Monday, February 2, 2015

"A Call for the Restoration of True Feminism" by Carolina Sagebin Allen

Up until about 7 or 8 years ago I proudly called myself a feminist.  Ever since I can remember there has been a passion and fire in my heart for women and women's issues that at times seems like a raging inferno. I remember standing in front of a statue of Venus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and openly weeping because I was so overcome with how beautiful she was, but more than that... how beautiful ALL women are. I didn't know any other word to use that described my passion and so I eagerly grabbed on to the term "feminism".

Then I went to college and I started to really study feminist writings  and even attended several international conferences where feminist scholars were in the majority, and what I heard made me sad. I began to see that most of the feminist women (even the old dead ones) didn't believe what I did. They had pieces of truth about women, but it was corrupted and twisted. I knew deep in my heart that what they were seeking after wasn't really going to bring women happiness in the end.

So for a long time I've been hesitant to call myself a feminist because, even though I think that if you cut me open I'd bleed pink, I've never found a group of feminists who I thought represented anything I could get on board with. But a few weeks ago a friend invited me to join the Facebook group for BIG OCEAN WOMEN, a group of (mainly) LDS women who are traveling to the United Nations (UN) to represent women of faith and to present a new (actually, the oldest ) form of feminism, one that isn't just a passing wave but the BIG OCEAN, the whole picture of  what will truly empower women throughout the earth.

I am so excited about this project, and hope that in the future I'll be able to go with them to the UN. But for now I want to share (with her permission) the story of Carolina Allen, the founder of Big Ocean Women, and what her vision is. Her story is similar to mine and when I read this the first time it made me cry, because it spoke to my heart so strongly.

This is the type of feminism I can rally around.

"A Call for the Restoration of True Feminism"  
by Carolina Sagebin Allen

From a young age I felt in my bones I was part of a vast ocean of women who had something unique and valuable to offer the world. Instinctively, I felt that being a girl was something special because I knew I was a daughter of God.

When I heard the term "feminism" as a youth, I claimed it. I liked the word; it spoke of my female power and influence. In my mind, feminism was spiritually infused. It had little to do with "sameness" and everything to do with "uniqueness." To me, women were inherently powerful, independent of external factors.

Throughout the years, I had cultivated this concept of feminism, what I like to think of as 'true feminism.' Because of this identity, the framework of oppression and disadvantage was foreign to me. Rather, I was lifted up, edified and strengthened. I was confident I could lift others because of the understanding that God’s power naturally rushed within me.

As time passed, I had no serious cause to doubt my true feminism.
It suited me well. I felt it deep in my heart as I maneuvered through college as a philosophy major, as I served in leadership capacities throughout the years, and most especially as a wife and mother. That is, until my very sobering and life-changing experience at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women last March.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focuses on women's issues internationally. At this council, critical language within the negotiated UN documents are altered and redefined. Over time, many words begin taking precedent as countries create their domestic laws around such language. This is "international customary law." UN treaties can be legally binding too, like The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In these cases the country signs on to these UN treaties and decides to honor them (the U.S. Constitution states that all legally implemented treaties become the law of the land).

In other words, the language adopted in these negotiations have the power to affect families throughout the world! So, when I was offered an opportunity to attend this important event through a pro-family organization, I jumped on board!

While there, however, I witnessed the workings and dealings of many who claimed the word 'feminist.' They essentially ran the show, pushing policies that grossly undermined many religious and family centered cultures of the world. They worked overtime warping provisions concerning life, motherhood, children, families, and marriage. Many pro-family countries endured bullying and intimidation.

On one occasion, an organized group of women stood in protest of "religious fundamentalists" (a term they have subscribed to many God-fearing people of faith). They lined up in the main plaza of the UN building and strapped on their masks that read, "Silence the religious fundamentalists!” The masks were big red lips that covered half of their faces. Many nations whose cultures are deeply religious witnessed this intimidation. Their media team followed them around snapping picture after picture. Later, they inundated social media with images from the protest and were applauded by their coordinated supporters. Some of us watching did our best to counter with positive comments regarding people of faith. However, their side was well organized and they took over the dialogue.

Our children's educations were also being negotiated there. The new "cutting edge" of social change now revolves around "child sexual rights." Year after year, children's legal ages of sexual consent and sexual debut are systematically lowered by these policies. The "Comprehensive Sexuality Education" (extreme sexual indoctrination for school-aged children) is already underway in the United States, Canada and many other countries. There has also been the consistent shift to replace the term "Maternal Healthcare" to "Reproductive Health Care," which changes the focus from maternal/fetal heath to abortion. The word and concept of "motherhood" is all but being eliminated in documents.

At the United Nations, I had witnessed a moral tsunami at work. It was as if a colossal wall of debris-filled water had heaved itself beyond its bounds, its toxicity pummeling the nations of the world. I saw the power these radical feminist groups wielded, and grievously watched in silence as they influenced policies that would eventually have direct impact on my children.

I felt powerless and helpless. I felt as though my personal feminism failed because it was just that---personal. It was alone, isolated inside me. I felt like a minuscule wave compared to the massive tsunami. I ached for a group that I could stand with. I knew in my gut that sharing my small voice was a start, and finding women who felt the same way was the answer.

The day of that protest, I vowed I would return to that very spot with a massive representation of women like me. But upon coming home I struggled to know under what banner was this to be accomplished? Ever since my UN visit, the word "feminism" had become indescribably bitter. I found myself saying, "Who needs feminism anyway? I know who I am! Let them have it!” I considered other words. I researched and got in touch with leading "womanists," yet theirs was a theoretical philosophy, and didn't yield the kind of practical power necessary to influence policies. I learned more about the 'Feminists for Life' group that opposed abortion, yet as much as I believed in their cause, I felt there was a broader influence to attain, and a different approach in attaining it.

The image in my mind was of women that would inspire rather than demand. I pictured life-affirming exemplars leading the world in faithful, peaceful, and happy ways. I searched for a word that would have the scope and breadth of righteous power in the female sphere. I looked, but all I found were fragmented groups of women's organizations, all wonderful, but not having the influence I felt was needed.

One day, feeling defeated and broken, I knelt down in prayer. Sobbing, I pleaded with the Lord for guidance. This was important because this was the key to protecting all that was dear to me! I thought of the bullied countries of the world standing in defense of truth. I thought of women and mothers around the world in need of a true sisterhood. I thought of my children. What would the future look like for us all? I needed help in order to help!

It was then that I began to feel peace, and the tiny flicker of my childhood feminism resurfaced. The distinct thought entered my mind, "Words are powerful things, Carolina! Don't give up! It's your word!" Words are ideas that inspire actions! They are labels that can potentially identify, unify, and gather in behalf of change. Amidst my tears, it became clear to me that what started as a corruption of the female sphere was now corroding words like "family", "mother", "father", "marriage", and the like. The strong impression came to me that when we redefine and restore feminism, we will be perfectly positioned to take back these words.

Eliza R. Snow
Upon closing my prayer, I was reminded of the early Relief Society exemplars and recalled Eliza R. Snows' statement, "If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed." (Daughters in My Kingdom, Chapter 4). Never had I felt so grateful to past and present Relief Society leaders, and the good brethren of the Priesthood who have always sought to encourage and support! Never had such words comforted me! As I got up off my knees, my tears of defeat turned into tears of gratitude. I understood that we are the peaceful, happy, purposeful, sisterhood of action! We are covenant women endowed with truth and power!

With this realization my feelings of doubt and helplessness were replaced with a whirlwind of ideas. What if women of many faiths joined in a vast sisterhood that influenced and played an active representative role in protecting our children and families nationally and internationally? What if life-affirming women everywhere reclaimed true feminism as 'the power of the female sphere in increasing worldwide goodness and relief'? Now THAT would be something indeed!

These experiences have lead me to believe that the righteous and peaceful women of this Earth set the standard on lasting power and influence! Power in the female sphere was first given to our great mother Eve, the fearless and life-preserving mother of all living. Hers was the feminism of peace, compassion, and deep faith. Women of the world who embrace such God given attributes are the true feminists.

Egalitarian driven undercurrents are a mere means to an end, and that end is power. However we already have power! It is within us. Our scope and outreach is inter-generational. Like peaceful waves that consistently shape and etch our stories upon the landscape, the power of those persistent waves over time far outweighs the destructive force of isolated tsunami’s.

President Spencer W. Kimball prophetically declared:

My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the church are seen as distinct and different―in happy ways―from the women of the world…Thus it will be that female exemplars of the church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the church in the last days ... your talents and spiritual strength are so desperately needed. (The Role of Righteous Women, Ensign, October 1979).

I have come to the conclusion that the origin of the word "feminism" is mine, and I won't give it up. Since my trip to the CSW, I have come home with a renewed purpose. I feel deeply that the time has come to stand united, upright, shining like beacons, especially in the darkest of places. The knowledge that women are mothers of all living, and that we are indeed co-creators with the very God that created us, is a truth that all women must have access to. When we know this truth, nothing will internally oppress. And when that happens we will influence and inspire changes in external oppression. I am certain that now is the time to gather in defense of our children and families. As we do this, we will have great opportunities to open our mouths and proclaim to the world:

We are powerful in our nonviolent nurturing ways. We are strong because we serve and willingly share one another's burdens. We are courageous because we stand for truth amidst confusion. We are the answer to the world’s problems because we are inherent healers of suffering. We carry the capacity for these gifts in our very DNA, and we pass on these gifts throughout space and time. This is the power of the female. This is feminism.
If you are interested in supporting Big Ocean Women please visit their Facebook page (they need people to help be their "home warriors" using use social media to spread their message) and if you can donate to help fund their trip to the UN.


  1. Wow! Her descriptions of what occurs at the UN is frightening, and then she found peace and answers through prayer. If I was on Facebook, I would sign up. This movement is exciting and powerful. I'm glad there are courageous women willing to stand up and lead others.

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    1. Liz, I think you are right about using a more "invitational" voice. The last thing you want to do when trying to create peace is just make more enemies. I think it is important to realize that ALL women and ALL their experiences can fit under the heading of "feminism". I think that the biggest problem though is that right now it really ISN'T a spectrum and that too many women (like most of the world's population) get left out of the conversation because the only voices that have power and influence right now are the more radical feminists, and the trickle down effects of their thoughts.

      I know from my experience at other international conferences that for some of these women feminism IS a religion, and that they have faith in it to cure all the world's problems just like I'd have faith in God to do the same. I think there is a real need for other voices to stand out and to make it known that there are women in the world (lots of women in the world) who feel differently.

      But I do see your point about the word "true". I am pretty sure that word is NO where in their official mission statement :) I think that Carolina's article was mainly aimed at LDS women (thus the use of terms like "restoration" and "true") and trying to get them to glimpse the idea that they could be included in the feminist dialogue. I think that most LDS women already have a lot of passion and love for womanhood through their participation in Relief Society, which is the largest women's organization in the world. That is a lot of power and I think that what Carolina is trying to do is to get LDS women to raise their voices and to re-brand feminism as their own. Not to just to be "Mormon Feminists" who grab on to the ideas of traditional feminists and try to make it fit with their faith system, but to be bold in their assertion of a different type of feminism, one that springs from faith, rather than a denial of faith.

      I've been thinking for a long time that I need to write a post about the History of the Relief Society's involvement with suffrage and some of the great quotes that Eliza R. Snow said about how wrong the early feminist leaders (like Susan b. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) were. It is really interesting, because while they worked together out of necessity to get women votes Eliza makes it clear that she didn't think what they were doing (besides getting votes) was going to be good for women.

      One of the things I came to find in my own study of the early feminist movement, was that it wasn't grounded in truth, and thus the fruits haven't been all that they could be. Elizabeth Cady Stanton oversaw a revision of the Bible called the "Woman's Bible" and it is so interesting to read it and see that she didn't believe that women could be empowered as long as there was organized religion in which men had any sort of leadership. That is the main tenant of her book, and I think it was the main tenant of her message, and is still the main tenant of the feminist movement, which is why I think it is so hard for women who are "feminist" and "mormon" to make peace with their faith tradition. Because the religion of feminism fundamentally believes that patriarchy is evil and the root of all women's problems, where as our faith teaches that patriarchy is the order of heaven and the source of all of women's glory. But now I am getting off topic.. and should probably just write another post :)

    2. Heather, I can already tell I could talk with you about this for hours. In a good way :)

      I've had similar experiences with feminist groups as you have (except I found similar results in conservative women clubs) that they were limited in their goals and inclusion of women. I always left with a stronger testimony of relief society. I also always left with a stronger desire to call myself a feminist so that the stereotypical definitions of feminism for both groups (liberals and conservatives) were challenged.

      My experience with mormon feminists is much more moderate than you describe. Very few (in fact, none of the several dozens I've ever talked with in person) even desire the priesthood and know very little of worldly and scholarly feminism. They more have silent questions they've kept to themselves for years, not because of traditional feminism, but usually because the temple ceremony totally took them off guard. Mormonism has by far the most feminist and complete doctrine on womanhood than any church I know about, but it is definitely lacking. Neal A Maxwell, I believe, acknowledged that when he said, "We are accustomed to focusing on the men of God because theirs is the priesthood and leadership line.... The story of the women of God, therefore, is, for now, and untold drama within a drama." Most Mormon feminists I know feel what Elder Maxwell described--that their story, their divine potential, is untold thus far. The Trib article on moderate mormon women gives a good overview of how diverse the feminism of mormonism is:

      Your blog on the suffrage movement sounds fascinating. I hope we get to read it someday. I have read the Woman's Bible. There were times I laughed out loud while reading it. There were a few parts I remember thinking quite profound. Very few--haha.

      Patriarchy is a tricky topic. I wouldn't say all feminists think it's evil--but under it women are highly susceptible to being marginalized. In my experience, that's what most mormon feminists are concerned about--how to ensure women are truly heard in a patriarchal system. My master's research was on Muted Group Theory, which, in a nutshell, believes that those in power make policies that fit their best interests--leaving groups not in power unheard, or "muted." Not maliciously, per se, but because they don't really have the experiences to make policies that would fairly represent the interests of all groups. Moses and Zolephehad's daughters shows how marginalizing policies can happen in the most divine of settings. I think that's what most mormon feminists are concerned about--do we really have the best system for hearing women and letting them participate in the most influential way? Priesthood aside--is there more we could be doing? Is the 9th article of faith's promise of "he will yet reveal many great and important truths" perhaps referring that there's more for us as women? Those are the questions I think are at the forefront of mormon feminism. They're stemming from doctrine, I would say, not from the world.

      I'm interested in how you'd support the statement that the patriarchy is the order of heaven. I could definitely see some supports for that, but I'm interested in yours. Elder Oaks did a leadership training with our region two weeks ago and emphasized that the church structure is not eternal. I personally believe the "patriachal order of heaven," if it is such, will certainly look drastically different than what we have. For one, because I think there will be a stronger, more well-defined matriarchal order.

    3. I think you are right about the Mormon Feminists being a much more moderate group, and there is a wide variety. But I think for the most part most Mormon Feminists are still trying to balance the ideas of traditional feminism (Ie. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony) with our restored knowledge of woman (ie, The Relief Society, etc...) and I don't think it works because at their heart they are really opposites. The question of patriarchy is a hard one to reconcile from a worldly standpoint.

      I like your thoughts about the Daughters of Z, and I do think that there is a lot of searching and questioning going on within the church about women and our roles, that is VERY good. I think that were things get tricky is when modern feminist ideas get tangled in the mix (which happens alot) and makes things confusing. I think that the more we can rely on answers coming from the scriptures and from doctrine the better things will be for women.

      And... ah... Patriarchy. I don't know if I can explain all my thoughts about this. But Yes, you are the right the church organization doesn't continue eternally. But the family organization does and it is patriarchal, and that will continue on. I don't know if I can explain my thoughts on this in a post! But I think you are right that we will have a better understanding of the matriarchal order as well, and much more clearer understanding of women than we do now.

    4. The first time I even heard the term "matriarchal order" was from one of your posts ( a post on genes or biology or something). So that's a thought I totally got from you :)

      As always, I look forward to more of your posts.

  3. Heather, I came across this article by Linda and Richard Eyre last night after reading your post.
    I liked the authors' distinction between two possible definitions of feminism: They say, "We love feminism when it is defined and devoted to the true celebration of womanhood and to the worthy goal of complete equality with men. We don’t like feminism nearly as much when it goes in the opposite direction — advocating gender irrelevance, complaining that things that are different cannot be equal and essentially saying that the only relevant and powerful roles are those traditionally held by men."

    I also liked the statement, "We also believe that any and all apparent injustices in that plan will eventually be understood and resolved."

  4. Heather, I came across this article by Linda and Richard Eyre last night after reading your post.
    I liked the authors' distinction between two possible definitions of feminism: They say, "We love feminism when it is defined and devoted to the true celebration of womanhood and to the worthy goal of complete equality with men. We don’t like feminism nearly as much when it goes in the opposite direction — advocating gender irrelevance, complaining that things that are different cannot be equal and essentially saying that the only relevant and powerful roles are those traditionally held by men."

    I also liked the statement, "We also believe that any and all apparent injustices in that plan will eventually be understood and resolved."

  5. The term "Patriarchal" some times gives the wrong impression of the type of society that will be in the Highest Heaven. The more accurate word would be "Kingdom" where there are Kings and Queens. Both, King and Queen, preside over their posterity. Each one in their sphere of responsibility. It is NOT a 50% 50% math. It is 100%. Both King and Queen becoming 1. This is the meaning of Patriarchal order in heaven. Elohim is a plural word, meaning - King and Queen, two perfect individuals, ONE purpose, us.

  6. I am new to your blog, and it is so inspiring! Thank you for all the good, the light and truth from the Lord that you share, it is beautiful and I am thankful. I have just purchased your book "Walking with the Women of the New Testament" and I am so excited about studying the scriptures along with your book - I am gaining a love of these lost women that I had no idea where in the pages of the scriptures of our God and what wonderful stories and light they share, that is so needed - that I need.

    One thought I feel to share after reading this post, was we need to be careful not to divide ourselves into any "ite or ism" like was done in the scriptures and in our world. I personally don't even like to use the word "feminism or feminist", for me it isn't right. I love the word feminine, femininity - that describes our Godly given traits (which I'm continuing to work on) because in the modern world those traits are despised even, looked upon with contempt, that if we are feminine we are weak. I understand the thought on bringing forth "true feminism" which I understand and truly see the picture that was being shared, but for me - the most beautiful definition of "true feminism" is simply that I am a "daughter of God". I need no other titles or "ite" or "ism" added to make my point or to define who I am. I am a beloved daughter of God and that title alone is all I need. I see my potential, my value through the eyes of my creator as I know you do and all daughters of God who have taken the name of Christ upon them see as well. Through the scriptures (Alma 7:23-24) I love the detailed list of divine qualities of a Daughter of God - "humble, submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works."

    That is who we are as daughters of God, we do not need the banner of "feminism" to define us, to wave that we might be seen or heard. The only banner I stand behind is that of "Jesus Christ" and we do not hold this banner alone. We never could. Jesus Christ, our brother and Savior holds that banner, without Him we are nothing - He gives us everything. He stands by our side and holds that banner (that banner that represents freedom and virtue, purity, goodness, light and love, truth…God's Kingdom, His people - those who have forsaken the world and chosen His name to take upon them). We need no other name. I feel as women of faith from all backgrounds and beliefs we can unite as “Women of God” and forsake the word feminism. That word can never be used gain purely. And when the Kingdom of God comes, this word will not be needed - we will have been changed and I believe the only name we will need is that of Jesus Christ.