Reflecting the global growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Women Project seeks to showcase the rich diversity of the roughly 7 million Latter-day Saint women around the world.
The website features profiles of LDS women from all walks of life and backgrounds united by a common sisterhood of faith and spirituality.
Native New Yorker and site founder Neylan McBaine credits her background and experiences as the catalyst for the launching of the Mormon Women Project.
“Because being raised in New York … I went to Yale for college and then living in San Francisco and Boston, I just feel that I've been blessed with a really wonderful network of faithful, interesting women, so I think the selfish impulse was I need to get all these stories in one place,” she said. “This is just a great treasure trove that I'm sitting on with these women. It almost came from a selfish drive, but at the same time, of course, the drive was to share that. I really did feel that we had to take some sort of action.”
The project was a decade in the making, but the idea really took hold during one sleepless night.
“It was one of (those) things where I couldn't go to sleep one night, and I was up, and I just had this idea, and it just had to happen,” she said. “It was me trying to figure out how I could use my unusual background and my unusual education and my unusual perspective to really help other women understand that it is not only possible but really recommended to make deliberate personalized choices about who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives, our time and our talents.”
The project is celebrating its first anniversary, and McBaine is excited about the growth and success of the endeavors. What started in January 2010 with 18 profiles now incorporates photo essays, videos and interviews with more than 70 different LDS women.
“I didn't know what was going to happen,” she said. “A couple weeks into it, I realized what had happened. I started getting e-mails and calls, and I tracked the traffic on the site and started getting hundreds of visitors a day. Pretty soon a big major blog picked us up, and we got a thousand visitors a day.”
The success of the project is simple for McBaine.
“It’s about telling these other women's stories,” she said. “Our stories are really what women can contribute to the church's history. We have a lot of pioneer journals, which, in themselves, are stories, and then we have the stories of what we're going through today. There hasn't been to-date a real formal effort to document those and to really incorporate those into our history and who we are as a people. It's the driver behind blogs. It’s the driver behind the success of Mormon women’s blogs.
“We’re good storytellers. We’re journal keepers. We’re chroniclers. We’re historians. We understand the importance of history because of the place of scripture. We understand that we’re part of a larger pattern, a larger story, a larger plan, and so I think we value our stories for that reason.”
According to McBaine, the Mormon Women Project has goals to achieve.
“The social goal is to debunk some myths of what it means to be a Mormon woman,” she said. “First of all, the church is too big now for those myths to be permeating our culture to the degree that they have been for the past 50 years. There’s a serious threat of the community not staying together because women are feeling like they don’t belong.
“So, the social goal is simply to offer women other women whom they can admire, someone they can look up to who will be a role model, who will be a trailblazer. So, I think on a very basic level, there is a desire to show women from every walk of life, from every place, living the gospel faithfully but adapting it to their own circumstances."
McBaine is adamant that neither she nor any of the volunteers are advocating for any administration or doctrinal shifts.
“One thing that I always make clear in regards to the project is that I am not taking any sort of proactive stance about adaptation of doctrine or of any sort of organizational change,” she said. “I am advocating for confidence and a deeper understanding of our doctrine. I’m advocating for a deeper relationship with Heavenly Father, and I’m advocating for a deeper sense of self-worth."
She points out that amongst the tapestry of LDS women featured through the project, despite outward differences, there is a binding agent of faith that brings them together.
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“If you throw against the wall … hundreds of images of what a faithful Mormon woman looks like, no one is going to be able to come to that and say, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be this or that,’” she said. “These women look so different, (yet) they have this common thread of faithfulness and righteous living and using the spirit to make good choices — choices that are right for them.”
McBaine is grateful for the opportunity to share LDS women’s stories. She is currently working on site expansion and filing for non-profit status to offset production costs.
“I love it. I feel immensely grateful that I can communicate on this issue,” she said. “I am just really grateful. Honestly, it’s really been a joy. The hardest part is that I want to do it all the time.”