On Sunday, December 15th, I wore pants to church for the first time in my life for the Second Annual Wear Pants to Church Day sponsored by Mormon feminist activists. A year ago, when I heard about the first ‘Wear Pants to Church Day’ intended to promote gender equality in the Mormon Church, I was not inspired to participate. As a feminist scholar, I have bigger fish to fry: human trafficking, violence against women, child pornography, lack of education and medical care for women and girls, sexual harassment, the wage gap, homophobia, racism, poverty, and the list goes on. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon Church, has many guidelines regarding personal behavior, there are no explicit laws regulating what women can wear to church. Wearing pants to church did not sound revolutionary to me, or even productive.
That is why I was so stunned by the backlash within the Mormon community toward women who chose to wear pants, instead of skirts or dresses, to church. I heard the whispers of disapproval within my social circle and read the vitriolic reactions on social media. The organizers of the event received death threats. Many women who participated reported being harassed by other congregants and interrogated by church leaders. For wearing pants. To church.
I am a feminist in a religious community in which many members fear the F-word. I know, because I have heard the anti-feminist rhetoric spouted from the pulpit. Feminists like me easily blend in to Mormon congregations. We are camouflaged by our handsome husbands, broods of energetic children, pregnant bellies, and long skirts. We come to church to worship God, not to debate politics.
It may seem unusual to hear about feminists in the Mormon Church, but I am probably more of an oddity as a Mormon in sociology and feminist studies. I see the expressions of surprise spread across my academic colleagues’ faces when they discover that I graduated from Brigham Young University or used to be a Mormon missionary. Their eyes widen, they tilt their heads to one side conveying confusion, censure, apology and betrayal all at once, and say, “I didn’t know.”
I straddle two worlds: one reliably conventional and charmingly traditional, the other beautifully and imaginatively progressive. Treating humankind with dignity is a fundamental tenet of both Mormonism and feminism. The doctrines of Mormonism instilled in me the passion and compassion to care about feminist issues. Feminist theory, principles, and values have shaped and strengthened my Mormon faith. I am blessed with a truly unique vantage point, and believe the Mormon Church could use more feminists, and academia would benefit from greater Mormon representation.
Some of my friends have made the tough choice to leave Mormonism, because they felt that in an organization of 15 million members, they did not fit in. I can empathize. The purpose of wearing pants to church, as explained by the event organizers, is to generate a spirit of inclusion and unity, to let everyone know that they each have a place in this worldwide family.
The backlash in 2012 to women wearing pants to church clarified an important point for me: no community or society is prepared to fry the bigger fish until it can learn to embrace all of its members, regardless of their skirts or pants, gender expression, family make-up or background, race, age, abilities, politics or faith. Wearing pants to church is a small way to show love and support for all of God’s children.