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Mormon feminism makes slow progress — but it IS progress

A black woman prayed from the pulpit! References were made to Heavenly Mother! So why are some Mormon feminists saying the progress is too little, too late?

I’m late to the Bloggernacle party of folks discussing this past weekend’s women’s conference, because the truth is I haven’t even seen or heard the meeting yet.

I know, I know. The spirit was willing, but the schedule had me on a redeye flight from California on Saturday. Then I got a little sick (no one over 40 should be allowed to take redeye flights, like, ever), and then, bam, it was a new work and school week with the added bonus of some lovely friends visiting from England.

From the excellent news coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune it sounds like I have a real treat in store when I do sit down to watch the broadcast, featuring some of the following wunderbar things:

1)   A black woman, Dorah Mkhabela of South Africa, prayed for the first time ever in a session of General Conference. It’s about. Freaking. Time. (See here for the joyous Sistas in Zion reaction – at the 53 minute mark they talk about how amped they were about seeing a woman of African descent sitting “in the red chairs” on the stand — and here for FMH’s admission about how clueless whites can be about why this is important.)

2)   We can call it a session of GC now, because also for the first time, the women’s conference was announced as the opening session to lead off the whole enchilada that continues this weekend. This feels like a major step toward equality, with the Church not just stating but actually acting like the women’s meeting is as important as the priesthood meeting.

3)   The women were addressed not only as “sisters” but as “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.” I don’t know whether this is the first time that has happened, but I’m glad of it. It’s significant when we refer to women as disciples in their own right instead of always relying on relational language, which suggests women’s core identity is synonymous with the roles they play to other people (sister, wife, daughter).

4)   In my favorite development, Pres. Uchtdorf apparently spoke twice about women being daughters not just of a Heavenly Father but of heavenly parents. I understand he also performed an interpretive liturgical dance to express his reverence for Heavenly Mother.

Well, maybe not that last part. I had to see if you were still paying attention.

These are small changes—as the Trib put it, they are subtle. And for some Mormon feminists, they don’t go nearly far enough. Some women have said that this is merely tokenism, that the Church has made tiny concessions in order to mollify some very dissatisfied (and vocal) women in this tumultuous year. These women are angry, and I get that.

And they’re right, to a point. These are tiny, incremental changes in a hierarchy that is, at the end of the day, still run entirely by men, who planned the session and its presenters, and who chose the language about “heavenly parents” and “blessed disciples.” That is the very definition of tokenism. The pace of real change in Mormonism feels glacial.

But as the Sistas say, sometimes you just have to notice progress and celebrate it.

Even if you’ve only completed the first quarter-mile of your 26-mile marathon.

Even if you know that every tiny victory is complicated, every measure of equality hard-won.

Small victories are never insignificant. Let’s rejoice and be glad.