“Latter-day Suffragists”

The “We’re So Exalted That . . . ” column in MERA newsletters was a place for contributors to share how they experienced gender discrimination within the LDS Church. [Click image to enlarge.]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Collection MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1.)

MERA used a popular LDS phrase “exalted” to highlight power differentials and gender discrimination within the Church. Their newsletter regularly published a column entitled “We’re So Exalted That . . . ” The column provided a space for readers to contribute to the newsletter about experiences where they felt they were not able to fully participate in church activities due to their “exalted status” based on their gender. Johnson explains that, “where equality does not even pertain, the word ‘exalted’ is a mockery. One wonders if the leaders of the Church would gladly exchange their sex and become so exalted.”[4] Johnson offers several examples of Mormon women’s exalted status such as their inability to pray in sacrament meetings, publish their own magazine, manage the Relief Society budget, and stand in the circle of baby blessings.[5] 

The MERA newsletter regularly published a column of readers’ submissions about how they experienced their “exalted” status. Several describe church leaders' position on dress as an example. One reader described Sunday dress at girl’s camp, writing, “Church leaders in one stake have mandated ‘proper attire’ on Sunday at Girls Camp. They require dresses to be worn in the high brush and thick dust of camp for the entire day on Sunday.” Regarding this bylaw from the brethren, one woman wrote in frustration, “my question is whether they have worn a dress for an entire day, much less in a camping situation.”[6] Another from Utah writes:

For the first time in the history of Brigham Young University, the dress code was changed to allow women students to wear denims on campus. The change did NOT come about because the Mormon Church Board of Directors decided to give women the same rights with men, who have been allowed to wear denim jeans to classes for years. Instead, the change became necessary ONLY because “it became difficult to sort the difference between jeans and slacks,” as told the LA Times by the director of university standards.[7]

Another contributor from California laments the discrepancy in how the LDS Church views divorced men and women members of the Church. They write, “a couple of years ago, a single divorced woman in my ward expressed an interest in working in the Young Women’s organization. She is a junior high school teacher, and so is accustomed to working with young people. She was told that she could not work with the young women, however, because she was not a ‘proper role model.’ Just a few weeks ago, a single divorced man in my ward was called to be the Young Men’s Mutual President.”[8] These examples are a sampling of the ways MERA contributors saw gender discrimination in the LDS Church.

In response, MERA inhabited the male sphere as they altered religious hymns, rituals, and language for their own purposes. Their reappropriation of LDS Church materials served as a way of protesting the patriarchy of the LDS Church. In this way, MERA reclaimed and repurposed their religion to meet their needs and serve a cause they supported.

[1] “Latter-day Suffragist,” Protest Button, MERA MSS 225, Box 24, USUSCA.
[2] “Another Mormon for ERA,” Bumper sticker, MERA MSS 225, Box 19, Folder 10, USUSCA.
[3] “Twentieth Anniversary of Martin Luther King March.” August 27, 1983. MERA P0144, Box 1, Folder 17, USUSCA.
[4] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” August 1980. MERA MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1, USUSCA.  
[5] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” August 1980.
[6] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” January 1982. MERA MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1, USUSCA.
[7] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” April 1982. MERA MSS 225, Box 3, Folder 1, USUSCA.
[8] “Mormons for ERA Newsletter.” January 1982.