By Julie Espinosa
Members of the BYUSA club Parity encountered incredulity from some students passing the club?s booth on campus when they talked about women?s role in the world and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
?But how can you be a feminist and a Mormon?? was the most memorable response Jessica Kendrick, the club?s president, received. Kendrick said this is just evidence of how desperately people need to hear their message.
The club?s new adviser, Valerie Hudson, said she believes that the labels of ?feminist? and ?Mormon? are not mutually exclusive.
?Every Latter-day Saint is a feminist by virtue of being a member,? said Hudson, a political science professor.
Her point of view, which could be construed by some as radical, conveys the ideal equality of men and women expounded by LDS doctrine. Parity hopes to explore this doctrinal idea of equality as part of their recent shift as a club.
On Feb. 24, Professors Tom and Louise Plummer will help kick off Parity by speaking on parity in their marriage. In subsequent meetings Parity plans to continue sharing this ?grander vision,? something they have noticed being brought up in recent general conferences and other addresses.
Parity, which meets at 5 p.m. Thursdays in the conference room of the HRCB, is trying to bring together more men and women to discover the gospel?s vision of parity and discuss why there are disconnects between the ideal and how we actually live.
Parity grew out of the BYUSA club VOICE, which focused on bringing light to issues of women?s oppression. Members who have been in both clubs said they think Parity is the natural evolution of what VOICE began.
Hudson is particularly suited to direct their new focus, having researched issues of gender in society for her books ?Bare Branches: the Security Implications of Asia?s Surplus Male Population? and ?Women in Eternity, Women of Zion.?
The club?s name was derived from another book on gender issues, ?Parity of the Sexes,? by Sylviane Agacinski.
“Parity basically means equality,? said Kendrick, a political science major from West Friendship, Md. ?But equality in today?s culture has come to mean the same. The nice thing about parity is that it reserves differences but keeps equality.?
Parity club members are reluctant to use the term ?feminism? because they want the whole campus?men, women, acknowledged feminists or not?to be receptive to their message without being put off by feminism?s negative political charge.
Kendrick said most Mormons associate a woman with her maternal job and a man with his role as provider and priesthood holder. While that may be true, she said categorization misses the essence of our revealed understanding.
?It?s more beautiful and elegant than that. We have a grander vision [because of the gospel],? Hudson said. ?Our doctrine is nothing less than revolutionary [on the role of women]. A married couple stands before God not as identicals, but as equals.?
For example, Elder L. Tom Perry upheld the fathers? role in anchoring families in a 2004 Church News article: ?There is not a president and vice-president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family. They are united together in word, in deed, in action, as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing.?
Parity seeks to find the reasons why people do not always live in such harmony and help them figure out how they can. Hudson said the club needs to help critique certain practices and deal with the lingering traditions of the fathers against which general authorities have warned.
?The church cannot bow down before any traditions that demean or devalue the daughters of God,” said Elder Alexander Morrisson in 1994 in Provo in a Q&A session for the International Society Annual Meeting.
Parity members cited historical examples and anecdotes of changing attitudes on women?s rights, both encouraging and discouraging. Utah set a precedent by being the first state in the union to grant women the right to vote. Still, someone recently joked to a friend of a Parity member that the most unattractive thing a girl can be is a returned missionary.
Kendrick said a major problem is not only the popular mindset that demeans women, but also that many women do not believe in their potential.
?With women themselves doubting, it?s impossible,? Burt said. ?We hope to build understanding among everyone who comes to meetings, to let them share insights about what they have learned.?
As a student-led club, Parity serves as a bridge between the faculty-oriented Women?s Research Institute and Women?s Resources and Services, a center that offers workshops and support groups, which was created with funds raised by VOICE.