Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are speaking out about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's attitude toward women, asserting that Romney has changed over decades from open skepticism about the role of women in the LDS Church to a kind of modest support.
When Exponent II, a modest feminist movement, began publishing in the Mormon community in the early 1970s, Romney was firmly opposed to it. Judy Dushku, a Mormon and Suffolk University professor of government, told CNN that Romney, then a leader in the church, encouraged his friends to tell their wives not to participate. She went on to say that Romney made it clear “he didn’t want the women behind the publication holding meetings on church property.” She also suspected that it was “under his direction that the copies of the magazine displayed in congregations got dumped in wastebaskets.”
“Mitt was very anti-Exponent II,” Barbara Taylor, a former president of Exponent II who also served as a personal assistant to Romney in his governorship, told The Washington Post.
“He thought we were just a bunch of bored, unhappy housewives trying to stir up trouble.”
But his opposition began to soften in the 90s. “Some things did change,” said Taylor to The Washington Post, citing more inclusive adaptations in the church aided by Romney. “I think he did protect us.”
Taylor went on to say that around 1993, when Romney was preparing for a U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy, he started becoming more open to the ideas the women movement presented. Some critics say his change was only political maneuvering; but many Mormon women seem to feel that it was a genuine change.
Taylor told The Washington Post that when Romney learned of abuse against women in one of the Mormon wards he reacted and scolded his bishops demanding that the problem be fixed. Because of Romney’s leadership, Taylor said, the problems did get fixed.
Nancy Dredge, a 67-year-old descendant of Mormon apostle Brigham Young and a feminist, told the Post that throughout the years she could “see [Romney] change” in respect to his attitude toward women.
During his time on the presidential campaign trail, the former Massachusetts governor has had to fight off the impression that he has trouble connecting with ordinary people, especially female voters. Many of his opponents characterize him as “stiff” and “out of touch” and have pointed to his Mormon faith as evidence that he is not in line with mainstream America.
The LDS Church is patriarchal in nature and allows only men to become higher-up leaders. The center of the Church is located in Temple Square in Salt Lake City and presided over by the president and two male counselors. Below that is a body called the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, which consists of 15 men who oversee the doctrine of the church and the lay officials, all male, who report to Temple Square from all around the world. Romney, in 1981, was approved for the honor of a bishop in a Belmont, Mass., congregation.
Despite his role in LDS, many women claim that as Romney matured in his faith and leadership abilities he became more tolerant of women’s issues.
Romney has been quoted in the media as possibly considering a female vice presidential candidate. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is among some 15 people Romney is considering as his running mate.