Click! My Church Is Against Battered Women’s Shelters?!

“We’ve got to stop those feminists from setting up a battered women’s shelter!”

So proclaimed my piano teacher in numerous post-lesson conversations with my mom. When she wasn’t grumbling about shelters she was remarking on how lovely Phyllis Schlafly’s bouffant looked alongside those long-haired feminists.

I didn’t get it. “Why doesn’t she want shelters?” I asked my mom.

Mom didn’t get it either. “I suppose she’s concerned that they don’t have the right training to run one,” she speculated.

Actually, my piano teacher probably didn’t know why she was against shelters, either. Aligned with “the F-word,” they must be bad.

None of us knew. But as it turns out, the whole family-values agenda that my teacher so revered was intent on maintaining male power and female submission.

My piano teacher was a member of my church. Back then, in the ’70s, Mormonism was in major backlash against the feminist movement. And that gave rise to a series of little “clicks,” leading up to a major feminist “click” moment for me.

In my church’s backlash, women were suddenly forbidden from leading prayer during worship services. Worse yet (to me), girls had to wear dresses to “Activity Night,” and lessons on the importance of marriage overtook other activities.

Priesthood, forbidden to women, is bestowed upon all males at age 12. If gender inequality were not bad enough, watching my late-maturing boy-peers take on that mantel seemed ludicrous. I was especially not happy when my little brother received the priesthood. Worse, my divorced mother then declared him “head of home,” presiding over my grandmother, mother and me. I wasn’t having any of it, so that befuddled notion never became reality.

The final click? The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back? Although Mormonism gave up polygamy (“Mormon Fundamentalists” keep the tradition), from the time I was little I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven because, ironically, women were sweeter in spirit so there would be more of us up there. I suddenly realized that if I were the best person I could be, my eternal reward would be second-class status as a woman and marriage to a polygamous man. Heaven? Sounded more like Hell to me.

Interestingly, I attended my old congregation a while back while visiting my mother, and heard an announcement that her congregation was raising money for a battered women’s shelter! I also heard concern that “unequal spousal relationships” were a primary cause of family disintegration. Maybe that’s hopeful. I know many young feminist women who today live in peace with Mormonism. Some have even started a blog: Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Oddly, in some ways my whole trauma has an upside. I don’t know if I would have found my life calling–teaching women’s studies, and writing for the Ms. Blog and creating my own BroadBlogs–if it weren’t for my church’s formidable effort to turn me against feminism. So, in a strange way, I’m tempted to say “thank you.” Too bad the cost is so high.

Photo of Phyllis Schlafly in 2007 from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. natalie wilson says:

    Thanks for this post! As my book, Seduced by Twilight, has an entire chapter on Mormonism that addresses feminism (both in relation to Mormonism and to the saga), this post reminds me of so many of the "Mormon walls" that seem erected AGAINST feminism. I would love to know what you think of my writing on Mormonism in the saga – as an outsider to the religion (and religion in general), I feel decidedly non-expert in this area… Would love to exchange emails on the subject if you are interested —

  2. Georgia I loved your blog post!!! Being a fifth generation Mormon who left the church over prop 22 in CA the parent to prop 8, I also dreaded dying and going to Mormon HEAVEN only to share my husband. Heaven is Hell is what I always used to say! Bravo for a great blog! Now I don't' dread life or death, but love every day wearing sleeveless blouses and other evil things, like skirts above the knee! 🙂

  3. Thanks for your comment. I will take a read of your book and get in touch! Sounds interesting.

  4. You make the point that these acts of intolerance on the part of our community institutions and even our elders turn us in the opposite direction sometimes for the better and always at a high cost.

    Last night I was watching a movie about the black church, having southern heritage as part of my identity, I love the support built into this community. But I do not care for traditional Christian doctrine. SO, I stay away from a community experience from which I know I would gain & could contribute to if it weren’t the bastion of traditionalists perspectives only.

    Ostracization is a militant form of intra-human violence.

  5. Due to the death of my parents, I was forced, as a young teen, into living with Mormon relatives. I don't know if this qualifies as a "click" moment, but it certainly sent me in to fits of hysterical laughter. According to LDS doctrine, those who do not have a temple marriage and choose to remain single will spend eternity as "servants" to those who opted for the former. Heaven as Hell, indeed. How can people believe this stuff?!!! (That was a rhetorical question.)

  6. Herbivore says:

    As an active Mormon feminist, who has endured the alienating experience of seeing people I love vote and speak out against things I believe in, I appreciated your comments on the topic. I stand in a difficult place of trying to communicate between two sides that know little about each other but find every reason to hate each other.

    I’m a little disheartened to hear some of the inflammatory remarks made in a few these comments. This is very tame compared to much of what I read on the internet, but I feel that some of this hatred has had an extremely polarizing effect on all of us.

    Every day, I talk to Mormons who are stubborn and set in their ways (usually old, Republicans) and I try to speak rationally with them. At the end of the day, I honestly feel they have loosened their grip a little or learned to see another side. But without fail, any time they come in contact with cultural supremacists who think they know a little more about our history and culture, their guard goes back up.

    Culture and religion are inseparable. I understand it is historically human to hate anyone who isn’t like you, but when talking about this, try and see them as human beings with just a different culture. Be careful of reducing an entire people into another strawman epithet.

    As for Dolores’ comment, that is simply not true and I am surprised anyone would say that. We are not a mindless collective who share a mental archive of comments made by every possible leader in the church establishment, but if someone in some position said that, it has long since been erased from our cultural memory.

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