Howdy, my name is Jen. I was born and raised in Orem, Utah, as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I currently live with Todd in the Heber Valley (Utah) with our horses, rabbits, cat, and hopefully we will add some chickens, goats, and a dog to our mix soon. We work together at his business designing and selling clothing for children. We love working together, and we love that our hours are flexible enough to enjoy time with our animals, and our families, especially his six adorable grandchildren. I love studying Mormonism and I feel lucky to share in such a rich and unique heritage.
For as long as I can remember, I loved the faith. I believed Mormonism was the way to find truth and light and peace. I loved the community, and I wanted to be a good Mormon woman. I had many questions and concerns about the unequal way that people of different races were treated in the church when I was very young, and as I grew older I struggled with questions about gender inequality.
I believed my questions and concerns all came from a “bad” place in me. If I was good and righteous, I would let the questions go. Inequality, sexism and racism wouldn’t bother me. I would be happy with my “proper” place as a woman. It felt wrong, but I dismissed those feelings and tried to repent and be silent with my questions and concerns like I was supposed to.
I also believed that knowledge came from studying and trying to understand. So, I would vacillate between trying to keep silent and not think about the inequities I saw, and then try to understand what I saw and felt.
The harder I tried to understand the doctrine that made me feel unequal, the more unequal I felt. I came to the realization that I might not be the problem I thought I was. Maybe there was a problem in the structure of the church. I could only survive if I made big changes in my life. I had to make a choice to try to change the church or I could choose to leave it and risk losing everything: my beliefs, my community, my job (I was working at BYU at the time), possibly my family, my salvation, my hope, maybe everything. I didn’t know all that I could lose, but I decided I had to do what was best for me, even if that meant starting over completely.
Eventually, I left my religion behind me. I still love some of the things Mormonism taught me, and I think I will always consider myself a Mormon. My family, my people are all Mormon.
Up until a couple weeks ago, I had followed Ordain Women, but didn’t really care to add much to the conversation. I didn’t feel like I could add to their cause, and wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
Then something clicked in me. On the Ordain Women Facebook page, someone posted a picture of black men in the fifties and compared the movement to Ordain Women to civil rights. There was some backlash saying, “They aren’t even close to the same thing. A few women wish they could bless their child compared to men and women that were beaten and raped.”
For me, the story of gender inequality included being beaten and raped. It included being voiceless, powerless, and feeling less than. It included being directed to stay in the marriage by my priesthood leaders. It included being told that whatever violence I faced, even to death, my role and my responsibility was to my husband and to God. I was told that a man couldn’t rape his wife, because she was his wife. I was reminded of my temple covenants to obey my husband. I was reminded that my proper role as a wife was to keep my husband happy. I was dying in order to be the kind of woman the church and my male leaders wanted me to be.
I understand that not every Mormon woman is oppressed and voiceless. There are many women who are very happy with the way things are. But the current system is definitely a breeding place for a voiceless and oppressed woman to get her start. It is where I learned to be voiceless. It is where and how I learned that it was okay to abuse and use me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I can’t help wondering how different my life would have been if the system was different.
If women had the priesthood and were taught they were equal in authority, my marriage would have been so different.
If I had had the priesthood, and was told I was equal to my husband, and we had equal authority, my life would not have been in danger. If I believed I had a right to say no, and demand that my body be respected (instead of being reminded that it is a sin for a woman to deny her husband sex), if I had had woman leaders to talk to, and they believed in their own authority, it would have been so different. I can barely fathom the life story I could have been telling you now.
If I had been taught and believed women had just as much authority and right to their own authority, I would have protected myself. I wouldn’t have needed men or even female church leaders, because I would have never stayed in a place so harmful and degrading.
I don’t plan on ever going back to the Mormon Church. It served me well, and I had to move on. I would love to help create a better system, a more equal world for all of the girls and women that I love. Maybe there is some other 19-year-old newlywed who needs to understand that she is equal. She has equal authority. She doesn’t need a man to tell her what to do, who to be, and how to act.
Maybe through Ordain Women, and through attention, we can save that other 19-year-old girl from suffering.