By Jennette Jenkins
Nearly 30 LDS women are heading to New York today for a weeklong outreach effort at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.
“Our platform and guiding principles are essentially the Young Women values and The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” says Carolina Allen, a mother of five from Provo, who launched Big Ocean Women in preparation for the historic trip to the UN. “Our values are desperately needed, and we feel compelled to act and defend everything we hold sacred.”
The Big Ocean women are attending the annual UN event via badges from four organizations, including United Families International.
Allen’s passion for LDS women and mothers to be heard at CSW began last year when she attended and saw first-hand the “devastating proposals and the tsunami of harmful ideologies that are negatively influencing children and families in the United States and around the world.”
Although the delegates aren’t officially representing the LDS Church, they are filling a role that general leaders held in decades past.
Relief Society General President Belle Stafford, who served from 1945 to 1974, participated in the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women and held leadership positions in both organizations for years. Current general leaders of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary no longer devote significant time to national or international political organizations. However, two previous members of the Young Women General board are part of Big Ocean Women and are attending the UN conference where 8,000 other women are expected from around the world.
Below is Allen’s essay where she calls for a restoration of “true feminism,” which is the philosophical basis for the new organization. See bigoceanwomen.com for more information about how the Young Women values are used as a platform to share beliefs about the complementarity of men and women, as well as the power of motherhood. Also, listen to Allen’s podcast on FairMormonBlog explaining her vision for the faith-based group of women.
A Call for the Restoration of True Feminism
By Carolina Sagebin Allen
From a young age I felt in my bones I was part of a vast ocean of women who had something unique and valuable to offer the world. Instinctively, I felt that being a girl was something special because I knew I was a daughter of God.
When I heard the term “feminism” as a youth, I claimed it. I liked the word; it spoke of my female power and influence. In my mind, feminism was spiritually infused. It had little to do with “sameness” and everything to do with “uniqueness.” To me, women were inherently powerful, independent of external factors.
Throughout the years, I had cultivated this concept of feminism, what I like to think of as ‘true feminism.’ Because of this identity, the framework of oppression and disadvantage was foreign to me. Rather, I was lifted up, edified and strengthened. I was confident I could lift others because of the understanding that God’s power naturally rushed within me.
As time passed, I had no serious cause to doubt my true feminism. It suited me well. I felt it deep in my heart as I maneuvered through college as a philosophy major, as I served in leadership capacities throughout the years, and most especially as a wife and mother. That is, until my very sobering and life-changing experience at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women last March.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focuses on women’s issues internationally. At this council, critical language within the negotiated UN documents are altered and redefined. Over time, many words begin taking precedent as countries create their domestic laws around such language. This is “international customary law.” UN treaties can be legally binding too, like The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In these cases the country signs on to these UN treaties and decides to honor them (the U.S. Constitution states that all legally implemented treaties become the law of the land).
In other words, the language adopted in these negotiations have the power to affect families throughout the world! So, when I was offered an opportunity to attend this important event through a pro-family organization, I jumped on board!
While there, however, I witnessed the workings and dealings of many who claimed the word ‘feminist.’ They essentially ran the show, pushing policies that grossly undermined many religious and family centered cultures of the world. They worked overtime warping provisions concerning life, motherhood, children, families, and marriage. Many pro-family countries endured bullying and intimidation.
On one occasion, an organized group of women stood in protest of “religious fundamentalists” (a term they have subscribed to many God-fearing people of faith). They lined up in the main plaza of the UN building and strapped on their masks that read, “Silence the religious fundamentalists!” The masks were big red lips that covered half of their faces. Many nations whose cultures are deeply religious witnessed this intimidation. Their media team followed them around snapping picture after picture. Later, they inundated social media with images from the protest and were applauded by their coordinated supporters. Some of us watching did our best to counter with positive comments regarding people of faith. However, their side was well organized and they took over the dialogue.
Our children’s educations were also being negotiated there. The new “cutting edge” of social change now revolves around “child sexual rights.” Year after year, children’s legal ages of sexual consent and sexual debut are systematically lowered by these policies. The “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” (extreme sexual indoctrination for school-aged children) is already underway in the United States, Canada and many other countries. There has also been the consistent shift to replace the term “Maternal Healthcare” to “Reproductive Health Care,” which changes the focus from maternal/fetal heath to abortion. The word and concept of “motherhood” is all but being eliminated in documents.
At the United Nations, I had witnessed a moral tsunami at work. It was as if a colossal wall of debris-filled water had heaved itself beyond its bounds, its toxicity pummeling the nations of the world. I saw the power these radical feminist groups wielded, and grievously watched in silence as they influenced policies that would eventually have direct impact on my children.
I felt powerless and helpless. I felt as though my personal feminism failed because it was just that—personal. It was alone, isolated inside me. I felt like a miniscule wave compared to the massive tsunami. I ached for a group that I could stand with. I knew in my gut that sharing my small voice was a start, and finding women who felt the same way was the answer.
The day of that protest, I vowed I would return to that very spot with a massive representation of women like me. But upon coming home I struggled to know under what banner was this to be accomplished? Ever since my UN visit, the word “feminism” had become indescribably bitter. I found myself saying, “Who needs feminism anyway? I know who I am! Let them have it!” I considered other words. I researched and got in touch with leading “womanists,” yet theirs was a theoretical philosophy, and didn’t yield the kind of practical power necessary to influence policies. I learned more about the ‘Feminists for Life’ group that opposed abortion, yet as much as I believed in their cause, I felt there was a broader influence to attain, and a different approach in attaining it.
The image in my mind was of women that would inspire rather than demand. I pictured life-affirming exemplars leading the world in faithful, peaceful, and happy ways. I searched for a word that would have the scope and breadth of righteous power in the female sphere. I looked, but all I found were fragmented groups of women’s organizations, all wonderful, but not having the influence I felt was needed.
One day, feeling defeated and broken, I knelt down in prayer. Sobbing, I pleaded with the Lord for guidance. This was important because this was the key to protecting all that was dear to me! I thought of the bullied countries of the world standing in defense of truth. I thought of women and mothers around the world in need of a true sisterhood. I thought of my children. What would the future look like for us all? I needed help in order to help!
It was then that I began to feel peace, and the tiny flicker of my childhood feminism resurfaced. The distinct thought entered my mind, “Words are powerful things, Carolina! Don’t give up! It’s your word!” Words are ideas that inspire actions! They are labels that can potentially identify, unify, and gather in behalf of change. Amidst my tears, it became clear to me that what started as a corruption of the female sphere was now corroding words like “family”, “mother”, “father”, “marriage”, and the like. The strong impression came to me that when we redefine and restore feminism, we will be perfectly positioned to take back these words.
Upon closing my prayer, I was reminded of the early Relief Society exemplars and recalled Eliza R. Snows’ statement, “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, Chapter 4). Never had I felt so grateful to past and present Relief Society leaders, and the good brethren of the Priesthood who have always sought to encourage and support! Never had such words comforted me! As I got up off my knees, my tears of defeat turned into tears of gratitude. I understood that we are the peaceful, happy, purposeful, sisterhood of action! We are covenant women endowed with truth and power!
With this realization my feelings of doubt and helplessness were replaced with a whirlwind of ideas. What if women of many faiths joined in a vast sisterhood that influenced and played an active representative role in protecting our children and families nationally and internationally? What if life-affirming women everywhere reclaimed true feminism as ‘the power of the female sphere in increasing worldwide goodness and relief’? Now THAT would be something indeed!
These experiences have lead me to believe that the righteous and peaceful women of this Earth set the standard on lasting power and influence! Power in the female sphere was first given to our great mother Eve, the fearless and life-preserving mother of all living. Hers was the feminism of peace, compassion, and deep faith. Women of the world who embrace such God given attributes are the true feminists.
Egalitarian driven undercurrents are a mere means to an end, and that end is power. However we already have power! It is within us. Our scope and outreach is inter-generational. Like peaceful waves that consistently shape and etch our stories upon the landscape, the power of those persistent waves over time far outweighs the destructive force of isolated tsunami’s.
President Spencer W. Kimball prophetically declared: My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the church are seen as distinct and different―in happy ways―from the women of the world…Thus it will be that female exemplars of the church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the church in the last days … your talents and spiritual strength are so desperately needed. (The Role of Righteous Women, Ensign, October 1979).
I have come to the conclusion that the origin of the word “feminism” is mine, and I won’t give it up. Since my trip to the CSW, I have come home with a renewed purpose. I feel deeply that the time has come to stand united, upright, shining like beacons, especially in the darkest of places. The knowledge that women are mothers of all living, and that we are indeed co-creators with the very God that created us, is a truth that all women must have access to. When we know this truth, nothing will internally oppress. And when that happens we will influence and inspire changes in external oppression. I am certain that now is the time to gather in defense of our children and families. As we do this, we will have great opportunities to open our mouths and proclaim to the world:
We are powerful in our nonviolent nurturing ways. We are strong because we serve and willingly share one another’s burdens. We are courageous because we stand for truth amidst confusion. We are the answer to the world’s problems because we are inherent healers of suffering. We carry the capacity for these gifts in our very DNA, and we pass on these gifts throughout space and time. This is the power of the female. This is feminism.