Four Years of Mormon Feminist Activism
Almost four years ago, I wore dress pants to church for the very first time and wrote about it in my journal afterwards.
March 3, 2013
Last Sunday I wore dressy trousers to church, but it was Stake Conference and we ended up sitting in a nearly-empty overflow room. I was nervous, but no one really saw me. Having an easy first time helped me to get over my nerves about wearing pants to church and I did it again today in my ward.
My ward really surprised me. No one commented on my gray pants, though I did get one dirty look and a Primary leader was visibly startled when she saw my pants. But no one commented. I’m sure there will be some gossip about it, but I’m hoping it will quickly become a non-issue. I plan to continue wearing pants to church.
As I’ve thought about it these last few months, there are lots of reasons why I want to wear pants to church. Here are some of those reasons, in no particular order.
Reason: I teach a class in junior primary (currently the 5 year olds) and we do a lot of activities on the floor. Wearing a skirt or dress is impractical. There is a reason that you never see preschool, kindergarten, or first grade teachers wearing skirts or dresses in this day and age. It just doesn’t work.
Reason: I don’t actually like wearing skirts or dresses, unless it is too hot to wear anything else comfortably. I only ever wear skirts or dresses for church. I really dislike tights/pantyhose and so when I wear skirts or dresses, my legs are bare and then I freeze in the winter. I’m an adult and I can make my own clothing choices.
Reason: The purpose of Wear Pants to Church last December was to raise awareness about the pain that some women and men feel over gender inequality in the LDS church. I know that not all LDS women feel pain over this issue and that is fine. I feel this pain and I want to raise awareness about gender inequality. I didn’t wear pants last December. I didn’t yet have nice dress pants and I had the flu on the actual day, but I am wearing them now.
Reason: In 2013, women can dress up and still be wearing pants. I’m not quite sure when or how this cultural shift happened during the last century, but it did. I googled “when did women start wearing pants” and got a poorly cited wikipedia article and a bunch of websites addressing whether or not the Bible says it’s ok for women to wear pants. I think this is a little ridiculous, because I get the impression that just about everyone in the Bible wore a long tunic or dress. If Western society dealt with men wearing pants to church hundreds of years ago, we can cope with women wearing pants in the twenty-first century.
Reason: In wearing pants to church, I am not breaking any church rules. If my pants offend anyone, I am offending their sense of cultural propriety, but not church policy or doctrine. I’ve seen Scottish men and boys wear kilts to church and I’ve seen Pasifika men and boys wear lava-lava to church. If Mormons can find a way to cope with skirted men, surely we can do the same with trousered women.
I’ve thought a lot about this action and its impact on me. For most of my life, I’ve just wanted to blend in and be normal, though achieving that was often difficult. This was the first time that I fully embraced the discomfort of difference. Several people stopped making eye contact at church and people that had been friends were distant. Some of that recovered, but only after a year had passed. I never wore a skirt or dress to my LDS ward after that. I was called in to speak to my bishop, who let me know that there had been complaints, but that he was supportive. I was never again invited to speak in Sacrament Meeting.
Ultimately my pants took on a different meaning. I wanted to show people, especially young people, in my ward that it was possible to resist cultural norms and remain a member in good standing. I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to be openly, visibly different within Mormonism. I wanted to demonstrate that I could be a little different and still belong.
I have mixed feelings about that now. For me, the spiritual practice of pants, and many others events, took me outside of Mormonism. I was not able to resist cultural norms and be perceived as a member in good standing or be visibly different and feel acceptance. My experience with my pants showed me the extent to which lived Mormonism is tied to meeting cultural expectations. I hope that will change. I don’t know that it will.