Dead Queens Discuss Modern Women’s Issues

What is the role of women in society? This is a hotly debated topic that no one seems able to reach a consensus on. Recently, BYU’s History Department thoughtfully resuscitated four dead queens to teach us more about the topic: Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty; Hurrem Sultan; Joan of Arc; and Martha Ballard, queen of colonial midwifery. For an hour on March 1, these women debated various questions surrounding women’s involvement in politics, the work force, and life in general. Like the Dead Presidents’ Debate of last fall, it was an engaging and humorous look at history and its bearing on matters of importance today.

Women in the Workforce

The moderator asked in what capacity should women be involved in the workforce? The queens agreed that females were essential. Martha, who, as we mentioned here, was an 18th century midwife who is primarily known from Laura Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer-prize winning book A Midwife’s Tale, said that women had always worke,d while Joan declared women to be an “absolutely important economic force.” Hurrem had worked as her husband, Suleiman the Magnificent’s advisor, and Cixi, who ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty, termed herself “a professional politician.”

Women in Politics

Her proclamation perfectly segued into Professor Stratalacactus’ next query, which was: “What role should women play in politics?” On this question, the queens were divided. Both Hurrem and Joan supported the idea of females participating in politics. The latter said that women could be inspiring leaders, and Hurrem stated that women needed to be more involved.

Martha and Cixi, however, favored a more restrained role for females in politics. The midwife declared policy-making to be a man’s role and maintained that that was the natural order of things. Similar to this natural order was the “Mandate of Heaven” advocated for by Cixi. Even though lots of women are smarter than men, she said, women in politics violated the divine order. 

The Women’s March and whether not women’s involvement in politics was good or bad were the topics of the third question. As with the last query, the queens differed in their responses. Hurrem declared that while it was ok to protest officials, it was not ok to protest rulers. Cixi took this a step further by adding that “no one should have the right to demonstrate…Nobody should march- wrong.” She advocated that God appointed rulers, therefore, people should obey them. “You don’t have to think about it,” she said. “Just obey.” According to Martha, however, marching is a “good way for people to show support, not to protest.” Joan believed the opposite, saying that people need to “make their voices heard.”

Modern Women

 Next, the queens were asked if they thought modern women were better off than those in previous generations. Joan and Cixi asserted that they were, the former praising the fact that women could wear pants. Martha acknowledged that while modern times were better in terms of medical care, people spent too much time on their phones. “The old ways are the good ways.” Hurrem, however, pointed out the “big inequality in the world today,” of medical care.

Advice

Lastly, the queens were asked if they had any advice to women as they began their lives as BYU students. Joan admonished that it is “important to listen to what God wants you to do.” Hurrem said to overcome obstacles and that “you have to believe in yourself.” Martha encouraged women to keep journals, and Cixi offered sage advice: “Addiction is bad. Pursue your education.”

Hurrem, Martha, Cixi, and Joan debated many pertinent issues facing contemporary women. While they often disagreed, their varying answers provided perspective on the issues that could inform current students and modern women. All in all, the debate served as a fun way to learn more about women’s issues.

Each of the “queens” was interviewed by the professor in separate videos leading up to the debate, in parodies of Zach Galifianakis interview of Hillary Clinton: Joan of Arc here, Empress Dowager Cixi here, Hurrem Sultan here, and Martha Ballard here. We look forward to more fun history debates!

Did you attend the debate? What did you think?

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to Present on Early LDS Women and Polygamy

It was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who originally said that “well-behaved women seldom make history,” a quote that has taken on a life of its own in American culture. The statement appeared in a 1976 article by her about Puritan funeral services, but she expounded on it in a 2008 book titled with that quote, in which she bemoaned the fact that people often misinterpreted it to mean that women should misbehave in order to be memorable. “She wrote those words,” says Kim Z. Dale on Chicago Now, “lamenting…the fact that so many women who made positive impacts on society are overlooked by history.” Ulrich, in various publications since then, has noted that some of those impacts took place because of the early polygamist practices of the LDS Church. In an upcoming BYU event, in fact, she will expound on how women in polygamist marriages benefited from and in fact brought benefit to the entire then-territory of Utah.

On March 14 in the Hinckley Center at 7pm, BYU Women’s Studies and the History Department will host Ulrich as she speaks on rethinking the position of women in early Mormonism. Of plural marriage, she said in her recently-published book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870: “it could…have been described as an experiment in cooperative housekeeping and an incubator of female activism.” Indeed, Ulrich defended the practice by reminding people that Utah, a primarily female state, had given women voting rights, fifty years before it was federally mandated.

 

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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Ulrich won the Pulitzer Prize for writing A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812. She has also written books on polygamy and women’s rights in the Church as well as notable female historical figures.

Students Seek Advice From Dead Presidents and Dead Queens

You think the current political scene is bad? How about adding President’s Lincoln, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Jackson to the mix. That should make it better, right? If you were in attendance at the History Department’s Dead Presidents’ Debate on October 5th, then you already know the answer: It only makes things messier.

The Debate

The professors−Grant Madsen, Karen Auman, Matt Mason, and Rich Kimball−truly personified the presidents they were representing: Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jackson, and Roosevelt, respectively.  Jackson blustered and said racist remarks; Lincoln parried with him. Roosevelt, ever taciturn, offered smart insults to all. And Eisenhower beat the Nazi’s, which he made sure to tell us in nearly every comment he made.

Edward Stratford acted as moderator. When asked for the impetus behind the event, he answered, “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” Did it? Were the presidents able to help us better comprehend the present political debates?

The presidents were asked varying questions regarding Trump and Clinton: their strengths, immigration and economic policies, and whether or not Trump was validated in  having hurt feelings. There were varying responses to all, with little agreement- reminiscent of the current political debates (still ongoing even after Trump’s win). In the end though, were Roosevelt, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Jackson able to accurately able to predict our modern political atmosphere? The answer is best seen through History Professor Christopher Jones’ tweet: “This ended up being a lot of fun. But it also helped emphasize just how foreign the past is.”

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Continuing in the tradition of the Dead Presidents’ Debate, the Dead Queens’ Debate will be held on March 1st at 7pm in the Varsity Theater. The event is being hosted by both the Women’s Studies and the History Department.  Dr. Ed Stratford, who will be playing Professor Stratalacactus, has overseen the resuscitation of four historical queens: Empress Dowager Cixi, (Ching Dynasty) Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent) and Martha Ballard, “‘queen’ of colonial midwifery.” They will be discussing modern problems facing women. Playing the queens will be Dr. Diana Duan, Dr. Christine Isom-Verhaaren, Dr. Sarah Loose, and Dr. Jenny Pulsipher respectively.

When asked what the purpose of the event was, Dr. Stratford replied: “What we are interested in doing is providing a forum where historical viewpoints on current issues can be presented in an engaging way… We hope anyone who attends (students, faculty, or anyone from the community) will enjoy a consideration of [women’s issues] by some figures from the past.”

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From left to right: Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, Martha Ballard, and Empress Dowager Cixi

 The Queens

Joan of Arc was a young girl from France who, during the Hundred Year’s War, led an army and defeated the English many times, most notably at Orleans. Furthermore, she succeeded in having Charles the Seventh crowned king of France. Joan believed God had instructed her to do these things. Several hundred years after her capture and execution at the hands of the English, Joan was Sainted.

Originally a member of Suleiman the Magnificent’s harem, Hurrem Sultan eventually became his wife. She oversaw the construction of universities and mosques and promoted female education

Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty. Dubbed The Dragon Lady remained a force in government in the face of endless court strife.

Martha Ballard was an 18th Century midwife from Maine who is primarily known from Laura Thather Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale. Ballard kept a journal from 1785-1812 that “illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.”

Which Queen do You Want to Meet?

Is Religion the Reason for Low Contraceptive Use in Nepal?

india-1247052_1280An estimated 225 million women today would choose to stop or delay childbearing, but are not using contraceptives. Why is this the case? Is it because they do not have access to them? Or because they are not allowed to make childbearing decisions for themselves? Answers to these question are essential to improving women’s autonomy and health across the globe. And a new study of Nepalese women shows that a more important factor than access to contraceptives may be religious attitudes towards them.

Who Uses Contraceptives?

Margo Andersen Taylor, an undergraduate student in the BYU Sociology Department, has gathered new evidence that has broken down old assumptions about women’s autonomy and contraceptive use in Nepal – a country with low contraceptive use. She presented her findings at our recent Fulton conference.

It is often assumed that people in rural populations are less likely to use contraceptives because they do not have access to them. People who live on farms, for example, might not live close to a physician or a store where they could get “the pill” or a contraceptive device. However, Andersen’s newfound evidence suggests that being in a rural setting actually does not deter women who are allowed to make personal and/or household decisions from accessing contraceptives. In fact, the difference between urban dwellers’ use of contraceptives and rural dwellers’ is almost entirely negligible.

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Why Then, are Contraceptives Not Used?

If women in rural settings are not likely to be kept from contraceptives, why are there so many Nepalese women who do not use them? This study, with a sample size of almost 10,000 Nepalese women, showed that autonomous women of the Hindu faith were more likely to use contraceptives than Buddhist women. In fact, the most autonomous women of Buddhist affiliation were among the least likely to use contraceptives.

According to this study in Nepal, when it comes to contraceptive use, it doesn’t seem to matter so much where you live, but what you believe.

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Religion Matters

The government of Nepal is currently running a media campaign to inform its citizens about options for better family planniwoman-701050_640ng, directing most of these messages to people in urban settings. Their hope for change, however, is likely based on the false assumption that this urban-directed campaign will be most effective because urban populations have greater access to contraceptives.

Andersen believes that it’s likely Nepal would have more success in achieving their goals of increased health and population control if they were to focus their campaigns on religious groups rather than regional populations. Her data is being prepared for publication that may help the government of Nepal to take a more effective approach in their endeavors to improve women’s autonomy and health.

Andersen’s poster (seen below) won first place in the sociology category of the conference.

Family Planning and Women's Empowerment in Nepal Margo Anderson Taylor

 

 

 

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society

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Since the leadership of Emma Smith as president of the Relief Society in 1842, the philanthropic organization has come a long way. The organization is now led by its sixteenth president, Linda K. Burton, and continues to spread its influence across the four corners of the globe. But what about the first half-century of its existence? What can individuals learn from the first five decades of its growth and impact?

Reflief Society WHM 2016

Women’s History specialist Kate Holbrook is the co-editor of “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society” and will present this book and answer questions at a lecture event sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program at Brigham Young University. Holbrook works for the LDS Church History department and is an author for the Religious Studies Center at BYU.

TIME/DATE/LOCATION

Thursday, Mar 17

Book Lecture & Reception: The First Fifty Years of Relief Society Years

11 AM, B192 JFSB

The Women’s Studies program at BYU, a joint program in the College of Humanities and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, is an interdisciplinary forum for the study of women’s past and present position in global society. A minor in women’s studies can unlock a variety of doors: to graduate study, or to numerous arenas of work and social-change leadership where specialized knowledge on women is an asset.

 

Breaking Down Traditions: LDS Women in India

Two of the most influential forces in one’s life are culture and religion. In some aspects they may intermix, but what happens when they are at odds? Taunalyn Rutherford joined us on campus last November as one of several speakers at the 2015 women’s studies conference, and addressed that question. Rutherford, an adjunct instructor in the religion department at Brigham Young University, took a semester off to spend time in India working on her dissertation. Her research focused on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in India. One of her chapters focuses on the women of the church specifically.

The Church in India

There are 12,257 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in India and 43 congregations, according to MormonNewsroom.org. The first stake was organized in Hyderabad in 2012, which is where Rutherford spent most of her time. Collectively, in her visits to India, she has interviewed over 150 people, mainly members of the the Church.   

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Women in India

Rutherford asked the women she interviewed to tell her about the position and status of women in India in general. “I often [got] the word patriarchy,” said Rutherford. “And it is never used in a positive light.” One woman she interviewed said,

I think it’s very patriarchal here. Men dominate a lot… It differs from person to person. If the man is a good man, respectful man, then the woman who married him is a happy woman, a lucky woman. But if you’re in the wrong place, wrong person – I’ve seen my cousins and they all have been dominated, hit … They say Indian women get abused, but in other countries too it’s the same. Women are being abused everywhere.

India, which was ranked 108th in the world in terms of economic opportunities and education for women by the World Economic Forum in 2015, has struggled in its development of equal opportunity for women.

Members of the Church in India

Though the Church has faced some scrutiny over issues of gender equality, their stance on the issue is clear: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny,” as stated in The Family, A Proclamation to the World

Rutherford saw a difference when the same women who spoke of women’s status in India spoke of women’s status in the Church. There were still some comments regarding male dominion, but the language was much more positive and hopeful. One woman said, “In the church, I think the brethren have slowly understood the priesthood holders – that all of us are equal.”

One male member of the church demonstrated this understanding in an interview with Rutherford. “I am grateful for this gospel because it tells that they are both the same. Not one is superior or inferior. Both are equal and men, ‘without her, you can’t get exalted!’ That is one of the greatest truths because you break all the traditions and cultures in India.”

india-787724_1920Through their membership in the Church, Rutherford has seen that some women have found more purpose in their role as a wife and mother. One woman said, “They have priesthood, so we have motherhood. And they have different roles and we have different roles.” Some women have discovered confidence. “Personally, for me, if it wasn’t for the church, I wouldn’t be sitting here like this, sitting here talking to you,” said another woman. “I would have just told you a few words and that’s it. But, it has changed me. It has changed my way of thinking about myself, about that I am not low, I am equal to men.”

Rutherford noted, “There is something in the message of the gospel, that is working counter to the patriarchy that they are naming.” 

Looking Forward

Rutherford will continue in her research and writing her dissertation. In the meantime, she said, “I have great hope for women and for the future of the church and in how we deal with issues of gender as I look and listen to women and men in the Church in India.” Watch the full lecture below. 

How has religion influenced your cultural identity?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

On Being Mormon, Black, and Female: LeShawn Williams-Shultz

LeShawn Williams-Shultz is a Mormon black woman. She is a mental health therapist and as a professor. She studies identity development, and she experiences it. It’s something we all go through, regardless of our race, religion, or color. It’s an important process, one she spoke openly about at BYU’s fifth annual Women’s Studies Conference, in November 2015.

LeShawn was one of sixteen speakers presenting at the conference on the theme of “pioneering women in fields of knowledge.” “As an educator,” she said, “I bring you my perspective that context matters. As a therapist, I bring you the perspective that [the process of] making meaning matters.”

The Conference

The Women’s Studies program at BYU is operated jointly by both the College of Humanities and the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. Students in this program study women’s past and present position in global society. This year, their conference took place on November 5th and 6th.

The Presentation: James Marcia’s Identity Development Theory

Mrs. Williams-Shultz discussed what it was like to be at the intersection between being black, mormon, and female in the context of an identity development theory like James Marcia’s. Her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e., “Mormons”), as a whole, has undergone a process of identifying itself in relation to the race of its members. LeShawn encouraged her audience to think about that ongoing process as she elaborated on the stages of identity development for people of color within the church.

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Stages of Identity Development

The first stage deals with conformity and contact, Shultz explained. You idealize everything about your dominant culture. There is generally a strong desire to assimilate into the dominant culture, even if there is not much recognition that you are different. But then there comes a moment of realization of one’s differences, whatever they are, which leads to the next stage.

Introspection is characteristic of the second phase. This is a time of beginning to accept your identity and tell your own stories. You redirect your energy towards making sure that you create safe spaces and attempt to become independent of racism and white supremacy, or the attitudes of others.

The next stage is the difficult process of learning how to balance the different worlds in which you exist. This stage is different for everyone who experiences it. But the result is the final stage, which is a state of an increased awareness.

Church and Identity

Within the LDS church, there is identity development, Shultz said. She spoke about gender identity in the church as both a biological and a social construct. “The LDS impact on gender, I call it the philosophies of men mingled with biology,” she said. Within the church, many people believe that womanhood is completed by motherhood. Women in the church that experience infertility or do not have a desire or opportunity to bear children may experience an identity crisis.

Near the end of her lecture, Shultz shared a verse (2 Nephi 2:11) from the Book of Mormon. “There must needs be that there is opposition in all things … Wherefore, all things must need be a compound in one.” She summed this up to mean that we need blackness as much as we need whiteness. We need differences.

Though our unique situations may leave each of us feeling alone at times, understanding that a journey of self discovery is a commonality among human beings can help us stay connected to one another. Discussing problems and questions that come up throughout this process provides crucial learning opportunities for each of us to understand minority and majority positions within identifiers, such as race, faith and gender.

The full video of her presentation is available below.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What things have you found helpful to overcome identity crises?