Sending a Message
Two years ago our very own Starfoxy wrote a series on modesty for Feminist Mormon Housewives that remains the best treatment of the subject that I have ever seen. You should really go read the whole thing, but for the purposes of this post Part 3 and the first half of Part 4 are required reading.
The fight surrounding Wear Pants to Church Day that will be taking place tomorrow is based largely on the message that a clothing choice makes, in this case women wearing pants. I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of possible messages that both those who are and are not participating in this event are receiving or sending. We will then analyze these through the lens of Starfoxy’s work on modesty. Though this is not an exhaustive list, I should note that all of the messages outlined here have been thrown about on the various blog posts and Facebook pages that have addressed this issue. Additionally, many of these messages have no basis in reality–but that’s the point, we cannot control what another person will take away from our actions.
Messages received by Non-Participants from Participants:
- I am wearing pants today for no other reason than I want to wear pants.
- I am wearing pants today because the gender inequality in the church hurts me deeply.
- I am wearing pants as an act of solidarity with my sisters who feel hurt by gender inequality.
- I am wearing pants because the backlash against doing so has been ridiculous.
- I am wearing pants because I wish I were a man, hate all things feminine and don’t understand my divine role as a daughter of God.
- I am wearing pants because I want to cause contention and division in my ward.
- I am wearing pants because I want the priesthood.
- I am wearing pants because I want to destroy the church/patriarchal order.
Messages sent from Non-Participants to Participants:
- I am not wearing pants because I am perfectly satisfied with the status quo.
- I am not wearing pants because I don’t think church is the right place for this type of action.
- I am a feminist/sympathetic to the cause but will not wear pants for whatever reason.
- I did not notice what you were wearing because I don’t care what other people wear.
- I don’t get what this event is about/I don’t get your issues with gender inequality but wear whatever you want because I don’t care.
- I don’t share your pain over gender inequality in the church but I am sorry you feel that way and I will mourn with and comfort you because that is what Jesus Christ would do.
- You are being immature and intentionally provocative. Church is not the place to throw this kind of tantrum.
- You are being contentious and are trying to divide the ward with this silly protest.
- You are obviously a bad wife and mother.
- If you aren’t happy why don’t you leave the church?
- You have been possessed by the spirit of Satan and I will not tolerate you.
- I will do everything within my power to silence you.
- I hope you are excommunicated.
- I wish physical harm/death upon you (I wish I was kidding about this one.)
The variety of responses that non-participants have had in regards to Wear Pants To Church Day illustrates perfectly the point Starfoxy makes in her Part 3:
It is very tempting to compare clothes to a form of communication. Clothes are like words that you wear! And this is true, but only to a certain point…while words can carry different connotations to different people, there is still a dictionary definition. Clothes say different things to different people even within the same culture, and sub-culture. There no one clear universal ‘language of clothes’ that we can assume everyone understands exactly the same way. The practical outcome of this disconnect and imprecision is that while clothing may be a way to “say” things about oneself, it is an absolutely useless way to “hear” things about other people- you can guess at what someone might be saying with their clothes. But you can’t know, and being wrong is often more damaging than we’d like to think.
That last point is incredibly important. We cannot assume anything about the motives of the participants and we have seen how damaging doing so has been for our community. Let’s be honest, had mainstream Mormons rolled their eyes and ignored this, nothing would have come of Wear Pants to Church Day. Maybe 200 sisters would have shown up to their wards in pants, most of their ward members wouldn’t have cared and this would all be over. But the lack of charity surrounding this event has made it international news and we Mormons look the worse for it. Perhaps more importantly, once again feelings have been hurt and a community that should be united has been divided. I have dear friends on both sides of this issue who feel judged and betrayed by the other side and it will take a while for those wounds to heal.
I do believe, however, that it is important for participants to truly examine why they are going to wear pants on Sunday and what message they are trying to send. From my perspective, here are a few statements participants might be trying to make with their choice of pants:
- I want my ward to know that gender inequality in the church hurts me deeply.
- I want to stand in solidarity with my sisters who feel pain or have been visciously attacked over the last couple of days.
- I want to stick it to the man.
- It’s December and this is a perfect opportunity keep my legs warmer.
I am not convinced that sticking it to the man and trying to protest gender inequality is a useful exercise when, unfortunately, this action has proved to be destabilizing and provocative to many of our fellow saints, especially not in a worship setting. But being vulnerable with fellow brothers and sisters or trying to keep the baptismal covenant set forth in Mosiah, seems like a righteous desire to me. As Starfoxy so insightfully put it:
When we are in a situation like that, then not only is it useful to ask ourselves, “What am I trying to get from other people by dressing like this?” But also to ask ourselves if that is something that God would want for us. And sometimes the friction between what we want to wear, and what we understand God’s general guidelines to be may help us to understand better what God wants for us to be, and what God wants us to be seeking from other people. Our efforts to reconcile our desires to God’s may help us come to know our own potential more fully.
Regardless, the decision whether or not to wear pants to church is a personal one between the individual and God. It is absolutely none of our business what another person’s motives are for coming to church or dressing in a certain way, our job is to love them. Period.
I haven’t made a final decision as to whether I’ll participate on Sunday but I know that whether I’m wearing pants or not I will go to church with an increased awareness of the humanity of my sisters and brothers. I will try a little bit harder to be aware of my sister’s heartache, to be more understanding of my brother’s weakness. If there is anything to be learned from this unfortunate debacle and the tragic events of yesterday, it is that kindness is the only message worth sending.