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Mormon women seeking middle ground to greater equality
Feminism » Ordination may be a long shot, but activists see a middle ground to greater visibility and involvement in their faith.

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Women have "only token participation" in the church’s semiannual General Conferences and "have largely been erased from our [doctrinal] manuals. They show up in the Ensign [the church’s official magazine] in very limited ways," Ulrich says. "Even the Relief Society visiting teaching messages primarily quote men."

A recent churchwide publication, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society, featured profiles and writing from earlier Mormon women, she says, "but as far as I can tell it has no acknowledged place in the curriculum."

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This "strange, new phenomenon" of the disappearing women "is so at odds with my early experience in the church, my understanding of the gospel, and of what looks to me like simple common sense that I am simply stunned that it persists," Ulrich writes. "The sad thing is, many young women in the church have never experienced anything else."

Generational issue » Kristine Haglund, editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, also worries about the impact on younger LDS women.

"The limited vision of women’s roles that Mormonism imported from post-World War II American culture is unappealing and uninspiring for many young women," Haglund writes in an email. "We must articulate a Mormonism that is less about lifestyle choice and more about spiritual power and a personal relationship with God that can enlighten all the facets of the lives young women choose for themselves."

Mormon women yearn to be more useful in the faith "to bless the lives of women throughout the world, particularly in the global south," Haglund says, "and, in turn, incorporate the wisdom of women from outside of the United States into our curricula and leadership."

Women have become "the support staff for the real work of men," says LDS activist and writer Chelsea Shields Strayer, "which means we are basically working with only 50 percent of our human capital."

It is essential, says Strayer from Baltimore, "to open up new arenas for women to have stewardship, autonomy and trust their own revelation."

That might help deal with some of the LDS Church’s other gender issues, she says, such as the "inappropriateness of young girls confessing sexual sins to their male bishops, all-male disciplinary councils and the lack of women’s voices in religious text, curriculum and decision-making bodies."

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It is time, these women say, to expand opportunities and experiences available to Mormon women.

But what about the church’s 1995 family proclamation, with its detailed descriptions of men as providers and women as nurturers?

Those who have "issues with the Proclamation on the Family deserve to be heard," says Margaret Young, a BYU English professor. "The role definition in that document troubles many women. Might that be a document which could use more female input and even a rewrite, since it has not yet been declared official revelation, nor (as far as I know) has yet had female input?"

Young says in her own moments of trouble, she turns to other women.

"I have lunch with other mothers who are meeting great challenges in their parenting, and we comfort and support one another," she says. "I would like to feel that same sense in General Conference — and from a woman’s voice."

Young sees a powerful sense of male/female equality in LDS temple rituals.

"Because I am an ordinance worker, I do many things with authority in the temple," she says. "I believe that I hold the priesthood jointly with my husband and would like to be considered his equal in blessing our children when they’re ill or needing comfort. That simply feels right to me, that we, as parents, lay our hands on our children’s heads."

Plus, Young would like to follow the example of her female progenitors — blessing daughters before they give birth.

"There is something beautiful," she says, "about a woman blessing the one whom she herself delivered before."

In the current system, though, could anyone do that without priesthood power?

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