Monday, December 3, 2012

I Am, It Turns Out

Last Thursday I was on a really interesting panel about feminism at BYU. I asked my sister Lucy to film my five minute introduction but because my statements were so fascinating she got caught up in my words and forgot to film. That's what I told myself anyway.

The five other panelists were all involved with academia and I was the token non-academic. They talked about how feminism shapes their work--life sciences, public health, Spanish and Portuguese 1700 literature, comparative film and theater. Then I talked about how I was really upset because one time Chup came home from his really busy job and didn't help me with the baby. So, that was me.

While sitting there listening to the other presenters it occurred to me that in our search for equality and cooperation at home, Chup and I have had some of the most brilliant experiences of our lives. My faith in God and Mormonism has deepened. It's been a tough road, it's come at some pretty high prices and heartache, but I cannot deny the blessings. Oh those unbelievable blessings.

I also think it's been important for me to identify myself as a Mormon feminist because I have found strength in being part of a people and passion I can relate to in my heart. I feel "home" when I say I am a feminist, it feels like me. It feels peaceful.

Over the weekend I cleaned up my intro and added some clarity, I am not certain it all makes sense, and I am evolving, but these are my thoughts right now. Thank you to the students for asking me to come and for Dr. Holmes for hosting the panel:

My name is Courtney Kendrick, I am a writer and blogger at, a columnist for the Deseret News and a Downtown Provo community activist. I’ve been married for ten years to Christopher Kendrick and we have three children with one on the way.

Earlier this year I had lunch with Joanna Brooks, arguably Mormonism’s most vocal feminist. The meeting was unforgettable, but two specific thoughts have not been able to leave my mind since our lunch in downtown Provo:

One, Joanna wasn’t angry like I thought most feminists were. She was confident and open, honest and funny.

Two, I couldn’t tell her I was a feminist at that point, I was too afraid of what it meant, so I said, “I am a womanist,” and she said to me, “That’s a great word to use if feminist scares you.”

Feminism scared me because I defined it this way: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

And the word equality was an idea that scared me. 

Joanna wasn’t angry but I was. I had just started to write my life story which included a long extensive look at some of my triumphs and failures—relationships, my mission, a divorce, graduating from college and remarriage, body image issues, infertility—and I started to see that all of my choices, insecurities, frustrations and determination were centered around one driving thought I had arrived at in my childhood: women were less important than men.

Thinking I was entitled to equality made me feel vulnerable and hurt because at the expense of relationships, I had spent so much time telling myself it didn't matter. I had almost convinced myself.

As a child I remember thinking how sad it was that God didn’t love me as much as my brothers and boy cousins because I was a girl. Of course, I had moments where I refused to believe this sentiment and the frustration I felt in wanting to be treated equal only exacerbated the problem. Anger and frustration from women only proved why they weren't to be trusted with something like the priesthood. Besides, questioning equality was considered "dangerous," and could only lead one place: a faithlessness in God and apostasy.

I began to believe my only worth as a woman was in being attached to a man. This created desperation inside of me to get married at a young age. Eventually, I married the wrong person, hoping to make things right. At my family bridal shower my aunt gave me the advice “When he comes home from work, don’t say anything to him, just hand him the remote control.”

When my first marriage ended in total devastation and abuse, I started to rethink gender roles for the first time. I started to resent the way women were treated in a lot of the relationships I had observed growing up.

After I remarried I looked for a man with maturity and fairness. I found an amazing one. Our young marriage had complications but we seemed to overcome until he took a corporate job traveling around the country. At that time I had our first baby and was getting used to that business. But everything came crashing down on me one day when after staying up with the baby alone for nearly week, battling a terrible cold and feeling lonely, I looked forward to the help of my husband. But when the front door opened and he came inside, he merely glanced at me, threw his suitcases on the floor and announced that he was so tired and was going to bed.

I was shocked. I realized that he saw his job as his responsibility and when his job was over, when it was time to come home, he was free to relax and sleep. Meanwhile, my job “mothering” never had the same finality to it. I was never, ever going to be done. Not for eternity. I was never going to sleep ever again.

Was I really supposed to stay silent and hand over the remote?

Somehow those same old gender roles had crept into our marriage and we were equating my husband’s job with motherhood which was painfully false. Fatherhood and motherhood are equal pairs. We both should never, ever sleep again. (insert: smiley face)

After a few years of trying to figure things out, we finally decided a new approach. We were both unhappy with our situation—he was never home and I never left home. He would quit his job and we would utilize a “farm mentality” where we would each put in 100% of all the work. This meant there were no roles, we both worked, we both parented, we both cleaned the house and took responsibility for the totality of our lives. When I worked writing and blogging, he cleaned and took care of the children, when he produced or acted in film I was at home. This continues to this day, and it’s hard because it’s socially abnormal and financially precarious. But every time we want to quit, we remember social acceptance and financial success are not our goal. Showing our children respect and cooperation at home is our hope.

This idea of having equal voices and opportunities has challenged us to explore the way we live in almost all aspects of our lives--childbirth, parenting, teaching our children the gospel. We have prayed and studied our religion's belief in family including The Family: A Proclamation and have found a lot of peace with who we are and where we are going as a family--considering our skills and talents. (We've also been very challenged to dig deep and think hard, it hasn't been a road of roses and applause.) God has made man and woman equal with shared powers and vibrant voices. I also have begun to see changes in the church about women and the Divine Female and it thrills to be to see how prayers are being answered by those who are asking with faith. I am grateful for the spiritual and political feminists who came before me.

After years of listening and learning from feminists I admire, I still felt unsafe calling myself a feminist until this summer. My older sister Page had come to one of the Rooftop Concerts my blog hosts in downtown Provo. Amid the thousands of concert goers I found her dancing and enjoying the music. I felt proud of myself for helping to accomplish something big and it occurred to me suddenly, that I was successful, even though I was a girl.

“Hey,” I said to her loudly, “did you grow up thinking boys were more important than girls?”

“Yes!” she yelled back.

“But you believe we are equal?” I shouted.

“Of course.” She shouted back.

“So, are you a feminist?” I yelled.

“Yes.” She screamed.

And that’s when I finally declared, “SO AM I!”

You can often tell if the media and technology in your life are having a positive or negative effect on your soul by the quality of the media conversations you are having. We should regularly ask ourselves three questions: First, am I having media conversations, or am I simply consuming media? Second, what conversations am I having about media with my family and those closest to me? Third, what am I doing to improve the conversations around me when I use media to communicate?   
-Amy Peterson Jensen