Mormon women “bloggers”: a long tradition
By Paula Kelly Harline
Mormon bloggers have been in the news lately, with a blogger recently being excommunicated from the church. It was Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly’s call-to-action writings, meant to recruit Mormon women to her cause, that recently led to her excommunication from the Mormon Church.
If Kelly is an example, Mormon women are no wimps. Because the Church is staffed by lay members, Mormon women routinely run entire Church organizations numbering up to 200 people; they make up one-third of the current missionary population; they believe in education; and they have a long tradition of writing—both in public and in private—from pioneer beginnings up to the current “Bloggernacle.” Here are some examples of this tradition.
(1) Between 1872 and 1914, Mormon women published their own periodical called the Woman’s Exponent that early on went to several thousand women throughout the United States and Great Britain and prompted exchanges with other women’s journals. In its early years, a number of writers argued for polygamy. Exponent editor and polygamous wife Emmeline Wells condemned the false notion of the pedestal, and argued in favor of equal pay for equal work and equality in athletic programs.
(2) More intimately, many nineteenth-century women kept diaries and wrote autobiographies, including some obscure polygamous wives. In the 29 I’ve studied closely, these writers held their heart and faith in one hand, and their guts and hesitations in the other. They explore the chasm between romantic love and triangular love, between resistance to other wives and friendship with them, and between religious belief and lived experience. This tradition of keeping personal writings continues today—for example, my 80-year-old mother has written about 12 journals during her lifetime and is working on her autobiography.
(3) Between 1914 and 1970, the Church’s women’s organization published The Relief Society Magazine to unite and educate women and provide ordinary women with an outlet for their writing, including stories, poems, and plays. Although less polemical than Woman’s Exponent, the Magazine was edited by women, for women, and had a wide readership.
(4) After The Relief Society Magazine was merged with a new church publication for both male and female readers called Ensign, in 1974, a group of northeastern Mormon feminists started the independent Exponent II, which they describe as “a newspaper forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance,” an “exchange” that allows them to “better understand each other” and “shape the direction” of their lives. Exponent II celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and since 2005, they’ve added a blog.
(5) The “Bloggernacle,” a nickname for the Mormon blogosphere (a port-manteau of ‘blogger’ and ‘tabernacle’ where Mormons worship on special occasions), is so vast that bloggers are currently organized by Mormon Archipelago into big and small islands and isles of the sea—and among them, one can find the orthodox and the heterodox and everything in between. Here are links to a few popular women bloggers:
- Jana Riess, an acquisitions editor in the publishing industry, blogs on religion, history, popular culture, ethics, and biblical studies;
- Neylan McBaine, a brand strategist who works for Bonneville Communications, best known for its work on Mormon.org and I’m a Mormon campaign, blogs as “a marketer, writer and mother” who grew up in New York City;
- Californian Joanna Brooks’ Ask Mormon Girl focuses on “the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of living the ‘it’s complicated’ version of faith”;
- Kristine Haglund, editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, blogs on By Common Consent and recently wrote about the history of excommunication as a guest blogger;
- Kathryn Skaggs blogs about traditional marriage and current events at A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman;
- Mormon Church historian Ardis E. Parshall’s ready access to archival materials underpins her mostly humorous posts on LDS history and culture, along with fiction, jokes, and art from past church magazines, found at Keepapitchinin.
(6) Which brings us back to Kate Kelly, currently the most notorious Mormon woman blogger. In contrast to websites such as Feminist Mormon Housewives that embrace anger (“angry activists with babies to feed”), Kelly’s Ordain Women perhaps attempts to mimic official church publications with its non-threatening word choice and colorful high-quality photographs of church-going Mormons that are similar to church magazine Ensign photos. Her website frequently cites scriptures and male and female Church leaders, concluding that “The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality.” Her means to reach this goal? She invites Mormons to “coalesce around the goal of women’s ordination” by participating in “public actions”—Mormon versions of civil disobedience such as marching on Temple Square with the goal of attempting to enter all-male meetings. Most recently, her website encourages Mormon women to host six “discussions” on topics related to women’s ordination. To get started, followers are provided with a downloadable invitation, get advice about who/how to invite, and can watch the “live launch.” The six discussions come with detailed lesson plans and six accompanying sample video discussions that are each at least an hour long.
In the excommunication letter Kelly received from her bishop, he explains to her that it’s not a problem to question or “even that you believe that women should have the priesthood,” but that she “persisted” in an “aggressive effort” to “persuade” others “to join [her] movement,” one he believes undermines the church. Subsequently, the Bloggernacle is straining under the weight of its innumerable bloggers discussing where the Virginia bishop should have drawn the line, or whether he should have drawn it at all.
And so the tradition continues, if in new and much faster, and thus much more public, media.
Paula Kelly Harline has been teaching college writing for over 20 years for the University of Idaho, Brigham Young University, and Utah Valley University. She has also worked as a freelance writer and artist. She currently lives with her husband, Craig, in Provo, Utah, and is the author of The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women.