Feminism

by Mary Stovall Richards

Feminism is the philosophical belief that advocates the equality of women and men and seeks to remove inequities and to redress injustices against women. Far from a monolithic ideology, feminist theory embraces a variety of views on the nature of women and argues for a pluralistic vision of the world that regards as equally important the experiences of women of all races and classes.

In the United States, "feminism" has been an umbrella term encompassing a coalition of those women and men who share a devotion to the cause of women's rights but who often differ on specific goals and tactics. Personal, religious, and political values all influence which reforms and measures a specific feminist will support.

The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints converges in some areas with the ideals of feminism and diverges in others. It insists on the absolute spiritual equality of women and men, proclaiming that "all are alike unto God," both "black and white, bond and free, male and female" (2 Ne. 26:33; Gal. 3:28). Gifts of the spirit are given equally to men and women: "And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also" (Alma 32:23). LDS principles argue unequivocally for the development of the full potential of each person, regardless of gender. (See Equality)

So central is the equality of all humankind to Christ's message that during his earthly ministry Christ openly rejected cultural proscriptions that relegated women to an inferior spiritual and political status. He recognized women's spirits and intellects; he taught them directly (Luke 10:38-42); he identified himself as the Messiah to a woman, the first such affirmation recorded in the New Testament (John 4:26); he healed women (Matt. 15:22-28) and raised a woman from the dead (Luke 8:49-56). After his resurrection, he appeared first to a woman, whom he asked to tell his apostles of the glorious event (John 20:11-18), although according to Jewish law women were not considered competent as legal witnesses.

Such equality of women and men is based on the celestial model of heavenly parents, both Father and Mother, who share "all power" and have "all things…subject unto them" (D&C 132:20) and who invite their children to emulate their example of perfect love and unity and become as they are. Mormons are taught that righteous power, held by heavenly parents and shared with their children, is never coercive but is characterized "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned" (D&C 121:41). While the implications of these expansive beliefs are always subject to individual implementation, Mormon women and men have found in these doctrines sources of spiritual strength, including the desire to know more about Mother in Heaven.

LDS doctrine is, however, at odds with several versions of feminism, including those that emphasize female sufficiency apart from men. Because Church doctrine stresses the necessity of overcoming differences and forging a celestial unity between husband and wife in order to achieve exaltation (cf. 1 Cor. 11:11), the radical feminist critique of the family as an institution of repression for women and the call for its replacement find little support among Latter-day Saints. While individual families may be repressive and dysfunctional, most Latter-day Saints believe that the defect is not inherent in the structure. Indeed, the family is viewed as the source of both men's and women's greatest work and joy, not only on earth but also in eternity.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Family home page; Teachings About Motherhood and the Role of Women home page)

Bibliography

Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach, and Lavina Fielding Anderson, eds. Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective. Urbana, Ill., 1987.

Dialogue 6 (Summer 1971) and 14 (Winter 1981). Both issues have a number of essays on women in the Church.

Donovan, Josephine. Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism. New York, 1985.