Stephenie Meyer, Mormon Feminist?!

Bestselling author (and now movie producer) Stephenie Meyer yesterday told the Guardian UK that she is a feminist:

Despite all the criticism of her work, Meyer says she is a feminist, and that this is really important to her. “I think there are many feminists who would say that I am not a feminist. But, to me… I love women, I have a lot of girlfriends, I admire them, they make so much more sense to me than men, and I feel like the world is a better place when women are in charge. So that kind of by default makes me a feminist. I love working in a female world.”

Meyer is also a Mormon. Which makes her a Mormon feminist! And to which, as a fellow Mormon feminist, I say: WELCOME, STEPHENIE!

It takes guts for a Mormon woman to call herself a feminist. It really does. There are few religious communities in the United States where feminism is more hotly debated or purposefully misunderstood than in Mormonism, and few American churches have a stronger historical record of opposition to legal equality for women.

There are plenty of people skeptical about whether it’s even possible to be a Mormon feminist. Short answer: yes, Mormonism has a long, proud, albeit embattled history of visionary, equality-loving women, which you can begin to learn about here and here and here and here.

Even more people may be skeptical about whether it’s possible for a woman who writes novels famous for their perversely passive female characters and quasi-masochistic concept of love to be a feminist.

History says, yes. Yes, she can. 

Take nineteenth-century author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her most successful novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had enough weepy sentimentality to kill the undead, as well as some disturbingly idealized passive female characters.

For more than a century, literary historians turned up their noses at Stowe. But in the 1980s, feminist literary critics stood up and said that literature by women matters—even and maybe especially wildly popular novels peddling maddening characters to mass female audiences.

Because Stowe and the feminist critics who championed her (and I think Meyer too) knew that tremendous power happens when women connect with women on a mass scale.

And this goes to one of the basic foundations of feminism: solidarity.

Solidarity in its fullest sense means a willingness to stand by, respect, and promote the rights of all women across boundaries of race, class, nation, region, sexuality, and orthodoxy, and to stand with other women in their efforts towards dignity, autonomy, education, well-being, and self-determination.

The other fundamental of feminism is critique: the recognition that there are attitudes, forces, and institutions at work today that keep women from living their healthiest, happiest, most productive lives. A feminist is willing to say out loud that something must change so that all people—regardless of gender—can have the resources they need to meet the measure of their creation.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s major critique, of course, was of the American institution of slavery. Does Stephenie Meyer have a critique of the way power works in the world today?

Her candid interview with the Guardian suggests that she might. Meyer alludes to her own personal struggle with body hatred, or the disabling complex feminist Naomi Wolf once described as the “beauty myth.” And her recounting of her experience in Hollywood suggests she too has encountered unfriendly masculinist attitudes in the workplace. 

Imagine what Stephenie Meyer could do if like Stowe she found a way to weave some critique into women’s mass culture. For there really is so much to critique when 600 million women worldwide live in nations where domestic violence is not a crime and when a wealthy industrialized nation like the United states is among the last eight countries on the planet not to offer paid maternity leave to working families.

The facts may be more horrifying than the vampires. Or the fictional women who love them.

Stephenie Meyer came late to writing because, by her own account, she never thought she was capable enough. We don’t care how long it took her to get to feminism. What matters is that she’s here. 

And as is our custom for greeting newcomers, I know a Mormon feminist or two who are ready to drop by the Meyer household with a plate full of cupcakes and a basket full of classic Mormon feminist books and essays.

Sister Meyer, we’re ready to claim you, if you’ll have us.

askmormongirl@gmail.com'

Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.