About a month ago, I wore pants to church for the first time (trousers, that is, for my readers who speak British-inspired forms of English). In case you didn’t know, there’s a soft norm in the Mormon church for women to wear skirts or dresses to Sunday meetings. And in case you haven’t heard, there’s been quite a social media tempest during the past couple of weeks after a group of Mormon feminists asked LDS women to wear pants to church on Sunday, December 16 as a show of solidarity.
Having already recently conducted my own private (and unrelated) “wear pants to church” event, I thought it would be an opportune time to share my thoughts here. I had been contemplating wearing pants to church for awhile and had several reasons for doing it, although when it actually came down to it, the choice to wear pants on that particular Sunday had mostly to do with the fact that I was exhausted from taking care of sick family members and my dress pants were clean and pressed, while my skirt was not.
Turns out, though, I liked wearing pants. They worked a lot better for playing the organ than my knee-length skirts (which tend to ride up as I move my feet around on the pedals) or my long skirts (which I never wear on Sundays when it’s my turn to play because they trip me up on the pedals). I was comfortably warm in the chapel for the first time in many months. I got a chance to wear the nice slacks my mother-in-law bought me last year, and which I don’t really have much occasion to don in my stay-at-home Mormon mom life. Wearing pants also made me more aware of how members or visitors might feel who stand out as different at church, whether it’s because of their clothing, marital status, race, tobacco odor, or whatever other reason.
My biggest reason for wearing pants, though, is that I myself am one of “those” Mormon feminists. I know that on the outside I look like a pretty good Molly Mormon (i.e. stay-at-home-mom with temple marriage and cute kids who pays tithing, wears knee-length skirts and shoulder-covering shirts, doesn’t drink or smoke, makes casseroles for funerals, etc.). But inside I see things a little differently from the majority of conservative Mormons in my ward, and any other ward I’ve ever lived in, for that matter. I love to talk about Heavenly Mother. I voted for Obama. I buy both my daughter and my son baby dolls and building toys. And yes, I would be more than happy to see some changes in my church with regard to greater gender equality.
No, that doesn’t mean I’m writing letters to the prophet or picketing the church office building to demand that he immediately start ordaining women to the priesthood. What I am doing is listening to other women’s stories about how they feel at church, and telling my own. It means that I’m participating in discussions and thought experiments that analyze cultural and institutional problems and explore possibilities to change things for the better.
Anyway, that’s what I do online. On Sundays I dress up in my modest skirt, roll up my sleeves, and do what I’ve been asked to help my congregation run smoothly. In Sunday School, I try to modulate my comments to make sure that I don’t say anything offensive to my more conservative brothers and sisters. But I am not accorded the same courtesy, and hear offensive statements from members of my ward all the time at church.
I think it’s mostly out of ignorance, because they’re all nice people. So in some ways, that’s part of what wearing pants meant to me. I wanted them to know I exist, not just as the Molly Mormon who knows all the Sunday School answers and signs up to make meals whenever there’s a need, but as myself, with all my issues and doubts and yes, my feminism. I want them to know who I really am, and that no matter what they’ve heard about stereotypical Mormon feminists, I love my church, and want it to be a place where I can belong even if I think or feel or look a little different from everyone else. I want that for me, and I want it for all the other women (and men) who have felt alienated or judged in a place that should be full of the love of Christ and safe for all of us.
And you know what, the members of my ward really made my day. There were no comments about my clothing choice, and I didn’t even see any stares. As far as I could tell, nobody even noticed I was wearing pants. They smiled at me, and talked to me, and loved me just the same as they always do. That might seem like a small thing, but it meant a lot to me. Because really, wearing pants to church was more about who I am and how I feel than it was about trying to impact anyone else. I needed to stand before my God and my faith community and be honest about who I was. After so many times of going to church and hearing things that make me wonder if there’s even a place there for me, wearing pants felt like a way to ask my question out loud and know from the response if I was really welcome. And what I heard loud and clear from my brothers and sisters at church that day is that they, like the Master they worship, love me for who I am and welcome me with all my doubts and inadequacies and idiosyncrasies. And feminism. And pants.
Tomorrow, Mormon women around the world will be wearing pants to church for many different reasons. Some would like to see small changes in culture and policy. Others hope for more substantive restructuring. Some differ from the traditional Mormon mold in their marital status, professional choices, background, lack of children, etc. Others have experienced abuse at the hands of Priesthood leaders. Some have been absent from church for months or years because they felt alienated or unwelcome, and are coming back out of hope that maybe this time will be different. Others because they are new converts, wear what is traditional to their cultures, can’t afford new clothes, or just prefer pants. Still others because they want to make sure that the people who dress differently feel welcome too.
Some women will wear pants to church tomorrow because that’s what they always wear. Others have been so dumbfounded by the negative and in some cases violent language used to intimidate and demean those who plan to wear pants, that they have elected to wear pants in solidarity.
I hope, for all these women, that their wards are as kind as mine. I hope they have bishops and relief society presidents and fellow members who can look beyond the pants and see the loving, faithful, conflicted daughter of God. And I hope that they will open their hearts and make her feel welcome in a way she’s never felt welcome before.
I’ll be wearing my pants again tomorrow. And if by some amazing chance there’s another Mormon feminist in my ward, I really hope she wears pants too. If you’re out there, I’d love to meet you, my long-lost sister!
P.S. If you’ve never felt hurt by a perceived inequality in the church and would like to understand where people like me are coming from, I recommend this article from Neylan McBaine, who is the associate creative director for the Church-owned Bonneville Communications, the agency partnered with the Church on Mormon.org and the “I’m A Mormon” campaign.