SPINGFIELD, Ill. — In the October
2007 general conference, Relief Society General President Julie B. Beck gave a talk titled
"Mothers Who Know." An unprecedented online reaction followed. Even during her
talk bloggers began commenting on and analyzing her statements. In the coming
days and weeks, this reaction would grow, peaking in an online document titled "What Women Know."
BYU-Idaho history professor Andrea
Radke-Moss examined this online reaction in her presentation "Blogging over
Beck: LDS Women's Online Responses to Julie B. Beck's 'Mothers Who Know' Talk" Friday afternoon at the Mormon History Association conference in
Through her research,
Radke-Moss found that "the talk and the
ensuing discussion that followed on numerous online blogs serves as an excellent
example of how internet discussion is forming a new landscape of populist
response to top-down discourse in (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)." She explained "the fact the church has recently approached a more honest discussion of controversial church
history issues in the church publications shows that the leaders do have their
fingers on the pulse of what average members and investigators are exposed to
through the internet."
Radke-Moss realized there
was a wide range of reaction. "Among Mormon women's many reactions to Beck's
talk in the blogosphere, these ranged on a spectrum of overwhelming support for
Beck's call for higher standards of mothering, to those women who expressed
feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and, finally, Mormon women who disagreed with
what they perceived as Beck's attempts to pigeonhole all women into one set of
This made Radke-Moss
wonder why. "Since so many talks are directed to women about the importance of
motherhood, why did this one in particular produce such a wide range of
responses, from very positive to extremely negative?"
This very question had
been argued both online in the blogs and in real life with no clear answer. So
instead Radke-Moss turned to look at the historical precedence of Mormon women's
reactions: "From the Relief Society's 1842 petition to the Illinois
government to end the persecution of the Saints in Nauvoo, to the 1880s
petitions rejecting anti-polygamy legislation, to the petition efforts both for
and against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s, the petition has
long served Mormon women as an important form of peaceful resistance to
physical, social and legal forms of oppression."
And yet calling the "What
Women Know" a petition drew clarification from the Web site's founders. They told
Radke-Moss that Sister "Beck's speech got a bunch of us thinking about all that we have
learned, collectively, about being women and mothers, and we agreed that our
experiences are far more complicated than Beck's exhortation indicated.
We saw our statement as an elaboration, not a rebuttal."
So did this online
statement or any of the other blogging reaction illicit any change in the
discourse surrounding women's roles? Radke-Moss thinks so. She
formulated a chart comparing "Mothers Who Know" statements to the
"What Women Know" statements as well as to subsequent statements by church
leaders in the worldwide leadership training meeting in 2008 and to Elder
M. Russell Ballard's 2008 April address "Daughters of God." As an example, in the training meeting, Elder Dallin H. Oaks
stated that in regards to the Proclamation on the Family, "'Fathers
are ... responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for
their families. ... Mothers are primarily responsibility for the nurture of
their children.' It doesn't say 'exclusively' (responsible for nurturing)."
And Sister Beck met with
a group of BYU women in March 2008. "When students asked her if they could have
careers, she said: 'Girl, go for broke! ... Whatever your dreams are,
go for it. ... Sometimes you don't have control over the Lord's time and plan. ... Go for broke, but don't lose sight of the gospel. When the time comes to marry
and have children, re-evaluate.'"
In all of her research and
writing for this presentation, Radke-Moss hoped to portray the women's
disaffection with the talk accurately to "sort out their feminist ideas,
while still respecting the faithful perspectives of their
bloggers." And she concluded "I think any observer
might be careful not to dismiss the significance of the Mormon feminist
blogosphere as it influences or points to a new direction of gender discussions
within Mormon culture, and even among mainstream Mormons."