I'm reading chapter one of Maxine Hanks' Women and Authority, and there's just so much sense here. Chapter one contains a discussion of the references that were made to the doctrine of Heavenly Mother around the turn of the century, when women's suffrage was a big thing. I am almost astounded by the freedom with which general authorities and church publications speak of her, and speak of the effect of the knowledge of her on the world. For instance:
An article in the Deseret News noted that the truthfulness of the doctrine of a mother in heaven would eventually be accepted by the world—that “it is a truth from which, when fully realized, the perfect ‘emancipation’ and ennobling of woman will result.” (“The Divine Feminine,” Deseret News, 4 Feb. 1905.)
Yes! I agree! So what the crap happened in the early 1990s, hmmm?? I mean, a popular argument against feminism is that feminism is aiming to separate womanhood from motherhood, that feminism wants women to be more like men, that feminism will destroy families. And I don't think it's just the popular, cultural understanding, but this fear came from general authorities (This talk, for instance, from 1993.) Well, say the fear-filled GAs, then we need to squash feminism like the evil infectious virus that it is! We need to stamp all feminists into the ground! Excommunicate them!
Maybe I'm exaggerating. Elder Packer isn't so extreme in his talk. (But general authorities did, effectively, do just that.) And he does say in this talk that women can find no real comfort in the feminist movement.
Ok. In some people's feminism, maybe it's true there is no comfort. But what about a church-led feminism? What about a feminism grounded in LDS doctrine like Mother in Heaven? Why can't we believe this idea from the Deseret News article (of frickin 1904!?), that a correct knowledge of womanhood, based on the TRUTH of a divine feminine, will yield the very best sort of feminism? Why can't we believe that this truth will lead women--who are hurting, who feel marginalized and left out, who feel driven to worldly (dangerous!) feminism because their church has ignored, disenfranchised and abandoned them--to a steady contentment? And not just to contentment, but to an ennobled seeking after the divine traits of eternal womanhood? Why do we have to stamp Mother in Heaven into obscurity, excommunicate those who speak of her, steadfastly refuse to inquire after her?
Mormon feminism could lead the world. Mormonism has the potential to reveal true womanhood to the world. But we don't. Why not?
Here's one explanation, offered by Hanks in her introduction:
As women, we live in male discourse—culture that speaks a male perspective. We may write a feminist “text” or perspective within a masculine discourse without substantively altering that discourse. This has happened in Mormonism, as well as in every other male-dominant culture: women’s texts are born into an incompatible or unsympathetic male context, and fade; this explains why women’s perspective repeatedly disappears in culture.
...And why feminism must be re-born in every generation, and this is why, when feminism IS reborn in each successive generation, women always feel that they are being revolutionary, even though generations of women have already fought these battles. Because of male-dominant culture, they must be fought anew with every generation. That's not to say that some advances of feminism don't remain. Women are accepted, theoretically, into basically all professions, women have more voice than they ever have--at least in Western society.
But our culture continues to stamp on motherhood. There still exists a significant gender gap in terms of wages and salary earned by men and women; the attitude of parental leave in the workplace discriminates against families, and it's always women who lose; divorce consistently results in a lower standard of living for the woman than for the man, due to the low value placed on the work of housewives.
And within the LDS church, instead of teaching women about motherhood using the divine Mother as an example, we say "LDS Women are Incredible!" Empty, condescending words. Elder Cook, good though his intentions may have been, asserts that
God placed within women divine qualities of strength, virtue, love, and the willingness to sacrifice to raise future generations of His spirit children.
God placed these divine qualities? Or Goddess? And were they placed? Or inherited? Nitpick, yes, I know. But it's details like these that empower or diminish.
I'd rather it were women, awake to the intrinsic power and authority of womanhood, who taught, strengthened and led women. I'd rather we not relied on "the priesthood," but on other empowered women, to tell us who we are and why we matter.
In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, authoritative female discourse dwindles into obscurity with every succeeding generation.