Twelve hundred words on pants

December 13, 2012 | 55 comments
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A few disjointed thoughts, first on the pants event itself and then on the response. I have a lot of sympathy for the goals of the pants-protest group, as I understand them. I too would like to see a broadening of Mormon femininity; I would be very pleased to see symbolic changes in practice that would underscore the spiritual equality of the genders; I think the church will benefit from a more open and more compassionate acknowledgment of Mormon feminists’ concerns. To that extent, I say Brava, sisters!

I think there were some errors in the conception and planning of the event. Framing something explicitly as a protest (or direct action) rather than an outreach will immediately put the community on the defensive, not only out of pure self-protection but also because an idealized unity is at the heart of the Mormon worldview and central to the felt power of Mormonism. Choosing as an arbitrary symbol (because it’s not about the pants, right?) something that appears to threaten a central social organizing principle of the community, gender difference, was unfortunate. And the rather mixed messages about the event’s aims, including  mention of women’s ordination, together with the various groups that were drawn to the event, including hostile ex-Mormons who vigorously identified with the protest on the FB page, probably turned otherwise fair-minded  observers against the group. In defense of the planners, it’s difficult to predict the life of a meme on the internet, and I’m sure the debacle that has unfolded, and the alienation experienced on both sides, was never their intention. (Though the resistance seems to have energized and organized the group.) We all live and learn. And after the abuse that these women have taken online, my instinct is just to give them all a hug.

About that abuse, most of which occurred on the Facebook event page that is currently inaccessible, I suppose the first thing to do is just to say it was entirely unjustifiable, uncharitable, unacceptable. Most of it was nasty, and some smaller fraction was truly horrifying misogyny. Please do not see what follows as any kind of excuse for the abuse. I condemn it. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about it. As for the plain old mean stuff, calling names and chastising or rhetorically excluding, what is it really about? (Because, together now, it’s NOT ABOUT THE PANTS!) It’s about the reproduction of culture, the transmission of existing cultural values and norms. It’s not surprising that lots of this came from women, because women have historically been active reproducers of culture: in children through teaching and nurture, and in men through the “domesticating” effects of marriage. It’s a commonplace that the fiercest enforcers of modesty norms, for instance, will be women. So the nastiness is largely an attempt, sometimes inept and mean but not surprising, to defend and transmit the culture that has made them. The good news is that as the culture changes, generationally and inevitably, women will embrace and reproduce that those changes with the same energy, transmitting them to their families and friends. The work that women to do reproduce culture is central to the stability of a community.

But what about the truly ugly misogyny, including sexual insults and intimations of violence coming from men? It’s inconceivable that one would hear this sort of ugly language in typical Mormon settings, and I know I’m not the only one who was astonished to hear it coming from men we might worship and socialize with. What can we possibly make of this? One interpretation that I’ve seen floated is the following: the ugliness exposes what is a mostly-concealed but always present virulent misogyny native to Mormonism patriarchy; the surprising strength of the resistance proves that the sexism is much worse than we thought, and thus the imperative to dismantle the social structure is that much more urgent. In other words, double down, sisters!

I think there’s some legitimacy to that response. But I think there’s another lesson to be learned, and perhaps a different conclusion to draw. It’s well known that virulent misogyny is disgustingly common on the internet. The cover of anonymity, which protects one’s real social status — that is, the temporary suspension of the social structures that usually keep our baser natures in check — allows gender hatred to erupt with shocking ugliness when a sexual provocation is sensed. Yes, men brawl with men online as women do with women, but the ugliest aggression occurs between women and men, and it’s depressingly common. Why is that so? The long-term incentives of men and women when it comes to sex and reproduction are different and sometimes seriously out of sync. We have the latent capacity to harm each other in so many ways: men can harm women with their physical strength and their control of resources; women can harm men by concealing or lying about paternity and by exercising influence over children and social networks. Stable, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between men and women, whether in families or in societies, do not emerge spontaneously from our natures; when they occur at all, they are result of effort, commitment, and self-discipline.

On this view, there is a latent gender conflict always simmering in our natures; what is truly surprising is not the occasional eruptions of gender hatred but the fact that it erupts only occasionally. The fact that misogyny appears when normal social mores are suspended online suggests to me that cultural norms, rather than fostering misogyny, may actually work to control latent gender hostility. And the virulence of that conflict, when it does erupt, suggests what a complex and delicate task it is to align men’s and women’s interests, to get both groups to buy into a cooperative system when their incentives are so different. Patriarchy is far, far from perfect, but it has been a remarkably durable instrument for doing just that: getting men and women to work cooperatively to provide care and resources for one another and for their children, when there are a million reasons why they want to do otherwise. It needs to do better, it needs to adjust to drastic changes in the resources and incentives at play in modernity. But the difficulty of the task of getting men and women to work cooperatively — illustrated in all its ugliness in the misogyny on display today — suggests to me that we need to recycle and re-use as much as we can, and we need to be cautious and modest in our efforts. The price of deep structural social upheaval is so high, and it always falls on the most vulnerable, even when they are the ones (rightly) initiating the change.

Back to the pants. I won’t be wearing them Sunday, because I’m teaching Gospel Doctrine and I don’t want to shove a protest in people’s faces. But I will certainly give an arm-squeeze of acceptance and support to any women who are, and let them know that I’m glad they’re there. Then I will encourage them to join me in my own little cultural revolution. Raise your hand in Sunday School and comment with confidence, authority, and a mastery of the scriptures. Build a little social capital by sitting next to a high status member of the ward and getting to know them with genuine interest. Model inclusive dialogue in Relief Society. Start a conversation with a male member of the ward on a substantive topic, and if they mansplain just forge ahead with kindness and humor. Do it in pants, do it in a skirt, just do it.

55 Responses to Twelve hundred words on pants

  1. Kent Larsen on December 14, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Great thoughts, Rosalynde. I agree completely. What started as a simple, worthy idea (although perhaps not well thought out) has changed into something very controversial, drawing unjustified attacks.

    I would love to see a lot of women appear in my ward on Sunday in nice dress slacks. I’m fairly sure that no one would say anything, although a few people might be miffed. [But I’m not in Relief Society, so what do I know?]

    IMO, the target of this action should be limited to our Mormon culture. It DOES need to be more inclusive, more accepting. And in that vein I support the action 100%.

    Its when people try to make it into a protest against Mormon doctrine that I begin to get uncomfortable.

  2. Rachel Whipple on December 14, 2012 at 8:24 am

    A healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences compels me to be conservative when it comes to big things like institutional changes. I tend to prefer long civil discussion to protest with its hurling of symbols and oversimplified positions. That said, there was a good chance I’d’ve worn dress slacks on Sunday before I heard about the protest. They are very nice, nicer than any skirt I own. And I occasionally wear them to church with a freshly pressed button down and heels, so I am presentable, feminine, and showing respect for myself and God’s house.

    My husband always thinks it strange that women complain about wearing dresses to church. His point of view is that women are given much more latitude in what to wear than men are: really, the only acceptable clothing for men is business attire, and don’t you dare forgo the tie. In one branch we attended, he often passed the sacrament wearing a blue or green shirt. But in our Utah Valley ward, our son is not allowed to perform that office unless he has on his white dress shirt. And of course, part of the “unwritten” requirements of serving in the bishopric here was that he wear a white shirt and dark suit, both of which we had to purchase after my husband accepted the calling.

    It was interesting that as a bishopric member, he clearly had more capital with some members of the ward than he had had beforehand. They would defer to him, ask him for guidance, even about things like where to set off the fireworks at the 4th of July party. It was disconcerting for him. And I think that the uniform he was required to wear was a physical extension of the authority of his role.

    So no, the “protest” was not about pants. It was to use defiance against our church culture’s gendered clothing expectations to emphasize our gendered roles within the church. It may be interesting to see what actually happens.

  3. Juliathepoet on December 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Honestly, I don’t think anyone thought, at the beginning, that more than 100, maybe 250 people at most, would even respond to the invitation. Certainly there were clumsy things said by those first people to accept the invitation, and it took a while for All Enlisted to realize that this was not going to be a small trial run to see if the model might work for a bigger event next year.

    I didn’t have a FB account, but created one to join All Enlisted, when several blogger friends said they needed my community organizing experience, and my experience starting non-profits, creating mission statements, having a tactics policy; all the things they didn’t think they would need for at least several months. And then, before that process could even start, the truly scary stuff hit.

    Death threats, threats of physical violence against the original organizers in public forums, with people’s real names, using long-standing Facebook accounts, who were members of the church. They were willing to make those threats not just in personal messages, but in public threads, bad enough that Facebook chose to take the event page down because the comments were getting so consistently violent that it violated their policies. One friend emailed me and said that Al Quieda websites were more controlled. (I haven’t been to any, but he does as part of his job, and I have no reason to doubt him.)

    I am not sure that I buy that all of society is like this, just under the surface. I don’t believe it is just the venting if feelings in anonymous forums. For one thing, the threats of violence and death threats have all been traced to real people, and the authorities have been notified. The students at BYU are not only being in estimated by campus police, but have also had the information, screen shots, and private messages, turned over to the Honor Code office.

    There is also a concerted effort to go back, make sure All Enlisted has answers for basic questions, discusses the difference between personal opinion and organizational policy and tactics. Their willingness to retrench, ask what they really want it to mean when someone wears pants to church on Sunday, and admit that it will have too many answers to have only one organizational answer.

    There is also the recognition that female and male Mormon feminists need to have roles to play, and so wearing bow ties, an item that is purple, or simply sitting next to a sister wearing pants are all things that male Mormon feminists have decided they will do to show their solidarity with female feminists in the church. The need to work together that you talk about in the OP, it is not inherently the domain of patriarchy, and feminists, or equalists, are claiming it.

    There is also the encouragement for people to thoughtfully write why they will be wearing pants or a bow tie, or why they will be wearing a skirt but still showing solidarity in some way. None of these statements have been agreed on as “the” statement for the group, and at this time, in the “flurry of battle,” is not the time to choose one explanation or statement of mission. With that said, we are asking people to consider those statements, as people post them on Facebook or on their blogs.

    If you would like to read my reason for joining, and what wearing pants to church on Sunday means to me, (which has been well received at All Enlisted, but does not speak for the group) you can go here.

    http://www.poetrysansonions.com/2012/12/my-feminist-mormon-perspective-why-i.html?m=0

    For other statements on blogs, rather than Facebook, aggregated, I am hoping to have a post up Saturday evening with as many links as I have at that time.

    I am hopeful that instead of simply arguing and belittling each other that those against the movement to wear pants on Sunday, that they will either respond directly to posts that are thoughtful and positive (I would certainly include this post in that category) or write a post of their own, stating their reasons and opinions as their own, not as a reaction to what they think someone else means. For anyone who would like to write a post that meets those guidelines, either in favor or opposed to the movement, as they see it, I am willing to allow any writer to guest post on my blog. You may leave a comment in the comment section or email me at findingmywaysoftly at gmail, if you wish to submit a post. Between now and Christmas, I will be running them no more than every other day, so that my Christmas posts can still run, but after that I will publish one a day, as long as people are submitting them. Guest posters are welcome to cross-post to their own blogs, or only post it on mine. (I of course reserve the right to refuse, or propose edits to any proposed post that uses course language, does not address the actual issues, or that is demeaning in the way it discusses those who do not agree with them.)

  4. Dave on December 14, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Fine thoughts, Rosalynde. In the long run, institutions change themselves in accord with generational and cultural change. But people can’t always wait for the long run.

    I agree that “we need to be cautious and modest in our efforts.” That certainly makes sense in the Mormon context: calls for radical change are generally counterproductive if not simply ignored. Perhaps change within the Church is happening but, because it is happening slower than in the West as a whole, it doesn’t seem like change, it seems like a rigid policy of opposing change? Is the view that the Church isn’t changing then simply a misperception? Maybe this would be a better and more politic approach than simply railing against patriarchy: “We like that you’re changing, but could you change a little faster?”

    A few years can make a big difference. If the priesthood policy change had happened in 1962, it would have been radical. By 1978, it was felt to be long overdue.

  5. Leann Stine on December 14, 2012 at 9:21 am

    In our Illinois ward, the majority of the men wear their white shirts and ties. I know several long-term members who don’t. Our regular Gospel Doctrine teacher almost always wears pants. She wears dresses at Christmas and Easter and to attend the Temple. She is a returned missionary. Many of our new sisters wear slacks and sometimes even jeans to Church. However, we have had 24 convert baptisms in the past year and probably 12 or so the year before. We also have 4 of our young adults serving missions right now,and 3 more planning to serve in the next year or so. We are enjoying the blessings of missionary service, including having had an Apostle come and visit our ward. That said, we have our difficulties, too, especially in dealing with the anonymous nature of the Internet. Someone chose to email a vicious diatribe about her ex-husband’s second wife on the Relief Society email address. Someone else sent hate mail to a Canadian family in the ward, telling them to go back where they came from. Makes you wonder what they thought about the family of illegal aliens! We should remember that we all have need of the Physician of our souls.

  6. Matthew on December 14, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I have noticed that when conflict arises the default position, for many people who are looking for a middle ground, is to say “but there is fault to be found on both sides here.” That seems to be part of the aim of this piece. It is easy to say they should have picked this symbol or that method or framed it in this fashion, but can we please be honest about the fact that there is no symbol, or framing or precise articulation that could have avoided the crazy/ugly response this drew? Can we admit that it is because for the true believer there is no appropriate way to go about this because the effort, at it’s root, is inappropriate in their eyes?

    This is about the most conservative, cautious, least offensive efforts one can imagine. Let’s not get carried away by our desire to be fair here. All the crazy was and is on one side of this and no amount of different window dressing can change the fact that the real question here is whether dissent is ever appropriate. For the true believer, it simply isn’t and that is the line many of them were trying to defend yesterday. The complaints about “how they went about it” are disingenuous nonsense. Again, let’s just be honest that the issue here is that they attempted anything at all.

  7. Mark Brown on December 14, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Rosalynde, I have a lot of respect and sympathy for the position you outline, so rather than enumerate the points on which we agree, I’ll get right to the quibbles.

    I think your characterization of the virulent misogynists as anonymous cowards hiding behind the Internet misses the mark. These are faces with names, and they and I have friends in common. These are people speaking openly and proudly, and with the expectation of community approval. I give you the benefit of the doubt because you have (I hope!) never been in the male dormitory at the MTC or taught priest’s quorum. But the PMS jokes and the wisecracks about a woman’s appearance are distressingly common. I am afraid we need to conclude that these are our very own, homegrown woman-haters, and that means we need to take at least some responsibility for them.

    While I note the benefits to patriarchy which you point out, I suggest there are also costs. It was not at all surprising that decades of ridiculous official pronouncements about race would eventually find expression in the situation with Prof. Randy Bott. While he bears primary responsibility, it is worth asking ourselves how he was able to thrive among us for so long. Additionally, just last week the church launched a website which, among other things, encourages members to be kind and charitable in our interactions with gay and lesbian people. The fact that the Brethren see the need for such encouragement is sobering, but not surprising. This is what happens when you have a few decades of homophobia preached from the pulpit. Fag jokes are told all the time among us.

    In this same way, I believe that the past 40 years of confusing discourse on gender is now bearing fruit. The dysfunction on ugly display over the past two days is a predictable, and therefore entirely preventable, result of our convoluted language. When honor society members at BYU speak openly and apparently without fear of disapproval of excommunicating all those pants-wearing lesbos, we — first person, plural — have a problem. This isn’t just a few random haters on the Internet, or macho boys from the outside world infiltrating Mormonism. This is a mirror held up to our faces. We can do better than this.

  8. Leann on December 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I’m sorry that my previous post meandered a bit. I hadn’t seen any of the original material it referred to, but have seen my share of that kind of Facebook and blog activity. I won’t be wearing slacks Sunday, partly out of respect to my mother who believed women wear dresses to Church and funerals, but also out of a desire not to create disunion during Sacrament meeting. I will always remember a Stake conference where a man sitting near us cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled “We can’t hear you!”. I was embarrassed, but I can’t even begin to think how his wife must have felt!

  9. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Thanks for the thoughts, all.

    Juliathepoet, what an interesting inside account, thanks. Is there any place where the rumors of multiple death threats can actually be verfied?

    Mark, I appreciate your quibbles. I make a distinction between adolescent objectification and othering of women (hopefully a transient phase of sexual maturation) and graphic sexual insults and threats. Please tell me that those sorts of comments are not commonplace in all-male Mormon settings. Regardless, my point is not that gender hostility doesn’t exist in Mormonism; it certainly does, and it can find Mormon language to clothe itself in. But because it’s not unique to Mormonism, I look for an ultimate cause (rather than the proximate cultural cause) somewhere else. Nevertheless, I heartily agree with your final sentences.

  10. Chris Andersen on December 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I’m not sure if I’m right about this, but I’m fairly certain that this culture that is being described with women haters and misogynists (if there is truth to it) must be more localized to the Western/Utah culture. I’m out in Michigan and these types of concerns are nowhere to be found. There is only a very healthy respect for women and not once have I heard our Elder’s Quorum or High Priest Group say anything derogatory towards women. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you if women wore pants or dresses to church because it is not even an issue.

    My second concern is about the anonymity that is provided on the internet. My guess is that much of the hateful and sexist things said on the Face Book page was a misrepresentation. I suspect that much of the stronger, more derogatory statements were put there by ex/anti-Mormons trying to stir up hatred and dishonestly creating an image that they could then point at and say, “See? I told you they are sexist and bigots!” Also, there has to be a portion of comments that were just teenager or college students that think it is fun to troll the internet.

    My experience is that the church teaches that women are strong and are to be respected and honored. I truly hope that this ‘protest’ will not have unintended consequences that deter good people from investigating the church.

  11. Sam Brunson on December 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I’d rather not comment on the misogyny, because it doesn’t exist in such blatant, hateful forms in the world I inhabit, and because I’d like to believe that my experience is the dominant experience.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph; as a substantive matter, women stepping up out of and not accepting the secondary role that Church culture often assigns them should be the goal. That said, there’s no reason why a symbolic gesture hurts that. To the extent that women (and men) are able to feel emotionally that there are others who feel similarly to them may provide an incentive for confidently answering a question, engaging in a substantive gospel discussion, etc.

  12. rah on December 14, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I wonder what type of disunion one expects at sacrament meeting because some women are wearing pants? I think RW hits it a bit on the head where a lot of what was driving this was a deep discomfort with the very thought of any type of collective action outside of church correlated programs. That seems to really frighten people. In my experience it takes people who are frightened to produce the type of vitriol we are seeing.

    I am curious to have a discussion with what alternate approaches would be recommended by the OP and others. It is a lot easier to say what shouldn’t be done than to come up with something effective and impactful. Part of what we are seeing here are women in the church that have been frustrated by the ineffectiveness of long standing efforts to engage in the sort of dialogue RW insists is a good idea has had on gender issues in the Church. Clearly the blogs have played some role but those are ignored strategically by the institutional church. Small changes have finally been rolled out (the YW manual FINALLY changed, the missionary age and policy became a bit more equal etc.) But I can empathize as the father of rapidly growing daughters in the Church. How long do we have to wait? And if you don’t make any noise at all, do it the most painless way possible does that really work? This sounds a lot like the sticky discussion that went on during the suffrage movement and civil rights movement. Just wait…don’t really rock the boat…avoid confrontation…eventually it will work itself out…just wait…just wait…don’t “protest”…make sure anything you do doesn’t deal with anything of real substance and then when you choose something trivial we will tell you “stop complaining about little things”. This is all to say I think it does well to put into context the frustrations of those told time and time again to wait. I am trying to think of major inequality that was solved without such actions. I would welcome examples. I can’t think of any. This is such a small thing, but you would think these women were making calls for people to chain themselves to temples.

    Finally, I always go back to that Hinkley quote in the interview OUr women are happy. “There is no agitation”. I believe he really believed that. Now there is just a little agitation and it is struck with a sledgehammer (by members). And we wonder why there hasn’t been any. It seems almost that Pres. Hinkley was willing to listen if he felt there were voices to be heard. Well, like or dislike this, it definitely succeeded in making noise where only blog whispers had been before.

  13. Stephanie on December 14, 2012 at 10:42 am

    This is a very good post. I agree that there is an underlying level of misogyny that is not typically welcome to be exposed. But, when it is, it is shocking. Sadly, I am getting less and less shocked and more resigned to the fact that it is there.

  14. MikeInWeHo on December 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

    This Mormon kerfuffle has been fascinating to watch from afar. From my perspective, it does seem to spring from Mormon culture itself (whatever the deeper “ultimate causes” may be). In the U.S., this simply would not happen in the most conservative segment of Evangelicalism or Catholicism. There is something unique happening here. So Rosalynde, I urge you to dig a little deeper into your search for the proximate cultural cause. Your people need your insight, and they listen to you.

    People always get mad at me when I compare gender issues in Mormonism to those in Islam, but that is where I see the most similarities. In many Islamic countries strictures are imposed by the force of law, and of course Mormon women are restricted in much more benign ways (enforced solely by ecclesiastic law and the norms of the subculture). It’s much easier for Mormon women to just leave, and many do. So please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying the two situations are precisely the same, and certainly NOT asserting that Mormonism oppresses women to the degree that Islam does. And yet, and yet…..

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/world/middleeast/18saudi.html

  15. Sam Brunson on December 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Mike, I’m curious why you say this wouldn’t happen in conservative Evangelicalism; I have very little experience with Evangelicals (there don’t tend to be a lot in big liberal cities, at least not in the circles I run in), but, having just read Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple, I could easily see it happening among (some) Liberty University students.

    All I have is anecdotal evidence, but the backlash strikes me as springing from the playbook of today’s extremist political discourse; it doesn’t feel like the Mormonism I’ve lived in New York, the DC area, or Chicago.

    (FWIW, the violent, misogynistic tone seems of a type with popular right-wing (and, to some extent, left-wing, though that seems to be far less popular) radio/internet discourse. Think Sandra Fluke, or reactions to the Ground Zero mosque. That’s not, of course, to excuse any Mormons who talked this crap, or to try to paint all conservatives as crazy wingnuts. But I think that Rosalynde is right that this vituperousness derives from more than just Mormonism.)

  16. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Mike, I’m flattered that you read the post and took the time to comment. Thanks for being here. I do disagree that misogyny is absent from Catholic and Evangelical online environments. A one second google search (all I have time for) brought me to this: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2011/11/18/catholic-women-need-thick-skins-online/ I know we’re both mostly going on intuitions here, but for what it’s worth mine points differently. Have you read Joanna Brooks’s work on Mormon masculinity? It can be harmful and oppressive, no doubt, but according to her it is not a macho, violent masculinity.

    That said, I appreciate the nudge to give more attention to the Mormon-specific forms of violent misogyny. At the most basic level of temperament, my instinct is to defend the status quo and it’s helpful for me to be reminded to get beyond a reflexive defensiveness.

  17. ji on December 14, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Thanks, Chris (no. 11) — I also live far away from the center place, and it is also my observation that there is no misogyny in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Church teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there is only love there when we gather to worship. Where individuals aren’t perfect yet, well, please be patient with them.

  18. ji on December 14, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Even so, I know we’re our own worst enemies sometimes…

  19. Peter LLC on December 14, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I’m out in Michigan and these types of concerns are nowhere to be found.

    Well, I can assure you that at least one family in a coastal city in the western region of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan anticipates that women, even non-member visitors, will (want to) wear a dress to church. That’s only a single data point, but I suspect that while a certain allegiance to the unwritten order of things may be concentrated in the Intermountain West, it is by no means a geographical phenomenon.

  20. dankrist on December 14, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Is gender defined by what type of bottom garment one wears? That’s certianly be sad and ridiculous coming from a doctrinal position that teaches that sex/gender (because they are often conflated) are eternal qualities.

    “Choosing as an arbitrary symbol (because it’s not about the pants, right?) something that appears to threaten a central social organizing principle of the community, gender difference, was unfortunate.”

    No. It was deliberate. Because gender difference does not need to be a central organizing feature of our church community. We should be able to organize ourselves based on our varied individual capacities and talents for service, not on who has what reproductive organs. Does gender difference exist? Absolutely. Is it a useful category for social and ecclesiastical organization? Not to those of us who are engaged with All Enlisted. Rather, it is limiting to the potential of which we are all in possession.

    And, like Matthew noted, this is where you miss the point: the fault for the fallout cannot and should not be placed anywhere but squarely on the shoulders of those who oppose the event with such vitriol, often misogyny, and, yes, even personal death threats (And no, there is not somewhere you can go to have your skepticism allayed or curiosity satisfied. The threats were largely in personal messages and those who received them are interested in maintaining their privacy while the threats are under investigation by the police). That the wearing of pants, something that many of the most ardent detractors note, out of one side of their mouths, happens all the time and no one notices, can elicit so much hatred and condemnation tells us that the issue is not pants. The issue is not about using the anonymity of the internet to vent one’s bile, since facebook is really not anonymous at all. No, here is the issue: that women believe they have the right to ask for something more from their church leaders in the first place.

  21. Christie Frandsen on December 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I add a hearty AMEN to your last paragraph, Rosalynde! Now THAT is a cultural revolution that could really make a difference! I am hopeful that with the advent of many more sister RMs, the discouraging gender dynamics in our Gospel Doctrine classes will dramatically shift.

  22. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Yeah, I think it’s unconvincing to argue that there is no soft norm against women wearing pants to church. There clearly is, though my experience is that exceptions are easily granted for women who don’t fit the typical mold yet whose loyalty to the group is known. Or for investigators and new members, of course. But the penalties are pretty low, socially speaking, in the wards I’ve attended.

    I do think that Mormons care more than other religious groups about appearances, both for public relations reasons and also because our folkways are simply more extensive than other religious groups. I personally see this as a feature, not a bug, but I recognize that it’s a tricky wicket when the church expands geographically or encounters ambient cultural change. I don’t think the answer ultimately lies in trying to distinguish between the real, doctrinal “gospel” and the ephemeral, harmful, extraneous “culture.” For me one of the central operations of Mormonism as a system of ideas is the way it imports and sacralizes the surrounding culture. This was how Joseph’s religious imagination worked, and I find it beautiful.

  23. D. Fletcher on December 14, 2012 at 11:34 am

    You’re such a beautiful writer Rosalynde.

    I’ve completely missed out on the pants controversy. I know it’s happening online, anywhere else? Women should be equal, agreed, and I sure would like to have some of the general authorities be women.

  24. Peter LLC on December 14, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I know it’s happening online, anywhere else?

    This Sunday in a meeting house near you!

  25. Ms. Jack on December 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

    #7 Matthew — Thank you.

    The conflict between those who believe women should be ordained/treated as equals and those who agitate for “separate gender roles” is old and well-worn in evangelicalism. We hashed it out in the 70s and 80s and the two camps are now firmly established. When egalitarians launch demonstrations and protests, the hierarchicalists don’t start threatening violence; they just go to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and crib some arguments from there. Christians for Biblical Equality publishes articles telling members of hierarchicalist churches to engage in more radical forms of protest like paying a half-tithe (since their church is treating them like half-people), and threats of violence still aren’t the usual response.

    I’m not saying that you would never run across unhinged folks who might threaten women’s ordination advocates with violence, but no. I really don’t think that would at all be common, and never over a “demonstration” as innocuous as asking women to wear pants to church. We’re too used to this kind of conflict by now.

    The fall-out of this event shows that there is something deeply wrong with the way that some members of the LDS community think about and approach this topic. I find it troubling.

  26. Adam G. on December 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I’m going to be wearing pants to church this Sunday, but not purple pants, which I understand would be my obligation if I wished to make my sacramental attendance a protest against the small-c church in addition to a communion with it.

  27. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Great thoughts Rosalynde. I’ve certainly learned a lot reading them.

    It dismays me to observe that I think Mark Brown has made a point in comment # 8 that bears more consideration than you have given it in comment # 10.

    The salient point — which relates directly to perhaps the main flaw in your original post — is that the Pants FB event page debacle was not an instance of people giving in to their baser nature where conventional social mores are temporarily lifted through internet anonymity. In other words, though your observation is correct that this phenomenon exists in general on the internet, particularly on blogs or in the comments to online articles, in this instance, as Mark noted, these weren’t people hiding behind anonymous internet handles. Because this was on Facebook, for the most part these were real people posting from their own Facebook accounts under their real names. It revealed that the people espousing these views were the ordinary rank and file orthodox Mormons you would otherwise consider kind neighbors and nice Church members to greet in the hallway at Church. Scrolling through the comments, you likely recognized people or noticed that a given poster decrying those who support the pants event as apostates or lesbos (or minions of Satan — seriously) has 23 mutual friends with you. It was distressing to think that this kind of thing links just barely below the surface of regular old ward members who would never normally participate in the types of internet arguments about Mormonism that occur in the “Bloggernacle”.

    That is why Ronan’s post at BCC is so important: http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/12/14/less-than-1200-words-on-pants/

    Though I’ve taken serious issue with him about his beloved “Scientology Rule” and asked him to jettison use of it and so I found it unfortunate that he framed the issue through use of that metric, I think Ronan’s post is extremely valuable because it calls the bad behavior out for what it is.

    I love your last couple of sentences. I agree that what you recommend there is a healthy, proactive approach. My main concern is with the onus it puts on the class of Church members who are victimized by this behavior. It would be easier to address it and put a stop to it from the top down. But in the unfortunate absence of that remedy, it is of course wise counsel to advise those who are negatively affected by such behavior to forebear in the face of further mansplaining or thinly veiled dismissal of the autonomy and views of women.

  28. Kent Larsen on December 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Just want to remind everyone about T&S’ rules — you ARE required to give a valid email address. I had to remove one comment above for violating that rule.

    If it was your comment, send me your email address (it isn’t published — it is so that T&S can contact you if needed), and I’ll put the comment back.

  29. D. Fletcher on December 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I don’t really have an opinion about pants day. Women should be equal, in all ways, to men. People should dress nicely for church. I’m not above a protest or two, but I’m not sure what pants day is really going to achieve.

  30. Sarah Familia on December 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I liked this, Rosalynde, and I think it’s both a good analysis of the event and a good response. Still, both long civil discussion and protest are useful tools, and the adoption of one or the other by any specific person seems to be more a matter of temperament than a true comment on the objective effectiveness of the respective methods.

    About a month ago, I wore pants to church for the first time. I had been contemplating it for awhile and had several reasons for doing it, although when it actually came down to it, the choice to do it on that particular Sunday had mostly to do with the fact that I was exhausted from taking care of sick family members and my dress pants were clean and pressed, while my skirt was not.

    I liked wearing pants. They worked a lot better for playing the organ than my knee-length skirts (which tend to ride up and show my garments as I move my feet around on the pedals) or my long skirts (which I never wear because they trip me up on the pedals). I was comfortably warm in the chapel for the first time in many months. I got a chance to wear the nice slacks my mother-in-law bought me last year, and which I don’t really have much occasion to don in my stay-at-home Mormon mom life. Wearing pants also made me more aware of how members or visitors might feel who stand out as different at church, whether it’s because of their clothing, marital status, race, tobacco odor, or whatever other reason. And I was pleasantly surprised that nobody in my ward seemed to even notice what I’d worn. There were no comments, and I didn’t even notice any stares.

    My biggest reason for wearing pants is that while I DO participate in your quieter cultural revolution, I get a little tired of swimming so much against the stream. I try to modulate my comments and make sure that I don’t say anything offensive to my more conservative brothers and sisters. But I am not accorded the same courtesy, and hear offensive statements from members of my ward all the time at church.

    I think it’s mostly out of ignorance, because they’re all nice people. So I want them to know I exist (not just as the molly Mormon temple married SAHM who plays the piano, but as myself, with my issues and doubts and yes, my feminism), and that I love the church, and that I want it to be a place where I can belong even if I think or feel or look a little different from everyone else. I want that for me, and I want it for other women (and men) who have felt alienated or judged in a place that should be safe for all of us.

    And if by some amazing chance there’s another Mormon feminist in my ward, I really hope she wears pants too, so I can meet her like a long-lost sister.

  31. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your contributions, all.

    John, it’s an excellent point, and Mark, I’m sorry I didn’t respond fully. It was a mistake to frame my point in terms of anonymity, since you’re right that on FB there are names attached. As it happened, no, I didn’t recognize any of the names I saw next to the ugly misogyny (nor has the pants issue showed up on my non-bloggernacle FB feed at all), so it might as well have been anonymous internet handles, for me. But your point stands.

    I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m saying that we don’t need to look in the mirror at the ugliness in our own community. We do. We need to figure out how Mormonism can better root out or tamp down misogyny and gender hatred among its members. And maybe the solutions don’t differ much whether you see the source of the misogyny as something unique and localized to Mormon culture or whether you see it as something more widespread and more basic to human nature. But when I see online misogyny of remarkably similar character (sexual insults and threats of violence) in virtually every sub-community imaginable — yes, even political progressivism, remember Sarah Palin? — I begin to suspect that there is something larger going on.

  32. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    well said, thanks

  33. Adam G. on December 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Is there any argument to be made that ‘mansplain’ isn’t a sexist term, expressing a kind of gender-based derision?

  34. MC on December 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I liked this article, but I just have to point this out:

    Men: Stop with the gender-based insults!
    Women: If a man tries to “Mansplain” something, don’t let it bother you.

    I’m sure that there were in fact lots of terrible comments, although the ones I read in the Daily Mail article seemed just fine.

  35. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    sort of a reverse sexism argument, Adam?

  36. Adam Greenwood on December 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    No, just plain ol’ sexism, period. I’m not terribly exercised about it–RW is good folks and means no harm, I’m positive–but its just a little ironic.

  37. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Probably not, Adam. I don’t like it very much as a term, and I don’t usually use it — I was just trying to anticipate and respond to objections that might be raised about the effectiveness of substantive, personal behaviors like one-to-one conversations.

  38. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Adam, it sounds like you’re skeptical that “mansplaining” is something that happens, unfortunately with relatively high frequency in our current church culture (Wasatch front culture more broadly), especially in instances in which the male engaging in the practice is in discussion with someone who he perceives as being “one of those” feminists.

  39. MC on December 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    “Adam, it sounds like you’re skeptical that “mansplaining” is something that happens”

    If I were to coin a phrase such as “feministcomplaining”, no one here would consider it a legitimate defense to say that it is “something that happens,” even if it were true.

  40. Adam G. on December 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    John F., sex-based insults are like lese majeste. The greater the truth, the greater the libel.

    I’m curious what the ‘it’ is that sounded like I had an opinion on men in Utah explaining stuff to women.

  41. Tegus on December 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I have to agree with D. Fletcher, I don’t have any strong opinion about Pants Day. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have noticed women wearing pants on Sunday if not for the whole online debacle.

    I to give a bit of my experience. I’m a Mormon male that has lived on the Wasatch front for the past 14 years. I’ve been in more bishopric, PEC, and stake presidency meetings than you could shake a stick at. In all time I’ve never heard a single leader utter anything misogynistic. All I’ve seen is women treated the same (or more) respect than is given men. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; but I can say that I’ve never seen it.

  42. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    “I’m curious what the ‘it’ is that sounded like I had an opinion on men in Utah explaining stuff to women.”

    “No, just plain ol’ sexism, period.”

  43. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Tegus, in how many of those wards did people call the Relief Society President “President Smith” or was she called “Sister Smith” and why is that? I assume there was always a policy to call the Elders Quorum President “President Smith” rather than “Brother Smith” — and there were probably ward and stake directives encouraging members to employ the formalistic title of “President” with reference to him rather than casually use his first name. In how many of those wards was the Relief Society President invited to PEC? Did the Relief Society President have to get sign off from the Bishop or a member of the bishopric for any RS activity that the RS Presidency had planned in their planning meetings? Did the Bishop insist that a man had to be at every RS activity (so that it could be “presided over” by a priesthood holder)? Was a woman ever called into callings in which holding the priesthood is irrelevant from any practical standpoint such as ward clerk, executive secretary, Sunday School President?

    I think that these examples might be more of what those who support this pants event have in mind in responding to lingering generational cultural structural inequalities that seem to be embedded in the Wasatch front culture that permeates much of the Church independent of the mores that the Gospel itself would or does actually require.

    The gender based vitriol that revealed itself in the reactions of everyday Mormons to the Pants event FB page is a separate issue that has arisen after the fact of the reasoning behind this event. Although it provides support for the idea that these types of feelings about a woman’s “place” are still seething close to the surface, my sense reading the explanation of the organizers at the now defunct pants event FB page was that they felt more generally that women’s voices aren’t heard or appropriately listened to at many levels of Church life — that there continues to be unnecessary, generational cultural structural inequalities in Church culture that are extraneous to the requirements of the Gospel itself.

  44. Bryan S. on December 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    john f.

    I’m confused too. I don’t see anything Adam has said that make it sound like Adam is skeptical that mansplaining happens. That wasn’t what he said. It said it was a sexist term, your reply quoting him saying “No, just plain ol’ sexism, period” doesn’t make it sound like he is skeptical.

  45. Adam Greenwood on December 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    “I’m curious what the ‘it’ is that sounded like I had an opinion on men in Utah explaining stuff to women.”

    “No, just plain ol’ sexism, period.”

    I still don’t understand, John F. Maybe you could mansplain it to me.

  46. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I don’t understand why you’re using sexist terms, Adam.

  47. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    From your reaction (calling it a sexist term), it seems to me that the activity of a Mormon man condescendingly explaining something to a troublemaking “feminist” woman (or any woman) — from the privileged position he holds relative to her because of the current structure of administrative leadership — about her prescribed role in life or place in the structure of the Church does not register as an act that is substantively different than one person simply explaining something to another person on an equal footing such that a descriptive term like “mansplaining” could be attached to it.

    If the only criticism of it is that it is sexist because it refers to one gender (“man”), it is perhaps a valid point but since men are not at a structural disadvantage to women in the Church or our broader culture, it makes little sense to complain that it is sexist in a morally bad way.

    What term would you prefer to describe the activity that is currently effectively referred to descriptively as “mansplaining”?

  48. MC on December 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    “If the only criticism of it is that it is sexist because it refers to one gender (“man”), it is perhaps a valid point but since men are not at a structural disadvantage to women in the Church or our broader culture, it makes little sense to complain that it is sexist in a morally bad way.”

    In other words, it’s not sexist if it’s a woman making fun of men.

    I was going to paraphrase Orwell’s “Four legs good, two legs bad” but I think I’ll steer clear of it.

  49. Adam Greenwood on December 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    John F.,
    Sorry, I still don’t understand what you’re getting at. I’m pretty sure I have no idea how you got paragraphs of meaning out of my sentence, but I’m not entirely sure because I can’t make much sense out of your paragraphs of meaning. Unless you want to break out the Big Chief and crayons, perhaps we should call this one a day.

  50. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I don’t understand your comment. I am sure it’s funny but it lost me.

  51. john f. on December 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Though I don’t understand your witticisms and humor, here is what I understand: you don’t like the term “mansplaining”, you think it is sexist, and you have assiduously avoided revealing your view as to whether the act described by the sexist term “mansplaining” is in fact happening in our church and, if it is, whether that is something to be concerned about or whether it is just a politically incorrect joke to you.

  52. jennifer reuben on December 15, 2012 at 2:13 am

    I have read both the comments and the statements on this and several other blogs and I feel that this pants protest has lost whatever message the original group intented. The symbolic gesture of sisters wearing pants in the chapel will be lost on many of the congregations include those who do not live by social media and those who live in cultures where this is not unusual dress and finally those who truely come to worship especially during this Christmas season.

  53. Rockies Gma on December 15, 2012 at 3:42 am

    Rosalynde, excellent post. Thank you.

    Sarah Familia, beautiful! Your comment speaks to my heart.

    To the guy who defends contentious comments and blames dissent as the cause of contention, do you not rem ember that Joseph greatly feared the loss of dissent?

    Jesus was an avid dissenter.

    I look at it this way. Dissent is healthy agitation that keeps the pond from becoming a stagnant cesspool with quicksand.

    And for those who champion long discourses of slow-moving, conservative change– well that’s been going on my whole long life. Enough already. Time to do. We’ve discussed for decades. I’m old. I’d like to see my gender officially equal to the other gender ASAP. Respect and admiration are wonderful, but they don’t make us truly equal. Patriarchy has had it’s day. Time for it to go the way of all the earth, and a better system embraced. Forget baby steps. We’re grownups — we can handle lengthening our stride. :)

    Just saying…..

  54. MikeInWeHo on December 17, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Thanks again for this great post, Rosalynde. This weekend I was out of town with a friend but still following this story.

    My friend is very smart, insightful, and oblivious to anything about Mormons. Curious about what I was reading, I painstakingly (and I think very fairly) explained to him a few things about Mormon doctrine and traditions regarding gender roles and attire.

    Then I described Wear Pants To Church Day and the angry, even threatening responses it had received online. Again, I believe I was very fair in my description.

    His exact words: “That sounds like something from the Mideast.”

    I don’t think I’m the only outsider who would look at this and see shades of the same thing. It’s many degrees less extreme, for sure, but it has a very similar vibe.

  55. Adam Greenwood on December 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    John F.,
    Big Chief pads and crayons are what you break out when you are trying to explain something to the meanest of intelligences, so while you are quite right that I was being as assiduously funny as always, you are wrong to think that you were the butt of the humor. No need to harrumph.