For this week's online essay, go read Dangerous History: Exploring the Role of Mormon Women, by Jan Shipps. Originally published in 1993, it was recently republished as part of Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons (U of Illinois Press, 2000), a collection of essays by Shipps. And I came to the article by way of an FMH post on the problem of LDS women's history, via a link from Justin's current BT post. How can history be a problem, you say? Isn't history sort of a given that we all have to more or less live with? Isn't history just water under the bridge?
"I have a problem with this history." There's something kind of surreal about that statement. You can't change history, so "having a problem" with it seems pointless. Well, maybe or maybe not. One can view history as what actually happened in the past, which can't be changed, but it can also be viewed as our record or narrative of what happened in the past, which can be changed. Of course it can be changed, happens all the time. So when those wielding power and authority decide they have a problem with history, the natural solution that occurs to them is to rewrite history and eliminate the problem.
Getting back to the Shipps essay, it starts with the "disinvitation" of a noted female LDS historian from addressing the 1993 Women's (sic) Conference at BYU. Recounting the evolution of the LDS position on women's issues through the 19th and 20th centuries, Shipps concludes, "All this makes the history of Mormon women potentially dangerous." By "this" she is referring to the "discrepancy ... between the public role that LDS women were asked to play historically and their current role." In the second half of the essay she surveys the careful efforts the LDS hierarchy was making during the tense years of the early 1990s to contain LDS feminist scholarship. It makes interesting reading for those of us who have never been women. I'm not sure what adjective describes the reaction of those readers who have been (and still are) women.