It probably comes as a surprise to learn that there is a quarterly publication dedicated to the perspective of Mormon feminists. Perhaps it’s just surprising to learn that there are Mormons feminists, period. It’s one of those “oh, duh” realizations—
every religion has a wide array of practitioners that have varying opinions on not only political issues but on interpretation of scripture, and Mormons are no different.
Exponent II was started in Cambridge in the 1970s by a group of Mormon women that considered themselves feminists, according to Aimee Hickman, the current co-editor of the publication. Hickman explained that there was a particularly large community of Mormon women in the Boston area at the time because many of their husbands were attending area schools. She went on to say that many of those “founding mothers” would then go on to earn degrees of their own and have since become teachers at local universities.
When asked about the biggest misconception she encounters when she tells people she’s a Mormon, Hickman explained that people assume she’s politically and socially conservative and that she’s submissive and uneducated.
“There are many people that do sort of expect that of Mormon women—that there is one right way to be a Mormon woman and it is sort of conservative and submissive. It’s a stereotype that I’m anxious and all of us Exponent women are really anxious to get rid of.”
Hickman was raised Mormon until the age of eight when her family fell away from the church. She herself, however, would eventually go back to the church at the age of 16. In 2002, Hickman moved to the Boston area, at that time still the epicenter of the Exponent organization—“When I moved there, I met several of the women that founded the publication in the ’70s and they were my people. I just got involved.” Since then, the staff of Exponent II has spread throughout the country and even into other countries, and Hickman now works out of Baltimore.
Exponent II is a progressive quarterly, and their latest issue was entirely LGBTQ themed, which is surprising considering that the Church of Latter-day Saints is notoriously conservative, especially on this issue. That being said, these types of feminist concerns are not totally foreign to Mormon women. As Hickman pointed out—“Utah was the second state that granted women’s suffrage, and that was really due solely to the work of early Mormon women.”
While the publication isn’t officially associated with the Mormon Church, they have gotten their share of both negative and positive feedback. In the ’80s and early ’90s, the church leaders explicitly stated that their followers should avoid reading “alternative Mormon publications,” a hardline stance that negatively affected readership. As of late, the church seems to have relaxed its policy a bit—though they haven’t spoken much about the publication, what little they have said has been positive. Though she admitted that sometimes there can be tension between the polar political stances of the conservative Mormon leaders versus the liberal Mormon offshoots, Hickman described the church as currently in a state of flux:
“I think it’s something that the church has to get used to, this idea that there is a little bit more democratic interpretation of doctrine and theology.”
Hickman explained that although the prime demographic for Exponent II is Mormon women, she wanted to make clear that that’s not all. “We’re really interested in just showing the variety of Mormon women’s lives.” She also explained that the staff and readership isn’t entirely made up of practicing Mormons. There is a large portion that are ex-Mormons and still feel some sort of resonance with the church, and as such, still work for or read the publication.
As Mitt Romney’s campaign sets its eyes on the US presidency, Hickman is preparing to open up to a larger variety of readers. More people are becoming interested in Mormonism in general and perhaps even more so with this subset of feminist Mormons.
Hickman is a liberal democrat so she doesn’t identify with Romney’s policies, but she also has other concerns. She spoke frankly, “As a Mormon I worry because, again it goes to stereotyping, in many ways Mitt Romney fits a stereotype of a kind of Mormon man. It’s a stereotype that I would like to see go away and it’s one that doesn’t fit a lot of my real experiences.
For me having him be the face of Mormonism makes me uncomfortable as a Mormon.”
TO CHECK OUT A COPY OF EXPONENT II (OR MAYBE EVEN SUSCRIBE), CHECK OUT THE-EXPONENT.COM AND FOLLOW THEM @THEEXPONENT