Modern Mormon feminists are getting a helping hand in addressing gender issues within their church from the words of activist Mormons, past and present. Arriving in November, Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (Oxford University Press), edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright, is intended to educate readers on Mormon feminism while also supporting the movement. Brooks, who is a professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University as well as a media commentator and memoirist, answered PW’s questions about the new book.
How did this anthology come about?
A few years ago I was meeting younger Mormon feminists, fresh into their feminist awakening at Brigham Young University, and I asked them what they were reading to learn about the history of our movement. They told me they were reading my memoir The Book of Mormon Girl, which came out in 2012. I was thrilled that they were reading the memoir, but I knew that that there was so much more— there were many decades worth of women’s writings about theology, history, and religious practice, and younger women today needed access to that rich history.
What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Mormon feminists today?
Mormon feminists are hard at work understanding the way that race and first-world privilege have shaped Mormon history, and we have a lot of work to do addressing historic segregation within the Mormon faith. At the same time, Mormon feminists continue to focus on ways to support individual Mormon women as each of us processes the challenges of our moment.
What does Mormon Feminism offer non-Mormon readers?
I think it will surprise many readers to learn that feminist landmarks such as the Equal Pay Act and slogans like “well-behaved women seldom make history” were actually brought into being by Mormon feminists [Esther Peterson and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, respectively]. Mormon feminism has been in the headlines in the past few years as we take on questions like ordination. Our struggle is very visible, and we welcome readers not of our faith to deepen their understanding of how Mormon women live our lives today.
What was the most challenging part of putting the book together, and what was the most fun?
For all three editors, it was more than fun, it felt like a holy experience, being in archives printing the past four decades-worth of Mormon feminist thought and writing. We loved touching the wealth of wisdom from the past. The most difficult part though was that, because there has been no attempt at a comprehensive collection before, we could only include a small fraction of what we wanted to.