Insignificant Events That Make a Mormon Feminist

I have always been a feminist on weekdays but not always on Sundays. My innate desire to promote equality in politics, business and family life has usually been encouraged.  In contrast, I learned to suppress any concerns about inequity at church because I was usually so quickly hushed. Over time, enough small and insignificant events accumulated that I realized that I was not just a feminist, I was a Mormon feminist; I longed for equality at church just as much as I wanted it in other spheres of life. Here are some of those moments that made me the Mormon feminist I am today.

Age 7: A recently returned missionary spoke to my Primary, wearing a beautiful dress in the style of the country where she had served. It was a revelation for me.  Girls can go on missions?  Why hadn’t anyone told me this before?  I decided I would serve a mission, too.

Age 12: About half of my Sunday School class members (all of the boys) spent each Sunday School hour shooting spit wads, knocking over chairs, tormenting the teacher and making fun of the better behaved class members (all of the girls). Strangely, God had recently selected these bullies to hold His priesthood and administer His sacrament, passing over all of the class members who seemed capable of reverence. As I ducked from the spit wads, I frequently wondered why God would make such an irrational selection.

Age 16:  I vented about the church youth calendar to my family as we ate Sunday dinner.  “This week, the Young Men are going boating and next week they will go camping.  Again.  The Young Women will be cleaning an old lady’s house.” My sister chimed in:  “And she has six cats.”

Age 20: My date nonchalantly explained that he hoped to find a wife who wasn’t as smart or spiritual as he was because that would make it easier for him to fulfill his priesthood duty to be leader in the home.  Hmm.  Did that mean that he considered me intellectually and spiritually weak enough to be worthy of going out with him?

Age 21: The Elders in my mission district returned from Priesthood Meeting and told us sister missionaries (accurately, I later verified) that President Hinckley, the very person who had signed my mission call and sent me to this part of the world, had been gossiping about sister missionaries behind their backs at the only meeting of General Conference that sisters were not invited to.

Age 26: My newlywed bliss was interrupted by a series of disturbing dreams that I was forced to share my new husband with some other woman in a polygamist marriage.

Age 30: My sister was removed from her position as seminary teacher for the offense of becoming pregnant within wedlock. When I expressed my shock that the Church Education System actively discriminates against mothers, another woman defended the policy, pointing out that we wouldn’t want youth exposed to working mothers.

Age 32: The day before the annual ward primary program, the bishop decided to exercise his right to make final decisions and cut several children out of the program.  They had been rehearsing their parts for three weeks, ever since the bishop approved the original script.

NursingAge 35: I lobbied my bishopric and stake presidency to move the church Mother’s Lounge from a tiny, stinky closet to a more reasonable location where more than one woman could feed her baby at a time.  After two years, I prevailed.  I wondered if it would take two years to accomplish such a small feat if any of my leaders had ever lactated.

April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at


  1. Death by a thousand paper cuts. People can look at a list like this and say this really isn’t a big deal, your choosing to be offended at outlier events. But what they maybe don’t realize is that these things happen all the time. Women get reminders of their lower status every time they go to church, every time they read the scriptures, every time they go to the temple. There are some women who have learned how to ignore these reminders or have found justifications that work for them and I rejoice that they don’t have to feel this pain. But there are also women like us who woke up one day and couldn’t ignore them anymore, who couldn’t make excuses for the inequities anymore. It is like a death and at they very least it should be validated. Thank you for your post and for the reminder that sometimes it is the smallest things that hurt the most.

    • “It is like a death and at they very least it should be validated.” Exactly!

      Feminist angst or experiences did not bring me to search out for the feminist community. While my eyes are opening and I’ve now had a few experiences, as a (then) young adult convert to a student ward in a very liberal area I just haven’t had the experiences that many talk about.

      But I trust others’ perceptions and feelings. I hate to see others invalidated, their feelings dismissed. I mourn the death and wounds we all experience. I validate you ladies! I wish I could do more.

    • “Women get reminders of their lower status every time they go to church, every time they read the scriptures, every time they go to the temple. ”

      Exactly. It makes me tired.

    • “Death by a thousand paper cuts” Yes, indeed. Though for me, a few of these things have been slashing wounds. The temple was a particularly brutal experience.

      Great post, April. I bet many of us here could make a similar list of incidents that made us realize that all is not well in Zion.

  2. I agree that it’s the little things that add up to a larger feeling of hurt and a sense of displacement in the church. I was with you on so many of the instances you listed. “I’ve felt that.” “That’s happened to me.” Etc. I think it’s important to acknowledge that these things happen, and it’s important to discuss how they make us feel and try to help the church move in a more equitable direction. Thanks for adding your experiences to the dialogue. We need more people to open up and talk about these things.

    There was just one thing that that I couldn’t get behind, though. President Hinckley’s instructions about sister missionaries were problematic, and I think it’s fair and important to talk about that. The fact that he gave that instruction in the General Conference Priesthood meeting rather than the church-wide meetings is also problematic. However, to call it “gossiping” gives the wrong impression.

    Gossiping is a much more mean spirited and personal thing than the thing that President Hinckley did. If he’d gotten up and said, “Aren’t sister missionaries the worst? They’re always having some emotional problem and they can’t handle the work…”–something I’ve heard a lot from male return missionaries–that might be gossiping. When I first read the “Age 21” paragraph, for a second that’s what I thought you meant. If I hadn’t clicked on the link and seen that your verification was that particular talk, I might have gone on thinking that President Hinckley had really been gossiping about women.

    This is just one little word and it might not seem important. Besides, it does make for more interesting reading. But the thing is, that as we discuss the problems for women in the church, I think we need to make sure that we are 1. accurate, 2. fair, and 3. charitable. Even the little words we use can pull us out of the realm of respectful dialogue.

    I don’t mean for my response to focus on that one little aspect of this post and ignore the value of the rest of it. I think it’s brave, especially considering some of the experiences mentioned here, to be willing to publicly open up and discuss the problems that exist in the church culture. We need more women to do this. So thank you, again, for being willing.

    • While I agree that at first “gossiping” seemed out of place, the way April wrote it makes it sound like the elders called it such. “The Elders … told us sister missionaries that President Hinckley, … had been gossiping”. But even if that was not the intent and doesn’t exactly portray how things happened, it can still be accurately, fairly, and charitably portraying how things appeared to April (and others) and how she felt about it. Just because Pres. Hinckley may not have intended those things mean spiritedly doesn’t mean they can’t be received that way directly or indirectly (via the elders) through no fault of April’s. And it is important that this possibility is talked about, especially when it seems out of place, so that we can know it is a possibility and better be able to avoid it in the future.

    • Alright, I can see that this part of my post needs further clarification. Rose is right that Hinckley was not being mean-spirited and it is fair for her to critique my choice of the word, “gossiping.” I also appreciate that she recognizes that while the comments were not mean, they were problematic and the context in which they were delivered–a men-only meeting–is even more problematic.

      I checked Merriam Webster, and according to their official definition, Hinckley was not gossiping. However, in the online discussion of the word, commenters felt that “gossiping” implies ‘saying anything about anyone who is not in the room at the time that you say it’ or ‘saying anything about a person who is not in the room at the time, that you would not say if they were in the room.’ According to these connotations, Hinckley was gossiping.

      Moreover, he chose to deliver his comments in such a way that the only way sister missionaries could receive them is by means of gossip. The first thing one of the Elders said to me after Priesthood Meeting was, “Boy, President Hinckley sure doesn’t like sister missionaries!” As a missionary in a third world country, I had no access to Internet or newspapers. My only way of hearing what Hinckley said was via gossip from male church members until the Liahona came to me two months later.

      When I finally read what Hinckley actually said, the niceness of his tone did not make me feel any better about the less polished versions of the talk that had been related to me verbally over a two-month period. (Not to mention the fact that the niceness was not enough to forgive the content of the message.)

      I think I am particularly critical of Hinckley in this matter because he worked professionally in the field of public relations prior to his ministry, so I cannot believe that his choice to make such an announcement about women in a male-only setting was a simple PR mistake. He knew better.

      • I’m still confused, but mostly very annoyed at the stupid elders who managed to get “Pres Hinkley doesn’t like Sister Missionaries” from that talk. I keep reading the talk and it seems more like that small portion of the talk was an admonition to Bishops and SPs to not pressure young women into going on missions. My dear wife was pressured quite a bit by her Bishop to go on a mission, despite her own promptings that she should not go. She listened to the spirit, rather than the over-enthusiasm of the Bishop.

      • Frank, I think you are right that Hinckley intended to convey the message that bishops and stake presidents should not pressure women to serve missions.

        Unfortunately, Hinckley did not relay this message well, so I understand where the confusion comes from. He contradicted himself in the speech. The idea that women should not be pressured by bishops or stake presidents is a good one that recognizes a woman’s autonomy. Unfortunately, Hinckley himself encouraged practices in his speech that deny female autonomy.

        Take this:
        Some of them [young women] will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

        So, a woman’s “wish” to go on a mission is only valuable if “the idea persists” after three other people have had a chance to try to talk her out of it?

        Or Hinckley’s own confession that he chose a rather odd forum for such an announcement:
        Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.

        As I mentioned in my post, I decided to serve a mission when I was seven years old. I felt like the bishop’s and stake president’s role in the process was to verify my worthiness when I told them about my autonomous decision and submitted my paperwork. I learn from Hinckley’s speech that he feels that these two men actually had the “judgment in this matter.” In fact, my own autonomous decision-making is so irrelevant, that he did not feel it necessary to give a speech about this topic in a place where I could hear it. Only the bishop and stake president were important enough decision-makers to discuss the issue with.

      • President Hinckley was “my” prophet. I had such a great love for him when I was a teenager, and it really hurts to hear him saying such crappy, crappy things (which I didn’t notice at the time–though that’s not surprising in this case). Being angry at such a sweet man, the prophet I adored, does not feel very good.

      • This was so disheartening to read – and so undermining of the incredible efforts and sister missionaries around the world. And yet unsurprisingly representative of how I have perceived women’s roles to be taught in the church.

        I don’t know if this is true of all missions but mine could have used a few more sisters. Maybe this is an effect of spending too much time at temple square?

  3. April,
    Well said. It’s hard to see all of these things and not just be enraged.

    I loved your first line, “I have always been a feminist on weekdays but not always on Sundays.”
    That was true for me for a long time. I remember being very envious in YW that the boys got to do way more fun stuff than we did. I hope that these things are changing for the better for the youth.

    I don’t understand the one about the Bishop cutting kids out of the program, what happened?

    A small step forward in our ward was last Sunday we had a missionary homecoming (outgoing/incoming missionaries speak regularly in our ward) and for the first time instead of the Aaronic Priesthood choir, which sings an unrehearsed rendering of “Called to Serve,” we had a very nice YW/YM choir with piano and flute accompaniment.
    It was a lovely turn of events, very impressive.

    • Okay, here is more detail about the Primary Program incident. We assigned some children to lead the congregation in congregational hymns (I was the Primary chorister and I had been teaching the older kids how to lead music for about a year and some of them were very good at it) and we assigned a child who played piano to play a Primary song as a solo. I know that it is more traditional to just have the children sing for the congregation the whole time, so I knew there was risk of veto, but we informed the bishop of our plans long before we made the children’s assignments so that if he said no, we would be able to assign those children something else instead and they would never know the difference. The night before the program, when we had already held all of our rehearsals and it was too late to give the children new parts, the bishop called and said that he had decided that only adults should lead music and play instruments in Sacrament meeting. By the way, he never attended any of our rehearsals, so he never saw how well the children were doing at leading music and playing the piano.

  4. Oh, April, I have had several of these same experiences. Mraynes expressed my feelings exactly. I tolerated the many papercuts, or made excuses for them, for so many years. Then there came a point when the bleading, and the pain it caused, could no longer be ignored. I don’t think there is any turning back from that point. I think that in most cases, there is no offense intended. Nonetheless, the offense is received. Ignorance on the part of the offender does not make it less hurtful to the offended.

  5. Brilliant post, April. Thank you for writing it.

    I agree with you every whit. I think the biggest moment for me was when I was in YW, and we were told by the leadership there that boys had less sexual control than girls. It wasn’t even less self-control, just overall sexual control– that if my skirt was too short, then I was forcing a man to rape me. It made no sense with the law of agency; it made no sense with my own budding sexual desire. It also made no sense because I thought that men were somehow more righteous than me, because they got to have the priesthood… so if they are more righteous than me, because they get the priesthood, then why do they not have any sexual control? None of it made sense. It still doesn’t, because it is nonsensical. So– then, as now, I am not sure if I am a feminist, or if it is that I am just an advocate for common sense.

    • So I’m guessing the instruction in the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet is a step in the right direction?

      “Remember that a young man and a young woman on a date are responsible to protect each other’s honor and virtue.”

      • I dunno… that sort of makes it sound again like women are responsible for men, but then men are responsible for women to make the “right” choices….blaming someone else for your own actions never sits well with me. Blaning yourself for someone else’s actions is also horribly problematic as well…. what do you think?

      • I suppose it works better, but it still leaves the blame-game open… would be nice to include self-respect and self restraint as well as just being in charge of your date’s virtue.

  6. I don’t consider any of these insignificant anymore. They’re the very things that cause me so much anxiety and remind me of past church practices that still cause me anxiety and give me nightmares that I haven’t been able to go to church for some time. On the rare occurrences that I make it through sacrament meeting or even make it to relief society I wonder if there are other women around me feeling the same way I do but don’t dare let on. There must be.

  7. Oh, this post is fantastic. It really is “death by a thousand papercuts”–except you know what else I just thought? Papercuts have a much easier time getting recognized as something awful. Everyone knows that a papercut is the worst, totally despite how small it seems. But when you try and explain these things to a man–or to one of the defend-the-patriarchy women–they just don’t seem to get it. If you have a papercut, people will groan with you. If you try and explain why being an LDS woman is painful every single day, you will get very little understanding.

    The first moment I remember (I have an awful memory) was sitting in my seminary class as a senior in high school, hearing my teacher rhapsodize about the temple sealing and how she was absolutely okay knowing she would never be allowed to know her husband’s name, even though he knew hers, because she had faith. I literally felt sick to my stomach, and that sick feeling has never failed to return when I’ve thought about it in the last ten years.

  8. Each one of us has 10-12 of these “paper cuts” that we can list off without even thinking. Thank you for helping us to think about them. This is a fantastic post!

  9. I once had a member of the Bishopric call me at home for my husband’s work number (pre cell phones) and then call him to ask if I would speak on Sunday. Really? If it had been now I would have called back and said you talk to me But it was 10 years ago and I was not as smart. So I gave talk about women in the scriptures. But it is still offensive.

  10. My mom never understood what all my fuss was about. She said, “I’m sorry, Honey, I just never thought about those things.”

    Well, that changed when she was Stake Young Women’s President. She had organized a Young Women’s presentation/program or something. At the last minute, there was a conflict. The men had planned on playing basketball that night. So, my mother and all the women were told to move the program across town to another church house. It made her feel about an inch tall, and REALLY pissed off.

    My first run in was when I was 7 years old. I wanted $2 from my mother to join the Brownies. She told me I didn’t need Girl Scouts because I had Primary. I cried. I told her it wasn’t fair, because Adam still had Boy Scouts. She gave me the $2.

    It only got worse from there. My list is too long, but I really enjoyed yours.

  11. While serving in South Africa, one of the most marginalizing statements against sister missionaries was the innocuous comment – “Elders, welcome to zone conference.”
    Sisters were consistently overlooked, could not be district leaders or zone leaders, could not baptize their own investigators, but were mere drones who were called Elder because the mission president was too lazy to acquire a new habit of saying Elders and Sisters or even just missionaries.

  12. I read the link to President Hinckley’s conference address. For some reason I find it cuts me deeper when these horribly discriminatory comments are coming from the institution’s most acknowledged authority to speak as the “mouthpiece of God”. The president of the church sets the tone for the whole organization. All I have to say is that it viscerally affects me when I hear messages like that. Mercifully, I was oblivious to said sentiment when I chose to serve a mission. For so many years these types of messages went right on by me without any trouble because I was sleepwalking in the daze of patriarchy which I’d been told was God’s way my entire life. Now that I no longer am asleep, the acute awareness of what is actually being conveyed is so intensely painful. It is messages like that one that make me wonder how much longer I can, or even want to, stay an active member of the LDS church. I feel despondent often because I don’t see any real change on the horizon. Will the women have to leave in mass exodus for the leaders to start seeking revelation on the Divine Feminine? Is speaking out in church going to be enough? I already do that and I feel lonely. I’m a complete minority.

    • Thea, excluding the mission stuff since I didn’t go on one, I could have written everything you said. I’m right there with you wondering how to make it work when seeing all the ways the church is a sexist organization is becoming increasingly painful.

    • Yes- its already stared to happen- women are leaving, sadly. I have to believe that change happens from the bottom. And so I stay and pray and change myself and all who will listen to the sound of my voice.

    • I can sympathize Thea. The only problem with teaching people to discern right from wrong is that at some point they’ll be able to point out your mistakes. After church one day my husband was trying to get my attention about feeding the kids while I was in a depression induced daze. He jokingly said I was zombified. I burst into tears because I realized that was what church was making me like. I think our generation is going through something similar to the reform that happened when the printing press was invented and people were able to have their own copies of the bible to read. I think the internet is our printing press. Sharing ideas and experiences spreads knowledge and awareness. Awareness is a light, revealing wrongs that previously went unseen. It’s painful to be aware sometimes. Somewhere along the way I chose to be able to function for my family and stopped going to church. The principles that I believe in are reinforced to me every day through interacting with them.

  13. My feeling is that most of the events (except age 21-30) listed here happened due to local mentality and culture, not religion. If men are raised to be insensitive and self-centered in your society, then most likely they will still behave like that sometimes at Church too. Unfortunately, not only parents and Church influence who you grow up as, but also media, school, etc. Living in 3 different countries in Europe, I did not feel this discrimination at Church, nor heard complaints from my female friends. Maybe I will later… I am still, however, stuggling to understand why a man can have more than one wife, but a woman can’t have more than one husband… Other than that, I always felt that women were just as precious at Church as men.

    • I think you’re right about some things being a result of culture. If something is wrong though, it should be acknowledged. Especially within religion. The inequity doesn’t stop at local leaders and current policy, it’s backed up by LDS doctrine and covenant ceremonies.

  14. Funny – nothing in the post or comments hit me quite like Ryan’s comment completely dismissing everything that was said. I think that is what I am the most tired of – my concerns being dismissed because they aren’t viewed through a man’s perspective. That is how you know the church is male-centric: only male perspectives count.

  15. Interesting posts and replies. I’ve read through this thread completely, and would like to offer some thoughts/questions for consideration, if I may. First, Ryan’s comments did not seem to me to be disrespectful of President Hinckley’s remarks, but rather a defense; I believe he labeled the phrases as being “completely innocent” with the intent to describe them as innocent of wrongdoing or “gossip” rather than a lack of appreciation for the time and effort the Prophet put into his talks. Second, I appreciated the comments regarding immaturity, local (negative) culture, and simple human error as the basis for some of the unfortunate incidents in April’s post, rather than the Church’s teachings. I believe without hesitation that the gospel, when personally applied in its pure form, does not promote discrimination against women, and neither does the Church or its leaders. Unfortunately, humans err. However, I also believe it is vital that we do not “make a man an offender for a word,” and I think it essential that we don’t apply an individual’s mistakes to the entire Church. For every man or woman who mistakenly treats someone else in a less-than-Christlike manner, there are many others who are striving to reach out with love and humility, trying hard to not offend others, as we all should be doing. While I disagreed with Ryan’s sarcastic tone and delivery, I saw several of his points (as I’ve already stated previously) as valid. And last, I would respectfully submit the idea that the Church is not male-centric, or that only male perspectives count, a comment that seemed to me to be somewhat bitter, sarcastic, and judgmental. I am a well-educated female who thinks independently for herself, and I appreciate your consideration of these suggestions.

    • “I believe without hesitation that the gospel, when personally applied in its pure form, does not promote discrimination against women”

      I think many of the women here would agree with that statement, but would disagree with the addition of “and neither does the church or it’s leaders” citing past and current practices as well as current official doctrine. I think the discussions in this post as well as others on this blog are the first steps in awareness and progress.

  16. I know I shouldn’t bother because Ryan is obviously not even TRYING to understand our point of view, and it’s not worth engaging when someone just wants to argue. But it just makes me so angry when men have the nerve to waltz in and tell us we should “let things go.” Who are you to judge our experiences and decide whether or not our feelings are valid? The fact that we are even still HERE is proof of just how much we do let these things go. If we weren’t so well-practiced in letting things go, we would have left a loooooooong time ago. But that isn’t even the point.

    What part of “a thousand paper cuts” did you not understand, Ryan? This stuff happens OVER AND OVER throughout our entire lives. Do you think this is a comprehensive list of everything April has experienced? Does it not mean anything to you that so many other women can relate? Can you not tell that we are expressing HURT? Please, stop placing judgment. Try to have the smallest bit of empathy. Consider, for once, that you just might not be in a position to know what we are talking about.

    • I agree. It’s really tiring to be hit with the same problem over and over and over again throughout your life, and to sometimes be told it’s no problem at all, or even to have it be acknowledged as a legitimate problem on occasion, and then be told “Oh big deal! Let it go. They didn’t mean any harm by it.” We are telling you it is harming us. We are telling you it is a big deal to us. We are telling you so you can learn, and stop inadvertently causing us emotional harm.

  17. It makes me sad when I hear of experiences like this. I have heard similar sentiments from a few other women in the church. However, my experience has been much different. In the nearly 20 years I have been a member, I have never felt so much a part of a group – and on such equal ground with men. I can think of countless times I heard church leaders (including President Hinckley) extol the value of women, and admonish the men to treat us with love and respect. Our former Bishop just posted on FB how much he appreciates the women and mothers in his life and how awesome they are. I’ve heard our current Bishop share similar thoughts with the congregation. When I go to the temple, not only do I feel on equal ground with my husband as his help- meet and eternal companion, but I feel empowered and lifted up at the knowledge of the promised blessings that await me in the next life. I understand that boys of 12 and even boys of 20 may not always behave the way they should, but I have seen the priesthood offices provide as much in the way of opportunity for growth as they do for responsibility. This really is an interesting topic for me. I’ve often wondered why I have not seen some of the things other women of the church raise concerns over – maybe its a matter of perspective?

  18. […] is a concept described by the phrase “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Meghan explained it in her first comment on this post. There are so many of these little “paper cuts” and you can’t point to one for […]

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