Claudia Bushman asks, is the self sacrifice motif for women in the Church so strong that no interest and care should be taken about their own lives? She observes that “too many women in the church live passive lives. We cannot afford to do that. We have talents to multiply.”
She also addresses the role of feminism in the Church. Only a few years ago, she told a Salt Lake Tribune writer that feminism was dead and that the word itself had become so frightening that the movement was now moribund and extinguished. She nevertheless, acknowledges that there are still “many old self-described LDS feminists around.” In fact, she considers herself to be a feminist and said “I doubt that many people would disagree with my definition of feminism, that the talents of women should be developed for the benefit of their communities, their church, their families and themselves.” By this definition, the Relief Society organization itself is a feminist organization. “Mormon women find emotional support and personal and spiritual growth there. The Relief Society, even in its curtailed form, provides a network for us to know, teach, and befriend each other. In Relief Society we are encouraged to exercise that most important feminist strategy, reaching beyond our patriarchal structure to a personal relationship with deity through which we can discover our own personal revelation and destinies.”
She adds: “Without autonomy, women would seem to have little power in this religion. But what is power in religion? Leadership seems important, but many religions, certainly ours, have stressed the humble vineyard worker as the powerful position. The greatest of all is the servant of all.”
She concludes by asking, what can women hope for from the Church? She states: “Women should realize that the Church is a great enabler, not a hindrance. The Church provides a wonderfully welcoming arena for working out our own ideas and building our talents as we seek for and follow our own revelation.”
The full text of Sister’ Bushman’s address can be found here.
Claudia L. Bushman holds degrees in literature and American Studies from Wellesley College, Brigham Young University, and Boston University and now teaches history and American studies at Columbia University in the City of New York. Dr. Bushman is the author and editor of ten books including Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah, Building the Kingdom (with Richard Bushman), and Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern America, as well as a variety of other American history books. She was the founding editor of Exponent II. Dr. Bushman is married to Richard Lyman Bushman and is the mother of six. Having held all the usual Church positions, she now finds most of her Church work off the books in such areas as chairman of the Harlem Bridge Builders committee, producer of the Manhattan Temple Jubilee at Radio City Music Hall, and chairman of the committee to install a statue of Joseph Smith near Wall Street in New York in honor of his 200th birthday.