Julie M. Smith: The reaction to your book Bare Brancheshas been tremendous: a 60 Minutes interview, the Association of American Publishers’ award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, a several-page article in the New York Times, a USA Today cover story, and glowing praise from many quarters. Did you anticipate that this work would be a media sensation or did that take you by surprise?
Valerie Hudson: No, we had no idea. But at the same time, we knew that this was a very important issue, and we hoped that others would see it as such. We did have some rejections in the early years our our project, but I am glad nowthat we kept going.
Bare Branches concerns the implications of a Chinese population with tens of millions of unmarriagable males due to sex ratio imbalance. Can you explore for us the implications of the sex ratio imbalance from a gospel perspective?
On many levels, devaluation of female life is wrong. It is wrong to devalue any life. It is wrong to devalue female life. If one’s very chances of being born are affected by whether one has an X or a Y chromosome, that is wrong. I think our research shows that it is not just girls who pay a price for these harmful attitudes, but it is their entire society.
BYU Newsnet reports that you are working on a project to “document 217 indicators of the status of women in 179 nation-states, including categories as varied as the practice of honor killings, levels of employment discrimination, caloric intake and age at the birth of the first child.” How does your perspective as a Latter-day Saint shape your work on this project?
Donna Lee Bowen and Camille Fronk, in their piece in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on women in the Book of Mormon, point out that a pretty reliable barometer of the status of a society is the treatment of women within it. Our WomanStats Project aims to allow researchers to see and demonstrate the linkage between the situation of women and the security, stability, and prosperity of their societies.
You have been quoted as saying, “The status of women is linked to the fate of their nations with
regard to both domestic stability, foreign policy and also security.” Do you consider yourself a feminist–either in an academic context, an LDS context, or both? If so, what does that term mean to you and what are your goals as a feminist?
Yes, I am a feminist and I am LDS. It is ironic that there seem to be as many people within the Church as without it that believe it is not possible to be both. I oppose any hierarchy that places men above women or women above men in their relationship with each other, and I oppose any initiative to erase or overlook differences between women and men. My vision is one of parity, inspired by the writings of Sylviane Agacinski, the eminent French philosopher. Parity is equality in the context of difference. We are enjoined to create that parity in order to create Zion. Elder L. Tom Perry recently said, “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action, as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” (Church News, 10 April 2004, p. 15, “Fathers’ Role is Anchoring Families.) That is my vision, and that for me is what it means to be an LDS feminist. And this vision holds not only for families, but for the family of man.
Many of our readers would be curious to know how you balance a family with your professional responsibilities. What are your thoughts on that? What advice would you give to a female LDS student interested in an academic career?
The simple answer is that I feel that I am juggling about 10 balls every day. A good day is when only nine of the ten balls fall. A typical day is when they all fall. And then you get up the next day. But if you feel that inspiration guides you in making a contribution, then make that contribution, whether it be in academia or in any other walk of life. To paraphrase Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, we feel God’s pleasure when
we do so.
Is there anything else that you wish that I had asked you?
Much of the work I do on issues of men and women, I do for my daughter. I have 5 sons, and only one daughter, Ariel. I wrote a book for her, a book in which the questions she asked me as a young girl feature prominently–indeed, the first chapter is called, “Ariel’s Question.” The book is an in-depth treatment of our Church’s doctrines concerning women, and I co-wrote it with my mentor, Alma Don Sorensen. It is called, “Women in Eternity, Women of Zion,” and can be obtained from Cedar Fort Publishing. The painting on the cover was done by my husband, David Cassler, who is a fine artist, and it expresses the vision of eternal parity between man and woman. My daughter died last August in the cave accident on Y Mountain at the age of 18. But she lives again through every person who reads the book. And so I hope you will read it, and I hope you will smile and say a little prayer on her behalf when you think of Ariel and the important questions she asked. When I think of the priceless gift my daughter gave me, I cannot comprehend how any parent could devalue and discard the life of a daughter.