“I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused.” Amelia Bloomer
When I first heard about the group All Enlisted organizing women to wear pants to church on Sunday, December 16, I was of two minds. On the one hand, who cares? Pants aren’t against the rules anyway, and I see lots of women wearing pants to church, not as many as wear dresses or skirts, but every week a few. And it’s clearly not the point of church (staging a protest); we’re there to repent, to take the sacrament, and to worship Christ. But on the other hand, I immediately saw some benefits too: women who felt inauthentic, judged, or ostracised would see from this act of solidarity that they can be accepted for who they are. They can step out from behind their mask and find that they are still loved, welcome, accepted. They will see that there’s room in the pew for us all. Plus, why should anyone feel weird about wearing dressy pants to church when they are allowed? And yet, many of us do.
Sis. Beck told the women of the church that they had no idea how much power they have, that our vision for Relief Society is a mere fraction of our potential. I suspect she’s right about that. Somewhere along the line, we went from being a huge organization of women doing good works, including women healing the sick, to an auxiliary on par with the children’s organization that can’t buy a pencil without male sign off and can’t meet without a priesthood leader in the building. Women have been infantilized in the church, little by little.
On my mission, there was a rule that I, a 22 year old woman who had lived on my own for 4 years, had to check in at night with a 19 year old male missionary who had literally never done his own laundry or cooked his own meals prior to his mission. The male missionaries did not have this requirement. It definitely coloured some of their perspectives about the sisters. I was told on more than one occasion that the sisters were “a pain.” They were weak and you had to babysit them. I’m sure that wasn’t a majority opinion, but I heard it expressed often enough that I concluded that protectionism breeds misogyny. Treating people differently just because their biology differs has unintended negative consequences. I say unintended because I truly believe the leaders of this church love the women. I’m not sure that all of them always understand the women, but I’m sure they love us. One of the elders from my mission, someone I would consider very conservative, posted a Pres. Hinckley quote in response to this event about treating the women of the church with love and respect. He ended with, “Men, are we listening?”
Alice Walker famously said: ”I have seen the axe, and the handle is one of us.” It never ceases to amaze me how women turn on other women. It is said that women are more socially advanced than men and that we exert social pressure more effectively than men do. Social pressure is a euphemism for shame, judgment, and ostracism. As unsavory as it is for women to turn on one another in judgment, in this case, a few men took it even further. The All Enlisted Facebook page was taken down because there were so many who had reported it as offensive, and there was even a death threat; one young man, an employee of BYU, said activists should be shot in the face at point blank range. Based on the commentary there were many reasons people gave for opposing the idea of women wearing pants to church en masse. Some objected to the pants (despite the church having no anti-pants stance), some objected to the organizing aspect, some felt feminism is divisive (certainly when compared with silencing women), and a few seemed to simply hate women (see below).
The rational argument is that church isn’t the place for protesting; I agree with that. Frankly, I’m not much for protesting or activism in general. That which we resist persists. But I’m not sure this fits the term “protest” in any real sense. I would say it’s more akin to wearing a ribbon to raise awareness. After all, nobody was there to do anything but worship. Everyone participated in church the same as any other week, in my case, even more mindful of my covenants than usual.
But if we want to protest something, here’s something to protest. I’ve seen too many people in my lifetime who have stopped coming to church because they were offended, dismissed or mistreated. We have a real tendency in this church to blame those who are offended, even when people have been horrid to them. We believe everyone should just “get over it” and “suck it up” and “quit whining.” All fine notions, and I’ve made the case before that wallowing in victimhood is disempowering. But I’m not sure they are very productive things to say, especially when someone feels they have been disregarded or disrespected or not accepted or welcomed. The byproduct of that is that the ones who still come to church are the offensive ones!
I truly hope nobody intends to be offensive, but consider this. Are those who are thick skinned and who focus on the privileges and exclusivity of the church, in the best position to charitably judge the ones they’ve offended? Or are they more likely to justify their offensive actions (like everyone does)? Yes, there are some people who are more easily offended than others, but we are also told: ”Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we can make people feel just a little more comfortable, accepted or welcome through something as simple as not judging them for wearing pants or for being a feminist, maybe we’ll find we have a few more butts in seats on Sunday, and far more interesting discussions in our classes.
But there were some other arguments that seemed less meritorious:
- Wearing pants to church is disrespectful to God. Only God can see the hearts of people and know why they are wearing what they are wearing. I’ll let him judge intentions.
- Women are trying to look like men by wearing pants. Except that women wear pants every single day of the week. There are far more similarities than differences between the sexes.
- This is why men are in charge – back in the kitchen, ladies. Submit to the patriarchy! Ironic perhaps. A few men even called on their priesthood in decrying the group. Sounds like unrighteous dominion.
- Pants have nothing to do with equality. They certainly did 50 years ago. Pants, like white shirts, are symbolic only.
- The male dress code is equally oppressive. Granted. Men were encouraged to wear a purple tie or coloured shirt to help change our Pharisaical culture. Since the men have Movember, maybe we could create Pantsuary.
- Women are already equal. If the church were run entirely by women, I’m pretty sure the men would say the same thing.
- Women aren’t equal but they have babies (or vague “special” womanly gifts) which is even better. I’m not going to even justify this with a response.
“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism… the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.”-Hugh Nibley
In this case, it’s not the leaders insisting on it. In fact the church’s response was basically: “Wear your best, whatever that is, but please come join us.” It’s the membership, the culture, that is behaving in ugly ways, not the leadership.
So, what happened in our ward? There was good will from everyone, in pants and in skirts, purple shirts and white. It was no big deal, which is what I thought it would be; some women wear pants every week. I see men in cargo shorts, tee shirts, jeans, and every coloured shirt you can imagine. I once saw a guy in a swim suit attending sacrament meeting (not a Speedo, although I did see a guy hiking the Australian outback wearing a Speedo). We have a lot of out of town visitors as well as investigators. People wear whatever they think will be appropriate or whatever they have with them. We are multi-cultural, and women wear Indian sarees (that show the midriff) and salwar kameez (3rd to the right in the picture – there were also 2 other sisters wearing this on Sunday, both Indian), Vietnamese ao dai (to the left – that’s me – and my friend next to me in the white and black ao dai).
The opening prayer was a sister in pants. The first talk was a brother in a purple shirt. The final talk was a sister in a skirt. There were 6 women in pants that I saw and 3 men in purple shirts. Our ward is diverse. Several women who wore skirts said they would have worn pants, too, but just didn’t for whatever reason. And people should feel free to wear whatever they choose that is nicest; they will be welcome. I found that many people “liked” the picture of us in our pants that was posted on FB, including lots of people whose support I was pleasantly surprised to see.
- Did women wear pants on Sunday in your ward? Did men (intentionally) wear purple?
- Do you think this will help women feel more accepted, authentic and less judged?
- Is it divisive or do those divisions already exist, and one side has been oppressed into silence? Is it healthy to be more open about our diverse perspectives or will it cause too much contention?
- What else should be done to help women and men achieve their true potential and feel welcome in our wards?
**Here are a few of the comments that appeared on the now defunct Facebook page. Most fall into the if-you-don’t-like-it-get-out-nobody-wants-you-here-anyway” camp. Which is ironically the point of the outreach.
- “As a Melchizedek priesthood holder, I have determined this whole event/protest to be contentious and inappropriate in nature, and entirely uninspired of God. I call on this page’s creators, who profess to be active members of God’s kingdom, to immediately shut this page down and wear pants if they want to on Sunday.”
- “Wearing a dress is a privilege! Womanhood should be embraced, not put under a bushel!”
- “Heaven forbid you wear a skirt for a whopping 3 hours of your whole week. You’re all being silly. This church doesn’t discriminate or do anything else of the sort for that matter. So be a lady. Suck it up and put a skirt on. It’s not going to kill you.”
- “This is like the war in heaven all over again!”
- “They are obviously not truly converted.”
- “I am not a member of your faith either, but feel people like you and others in your church are pretty PATHETIC. . . . There is no other species quite as endangered right now as a white male in this society. From our own president to all the people like yourself, you are destroying the white male. . . You don’t give a damn about your husband other than using his body to create life inside of you. You have stripped him of his masculinity. . . What is he left with? You can also tell where your sis Page stands as well with her short hair and pant wearing ways. I am sure she has her hubby right where she wants him too. What is it that you are feeling so unequal about? . . . Quit suffocating your husband! Women are not oppressed in your church. Quit trying to make the “white males around you into bad guys.” A woman wrote this.
- “Trading in your dresses for a pants suit is gonna make it even harder for you gals to land a husband. Just saying…”
- “If you’re going to wear pants, they might as well get penis implants too, to make them even MORE masculine.”
- “Was this page created by lesbians? Just curious…”
- “your dumb.” Personal fave.
- “When you witness the rebellion of women (this event is a perfect example) and you consider that Eve was more easily beguiled than Adam, it becomes apparent that, in His wisdom, God had made the decisions He has regarding women and the priesthood.”
- “Inequality… last I checked relief society gets the soft chairs?”
- “If you man haters can’t stand to wear skirts to church, then start your own church. It’s a dress code like they have in the workplace, high school, military etc. I’m sorry if you’ve let men walk all over you but you ladies need to find other ways to raise your self-esteem. I definitely won’t be taking part this Sunday because I’m not a bored wife that has to make herself feel important by wearing pants to church. And I look smoking hot in a skirt.” Except the church has stated that there is no dress code and pants are A-OK.
- “Shouldn’t you ladies be busy making us sandwiches?”
- “You don’t get it at all. Your rebellion is for all the wrong reasons, and as a priesthood holder, I’m offended you would ask me to wear a colored shirt, one that I shouldn’t be wearing while performing priesthood ordinances. Humble yourselves and have some respect for the Lord and His house.”
- “I am not lying, because no real member of the LDS church (in good standing) would display sooo much rancor against the plan of salvation and the official proclamation to the world. No matter what you do or say, the light of the gospel will go forward and you will be judged in the end. I don’t care what all you wicked people say…Truth exists without believers. I would worry about your selfish selves!!!!” But apparently a real member would express this kind of rancor against other members.
- “I don’t floss my teeth on fast sunday because some food might get in my mouth. . . ” No idea why this was posted, but I thought it was funny.
- “I am a kind, loving individual, but i can smell a stinky, liberal, feminist from over 5000 miles away.” Kind and loving indeed.
- “If you want EQUAL RIGHTS think about this: HOW WOULD YOU DO ON THE CROSS?” Yikes.