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

Springfield, Ill.

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."

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