Tomorrow morning, for the first time in my life, on a Sunday morning from 9:00-12:00, I am going to wear pants.
To my friends on the outside of Mormon culture this will probably seem laughably trite. To you I would say, think of walking into a party in a tee shirt and everyone else is in cocktail dresses. Now add to that a time when people you love have drastically misunderstood something you’ve said and you feel alone and maligned. My friends on the inside of Mormon culture will know that in some ways this is similar to a Muslim woman eschewing her hijab, and may provoke feelings across the spectrum from admiration to confusion to disappointment to anger – even violent anger. Knowing that this public act will illicit strong emotional responses over which I have no control makes me want to throw up. I am not a timid person – I have delivered sermons to huge groups of people, dodged burning tires and flying stones in a Palestinian street protest, navigated foreign countries on my own and given birth without epidurals. I’ve even taught Middle School! But the thought of wearing fabric sewn around each individual leg instead of around the outside of both for three hours on a Sunday morning… in some ways this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
To pre-empt possible misunderstandings, the following are not reasons I’ve chosen to wear pants to church:
1. It’s December! It’s cold! (Nope. I am in Southern California. Sunny and and 75 degrees forecasted for Sunday. Though what if I lived in Salt Lake City? Or Minneapolis? Or Helsinki?)
2. I like pants better than dresses. (Nope. I like them the same.)
3. Because I think all women should wear pants to Church. (Nope. I think all women should wear exactly what they feel is best to church, without criticism or judgment from others, no matter what that is.)
4. I think pants, overall, fit the requirement of “Sunday best” better than dresses. (Nope. Nor do I think that dresses, overall, fit that requirement.)
5. I want to be a man. (Nope. I have had actual nightmares about having to sword-fight for honor, being shoved onto a football field as a linebacker and having hair grow out of my face.)
6. I think there are no differences between men and women. (Nope. Last I checked, all species of males and females are different from each other! I personally believe in a big, beautiful yin and yang of Male and Female in the Universe.)
7. I want the Priesthood. (Nope. While there may be some women wearing pants on Sunday who are campaigning to ordain LDS women to the Priesthood, there are some who are not. This is a meaty topic for another day, so for now, just know that these are separate issues.)
8. I work in the Nursery at church, crouching and sitting on the floor with 18-month-olds for two hours at Church. Have you ever tried to sit on the floor modestly while wearing a skirt? (Nope. But I have friends who do. It is not comfortable.)
9. I am currently an LDS missionary who rides a bike for miles every day. Have you ever tried to ride a bike wearing a skirt??? Of any length??? (Nope. I am not a bike missionary. But my sister and many of my of my friends were. Oh, the funny stories of flashed underwear!! And the not-funny stories of bike crashes caused by fabric in completely impractical and dangerous places.)
10. I have a lot of liberal friends who are also wearing pants and we’re doing this together. (Nope. As far as I know I will be the only one in my chapel not wearing a dress, and in my Northern California ward I know of only one friend.)
Here is why I am wearing pants to church.
1. I question cultural norms that have their basis neither in Reason nor Scripture. Jesus Christ was constantly challenging social norms – think of all the times that He went out of his way to speak to women, Samaritans, publicans and prostitutes, and to heal on the Sabbath and eat bread without washing his hands, to name a few of many examples. He railed against the Pharisees for “building a hedge about the law,” adding to God’s laws and then clinging to those new rules to the point that they overshadowed the original ones. This created a culture of external behaviors “to be seen of men” rather than focus on personal relationship with deity; and of finger-pointing and judgment rather than love and acceptance of others.
There is no rational reason why a pair of nice slacks are not appropriate for women to wear to church. And not only is there no scriptural reason, there is in fact danger in “building a hedge” around the laws we already do have.
Here is the Church’s official statement:
“Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.”
2. Wearing pants to church calls attention to the issue that women have individual and collective potential that is often not being realized in our current Church culture. Joseph Smith said to the first gathering of Relief Society sisters, “If you live up to your privileges, the angels can not be restrained from being your associates.” I believe that there are many privileges that we are not living up to – not claiming as ours – that do not require any doctrinal changes. They simply require us calmly and confidently making our voices heard. Wearing pants is a way to peacefully draw attention to the fact that there are many rights women already have that we are not speaking up for – to hold the callings of Sunday School President or Ward Clerk or to hold our babies during their Priesthood blessings if we wish. The “Let Women Pray” campaign was a great example of this – there was no rational or doctrinal reason why a woman had never offered a prayer in General Conference, and women finally took it into their own hands to live up to that privilege.
3. In general I really dislike gender essentialism. The view that all men and all women are inherently a certain way, and thus they should have certain prescribed duties and feelings and life experiences feels limiting and emotionally unhealthy to me. I believe that each individual and each married couple is capable of listening to their own hearts and to the Spirit of the God in deciding how to live their lives, including who earns money, who washes dishes, and yes, what is worn to church.
4. In solidarity with the many people who feel marginalized and unwanted in our current church culture because they are different from the majority. Being uncomfortable walking into the church house in pants – feeling eyes staring at me and possibly judging me unfairly – gives me empathy for members or visitors to our church who may feel that they don’t fit in. I love learning from people who are different from me. I believe with my whole heart that the Book of Mormon got it right in the verse “All are alike unto God.” My heart sings when I read in the Bible that we are all part of the body of Christ – not only do we not all need to be alike, we are not even supposed to be alike. A body made of all ears would miss seeing and smelling and feeling and walking.
5. In respect for my heroes who challenged cultural norms in the past, winning women the right to vote, to own land, to claim inheritances, to win legal protection from abusers, to go to college, to practice the profession of their choosing, to receive equal pay for equal work, to play sports, to pray in Sacrament Meeting and to pray in General Conference, and yes, to wear pants, in public places and at school.
6. Because when I told my seven-year-old daughter, “some women are wearing pants to Church on Sunday,” she said “I’m doing that,” before she even asked if I was going to. When I told my twelve-year-old daughter, she looked up from her homework (a project on the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention – a topic she chose) she was matter of fact, “of course you have to do that, Mom.” And my ten-year-old daughter, who HATES when I dance on the subway or speak in an accent or in any way draw attention to us in public, thoughtfully said, “There’s no rule against it, right? Then all women should just be wearing whatever they feel is their Sunday best. It’s just between each person and God, right?”
7. To be as brave as my sister, who wore pants last year and a few times since, and whose text informed me that it was Wear Pants to Church Day this Sunday.
8. I have been surprised by the amount of nervousness I feel to dress differently from the crowd. Women are judged so harshly based on what they wear! This alone is reason enough to push back. Wearing our best clothing is a legitimate way to show respect, but when I think of the Jesus of the New Testament and how much he condemned the Pharisees’ obsession with outward appearance, I can’t help but feel uneasy in my expensive clothes, high-heeled shoes making me appear taller than I really am, mascara to make my eyelashes blacker than they really are, lip gloss to make my lips shinier than they really are, curlers and straighteners to make my hair different from how it naturally is… even sometimes (yes, I’m going to admit this) Spanx to make myself look skinnier than I really am. This is out of control. Why are women buying into this culture telling us our natural selves aren’t good enough? And in Heaven’s name, why are we letting it into Church?? (And I can’t help noticing that men do not do this to themselves. Generally speaking, if they go bald, they go bald. If they gain weight, they gain weight. They don’t tweeze their eyebrows and they wear practical clothing without asking permission and without making apologies.) I’m not brave enough to go to church naturally-frizzy-haired and makeup-free yet, though I think Jesus, who loves the real me, would feel happy for me if I did.
I’ll take photos on Sunday and post any questions or comments I get during Church. If you feel inclined to wear pants (or purple, the color of the Women’s Suffrage Movement), imagine me holding your hand. And if you don’t wear pants or purple but you see someone who is doing so, give her a smile. She might be doing the scariest thing of her life.