For many people outside the Mountain West, their first exposure to the Mormon community was through blogs. Over the past few years, a popular wave of Mormon lifestyle bloggers have subtly introduced the feminist blogosphere to the LDS community, offering wholesome family values alongside Pinterest-friendly shots of DIY home décor.
Having spent many hours getting to know these women’s lives (and their photogenic children), I was curious how they are handling this long and nightmarish election season. And, as many others have noted, Mormons have had a particularly hard time with this election: Members of the LDS community are a reliably Republican voting bloc, but this year they’re faced with a GOP candidate anathema to their moral values. Mitt Romney publicly disavowed Trump from the get-go, while many of Utah’s top Republican officials pulled their endorsements in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape.
I reached out to a number of popular female bloggers in the LDS community to get their thoughts, and found one common thread: a deep dislike of Donald Trump. More unexpectedly, I also found a lot of women who were not simply holding their noses and voting for Hillary, but who were doing so joyfully, and whose feminist views coexist — although not always neatly — with their Mormon beliefs. While these views certainly aren’t representative of every woman I spoke to, nor the church at large, they speak to a robust feminist strain within the LDS community that runs counter to a tradition of strict patriarchal values. Recent years have seen a surge in Mormon feminist spaces online, as well as an outspoken movement to allow women to serve in church leadership positions.
Here are seven Mormon women (including five self-identified Mormon feminists) on how they’re voting, and the state of gender and politics in the church going forward.
C. Jane Kendrick, 39, writer and blogger
“When Mitt Romney ran last election, I decided to really have a good chat with myself and figure out where I was politically. I figured I would vote for Mitt because he was a Mormon like me. But in studying these issues and what my heart told me to do, I said, Oh my gosh. I’m a Democrat! And I’m liberal. So coming to a new identity on that was sort of heartbreaking and hard. I think my dad was more disappointed when I became a Democrat than when I told him I was having struggles with the church.
Mormon women are modern women. Most people I associate with are modern in every sense of the word: They believe in equal rights, they care about the wage gap, a lot of them work. By all accounts they would consider themselves feminists. However, the strange thing is that when they go to church as women, they’re not allowed to be leaders with major decision-making power; they are relegated to gender roles. Their life outside of the church probably doesn’t echo what it is inside the church — but when this is your culture, you have to make it work for you in your head. And I think a lot of us, particularly those of us who have been outspoken as bloggers, have had to really take on that challenge. Because we have an audience who constantly asks us questions. I wouldn’t be a feminist today if I didn’t have that blog. I came out and said I wasn’t a feminist, and 700 comments and a thousand emails later, I realized I really needed to look at this issue more clearly. And I have come out on the other side.
On the night that Hillary got the nomination I was alone, because I didn’t know who in my community I could talk to about it. I was too nervous to reach out. So it was kind of a lonely moment for me, and I thought about people across the United States having parties and calling their moms and all getting together and enjoying this moment, and I just felt super alone. But I’ve turned my daughters into Hillary fans, so now we’re all in it.”
Liz Stanley, 36, founder and managing editor of Say Yes
“I’m definitely voting for Hillary, for a lot of reasons. Primarily that I’m very engaged in some of the feminist movement in the church. Having a candidate that’s a female is something that’s really important and interesting to me, especially as a mother of two girls. Part of my struggle with the church is wanting an environment for them where they can grow and develop into whatever they want to be and not into these predefined roles. And I think having an example of someone that’s of their gender become president of the United States is amazing, and I wish I had that kind of experience growing up. And there’s no question that all this insanity that’s come out around Donald Trump and who he is and how he treats women is just disgusting. I just can’t imagine anyone wanting to support that.
I feel like in really simple situations the church has been able to make a few changes. But for the most part the big issue is that the only way to have true equality is for women to also have the priesthood, and the priesthood is the power. There are some steps ahead and some steps behind, sometimes I feel optimistic and other times I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. And as much as I don’t want to think that has influence over whether my dad wants to vote for Hillary Clinton, you don’t always think about how much sexism is ingrained in who you are and your belief system until you find yourself making quick judgments or off-the-cuff statements, and you’re like, Oh, wait, that’s kind of sexist. A lot of people in the church are really used to having male leaders, so, in their mind, a leader equals someone who is male and older and white. I think a lot of people are kind of unsure as to why they don’t like her, and it’s something where you have to look a little deeper — like, is it something about her policy and her values, or is it because she’s a woman?”
Kate Jones, 35, blogger, photographer, and recipe developer at Our Best Bites
“I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans. I think people mistake my independence as not caring, but I do, I care a lot. I just feel like I can’t tie myself to a particular party. But I’m voting for Hillary, and I voted for Obama both years. The Trump issue …. I just can’t. I’ve always known that. I have strongly disliked him since the early days of The Apprentice. I don’t like people like that. And when he started gathering momentum and support, I couldn’t believe it was happening. And the longer he’s in it, the worse things get. I live in Louisiana, which is a very conservative state, so my friends who are members of the church tend to be plugging their nose and voting for Trump. I have a few friends who are not plugging their nose while voting for Trump, and they’re really excited about it, which makes me nervous.
Abortion is a big issue for Mormons. But based on my research, Trump has never been particularly conservative or antiabortion. So I’m not sure why people are voting for him based solely on this important issue. But I think a lot of people are looking past that, and a lot of people are beginning to understand that 99 percent of the time abortion is not a choice people really want to make, and I think people might be seeing that with increased health care and education, fewer abortions are happening. I think it’s been a real trial by fire for people to take a step back from party lines and say, ‘What do I believe in? What does the candidate believe in? What am I going to do with my conscience?’
A lot of people in the Mormon community are voting third-party, I think; I think they can’t quite make the leap to Hillary. But my husband grew up in a much more conservative home than I did, and he is unbelievably irate about this whole Trump situation. I never thought I would see the day where he’s so pro-Hillary, but here we are. Especially with the tape that’s been released, he’s been really questioning his political beliefs.”
Becky James, blogger and co-founder of the Crafting Chicks
“The election has been really tough. I think because of our religious beliefs, most LDS members are a little more conservative, and some of the big things for me are finding out where the politicians lie as far as abortion and freedom of religion, and things like that.
Before the primaries happened, I was just holding my breath like, Is this really happening? I figured Hillary Clinton would make it in. As a woman, I’m very proud and excited that a woman’s made it, but I feel there are some questionable things in her past — which I know there are in a lot of people’s. But with her, there were just a lot of things, so it was really pulling me. I don’t think Trump would ever have my vote, just because of who he is and some of the stuff that’s come out lately. I just can’t take him seriously. My husband and I have tried to sit down and watch some of the debates and we’re like, Really? We can’t even stomach it. This election I’m probably voting for Evan McMullin; I don’t even know if he’s being talked about out there. Honestly, I just feel like we’re all going to end up with who we’re supposed to, I guess, but I want to vote the way I feel the most comfortable.
I talked to friends about it a lot, the whole locker-room-talk thing. If I had boys, I would not want them talking like that, I don’t care where they are. I don’t want my husband talking like that, and he never would. And I had a cousin who was sexually assaulted and it’s brought back memories for her. If somebody thinks they can do that, that’s just obscene. The whole thing is.
Abortion is probably the thing that would hold me up the most in voting for Hillary. But if there wasn’t anyone else, I would most likely vote for her, because I can’t put somebody like Trump in the White House.”
Meredith Ethington, 39, freelance writer and blogger at Perfection Pending
“I’m still undecided. I definitely am not voting for Trump. Ever since he received the Republican nomination I really have not been a fan of his. He was never somebody who I thought held the same kind of morals that I believe in. Over the past few months, that’s been proven by all the things in the media, especially as they relate to his treatment of women and his remarks about so many people who are already discriminated against.
I think it’s interesting, here in Utah, that a lot of people are really struggling with this election, because they don’t support the Republican nominee, and Utah has been typically a Republican state. A lot of people I know are supporting Evan McMullin, who has come out of nowhere. And I’ve heard that now he’s tied in Utah with Clinton and Trump.
I would say I definitely lean more to feminist points of view than a lot of my friends in my community, let’s just put it that way. I would love to see a female president, for sure. That wouldn’t be my sole reason of voting for someone, though I love the idea of having a female president in office.”
Megan Conley, 31, writer and blogger
“I am active LDS, but I struggle with things that are expected to happen within my faith tradition, as I think most people who belong to any religion would. But I have been happy to see overwhelmingly the response to Trump from Mormons has been negative — like, Yay, guys, you’re getting this one right. I hope one thing we learn as a faith is that there’s no political tradition, ideology, or nominee that deserves our devotion. I’ve gotta be honest, Christ probably doesn’t belong to any political party. He’s definitely not a Republican. I mean, he’s not a Democrat either.
I’ve read so many good articles over the past couple of months from secular feminists who are pro-life who have written about how they feel a need for a political home, because they’re Democrats in pretty much every sense except for the abortion issue. And I think we could find many LDS people that are moderate or left-leaning, except for the abortion issue. That said, being pro-life means being pro-life, even after a baby’s born. And nothing Trump represents is pro-life to me. He may have the talking points about abortion — I don’t actually think he believes them — but every other aspect of his campaign is anti-life. You can’t have his stance on refugees and claim you’re pro-life. You can’t have his stance on the women you work with and claim you are pro-life. And I think that’s something the secular pro-life movement is teaching the Christian pro-life. And I think some parts of the Christian right are learning that lesson and are happy to learn that lesson, and that’s why they’re voting third-party or for Hillary.
It’s so funny, I moved to Oakland a few years ago and I write and people ask me about my views. I’m this Mormon feminist, which is like a unicorn –people want to know what that means, and are there others like me, and is there this magical land of Mormon feminists? And there kind of are. They’re all over Utah. They’re all over Provo; they’re all over Salt Lake. There’s a lot of room inside Mormonism for different kinds of political and ideological thought. While I know not all feminists feel this way, I hope that one result of this election is the establishment of feminism as a big tent. I hope instead of asking women whether they agree with us, we start asking them if they want to build with us. Mormon women - of all political and ideological stripes - are anxious to build with their sisters no matter the faith tradition (or lack thereof) they subscribe to. And finding a way to build something meaningful, useful, lasting with women you disagree with - even heartily - has got to be one of the core tenets of feminism or else it will not survive the upheavals of the coming years - with or without Trump as nominee.”
Gabrielle Blair, 42, designer, blogger, and founder of Design Mom (and sister-in-law to Liz Stanley)
“I’ve voted Democratic in the past, but not always. I’ve gone back and forth. I like Hillary as a candidate; I like that she’s spent her career advocating for women, children, and the underserved. I wouldn’t even consider Trump as an option. He’s not even on the table. And the third-party candidates I’m having a hard time taking really seriously.
My Oakland congregation looks and sounds different than congregations in the heart of Provo, Utah; it’s one of the most accepting Wards in terms of liberal views. But there is a vibrant and very vocal feminist activist group in the church — a lot of women who care about these issues. It is fascinating for me, as a Mormon, to grapple with the very traditional patriarchal structure of our church and also to care about feminist topics and women’s rights. You have these Mormon women who are encouraged to get an education and see the same media that you and I see, and they’re reading the same books and they think of themselves as feminists, even if they don’t want to use the word. And they feel the need to defend the church and say No, it’s not sexist, it’s so great. There really is a Mormon-defense-mechanism instinct that is extremely strong.
I would say the church pushed me into feminism, though I think that was not their intention. I grew up a feminist. I was always in charge of everything. I was student-body president, and felt like all doors were open to me and that women have power. I didn’t necessarily think of myself as fighting for feminist causes — I just thought this is how women are. But years ago, we had a poster on our fridge of church leadership, and my 6-year-old daughter looked at it and said, ‘Are boys more important than girls? Because Jesus is a boy, the Bishop is a boy, boys have the priesthood.’ And my jaw just dropped. I never needed the church’s approval; I was very confident myself and did my thing, but I had this daughter who was seeing things differently. She was clearly being affected by it. So the poster came down immediately. And now basically every time there’s a church lesson, I’m editing it for feminism. I knew I needed to make sure they were getting these messages about equality.”