From Housewives to Protesters: Mormons for the ERA: “Latter-day Suffragists”
MERA altered the language of the LDS Church and used it for their own purposes in advancing equality for women. They prominently displayed their “Mormonness” and promoted their connection with the LDS Church through protest buttons, bumper stickers, and a column in their newsletter. MERA strategically used popular phrases from the Church for their own purposes. For example, they altered the popular LDS acronym for “Latter-day Saint” to instead stand for “Latter-day Suffragist.” Bumper stickers promoting the cause read, “Another Mormon for ERA.” And the group’s name, “Mormons for ERA,” was promoted on t-shirts participants wore to rallies. MERA placed their Church membership at the forefront of their protest materials. They wanted to be associated with the LDS Church and demonstrate that they could be “good Mormons” and support the ERA at the same time. Reappropriating LDS Church material for their protests also served as a way for Mormon women to assert power in a religion dominated by men. In their sphere of protest, they were the leaders and they could choose how they interpreted and used LDS language, rituals, and hymns. Using this form of protest served as a powerful way for LDS women to claim elements of the culture as their own.
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.” 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.
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.” 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.
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.” 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.