Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism
Utah women today might be surprised to learn their grandmothers' views on feminist issues, according to Maxine Hanks. LDS Relief Society co-founder Sarah Kimball referred to herself as "a woman's rights woman, " while Bathsheba Smith was called on Relief Society mission in 1870 to preach equal rights for women.
The society editorialized that females belonged not only "in the nursery" but also "in the library, the laboratory, the observatory." Sisters sent east to study medicine were assured that "when men see that women can exist without them, it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them." Temple officiators were called "priestesses, " Eliza R. Snow the "prophetess, " and women were discouraged from confessing to bishops on grounds that personal matters "should be referred to the Relief Society president and her counselors." Women were set apart as healers "with power to rebuke diseases."
In addition, Mormon theology spoke reassuringly of a Mother God of the divinity of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Eve. No wonder Relief Society president Emmeline B. Wells could write with confidence: "Let woman speak for herself; she has the right of freedom of speech. Women are too slow in moving forward, afraid of criticism, of being called unwomanly, of being thought masculine."
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Discourse that is perceived to be authoritative defines membership in a society
and teaches "correct" values. Patriarchal discourse reveals specifically how men
define and direct women. Throughout Western history, prevailing images of male
Unlike Jacob, who was a prophet in a patriarchal culture, the voice we hear and
the blessing we receive is intensely female. "When I let myself be quiet, and listen
— listen to the feeling in my gut, I experience spirituality. When I respond to my ...
For his public expressions of misogyny, see Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball:
Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 234-
36. 43. John Smith's patriarchal blessing to Nancy Howd, 16 Dec. 1845, in Jesse
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