Dear Sisters (and brothers ?) at Harvard #mustread #Vaw #justiceverma

FEBRUARY 20, 2013

Letter from some Indian feminists to their siblings at Harvard

We’re a group of Indian feminists and we are delighted to learn that the Harvard community – without doubt one of the most learned in the world – has seen fit to set up a Policy Task Force entitled ‘Beyond Gender Equality’ and that you are preparing to offer recommendations to India (and other South Asian countries) in the wake of the New Delhi gang rape and murder. Not since the days of Katherine Mayo have American women – and American feminists – felt such a concern for their less privileged Third World sisters. Mayo’s concern, at that time, was to ensure that the Indian State (then the colonial State) did not leave Indian women in the lurch, at the mercy of their men, and that it retained power and the rule of the just. Yours, we see, is to work towards ensuring that steps are put in place that can help the Indian State in its implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, a responsibility the Indian State must take up. This is clearly something that we, Indian feminists and activists who have been involved in the women’s movement here for several decades, are incapable of doing, and it was with a sense of overwhelming relief that we read of your intention to step into this breach.

You might be pleased to know that one of us, a lawyer who led the initiative to put pressure on the Justice Verma Committee to have a public hearing with women’s groups, even said in relief, when she heard of your plans, that she would now go on holiday and take a plane ride to see the Everest. Indeed, we are all relieved, for now we know that our efforts will not have been in vain: the oral evidence provided by 82 activists and organizations to the Justice Verma Committee – and which we believe substantially contributed to the framing of their report – will now be in safe American hands!

Perhaps you are aware that the Indian State has put in place an Ordinance on Sexual Assault that ignores many recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee? If not, we would be pleased to furnish you a copy of the Ordinance, as well as a chart prepared by us, which details which recommendations have been accepted and which not. This may be useful in your efforts to advise our government. One of the greatest things about sisterhood is that it is so global, feminism has built such strong international connections – such that whenever our first world sisters see that we are incapable of dealing with problems in our countries, they immediately step in to help us out and provide us with much needed guidance and support. We are truly grateful for this.

Perhaps you will allow us to repay the favour, and next time President Obama wants to put in place legislation to do with abortion, or the Equal Rights Amendment, we can step in and help and, from our small bit of experience in these fields, recommend what the United States can do.

Vrinda Grover (mere lawyer)

Mary E. John, Senior Fellow, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi

Kavita Panjabi, Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata

Shilpa Phadke, Assistant Professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mubmai

Shweta Vachani, Senior Editor, Zubaan

Urvashi Butalia, Director, Zubaan

And many others.

1990s Mormon Feminism Ignites Church Backlash #sundayreading


By Joanna Brooks

WeNews guest author

Sunday, August 12, 2012

During the early 1990s Joanna Brooks was at Utah’s Brigham Young University during the rise of Mormon feminism. In this excerpt from her memoir, “The Book of Mormon Girl,” she describes the repercussions of this growing movement.


Joanna BrooksJoanna Brooks

Credit: Courtesy of Free Press.

(WOMENSENEWS)–So it happened that I was there at Brigham Young University just in time to witness a remarkable upwelling of Mormon feminism, a feminism that started very simply in basement classrooms with the idea that all were alike unto God.

The university hired more female faculty in the late 1980s and 1990s, including Mormon women who had studied feminism and, finding nothing at its core incompatible with a just and loving God, dared to make it their own. One by one, Mormon feminist historians were publishing books reconstructing the lost worlds of early Mormon women, who, we learned, once commanded priesthood powers and forms of authority lost to women in the modern bureaucratic church.

Mormon writers like Terry Tempest Williams fearlessly spoke out for the rural southern Utah “downwinders” who lived under plumes of atomic fallout, their lives and their wholeness knowingly sacrificed by the United States government, while Carol Lynn Pearson penned a play that dared to celebrate openly our hushed Mormon belief in God the Mother.

We were not the first Mormon feminists, to be sure. There were many others before us: early visionary Mormon women, pioneer widows who commanded their sick oxen to stand and carry their wagons across the plains, plural wives who traveled east from Utah in the 1870s to become medical doctors, women who continued to anoint and bless one another’s bodies before confinement and childbirth, and in the 1970s and 1980s the courageous and embattled Mormons who campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Mormon Feminism Revival

It was happening again in the early 1990s at Brigham Young University, another wave of Mormon feminism. Together, in study groups and consciousness-raising meetings where Mormon women permitted only Mormon women to speak, we taught ourselves once again to tentatively (if sometimes clumsily) parse the grammar of Mormon feminism: all are alike unto God; God is a Mother and a Father; Mormon women matter.

Little did we then realize the powerful fears this grammar would disturb.

On Aug. 6, 1992, at a gathering of Mormon liberals, artists and intellectuals in Salt Lake City, Lavina Fielding Anderson, a sixth generation member of the church, a feminist historian and editor of the “Journal of Mormon History,” disclosed the existence of the Strengthening the Members Committee, “an internal espionage system” organized by church elders in the 1980s to keep files on members perceived to be critical of the church. Brigham Young University professor and renowned Mormon intellectual Eugene England, speaking on the same panel as Anderson, reacted immediately by denouncing the Strengthening the Members Committee and calling for its dissolution.

Church spokesperson Don LeFevre confirmed the existence of the committee the following week. He explained to newspapers that the committee “receives complaints from church members about other members who have made statements that ‘conceivably could do harm to the church,'” then “pass the information along to the person’s ecclesiastical leader” to “provide local church leadership with information designed to help them counsel with members who, however well-meaning, may hinder the progress of the church through public criticism.” Another Mormon elder compared the Strengthening the Members Committee to a kind of “clipping service” that tracked critical writings, including letters to the editors, published by church members.

Counter Attack

That same summer, church members Paul and Margaret Merrill Toscano founded the Mormon Alliance to counter what they described as growing patterns of spiritual intimidation within the institutional Mormon Church. In the fall of 1992, Anderson and Mormon feminist Janice Merrill Allred formed a special Mormon Alliance subcommittee to document instances of spiritual intimidation and abuses of ecclesiastical authority within the institutional church, while professor England made a public apology for denouncing the Strengthening the Members Committee, which he admitted he had first incorrectly thought to be composed of regular church employees but which, in fact, included some of the highest ranking members of the church leadership, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

On May 18, 1993, church leaders identified the objects of surveillance, when Boyd K. Packer, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivered a speech to the Mormon All-Church Coordinating Council declaring that the three greatest “dangers” to the church were the “gay-lesbian movement,” “the feminist movement” and the “so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

In June 1993, Brigham Young University fired Cecilia Konchar Farr, a feminist literary critic and my mentor. Within months, several other feminist BYU professors announced their resignations from the faculty.

Beginning on Sept. 14, 1993, with the disfellowshipping of Mormon feminist Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, the church embarked on the serial excommunication of prominent feminists and intellectuals, a group now known as the September Six. One of the six was Anderson, who was excommunicated on Sept. 23, 1993, at a church court held in her local ward house.

Excerpted from “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith” by Joanna Brooks. Courtesy of Free Press.

Joanna Brooks is an award-winning scholar of religion and American culture, and the author or editor of five books. A senior correspondent for, she has been named one of “13 Religious Women to Watch” by the Center for American Progress and one of “50 Politicos to Watch” by She offers answers to seekers of all stripes at her website, She is associate professor and chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, and lives (with her Jewish husband) and two children in San Diego.



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