS Church has been actively working against feminism and feminist ideals for decades.

To sum up, if one has dedicated their time, talents and energies to the furtherance of the LDS Church, then I think it disingenous to call oneself a feminist.

However, as I stated, I think it might be possible, and here are the minimum steps that I think one would need to take to qualify.

1) Stop paying tithing to the LDS Church.

The LDS Church has become a political organization that spends money to influence in the political arena. Specifically, the LDS Church has been fighting the rights of individuals, including the feminist movement and the gay-rights movement. Tithing money goes directly to support these causes, both directly and indirectly, and I think it inconsistent to financially support such an effort. At the very least, if one found this step too difficult, then one should donate at least as much money to causes of feminism as one donates to the LDS Church.

2) Don’t Participate in Patriarchal and Authoritarian Rituals

…such as the Temple ceremony. Can one claim to hold feminist ideals and yet further the acts and actions of patriarchal oppression? The two are incompatible. Specifically in the LDS Temple Ceremony, participants are asked to donate all of their time and talents to support the anti-feminist authoritarian regime. Additionally, in this ritual, men are placed in positions of superiority above women. It is inconsistent to take such an oath and yet to call oneself a feminist.

3) Renouce membership in the Priesthood

If one is male, then they should renounce membership in the Patriarchal Priesthood. That one would recognize the exclusiveness of the Club of the all-male LDS Leadership and privilege, and yet still participate in it, reveals the nature of one’s commitment to feminist ideals. It is inconsistent with feminist ideals to knowingly benefit from the very structure that subjugates women.

4) Openly espouse Feminist ideals and denounce anti-feminist ideals

In sacrament meeting talks, in bearing one’s testimony, in leading and participating in sunday school lessons, in teaching children. The feminist should speak openly and boldly for ideals of feminism, and be willing to renounce those teachings and leaders that support anti-feminist ideals. This transcends a mere statement of “doubts” towards the anti-feminist leanings of the organization, and becomes an affirmative defense of feminist ideals.

5) Spend more time arguing with Anti-feminists than with feminists

If one finds themselves engaged in battle more often with those who are fighting the anti-feminism of the LDS Church than with the authoritarian and anti-feminist movements within the Church, then the commitment to feminist ideals is suspect. If these argumenst tend to cause one to be more angry at the critics of the Church than with the actions of the Church itself, then this reveals, to me, where the fundamental commitment lies.

6) Be willing to pay a price for your convictions *

The summation of all of this is that the LDS Feminist must value feminism more than they value the perpetuation of the very institutional organization that devalues women. If one professes feminist values, and yet is unwilling to pay the price that may be required to fight for those values, then the label of “feminist” is meaningless.
This list is not exhaustive.