Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pants Pants Revolution

Two days ago, some Mormon women (and men) participated in “Wear Pants to Church Day.” Participating women wore nice pants to their church meetings, while supportive men wore purple shirts and/or ties. If you’re Mormon and somehow don’t know what I’m talking about, “Wear Pants to Church Day” was organized by some faithful Mormon women who wished to invoke a sense of solidarity among those who feel that non-doctrinal, gender-based stereotypes are needlessly hindering love and unity within the LDS Church (e.g. when someone doesn’t fit a given stereotype, for whatever reason). More generally, the event sought to expose—and begin chipping away at—our tendency as Mormons to latch onto things that aren’t official doctrines or policies of the Church and herald them as inviolable measuring sticks of personal righteousness. That’s my understanding of the event, anyway. For a more official explanation of the event, you can find several blog posts about “Wear Pants to Church Day” at Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you’re so inclined, the one-hour podcast posted here includes an interview with those who started the event. It’s a worthwhile listen.

If you don’t know, there was quite a backlash against this event. Some Mormons vehemently attacked those expressing a desire to participate in “Wear Pants to Church Day,” enough so that the event’s official Facebook page was closed. While some who opposed the event treated it as silly (“I’m a Mormon woman and I like wearing a dress! It doesn’t make me feel oppressed!”) or pointless (“There’s not a rule that says you can’t wear pants to church, you idiots! You’re not even rebelling like you think you are!”), some were much more drastic in their responses. Presumably, more than a couple of death threats were issued against the organizers of the event. I find this baffling, of course. But even the most flippant dismissals seemed to miss the point of “Wear Pants to Church Day.” In my eyes, at least, the event was not meant to “protest” anything. It was more of a reaching out to those who have, at some time or another, felt outcast due to not fitting into the standard Mormon mold. If we’re honest, that would include just about any of us.

Melanie couldn’t decide whether or not she wanted to wear pants. Quite rightly, she worried that people would not understand her motives in wearing pants. The point of wearing pants was not to say that dresses are oppressive. The point of wearing pants was not to break the rules. But that’s what all the naysayers presumed the event was about. Melanie’s choice was not as simple as I’ve probably made it sound, and I’ll leave it to her to discuss her thought process in more detail if she so chooses, but she did not wear pants. And I, for a very lame and OCD-ish reason, did not wear any purple. (I wear purple to church quite frequently, but on this day, I felt that my blue suit would better compliment Melanie’s attire.) In hindsight, as I continue to hear the closed-minded rhetoric being spouted by those who cannot wrap their minds around the purpose of “Wear Pants to Church Day,” I regret my choice. A little bit, at least. I don’t know that my purple shirt and tie would have meant anything to anyone, but I did see one woman—a friend of Melanie’s—who was wearing pants. As far as I could tell, she was the only one. Neither I nor Melanie got a chance to speak to her, but it breaks my heart to think she felt alone. Maybe she didn’t. But I can imagine it took courage on her part, and if absolutely nobody else participated, she very well may have felt stupid. And now I realize even more so that participating in “Wear Pants to Church Day” was as much an opportunity to show love as it was to make any kind of political statement. I guess that should have been obvious—the political statement, if we should even call it that, was about love to begin with.

If I were a woman, I’d wear pants to church next Sunday. “Wear Pants to Church Day” is over, but its purpose wasn’t to change our mindsets for three hours on December 16th. It was, in part, to remind us that God isn’t nearly as closed-minded as we are, that he maketh his sun to rise on the women in dresses and on the women in pants. My wearing a purple tie in the future won’t convey much, but for any of you Mormon women out there, it’s never too late to wear pants as a sign that you strive to follow Christ’s admonition to love people unconditionally.

Kinda makes me wish I had a vagina.


  1. This was the groups mission statement-
    "We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the LDS church to acknowledge the similarities. We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS Church today stems from the churches reliance on - and enforcement of- rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality."

    And to that I say, "huh?" What exactly do they mean? I have read lots of articles and I still don't get exactly what they were trying to accomplish. It was more than just to challenge the social norm within the church for women to wear skirts. The people who care what you wear to church are the mature in age ladies and maybe a few other people. They should just be ignored, they aren't going to change there mind just because I wore pants.
    So Ben, maybe you can explain to me what are the similarities between the genders that they want acknowledged and what are the cultural, structural, and doctrinal inequalities they were trying to bring to attention?

  2. Please excuse my grammar mistakes, it's late and I am typing on the iPad.

  3. Crystal,

    As I understand it, the mission statement you quoted is the mission statement of the group who started "Wear Pants to Church Day" but is not exactly the mission statement of "Wear Pants to Church Day" itself. Still, your question is a fair one and the two things are obviously related enough that you can't just pull them apart.

    Seeing as how I'm not a part of this group or a person who wrote the mission statement, I can only guess at what they have in mind when they say there is "cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality" in the Church. I assume that the similarities they want recognized are simply that women are intelligent, spiritual people who can contribute in many of the ways that men can. Growing up in the Church, I know I've heard things like it demeans a man for his wife to earn an income and that if she has free time because her kids are grown or in school (or don't exist), she should do volunteer work rather than get paid for anything she does. Structurally, women have never been asked to say an opening or closing prayer in general conference, they aren't allowed to serve in callings that are not priesthood based (such as ward clerk), etc. These things aren't likely to be God's rules so much as the way we've ended up doing things.

    As for "doctrinal inequality," that one's tougher in my opinion. In my mind, the whole point is that some of these practices are NOT doctrinal. I take the word "doctrinal" to mean truly authorized of God, but I think it's pretty clear that's not what the organizers mean. They say, after all, that these things "bear no relationship to reality." So, trying to see their point, I assume they mean that there are official policies in place that are regarded as doctrine but really are human-made. Again, what they have in mind is uncertain to me. It might touch upon some of the things I've already mentioned, such as not calling women to positions that aren't even priesthood callings. Despite what some people might think, the point is NOT that women don't hold the priesthood. The interview I listened to with the organizers said as much, at least.

    All in all, then, I think there are some legitimate and fair concerns on the group's part. There are enough that I wouldn't scoff at their mission statement, even if I might think it could be stated differently.