Hannah Wheelwright still recalls the fateful visit she received from a pair of home teachers who came to her with a dire warning in the spring of 2012. Wheelwright at the time was a Brigham Young University student—if perhaps an unorthodox one because of her progressive beliefs. The home teachers wanted to talk about the F-word: feminism. They told her that, if she wasn't careful, her feminist beliefs would lead her astray from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Wheelwright took the teachers' warning to heart and made it her own personal calling to establish a place for women to come together to speak about matters of faith and feminism. She created the Provo Feminists Facebook page, which soon drew in hundreds of women seeking a place they felt they could be heard and listened to—not preached to. That page evolved into YoungMormonFeminists.org, which will celebrate its third anniversary July 21, having in that time garnered almost 1 million views, while the Facebook page now counts more than 1,300 members.
For Wheelwright, the site has served as an important forum not just for Millennial Mormon feminists to express themselves but also as a place to stand out among older generations of Mormon feminists who faced different issues than their younger counterparts. Compared to the longstanding FeministMormonHousewives.org blog, Wheelwright says YMF contributors are more likely to be edgy and outspoken.
"These young whippersnappers are being a lot more blunt in their criticism of the church than FeministMormonHousewives," Wheelwright says. "That's one of the biggest differences." YMF, she says, provides a platform for young Mormon women who might not be married or mission-bound, where they can be more outspoken in their beliefs.
Brittany Sweeney helps with the YMF site and says she was always a feminist—since before she even knew the name for it. She recalled that once, while she was serving a church mission in the Dominican Republic, a high-ranking church authority visited and asked a group of men and women missionaries what made them effective missionaries. One of the elders said it was the power of the priesthood—reserved only for male members—and added a refrain of, "Sorry, sisters."
"I was so pissed off!" Sweeney says with a laugh. When she returned from her mission, she was drawn to the candid discussion happening on Wheelwright's Facebook page, and she realized she wasn't alone in wondering where women fit in the faith culture.
"Nobody likes that spotlight shone on them and to feel like the weirdo or the anomaly," Sweeney says. "But, sometimes, you realize it's just that one voice that needs to speak up." The voices have now become something of a chorus—though, they don't all sing the same notes. As Wheelwright points out, the site includes a diversity of beliefs from critics, questioners and defenders of the faith alike.
The posts also are provocative and the emotions, often raw and unrefined. One woman posted about her struggles cutting herself due to anxiety over her weight and cultural pressures about not being able to find an eternal mate. Another post, "Satan Is My Personal Savior" is a satire about the "caricature" of Satan, whom the author commends for reasons like: "Because he told a woman that she could know like God knows."
Kristeen Black, a professor of religion and society at Drew Theological School in Oakland, Calif., and a former Utah Valley University instructor, sees the younger Mormon feminist generation as playing a crucial role for women in the church. She says, in the LDS culture, women often feel their only meaningful interactions in the church are dependent upon them getting married. But now, as younger Mormon women can use sites like YMF to evaluate the role of women in their religious communities, Black says family dynamics will change for the better.
"I think they will be more conscientious about who they marry and what they teach their children," Black says. "They'll give them a different world view, because they have a different world view themselves."
For Wheelwright, that discussion shouldn't be one with any specific agenda other than honest and open dialogue. She says she doesn't censor posts on the site simply because she may disagree with them.
"It really is a blank space for people to post whatever they want without worrying that it's too brash or too feminist or not feminist enough," Wheelwright says. "It's a place for them to say what they really think."