Stop Watering Down My Beliefs

This piece was written for altFem Magazine. AltFem seeks to “give voice to women who find in their religion not just spiritual solace but also strength, power, and confidence. Mainstream media coverage of women of faith depicts these women as disempowered and brainwashed by dominant men in their faith. Religious women are almost invariably painted as irrational and their devotion to their religion inauthentic. altFem is working to change that perception by providing a platform where religious women of all faiths can speak for themselves rather than be spoken for—and its goal is nothing less than redefining feminism to include and celebrate women of faith.”

There are very few people in my life, whether they know me well or not, who are unaware of the very strong beliefs I hold, namely my faith and my feminism. Often these subjects come up in conversation, and not always in the best of ways. In the many circles I frequent, one or both of these topics are frequently the focus of negative attention.

But the thing is, most people like me, and so they quickly try and explain that they are not talking about me when they say derogatory things about something I believe. Phrases like, “But you’re not, like, really Mormon-y. You’re totally normal,” or “I’m just talking about those crazy feminists! I mean, you aren’t even that liberal.”

My patience with these kinds of phrases has been wearing short as of late, because as much as some people around me may want to protest to this fact, I am an extremely devout Mormon, and I am an adamant feminist.

This past week I spent nearly 9 hours going to church functions, on top of which I also fasted, read scriptures, and prayed multiple times a day. I believe, with all I am, that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are the word of God. I believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I believe we came to a fallen world to learn the importance of free will, and to become perfected through Christ, and return to our Father in Heaven. All of this is not to imply I’m some perfect Mormon, but simply to illustrate that I certainly fall into the category of devout. I am a very mormon Mormon.

Also, as I type this, I am wearing a shirt that says “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate.” If you were to go through the books in my car right now, you’d find a copy of Bell Hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I am best known for two things, one being a study I did in college (which went viral after The Guardian reported on it) that quantified whether or not the BBC show Doctor Who had become more sexist since it’s head writer changed. The other thing I am known for is my continuing attempts to combat misogyny in my own religious culture (not to be confused with the doctrine or gospel of my faith) and beyond. I don’t sort of support women’s rights. I am an unwavering intersectional feminist.

I am devoutly religious, and I am a feminist. And I don’t have to water down either of these convictions.

We live in a world that has confused strong beliefs with some sort of insanity. We imagine convictions somehow exist on a scale of 1 to 10, and we mentally place those who have extremist, violent, harmful, views on the 10 side, because they must have some strong convictions, right? Well, not if you stop to consider that much of what they believe is not actually in line with the beliefs of the whole community. Those who perpetuate violence and hate in God’s name are clearly missing the point. They hardly ever actually follow the tenets of their religion. Wouldn’t that make them less devout?

There’s mass confusion about feminism, too. The people who think all women must have careers, and are better than men, or something else along that line are subscribing to some seriously antiquated ideas in feminism. They aren’t particularly current feminists. It would be like someone claiming to be a scientist, while still thinking the world was flat. But the media, society, or some combination of the two has used such extreme rhetoric, like “religious nuts” and “feminazi” to make the world think that people with strong beliefs have somehow escaped the loony bin.

When people are around logical, balanced, intelligent individuals who are strong in their views, many try and water down what they believe. Because after all, they aren’t crazy, so they probably aren’t that focused on that way of thinking. It never occurs to people that they should challenge the idea those who are fervently living what they believe are not, in fact, insane.

The first thing we must do is be willing to be an undiluted version of who we are. Be unapologetic about your faith, political stances, and world views. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at first to be a vocal member of your faith in your more progressive (and paradoxically close-minded) circles, and I know that a “radical feminist” is not exactly who the person next to you in the pew on Sunday would always have you be, but don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be rude and shove it down people’s throats, but don’t shy away from opportunities to teach others what you really believe.

Once, when asked why I thought I was a feminist, I gave a fairly standard textbook definition of feminism, and then said I believed that, therefore, I was a feminist. The person responded with, “Well, that’s not really feminism. That’s just common sense.” Perhaps it’s both?

On the same note, I once was explaining to a friend of mine why I am a LDS, and why I had made certain lifestyle choices. I went over the basic doctrines of Mormonism, and her response? “Well, that actually makes a lot of sense.” I wasn’t trying to convert her, but a clear explanation helped her to understand my faith, and realize I’m not a brainwashed sheep.

I love what Aziz Ansair said a while back on why people need to stop distancing themselves with the word feminist. “If you look up feminism in the dictionary, it just means that men and women have equal rights. And I feel like everyone here believes men and women have equal rights. But I think the reason people don’t [want to call them self a feminist] is that word is so weirdly used in our culture. Now, people think feminist means ‘some woman is gonna start yelling at them. So, I feel like if you do believe that, if you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah I’m a doctor that primarily focuses on diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”

And the same goes for your faith, whatever it may be. People won’t stop thinking of it as something crazy until we stop watering it down to comfort their ignorance.

We can choose to distance ourselves from the world’s standards, and instead help everyone become more empathetic to each other. We must not be ashamed of who we are, and we must be willing to stand with our convictions, even if it is not the easiest thing to do at times. We must be willing to endure this temporary discomfort for the sake of progress in thought. After all, that is the foundation for progress in action. 

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