OK, I’m finding it hard to keep up with the brilliant ideas whizzing by at 60 mph! I am not doing Cheryl’s presentation justice AT ALL. Here’s what I was able to glean:
Cheryl Bruno’s remarks, entitled “Mormon History from the Kitchen Window: White is the Field in Essentialist Feminism,” began with a nod to gender differences, schools of thought that advocated body/spiritual differences between the sexes, and the Proclamation on the Family as outlining LDS ideas of gender roles as divinely decreed: men provide/protect and women nurture.
Cheryl reviewed the three waves of feminism and discussed gender essentialism as having great potential for use in Mormon Studies. She noted that Mormon Studies is skewed male (as illustrated by her being the only woman on the morning panel) and that her credentials were vastly different from the other panelists: mother of 8, making 19,000 bag lunches, sewing an elaborate wedding dress in 3 days, and otherwise treading the recommended path for Mormon women. Cheryl argues that if doing these things really are valued in Mormonism, then the kind of pursuits should also have a place in Mormon Studies.
Cheryl sees great potential in the marriage of feminist theory and Mormon Studies to yield a great harvest–beyond the traditional examination of Emma Smith, church auxiliary leaders such as Eliza R. Snow, and the polygamous wives of early church leaders and general authorities.
What do we know about the lives of common Mormon women? And what could we learn if we knew more of their stories? What of the unsung women whose contributions were more limited to spheres of home and family?
Cheryl cited Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book on Martha Ballard as one example of the rich treasure available in the record of a relatively obscure woman’s daily life and activities. Cheryl reviewed what she defined as the male-centered methods/approach and the contrasting approach and perspective a women-centered look can provide.
What if Mormon Studies adopted a more female way of looking at history, theology, etc.? What if we were less concerned with individual achievement and impact and instead focused on relationships, the contributions of Mormon women to family and their spheres of influence, their incorporation of myths? What’s lost to us if their stories are not assembled and told in ways that make the ordinary woman’s experience common knowledge in the church? It seems the field is white and ready to harvest for feminists and feminist theory in the field of Mormon Studies.