Recently several women have been created an event called Wear Pants to Church Day. The event page on Facebook asks LDS women to wear pants to church on Sunday December 16 to show “solidarity for women’s equality… This is the first act of All Enlisted, a direct action group for Mormon women to advocate for equality within our faith.” The description continues “We are feminists. We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the church to acknowledge the similarities. We believe that much of the … inequality that persists in the LDS church today stems from the church’s reliance on – and enforcement of – rigid gender roles that bear on relationship to reality.” This event is also an attempt to stand with women who feel they don’t fit in, to show that everyone is welcome, even if they don’t look like everyone else. (Note, while women who write for the Exponent, including myself, are participating, this event is not sponsored by The Exponent.)
When I first heard about this event, I rolled my eyes. I’ve been wearing pants to church for a year, and haven’t gotten any negative reactions, even thought I live in the heart of Utah Valley. I figured it was a moot point that no one cared about. But then I started reading reactions to the event, and realized this is actually a big deal, because the negative responses to something as simple as something pants has been huge. And I find that disheartening and a little frightening.
In reading through various comments left on the event page, I see several trends. The first is that wearing pants makes women masculine, and thus denies the God-given differences between men and women. This idea seems to only exist at church, as most women wear pants every other day of the week and aren’t called masculine or accused of trying to be men. Some examples of this mentality are listed below. (I’ve copied the comments directly from the website, with only occasional edits for length or when parts of a comment fit into two different trends)
“I don’t appreciate this at all! Wearing a dress is a feminine fashion statement why do we have to wear masculine pants to church to prove we are equal? It is our differences that make life so great. I enjoy being a woman and being able to wear a dress to show that off is a blessing.”
“This “Day” to me shows lack of gospel knowledge and maturity for all those involved. I, for one, am against gender neutrality.”
“Its our differences that make us women…I love wearing a beautiful dress to church to show God how grateful I am for my womenhood…for my uniqueness…for my place in life.”
“Men and women are different, to compliment each other, not compete with each other.”
“God sees farther than we can at our viewpoint. I trust the Lord and his wisdom. And I dress to show my respect for the Lord when I attend Church.”
“And secondly, as women of faith, why do you feel the need to take a stand on women’s “equality” when you know that women should not be treated the same as men? We’re DIFFERENT! Always have been, always will be and always should be. Femininity is something to value and cherish. Instead of demanding to be treated like a man, you should be demanding that others respect your right to be a woman who is modest, confident and strong without flaunting her gender.”
The second trend I’ve noticed is comments about not wanting the Priesthood, even though the event descriptions says nothing about holding the Priesthood. It seems that some are equating wearing pants with holding the Priesthood.
“It was like a whole other world on the “going” wall. They were talking about how they want to hold the priesthood. It is so sad to see how our members have become so worldly they can not accept God’s will. I love being a woman and I love my role as a woman. And darnit, I really like super cute heels! It is just sad to see Satan getting such a hold on the ladies of Zion.”
“When Joseph Smith was the propeht, he did give blacks the priesthood. No one really knows when or why it stopped. The important thing is that the issue was finally taken to the Lord in prayer and once again, all worthy males are allowed to hold the priesthood. In the Bible, God NEVER gave priesthood to women.”
“As for the pants issue…it’s not just about wearing pants for a lot of people I think. If it were then more power to you, wear pants! However, if its not just about pants, and its more about wanting the responsibility of the Preisthood all I can say is search it out for yourself. Read and ask, I for one have a testimony of the family proclamation. We are given roles in this life and talents by which to achieve them. I am not the type of wife to sit back and let my husband tell me what to do (just ask him) but I do respect his role as patriarch and Preisthood holder in my home, and I love him and all worthy men for their willingness to carry that responsibility.”
“these “rebellious, immature” women are making women look bad, grow up! you don’t see men bawling and protesting because they can’t bear children. this is so immature and childish.” (I’m assuming this is equating Priesthood and motherhood, and saying that since women can have children they should not complain about having the Priesthood.)
There was also the sense that the women attending this event had weak testimonies and that wearing pants is the first step to apostasy.
“I am so deeply saddened by this event. I think it should have been called “Past, Present and Future LDS Apostates.” God’s ways are not our ways. Our gender roles are divine and ordained by God. Please so not feel that you need to liberate me. I am quite happy thank you. I have tried out the other side and this one is better!”
“ANY FEMALE writing on this post who says they are tired of the church giving women no rights/authority etc is straight up saying YOU are smarter, more intelligent, and better than god. Your crappy statements are no different than those made by non-members/members who think they know better than the Lord. GAIN a REAL TESTIMONY and move on. If you have a testimony of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints through the Prophet Joseph Smith by the Lord, then there is no further debate on the woman rights/authority issue. The STRUCTURE of the church IS perfect. Again, quit your bitching and move on .” (From a man)
“10 years ago, when my testimony was weak, I probably would have thought this women holding the priesthood thing was great. Now I know that I don’t need to personally hold the priesthood. This event is trying to put their own will ahead of God’s will… I am tired of you bullying every woman who has a strong testimony and is happy with the lot God has given.”
“As for the symbol it apparently holds for some, I fear that you are on a very slippery slope.”
The final trend I noticed was the notion that it is disrespectful for women to wear pants to church, that it was a sign of disrespect to God. Many also seemed to believe that it is a church rule that women must wear dresses to church. This is interesting, considering that the Church Handbook of Instructions says nothing about women wearing skirts, nor are there any recent comments about the necessity of dresses from church leaders. The policy seems to be “The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing. We have always counseled our members to be modest in their dress, maintaining such standards in connection therewith as would not be embarrassing to themselves and to their relatives, friends, and associates.” (Priesthood Bulletin, June 1971.) The same is true of the temple; to my knowledge the current policy is, don’t say anything about what people are wearing and let them in.
“I feel like this is like the men in church saying “Forget the suits, let’s wear scrubs today.” We wear our best and nicest to show respect and reverence for the Lord.”
“Heavenly Father set the standards so who am I to try and go against him. We all look nice in our suits and dresses. God bless the differences. Just my opinion :)”
“I am an active member of the church and I view the church is not just a building to worship, but the Lord’s House, and I should look my best for hm, my Savior think about that. Pants show what? Too Lazy to get a skirt? I am too lazy to show respect for my Lord. Sunday treated just like any other day..”
“Ask yourself this- would they let you in the temple that way- no they wont. So why loosen your standards when you partake of the sacrement then.”
“This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen! I am Laughing Out Loud at you people next Sunday when I dress my daughters and I in dresses to show respect to my savior and his church.”
“I guess the question to ask is would Heavenly Father want me wearing this in his church. It’s not about what women want or men want it’s about what HE wants.”
“Heaven forbid you should dress respectfully when you go to worship at the house of The Lord. If you feel oppressed by wearing a dress or skirt then that says more about your insecurities than anyone else’s.”
“It is a rebellion against God like a little immature 2 year old saying “oh yeah well i’ll show you and we are going to get a bunch of people to show you as well” so RME right now at all these poor insecure women who for some reason feel like they have to prove some kind of point as a group. get some confidence stand by yourself and wear what you think is respectful in a church setting. that is it. and those that say they r just doing it only after they saw all the negativity well get a little more confidence as well and be a little more mature and turn away and say so what. grow up and get some confidence already people!”
What I found most distressing were stories of women being turned away from meetings or having other repercussions because they were wearing pants, including these:
“My Grandmother was denied entrance to a sacrament meeting on Easter Sunday cause she wore a paint-suit to Church. Mind you she wore them cause she had two hip surgeries and the paint-suit was more comfortable for her to wear as she sat in a pew. Even as a humble primary kid I knew it was wrong. That awful experience still sickens me years later.”
“On my mission, we had an investigator show up to church in pants. She was verbally criticized bythe myopic relief society president in her choice of apparel. didn’t come back. can ya believe it?”
“People don’t make that big of a deal of woman wearing pants where I’m from… you may just not be offered certain callings.”
“A few weeks after I was baptized at age 19, I was giving my first talk in the Singles Ward, and I wore my favorite dressy outfit: a white pant suit. After Sacrament Meeting, the bishop (great guy, I have few complaints) called me in to his office and gently taught me that women should not wear pants to church. I never did again. And I live in Kansas City, not some podunk backwards town. This was in 1999.”
“I remember this one time a woman wore pants to church. She was new at being a mormon. Then everyone looked down and her and judged her for doing so. She was embarrassed and felt shunned. Maybe wearing pants at church will get people to stop being such judgmental jerks at church.”
“I got in a fight with a Bishop in a ward in Brasil because they wouldn’t let a sister in the ward pray in church because she was wearing a pants suit. It still bothers me. So if ya’ll want to wear pants to church go for it. I think it ridiculous that this is even an issue.”
I find this policing of women’s clothing disturbing. The idea that women are unworthy, unrighteous, or disrespectful simply because they choose pants over skirts is wrong to me. I realize there are many women who love wearing skirts to church: they are comfortable, they like the chance to dress up, they feel more reverent in a skirt. The same can be said of pants. There are as many legitimate reasons to wear a dress as there are to wear pants to church. And the church does not have a dresses only policy. So why do members care so much? Why do they find it so necessary to attack women for the simple choice of wearing pants? Why do the people who wrote and liked these comments feel so justified in questioning testimonies, calling to repentance and mocking those around them over the simple issue of pants?
I have chosen to attend this event because I believe that women have the right to wear whatever will make them comfortable to a religious service, whatever will help them feel the presence of God (within legal limits of course.) without others inferring things about their testimonies. I am personally more comfortable in pants, and appreciate the gesture of this event to make women who feel they don’t fit the norm feel accepted. I want to stand with them in saying “we’re glad you are here, no matter what.” I want to show that my clothing, and the clothing of the women around me, do not make us righteous or unrighteous, respectful or disrespectful, faithful or unfaithful. It is time that we stop judging the righteous of others based on what they choose wear.