Recently I read a fascinating article by Rosemary Hill. It is about women, fashion, clothing, and uses a phrase, “frock consciousness”, which is deserving of its own discussion. It is well worth reading. A couple of sentences keep running through my mind. “Women have always had to be amphibious. No society has been designed for their comfort or convenience and as they move between the elements, the spheres of private and public, personal and professional, they must constantly adapt, assume disguise or camouflage.” We can add the sphere of church or religion to that list.

Has there ever been a sphere designed for the comfort and convenience of women? It is only recently that the comfort and convenience of women was ever considered in any element of society. It seems to me that advancement in gender equality has usually, at least initially, been grudging tolerance of women, as long as they act more like men. Adapting, assuming disguises and camouflage has been the way into previously male only spheres. Being amphibious is tricky for humans.

In our religious practices, with our very gendered roles, it seems that our female spaces, Young Women and Relief Society, should be designed for our comfort and convenience. Has that been your experience?

If we really, really believe that all are invited unto Christ, to partake of his goodness, we should strive to design our religious practices to be convenient and comfortable for all. What has been your lived experience? Is there any sphere in your life that has been designed for the comfort and convenience of women? Can you even imagine what that would be like?

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8 Responses

  1. SC says:

    The spheres i’ve found most designed for my comfort and convenience, where I’ve most thrived, have always been those where women can lead. I work in a woman-led and woman-dominated industry, so such spheres are common in my experience, and that is why church is a bit jarring for me. In my career spaces, women are the authorities, and our meetings are ego-free and nurturing. We are organized, efficient, loving, and professional, but also very blessed to have wizened, older leaders (the young ones really have to fight to earn a place at the table). We lean very liberal. There are a few men among us, yet they really show deference to the grandes dames who lead. The most important thing I learned from these spheres is that women can be leaders and men can and do take counsel from them. I pray my daughters can work in spheres like this one day, because at church they are learning just the opposite!

    In church, I was taught the opposite: women cannot and should not give counsel to brethren. My place of worship, where you’d think I’d nurture and develop my leadership talents, is actually where I must “constantly adapt, assume disguise or camouflage.” Yet that is not the real me–the real me is a leader of men; that is who I am in the workplace. But at church, I’m expected to stay silent and not lead out or lean in. The few times I’ve tried, I’ve been admonished by church leaders (“don’t counsel your priesthood head”) and I’ve since been “demoted” as far as callings go almost immediately after. But the joke is on them–the little ones are actually the greatest in the kingdom of God, so I technically have the higher calling anyway. Besides, I’ve no interest in working with adults if they can’t serve as equals. Children are the only ones who work together as equals in the kingdom! Once you hit YW/YM, there are gender divisions and inequality, so please, do, leave me in primary–it is the one place I don’t have to “adapt, assume, disguise or camouflage” and where I can simply be me among a truly equal group of (adorable, loving) saints!

    • meg says:

      I left primary recently to serve in YW and you’re so right–there are definitely gender divisions in the youth, even more than budget and campout discrepancies. It has been eye-opening and frustrating at times.

  2. Caroline says:

    Great post, Ellen! I’ve been thinking about this and what comes to mind at the moment is my growing resentment toward the expectation that women wear heels in order to be seen as professional or nicely dressed. Heels unnaturally arch the back and elongate the leg, all things deemed sexually appealing. This norm does not, to me, seem like it was created for the comfort or convenience of women. I wish that church dress norms didn’t ape business dress norms — and that there was more space to step away from those heels, either at church or the workplace.

  3. Hedgehog says:

    On the topic of shoes… these are my “smart” shoes – black ( I have the same style in colours for casual wear. They are incredibly comfortable, and I wear them for church and on other occasions when I need to look professional with my smart trousers.
    The wear pants event did me huge favours. Not only do I now only rarely wear a skirt, but the same applies to heels. I’m totally done with wearing anything that isn’t comfortable.

  4. Tirza says:

    I don’t know if I would say church should be designed for the comfort and convenience of women/everyone, as much as designed for the inclusion of all. This can often be difficult and uncomfortable to create a space that allows for everyone, especially those on the margins, to be heard. One of the things that makes church uncomfortable for me is that, like you pointed out, people have to disguise and camouflage who they really are. I wish it could be a space where we are willing to deal with pain and conflict while still maintaining a feeling of connection and belonging.

  5. Ellen says:

    Thanks all, for commenting. SC, good for you to be in such a positive work environment! I work mostly with women, and while there are some difficult personalities to deal with, in general it is a cooperative situation. The lack of female leadership in many areas, including church, surely has led to the amphibious requirements of women. Primary is the most egalitarian part of the church- yay for kids, reminding us to be open and accepting. Caroline, I agree, women’s dress norms are not designed for our comfort and convenience. The long history of crazy footwear (and foot binding) and corsets and dresses and “ideal body shapes” and even women’s business suits, all designed for appealing to or not threatening men, is just that- crazy. A few years ago we had a visiting authority tell us that nylons were essential Sunday garb for women. Beware of men telling women how to dress! Hedgehog and pijohnso, thanks for the shoe recommendations. No one can be comfortable if their feet hurt! TIrza, agreed- church should be designed for the inclusion of all. It seems that the best way to ensure that is to have representation of all in leadership positions. It is so hard to imagine what another person needs, especially if they are very different from you. I want church to be a safe space for all to be welcomed, comfortable, and accepted.

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