PROVO, Utah — Who are LDS women?
The founders of three women's online forums joined together to discuss how digital media is shaping the image of LDS women Thursday, afternoon at the Mormon Media Studies Symposium at BYU.
Lisa Butterworth, founder of FeministMormonHousewives.org; Kathryn Lynard Soper, founder of Segullah.org; and Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project, discussed how women's online interactions help strengthen one another, engender a sense of community and contribute to the changing perception of LDS female identity.
Five years ago, Lisa Butterworth worried that she was the "only liberal Mormon in the universe" and searched the computer for a like-minded community: one that was both thought-provoking and faith-promoting. She stumbled into the Bloggernacle and enjoyed the sympathetic discussions but realized that most of the commenters were men, and she yearned to speak about female topics relevant to Mormon women.
So she crafted her own community, and FeministMormonhouseWives.org was born. Butterworth explained, "I didn't know that much about feminism, and I certainly was no expert in Mormonism, but I wanted to talk with people in a safe environment, both about my faith and my feminism, where we could learn from each other."
Butterworth just hoped for two comments and was surprised when readership grew exponentially. Her blog has been featured in newspapers and magazines and garners readers both male and female — even people who do not consider themselves to be feminist, or Mormon, or housewives, but who still find value in the discussions on subjects such as motherhood, chastity, diapers, canning, politics, sexuality and faith. And it has come full circle for Butterworth as she receives emails and comments from women saying, "I thought I was all alone."
Kathryn Lynard Soper, founder of Segullah.org, explained that "segullah" is a Hebrew word that translates into "peculiar treasure," and that is the theme of the blog: highlighting and discussing those treasures that are "peculiar" to Mormon women. Segullah, both an online destination and a literary journal, was created in 2005 as a "middle ground for women to explore and share their experiences in creative, candid and ultimately uplifting ways."
Soper describes the community as a place that takes "a descriptive approach to LDS womenhood, rather than a proscriptive one, by removing our Sunday masks by speaking frankly, as well as artistically, about the reality of our lives." She hopes that instead of necessarily changing perceptions about LDS women, Segullah can be a place that help LDS women change perceptions about themselves.
Neylan McBaine asks, "Can we describe a Mormon woman's hair? Her dress? Can we detail how she spends her time, decorates her house?"
McBaine decried the cultural practice of narrowly defining Mormon women, and in launching the Mormon Women Project in January 2010, she had a goal of not describing what a Mormon woman looked like but instead "what a Mormon women feels like."
The Mormon Women Project strives to provide honest, real-to-life online interviews of Mormon women across the spectrum of cultures, geography and ages, and it celebrates the diversity of LDS women's rich lives. McBaine hopes the project will "stimulate a groundswell of pride and understanding in our strengths as a broad-ranging sisterhood."
All three LDS women's online communities celebrate the collaborative approach of continually exploring the question "Who are LDS women?"
And as McBaine explained, "Thanks to the Internet, geographic boundaries ... no longer dictate our social communes with other sisters."