Wearing Pants

December 15, 2012 | 30 comments
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Everybody’s talking about pants. And having already recently conducted my own private (and unrelated) “wear pants to church” event, I thought it would be an opportune time to share my thoughts here. I had been contemplating wearing pants to church for awhile and had several reasons for doing it, although when it actually came down to it, the choice to wear pants 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.

Turns out, though, I liked wearing pants. They worked a lot better for playing the organ than my knee-length skirts (which tend to ride up as I move my feet around on the pedals) or my long skirts (which I never wear on Sundays when it’s my turn to play 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.

My biggest reason for wearing pants, though, is that I myself am one of “those” Mormon feminists. I know that on the outside I look like a pretty good Molly Mormon (you know, the stay-at-home-mom with temple marriage and cute kids who pays tithing, wears knee-length skirts and shoulder-covering shirts, doesn’t drink or smoke, makes casseroles for funerals, etc.). But inside I see things a little differently from the majority of conservative Mormons in my ward, and any other ward I’ve ever lived in, for that matter. I love to talk about Heavenly Mother. I voted for Obama. I buy both my daughter and my son baby dolls and building toys. And yes, I would be more than happy to see some changes in my  church with regard to greater gender equality.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m writing letters to the prophet or picketing the church office building to demand that he immediately start ordaining women to the priesthood. What I am doing is listening to other women’s stories about how they feel at church, and telling my own. It means that I’m participating in discussions and thought experiments that analyze cultural and institutional problems and explore possibilities to change things for the better.

Anyway, that’s what I do online. On Sundays I dress up in my modest skirt, roll up my sleeves, and do what I’ve been asked to help my congregation run smoothly. In Sunday School,  I try to modulate my comments to 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 in some ways, that’s part of what wearing pants meant to me. I wanted them to know I exist, not just as the Molly Mormon who knows all the Sunday School answers and signs up to make meals whenever there’s a need, but as myself, with all my issues and doubts and yes, my feminism. I want them to know who I really am, and that no matter what they’ve heard about stereotypical Mormon feminists, I love my church, and 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 all the other women (and men) who have felt alienated or judged in a place that should be full of the love of Christ and safe for all of us.

And you know what, the members of my ward really made my day. There were no comments about my clothing choice, and I didn’t even see any stares. As far as I could tell, nobody even noticed I was wearing pants. They smiled at me, and talked to me, and loved me just the same as they always do. That might seem like a small thing, but it meant a lot to me. Because really, wearing pants to church was more about who I am and how I feel than it was about trying to impact anyone else. I needed to stand before my God and my faith community and be honest about who I was. After so many times of going to church and hearing things that make me wonder if there’s even a place there for me, wearing pants felt like a way to ask my question out loud and know from the response if I was really welcome. And what I heard loud and clear from my brothers and sisters at church that day is that they, like the Master they worship, love me for who I am and welcome me with all my doubts and inadequacies and idiosyncrasies. And feminism. And pants.

Tomorrow, Mormon women around the world will be wearing pants to church for many different reasons. Some would like to see small changes in culture and policy. Others hope for more substantive restructuring. Some differ from the traditional Mormon mold in their marital status, professional choices, background, lack of children, etc. Others have experienced abuse at the hands of Priesthood leaders. Some have been absent from church for months or years because they felt alienated or unwelcome, and are coming back out of hope that maybe this time will be different. Others because they are new converts, wear what is traditional to their cultures, can’t afford new clothes, or just prefer pants. Still others because they want to make sure that the people who dress differently feel welcome too.

Some women will wear pants to church tomorrow because that’s what they always wear. Others have been so dumbfounded by the negative and in some cases violent language used to intimidate and demean those who plan to wear pants, that they have elected to wear pants in solidarity.

I hope, for all these women, that their wards are as kind as mine. I hope they have bishops and relief society presidents and fellow members who can look beyond the pants and see the loving, faithful, conflicted daughter of God. And I hope that they will open their hearts and make her feel welcome in a way she’s never felt welcome before.

I’ll be wearing my pants again tomorrow. And if by some amazing chance there’s another Mormon feminist in my ward, I really hope she wears pants too. If you’re out there, I’d love to meet you, my long-lost sister!

Cross posted at Casteluzzo.com

Edited to include a picture of us on our way to church on “Wear Pants to Church Day.”

30 Responses to Wearing Pants

  1. jennifer reuben on December 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    “long lost sister”? I have always thought that all women are my sisters and even closer all female members of my ward were included in my immediate concern. I do not understand why the selection of a sabbath worship service during the Christmas season to make an gesture relating to clothing. what do it have to do with how you voted in the recent presidental election. I have read and re-read a series of blogs and newspaper reports about this planned symbolic event but sorry do not get the connections to the feminist movement.

  2. jennifer reuben on December 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    rewite: I do not understand what the selection of a sabbath worship service during the Christmas season for a gesture relating to clothing as to do with the feminist movement. How does any of this relate to how you voted in the recent presidental election? I have read and re-read a number of blogs and newspaper resports about this planned symbolic event but sorry I can’t connect it to the feminist movement.

  3. Cameron on December 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I’ll just wait for (hopefully) heaven and we the more equal robe-wearing status quo. ;) Until then, no lavalavas or kilts for me.

  4. Kent Larsen on December 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Since I don’t have any purple clothing (the color selected for men who want to support this) and because I understand bow ties are one of the suggested alternatives, I’ll be wearing my kind of lavender colored bow tie tomorrow.

    While I tend to agree that Sacrament meeting isn’t the place for protests, I don’t really see this as a protest, not any more than wearing dresses might be a protest. I don’t expect anyone to notice, except for those who are aware of this action. I certainly won’t bring it up.

    In a sense this will only be noticeable to those who care to notice. I’m sure it will make many women feel good to be doing something.

    More importantly, I think anyone who notices and is bothered that women are wearing pants should ask themselves why they were bothered! If you are bothered by this, isn’t the problem with you? Why exactly would you let how someone else is dressed interrupt your worship?

    Isn’t something like this leading us as a Church to be more like Christ?

  5. Adam G. on December 16, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Its pretty clear that if you’re wearing pants in a coordinated effort to make a visible statement, at the behest of a group that says its to overturn ‘structural, cultural, and even doctrinal inequalities,’ that its a protest. There comes a point where calling a tail a leg doesn’t mean a sheep walks around on all fives.

    But if purple protest pants or non-lickerish lavender is your clothing of choice for Advent, bless your heart and Merry Christmas. Hopefully very few regular members rise to your bait this Sunday or are even aware of it, and peace can reign.

  6. H_NU on December 16, 2012 at 8:34 am

    What I find interesting about this, it’s yet another example of infectious liberal malcontent.

  7. Wilfried on December 16, 2012 at 8:36 am

    “Tomorrow, Mormon women around the world will be wearing pants to church for many different reasons.”

    In Europe thousands will wear them because they wear them every Sunday.

  8. Tony on December 16, 2012 at 8:44 am

    As an effort to be a supportive husband/father, both I and my son will proudly be wearing matching purple shirts tomorrow. Thanks for the post!! ;)

  9. Rachel Whipple on December 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

    My deacon is disappointed that I didn’t buy him a purple tie to wear. He’s going with purple socks and a purple origami flower tucked into his lapel.

  10. Kent Larsen on December 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Adam, I was going to ignore the whole thing, but the more I saw violent rhetoric in response to this idea, the more I got on board.

    The problem as I see it is that Mormon culture needs to change in various ways. This seems like an innocuous way to make a point and, we hope, get people to change the way that they think.

    If this isn’t the way to make a statement, pray tell, what is? How do we effect change in Mormon culture? To be honest (and this is more an indictment of the membership of the Church than anything), talks in General Conference are hit and miss about how well they get people to change.

  11. Naismith on December 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Let me get this straight….one of the reasons for this is to discourage folks from judging people by what they wear…

    But it is okay make a judgment that someone who happens to wear pants is your “long-lost sister”?

  12. Alison Moore Smith on December 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Per Kent, talks are not only hit and miss, but talk TOPICS reflect a particular subset of concerns. Most of us have no venue in which to air concerns in a way to have influence.

  13. Peter LLC on December 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I always assumed the injunction to refrain from unrighteous judgment referred to condemnation rather than fellowship, as shallow as our motivations might be.

  14. Roger on December 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I missed the hoopla. I accompanied my wife to her Baptist congregation and listened to a sermon that focused on the ways great and small that people had helped and befriended a recently deceased Downs Syndrome member. People wore a variety of different attire.;,it didn’t seem to matter.

    The pants for sisters controversy is a perfect example of the church of my youth straining at a gnat.

  15. whizzbang on December 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    certaintly against mysogyny but no women wore pants today-mind you you could knock me over with a bees sneeze if anyone even knew about it-I knew the stake presidency knew about it and honestly the Stake Pres. made fun of it and he is the biggest mysogynist I know in the Church

  16. Manuel on December 16, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    “If this isn’t the way to make a statement, pray tell, what is? How do we effect change in Mormon culture?”

    I think this is such an important question. No matter what the issue, members seem to always be looked down upon for voicing ANY concern about the Church. They should not comment, they should not ask, they should not write, they should not wear something to make a statement or voice a concern.

    This is what I have long ago defined as “silencing.” Sometimes passive, sometimes aggressive, but always sinister, the “silencing” that some members of the Church exert over other members of the Church who don’t share their views (or the views of the leaders) is what seems extremely creepy and cult like to me.

    Even a recent post that triggered response posts in other blogs seemed to imply people should practice self silencing and just wait for the rest of the Church to simply “catch on.” The post of course, failed to communicate how does the Church in general can “catch on” with issues that are not supposed to ever be voiced or brought up in any way by any member of the Church.

    The fact that this simple act to voice something has caused so much uproar, anger, vitriol, and all kinds of un-Christian reactions, really makes the Church in my eyes look more like a strange narrow-minded creepy cult than ever before, and I know I am not the only one, and that is sad.

    The reactions to this can only be described as sad. The silencing and judging are so creepy, so spiritually unhealthy.

    I am glad the sisters voiced their concern and I FULLY support them.

    I don’t care if people want to be dramatic and call it a “protest” although the event had hardly any of the elements that come to my mind with the actual connotation of the word “protest,” but so be it. I am an activist for several causes in Mexico, I could show you what “protest” really means to me in the full context of the connotation of the word. Describing wearing pants and purple to Church as a “protest” seems a bit ridiculous to me, but who cares to start that debate. Protest or not, nothing inappropriate was done. Nothing disruptive, nothing uncivil, nothing extreme, nothing insulting. And the reactions were so extreme, so insulting.

    Some could argue (faultily) that the pants and voicing a concern can disrupt the Spirit that should reign during Church services: I disagree. But the type of vitriol against the pants to church supporters got, well, that definitely is as far as possible from the Spirit that should reign in any community claiming to be Christian.

    Congratulations to all those sisters wearing pants and to all men wearing purple. Let’s do it again. The question above must be answered. Concerns should be able to be voiced and communicated, and this communication should be able to break the ugly walls of bureaucracy that surround our leaders. And nobody should be silencing anyone in the Church of Jesus Christ.

  17. whizzbang on December 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    I think this issue highlights something I have been wondering about for a long time now. What do you do with angst, frustration or questions about things that aren’t covered in Gospel Doctrine? You want to submit your will to the Lord, you odn’t want to murmur but where do you air grievances in the Church about the Church?

  18. James Olsen on December 17, 2012 at 1:43 am

    ” Hopefully very few regular members rise to your bait this Sunday or are even aware of it, and peace can reign.”

    Adam, come now. The only way for peace to reign is for all of those who perceive an egregious “structural, cultural, and even doctrinal inequality” – including those who feel their life has been made significantly less than it might have been on account of these – is to be either silenced or ignored? You can declare til you’re blue in the face that all legs are equally functional and supporting the sheep, but it ain’t gonna walk far with two of them tied its tail.

    For all of those commenting on clothing and styles of dress, I encourage you to work on your reading comprehension. I’m certainly not interested in greater acceptance for the color purple, and I rather like dresses – I’m even in favor of modes of dress being associated with our religion. Most people I know who dressed themselves accordingly this weekend feel the same. For those, like Sarah, who simply appreciate the comfort of playing the organ in pants and who want the freedom to do so – well, as she noted, even in very “conservative” wards, she’s welcome to do so.

    Finally, just wanted to report that I was absolutely delighted to hear my Stake President give an impassioned comment in Elders Quorum that our widespread, accepted cultural practices can be completely out of line with the gospel of Christ without our even recognizing it (he used a very effective local example), and then pled that we have greater love and compassion, especially for those in our midst who feel ostracized or alienated – and the whole focus of the lesson was on this general theme. This, rather than Adam’s call for burying our head in the sand, seems to me the proper response for those who do not feel alienated or negatively affected by the church’s current structure, culture, and doctrine.

  19. jennifer reuben on December 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    praise for your stake president. He “gets It” give him strong support because he will get much negative feedback about his local example I am sure. I personally have found more alientation from the sisters in the church and have found it very difficult to discuss those cultural practices and gospel teachings that alienate within the current Relief Society structure. I am a coward but I seek assignments and callings that take me away from organized sister’s activitity to avoid this negative environment and just keep saying to myself, it is just cultural don’t take it personally.

  20. BrianKW on December 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I’m confused about this whole women in pants idea and I would appreciate if someone could enlighten me. First, can you really be a feminist if you are actively trying to dissolve the dividing lines between men and women? Second, if the whole pants-to-church thing is symbolic of how you feel about womens’ roles in church, aren’t you technically picketing God and His prophets? Third, a protest movement in sacrament meeting? Really? Grow up.

  21. Frank Pellett on December 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    BrianKW –

    First, just like any other self-designation, you can be a feminist and believe many things differently than other feminists. You can also be a Mormon and beleive many things differntly than other Mormons.

    Second, yep. The idea originates from an interview of Pres Hinkley where he said there was no agitation for womens ordination. This has been taken to mean that if you want something, you need to make some sort of agitation. We are a Church of change, seeking for more light and knowledge than we currently have. Making those hopes heard if part of helping to facilitate that change. The hoped for change may never come, and may even be rejected many times over the years, but the hope for our righteous desires should never wane.

    Third, I’m not a big fan of having a protest in Sacrament meeting either, as I consider the issue to be divisive rather than working toward the goals desired, but that’s certainly no reason to throw out such negativity, as mild as it is.

  22. Ken on December 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Roger: “The pants for sisters controversy is a perfect example of the church of my youth straining at a gnat.”

    Wherever else a hue and cry may have been raised over this blatant act of rebellious apostacy (and however one may feel about the state of gender equality in the Church), as for me and mine, we determined to do our best to stifle the yawns it provoked. No gnat-straining here.

  23. Ken on December 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    P.S.: Alas, I have been ill, and was unable to attend Church yesterday to see how many pants-wearing apostates there were. Had I encountered any such apostates, I would have invoked the refrain from the Dockers commercial: “Nice pants!” ;-D

  24. R on December 18, 2012 at 1:30 am

    #16 What Manuel said in exclamation points and capital letters.

  25. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Pants are also much more practical for crawling around on the floor in nursery.

    Frankly, I have a hard time picturing any adult male telling an adult female that here clothing is inappropriate. Even if you thought that, it is the kind of thing that is better and more persuasively communicated by another sister.

    When people come to church as investigators, many of them are used to wearing casual clothing to church. Some of them don’t have a suit and a tie. Others come to church directly from work or some other activity. I recall reading that Arnold Friberg once showed up at priesthood meeting in his hip waders because he had come directly from taking his water turn for his farm. I tend to think that the Lord is so happy they showed up he could care less how they are dressed.

    On the other hand, TRYING to communicate discontent or anger (however ineffectually) raises a question about losing focus. The purpose of sacrament meeting is to worship God as we renew our baptismal covenants by remembering the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Focusing on wanting other people to notice the clothes we are wearing is a fatal distraction from the purpose of the ordinance, just as if we were so inordinately proud of our Manolo Blahniks that we were sticking them out in the aisle while the deacons walked past with their trays. If we are not penitent and humble and grateful and offering a broken heart and contrite spirit, we are taking the Sacrament under false pretenses. So beware of pride. You can be proud of your righteous anger just as much as you can be proud of your righteous humility. Either kind of pride is deadly to our souls. I would suggest that if you were participating in a protest last Sunday, you might ask yourself whether it interfered with your relationship with the Savior and your dependence on Him for your happiness and exaltation. Obviously only you can answer that question.

  26. jennifer reuben on December 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    preachy very preachy. the moment has past the protest was lost in the talk now lets move on.

  27. Carrin on December 19, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Strange. Very strange. The point of women wearing pants is what exactly?

  28. Stacy on December 24, 2012 at 2:36 am

    I’m all for an occasional rebellion against mormon culture and had no problem with women wearing pants.
    As far as “gender equality” goes-

    I think that Men and women roles both have a mixture of rights, privileges, and obligations. It seems like feminist want TO BE ABLE to do all the things that men do without the OBLIGATIONS men have. They want the choice to serve in the military (but no mention of the draft), the choice to provide for their families (without the expectation), the choice to have the priesthood (but not the commandment), the choice to serve a mission (but not the pressure and disappointment if they choose not to go).

    They complain that their roles are “restrictive” without ever taking into account how restrictive men’s roles can be. I’m fine if they want to call for “gender equality”, but they should be willing to take on the obligations and requirements of men as well.

  29. Ben H on January 13, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Sarah! I think trying to change the church through some sort of protest is a terrible idea in all sorts of ways that I won’t go into, but I am thrilled to hear about your experience, and I hope everyone has an equally warm and clothing-unconcerned ward!

  30. Kris on January 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Regardless of what we wear to church, I believe that we should have a desire to dress our best, for our Savior who we come to church to worship. It is His house in which we worship and it should be with a desire to wear our best, as an outward expression of our respect for Him.