The Armies of Shelamen: Traces of Women in the Book of Mormon

A few years ago when I was an advisor in the Young Women’s, I tried whenever possible to include stories by and about women. In my search to uncover the hidden women in the scriptures, I came across Marjorie Meads Spencer’s “My Book of Mormon Sisters”[1] and was impressed at her comprehensive teasing out of the women—both named an unnamed—in the Book of Mormon. Yet, I felt the need to look beyond established lists and re-imagine our familiar stories populated with the women and girls we know are there. Why is this necessary? As Neylan McBaine, author of Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact explains,

We are currently in the process of digging ourselves out of a deep hole in the sheer volume of role models women today have to look to. Why are role models important? Because they act as a blue print upon which we can pattern our choices and life paths. As Marie Wilson of the White House Project said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”[2]

With this idea of re-imaging or recreating narratives that include women, it brought to mind a literary theory application from my university days. It has been a very long time since I studied Jacques Derrida, much less applied his method to any text, but there has been a particular concept of his that has always stuck with me. Derrida’s “presence absence” theory[3]—the idea that you cannot have a story about, say, men (presence) without evoking meaning through the absence of women. In a simplified manner, men bear the traces of women, as do women of men, as a sign of their absence. So in the case of the Book of Mormon, we can find women present in absence. Continue reading