Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Women's Movement in Early Utah

A week ago I listened to a radio program on Eliza R. Snow.  In it, the commentator and Jill Derr were speaking of Eliza R. Snow and Emeline B. Wells in the late 1880s, and quoted Emeline as saying "Relief Society will help women's emancipation from error, superstition, and darkenss, etc., will bring educational and economic opportunities to women." The program host then asked, "Where did [Emeline] come up with these particular concepts?  Was it the [original Relief Society] minutes or something more along the lines of women's rights?" (minute 44:46).

Jill Derr answers that she believes it was, at least in part, a result of Emeline's life:  Emeline was married at 15, a mother at 16 and deserted by her husband, later married two more times, and during her life had to support herself.  You can understand why Emeline was a supporter of women's rights and suffrage because she saw that women needed the ability to care for themselves when life gave them lemons.

After that part in the program, the commentators talked about how women in Utah had the vote in 1870, lost it when the government felt Utah had too much voting power, then received it again in 1896 when Utah became a state.  They suggest that it was easily acceptable for women to have the vote in early Utah because women naturally voted in church affairs, so why shouldn't they in civic?

Women in early Utah are so fascinating to me.  They had a different culture than the rest of the United Sates; they were quite liberated in many ways.  I'd continue to like to learn more about:
  • how did women's rights affect the women in Utah
  • how did Utah women influence women's rights, and who
  • how much did polygamy enable women to participate more in the community and politics
Any suggestions on where I can learn more?

I've found

Girls Gone Mild/The Good Girl Revolution

I just finished reading Wendy Shalit's Girls Gone Mild (or in paperback: The Good Girl Revolution).  Shalit focuses not only on modesty, but on the influence of pornography on our society and our relationships; sense of self, dignity, and altruism; friendship; bullying; and feminism.   In a nut shell, Shalit says maybe we can make the world a better place by being nice, good, and virtuous.  She still uses some pretty explicit examples throughout, which I hope are not the norm, but they do help her make her point.  It seems to be written for a younger audience (maybe high school), versus a college audience in A Return to Modesty, so it's an easier read.

On Friendship (chapter 5)
  • Women need to be more supportive of one another; knock off all the competition, sexual and otherwise.
On Feminism
  • ". . . the meaning of feminism is up for grabs right now.  The ground is rumbling, and the ideological fault lines are shifting. . ." (206-7).
  • "'. . . the sexual revolution's excesses have led to a devaluation of women and men.  We're playing into the dumbness of men and the dumbness of women'" (208).  I like that she includes men here.  If women want to be like men, why don't we try to copy good men, rather than the most base?
  • "The word itself [feminism] has become almost meaningless---and can refer to diametrically opposed ideas---and yet hearing what feminism means to others is still interesting and can tell you a lot.  Some people use the term to signal that they care about the dignity of women.  Others use it to indicate that they want to fight the notion of being dignified at all.  Usually to the youngest feminists, the idea of decency is tremendously appealing. . ." (208-9).  I identify with the dignity side.
  • One woman who went along with the feminist movement of the 1970s said, "'Now that I'm on the other side of life, I feel completely ripped off by the feminists.  I ended up with [STDs] and two unwanted pregnancies which I terminated. . . .  My supposed sexual liberation brought me lots of heartbreak and regrets, far outweighing the jollies.  The feminists simply don't acknowledge the downside of this supposed liberation'" (211-212).
  • '"To become a mother". . . is something that nearly "every girlfriend that I know" wants. . . .  "We're in our early thirties and there is that time that you have, and most of my friends do want that, and that is just the reality. . . . Your priorities change"' (216). 
  • ". . .I came to think of these younger feminists as part of a fourth wave. . . . The  fourth-wavers question pornography instead of wishing to star in it.  They are more likely to be fans of Florence Nightingale than Nina Hartley [I don't know who that is, and I'm not going to Google it].  They are most taken with earlier feminists, the nineteenth-century women who were temperance advocates as much as suffragists.  The suffragists argued that women should own property and have the right to vote precisely so that they might improve society with their moral perspective and their feminized heroism.  The early feminists also believed in the sacredness of sexuality, it's interesting to note" (219).
  • [Caring for a family] can seem less significant only if your sole criterion is external approval. . . .  . . .Does this mean that our private actions are intrinsically any less significant [than public]? (223)

I didn't find the book as amazing as I found A Return to Modesty, probably because the topic wasn't so new to me anymore.   I don't know that you need to read both of Shalit's books, but one will broaden your perspective on modesty.