What do good girls not do?
Many things, according to Joanna Brooks and her cadre of enthusiasts. An English professor at San Diego State University and popular unofficial voice in the media on Mormonism, Brooks was joined by dozens of fans at a comedy event this past spring at the Muse Music Café in Provo, near the Brigham Young University campus.
They don’t work outside their house. They don’t give spiritual blessings. They don’t recognize a history where women actually did the latter.
For Brooks, they don’t approve of the failure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to support the national Equal Rights Amendment in 1982.
And perhaps most importantly, they generally don’t follow ALL the rules.
For Young Mormon Feminists founder Hannah Wheelwright, it was a “star-studded night,” when Brooks encouraged individuals to write what they don’t think good girls – especially good Mormon girls – do. She and friend Victoria Birkbeck guest spoke alongside Brooks.
“Being an outspoken feminist the last couple of years, it was great, at least in some way, to share in a topic about what good girls do and don’t do,” said Wheelwright, who has been featured in national media for her socially liberal efforts. “There’s a lot of things (with feminism) I’m really passionate about.”
That includes times when young men at BYU question her pursuing a major (political science) that causes her to “have opinions,” she said. Wheelwright’s story – one of the five-minute audience stories with Birkbeck – focused on that account one of her first days on the Provo campus after arriving as a freshman from Washington, D.C.
The event is one in a series titled The Porch, created in 2011 by BYU English student Derrick Clements, from Stockton, Calif. He was “excited” about the event for two reasons: Birbeck’s conception of the theme (he doesn’t like coming up with them) and Brooks’ visit. (She first agreed to come to Utah’s Wasatch Front to speak at a religion symposium at Utah Valley University, a neighbor within a few miles of BYU.) Brooks wrote “The Book of Mormon Girl” to chronicle her relationship with the church as a social liberal.
Clements rejected the notion that the theme indicated a counter-counter agenda at a place where former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney attended because he felt he could give a speech and be “safe.”
“At the center of every good story is an interesting conflict. I think that’s maybe why it’s easier to find more progressive points out of The Porch,” Clements said. “I try to avoid straight-up activism and political messages.
“When a story is done well, it’s not alienating and people don’t feel judged. There’s something non-judgmental about story in its purest form. In not just in Mormon culture, feminism exists for a reason because there’s a real conflict. The political messages are there, but hopefully what’s powering the actual story is the experience of the people. “
That’s why Brooks’ “The Book of Mormon Girl” is so “personal,” according to comedian Jon Stewart.
That’s indeed the foundation for Brooks’ own narrative, she says, rather than to be a “self-promoter,” as a Deseret News editor once told Aggie BluePrint.
But she acknowledged her peculiarity.
“I am a writer, I write for the public, and I write about Mormonism,” she told BluePrint. “People aren’t used to seeing non-general authorities and non-public affairs people write about Mormonism for the public, and they’re not used to seeing women do it especially.”