This past Sunday, during my brief interlude back home from a deposition marathon in Steve’s hometown of Calgary, we had our monthly meeting of the "Radmos" (Radical Mormon Women). The topic of discussion was a look at some versions of the Judeo-Christian creation myth, including the classical Christian, the LDS, some Gnostic views and the Lilith myth. But, as usual, our discussion soon evolved (devolved?) into an inquiry into whether and where our modern-day Eves exist in LDS culture and life. As a group we all seemed to be striving for LDS women in public discourse who provide examples of an exemplary life lived, a model to emulate, a beacon of wisdom. We don’t seem to have any.
Several women raised the example of Sheri Dew; Cheiko Okazaki also came up. We concluded that these few examples notwithstanding, the women in the General Relief Society Presidency talk about little birds and precious moments at General Conference and don’t give us much substance. Nor do we hear about the spouses of the male leadership of the church the way we do about those leaders themselves, and we don’t seem to have too many other women with a public face who also are active and participating members of the church.
I have to admit my ignorance for most of that discussion. Maybe because I grew up on the east coast or perhaps because of my aversion for the cult of personality in whatever form, I never have known – or cared – much about the personal lives of the "elite" of the church. I don’t think about Jennifer Aniston (okay, the breakup shook me a little), and I don’t think about the late Sister Hinckley (see, I don’t even know her first name). I certainly couldn’t name the members of the current General Relief Society presidency. Nonetheless, I do think a lot about ideas and where they come from. I appreciate that our male church leaders have good things to say. That doesn’t obviate the need for our church direction to come from additional and different perspectives, that is, from women. Also, as a feminist, I believe that the public images with which we are presented shape how we see ourselves as women and men. If women aren’t seen as a source of knowledge and wisdom in public, that affects how we see ourselves and each other in private. Even more importantly, it affects who we become and how we treat those around us.
So, first, please tell me if I am overlooking some great female figures in the public face of the church. Second, let’s talk about how we can change that. I don’t mean we need to have women in the public for that sake per se. This is not about seeking glory or fame. I want to know in what ways we as strong women (or as men who love and support strong women as I hope you all do) can participate as part of the public face of and message to the members of the church. Should we publish in Dialogue? Run for public office in our local communities? Win a spot on American Idol? Or, is the problem I outline intractable until women hold the priesthood and therefore have the ecclesiastical and administrative responsibilities and correlative power and influence that run automatically to the men in our church?
As somewhat of an aside, I also offer the query, is this just a silly diversion from our true lives? I know so many fascinating women who are exemplary in their careers, in their personal lives, in their community service. In fact, they are so exemplary that they are too tired to make sure that these things are noticed by anyone else. So, I don’t want this discussion to degenerate into why women shouldn’t seek to be noticed for their good works. I am really aiming at the issue of why we as a church culture don’t recognize these women and provide them a public forum the way that we do for men.