Mormon Women Gather to Discuss Issues

Fresh Courage Take: New Directions for Mormon WomenSalt Lake City – What are the dilemmas faced today by moderately feminist women who belong to an anti-feminist church, in this case the LDS Church based in Utah? In their collection of essays published by Signature Books, Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women, twelve authors share their thoughts and experiences about the fought-over terrain where religion meets real life. They will speak and sign copies of their anthology at Benchmark Books in South Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 28, at 5:00 p.m. The public is invited.

The book had its genesis in 2012 when Jamie Zvirzdin found herself stationed, with her husband, on an atoll in the Marshal Islands, raising a newborn child and adjusting to culture shock. What Zvirzdin saw called into question her Utah-based assumption that women everywhere are the same. It made her start to think about gender roles and what constitutes a productive, satisfying life. She reached out to Colleen Whitney, her freshman English instructor at Brigham Young University, about an idea she had to gather essays on the diversity of women’s experiences in the LDS Church.

She received an enthusiastic response from Whitney and began seeking stories from women they both knew would offer honest evaluations of their lives and conflicts over these issues. The women they contacted included professional and academic women, stay-at-home moms, singles, and women in childless marriages, to name a few. Their views are either normative or slightly liberal, but they all see the world through the lens of recent social challenges regarding the ordination of women in other churches, the prevalence of divorce, the movement toward acceptance of gay marriage, and racial issues.

As Lindsay Hansen Park describes the book in a cover blurb, “It’s critical for women to be able to share their stories and find empowerment in the church.” Hansen Park is host of the online podcast, Feminist Mormon Housewives. “There is a power in being able to connect with the lives of others,” she continues, “and that’s why this book is so important. It is the work of lifting up other women through the amplification of one’s own experiences.”

The LDS Church has historically acknowledged a feminine side to deity, although the down side of that progressive theological construct is that the female deity is married to the male one. This model for humans puts a burden on women. However, the contributors to Fresh Courage Take find that the prescription to marry and have children, as opposed to pursuing a career and foregoing marriage or children, is mostly drawn from Mormon culture and not from doctrine.

The Associate Academic Vice President at the University of Utah, Martha Bradley Evans, recommends this book to serious-minded readers. “The state of grace proposed by these essays promises a more equitable, fair, and just world,” she writes, “safe for our daughters to live in, where women wear feminism as common ground and where men share the richness that results. I loved this collection of essays.”

Most of the stories explore the difficulties in being a true-blue Mormon and an independent thinker, but there are also heartfelt expressions of how much hope, happiness, and meaning the church offers to those who embrace it.

The authors include, Carli Anderson, who is working on a PhD in religious studies at Arizona State University; Rachael Decker Bailey, who draws on her MA in English from BYU as she blogs about being a mother; Erika Ball, pursuing a PhD in math at Duke University; Rachel Brown, a clinical therapist at the Family Support Center in Utah Valley; Karen Critchfield, a stay-at-home mom who has an impressive bucket list and blogs about it; Ashley Mae Hoiland, who has placed poetry on billboards and founded the We Brave Women campagin (and has an MFA from BYU); Sylvia Lankford, who processes Freedom-of-Information requests for the federal government; Marcee Monroe, whose MA from the University of Texas at Austin is evident in her online business, Jabberdashery; Brooke Stoneman, a librarian whose thesis from San Jose State University was on illuminated manuscripts; Camille Strate Fairbanks, whose degree is from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta; retired BYU Honors Program director Colleen Whitley; and Jamie Zvirzdin, fresh  from receiving her MFA from Bennington College in Vermont.

The event is:
Tuesday, July 28, 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Benchmark Books
3269 S Main St Suite 250,
Salt Lake City, Utah 84115

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