What You Think Wearing Pants to Church Means—and What it Actually Means

Although my overall experience interacting with men and women in the LDS Church has been positive, I wish—as do many LDS men and women I know—that some things were different in the way we treated each other in regard to our roles in the Church and as children of God and in His Gospel.

I have faith in Christ and faith in the restoration of the Gospel.  Although the Gospel is perfect, the people following it are not.  Many of the concerns brought up by the WAVE organization in this article (http://www.ldswave.org/?p=402) resonate with me, but the method of change they and other “LDS feminists” prescribe disturbs me and that’s why I feel obligated to express my feelings and the feelings of others with whom I have discussed these issues.

The following is a list of what well-meaning women think they are accomplishing via the pants demonstration and how this “protest” will actually do more harm than good:

You think you are uniting in solidarity with women

You are actually creating division—not just between men and women, but amongst women themselves. You are creating two parties within the church: the feminists, who are the “strong, enlightened” ones and the traditionalists, who are either ignorant and blind to their inequality or they lack the courage to stand up for their rights.

You think you are furthering the cause of equality by challenging gender roles and saying that it is okay for men and women to dress the same because “the Lord looketh on the heart,” not on outward appearance.

You are actually drawing attention to the outward appearance and distracting from the reason we attend the most sacred ordinance outside the temple—to worship Christ and renew our baptismal covenants.

You think you are changing the culture and making it normal to wear pants.

You are actually alienating the women who regularly or occasionally wear pants to church (either because they feel more comfortable in them or because it is their Sunday best) and making them feel less welcome.  Instead of being accepted and graciously welcomed, they will now be judged as being feminists trying to make a statement.  There will now and forever be a stigma attached to wearing pants (not unlike the political stigma of eating at Chick Fil-A—can’t I just eat a delicious sandwich without being judged?).

You think you are saying that women should be equal to men, despite our physiological differences.

You are actually saying that women should be the same as men to be their equals.

You think the shock effect will generate discussion that will lead to positive change.

You will actually create heartache as contentions, disputations, and feelings of animosity grow—drawing people away from Christ instead of toward Him.

How is creating a scene and drawing attention to the outward appearance going to encourage others to look on the heart and treat each other with more respect?  Is it worth it to draw attention to our cause in a way that will alienate some women and make them feel less welcome to worship Christ?

If I didn’t have an alternative solution to these issues, I would not be issuing such a passionate opposition to a movement that is meant to empower so many well-intentioned women.  I believe that most of the solutions to these issues can be solved on the local and ward levels.  These are issues that are ingrained in culture and tradition and are not endorse by Gospel doctrine.  If we are charitable and patient we can influence those in our own sphere and help them to be understanding and accommodating to victims of gender-discriminatory behavior.  I have been a part of many wards that treat these issues appropriately, so let’s work to make this the case in all wards.

For issues where church policy must be changed, we must also employ charity and patience.  The Church is organized to promote improvements from the bottom up.  The change in age of female missionaries is evidence that church leaders are aware of and seek out the desires of LDS women to serve in greater capacities.  But the Lord will allow changes to take place in His time, not ours.  We don’t have to be silent, but we must demonstrate faith and patience.

For issues where eternal doctrine is unclear or not fully revealed, we must exercise even more faith and patience because not everything will make sense to us in this life with our mortal understanding.  Most LDS women I know do not seek to hold the Priesthood in the capacity that men do in the church.  We do not know what role men and women will have in exercising the Priesthood in the next life and in the eternities.  We do know that all men and women, if we are faithful, will be exalted and inherit everything that the Father has.  We don’t need temporal or earthly recognition to reach out divine potential.

For those of us who feel the desire to take action and promote change, I suggest we follow the advice of one woman who posted the following on an online discussion board:

“It seems to almost cheapen the goals that we, as feminist, empowered, educated women, have for equality.  Equality isn’t wearing pants to church.  Equality is much, much more than a fashion statement, and it should be treated as such. Let’s write letters.  Let’s have lessons in Relief Society about this. Let’s bring it up in meetings at church. Let’s talk to our bishops, our relief society presidents, our visiting teachers, our husbands and fathers and sisters and friends about our concerns.  Let’s start a discussion, not a change of clothes.”

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22 comments on “What You Think Wearing Pants to Church Means—and What it Actually Means

    • I’m not sure why you think I would attempt such a thing. I said we shouldn’t be silent, but that we should also have faith and patience. There is much work to be done and women and men need to use their voices to promote good, not stir up division.

      • Sometimes a little division for a moment can do a lot of good ex. blacks receiving the priesthood. So crazy at one moment, some division, and now we cannot believe we let the happen for soooo long.

      • Blacks did not hold demonstrations in sacrament meeting to demand the Priesthood. Comparing the return of the Priesthood for black men to better treatment of women is a difficult analogy to use without being disingenuous or without disregarding the order of God. If you are seeking to stir up division in hopes of granting priesthood to women, I think you are treading on dangerous grounds. If instead, you are simply suggesting that we voice our concerns and use our influence to change cultural norms, I am with you. My main point is that by doing this through persuasion and long-suffering, we will be more effective than creating contention.

  1. I think this is a wonderful and thoughtful post! I know that the planners of the Pants event did not expect the kind of backlash they’ve received. I love the fact that you have calmly and logically sourced an opposition- thank you. I have approved your comment on my blog post to the contrary and would love to be able to direct people who may want a different perspective to my thoughts: http://garlickbread.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/for-the-love-of-pants-an-expansion-on-a-facebook-post/

    • Thank you. FYI, I’m all for ladies rocking the pants if that’s who you are and what makes you feel comfortable. It’s movements like this that are trying to get attention and make a statement that perturb me. How many of us will really be able to focus on the Savior at sacrament meeting this Sunday, rather than looking around to see who wearing pants and trying to judge what their ideology might be? I know it will be hard for me.

      • after reading your post, I agree. it has become bigger than the architects imagined. This sunday I’ll be affirmed in my first calling. I may wear a purple ribbon (possibly from now on) but I’m not sure about pants anymore. I support the cause, but I do agree that this has become much bigger than it was intended and has morphed into a different beast entirely. I think it’s unfortunate, but that seems to be the nature of the amount of media attention this has received.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. You present a well written and respectable opinion.

    I am not fully decided on where I stand on this issue. In talking with my mother about this issue, she has very similar opinions. She has a long list of soft issues that she feels could be improved for women in the church, however she is a bit critical of Wear Pants to Church idea, and likewise feels that this could better be solved in discussions and meetings instead of some sort of protest.

    I would just suggest that this isn’t much of a “protest”–it has only been made a very big thing by the very strong opposition that the idea has received. If the members of the church would have responded with indifference to what people personally choose to wear, and just continued a Christlike love and openness for all–then this would have been a very small event. The division and contention that it is causing is because so many women and men in the church are unwilling to accept that anything might need to be changed. They are unwilling to accept that there is ANY reason that we members or the institutional church need to repent for any inequalities that may be present due to our church culture. I really wish that we could all just love each other, and always try to be understanding. If more of us could do this, then I really think this wouldn’t be seen as a protest, but as an opportunity and reminder to all show an increase of love toward each other.

    While there are legitimate concerns you raise over how this issue is being pushed, it seems to me that any alternative (such as simply “starting a discussion”) is either going to be so small and quiet and fade away, or if it be made strong enough to be heard it will likewise cause contention just as this event is doing. Maybe there would be better ways of doing this that would still be effective, but I can’t help but to admire that something strong is being done right now. It isn’t perfect, there may be better ways, but this event has captured attention and it is an opportunity for everyone in the church to learn, repent, love, and grow.

  3. I loved this. I was looking for a way to frame my thoughts about this issue and you have said it perfectly. Don’t let the negativity of others silence you.

  4. I understand that you are trying to be a voice of reason and believe that you’re being reasonable but women have already been waiting since the 70s for full equal rights and Mormon women haven’t even been able to take advantage of the partial victories that other American women have achieved.

    I know. I was there for it all back then and I’m not being fooled this time around.

    What your argument comes down to, in short, is “I’m comfortable. Don’t rock my boat.” because nothing is ever going to change when the power structure is already satisfied to have all the advantage. Further, using the concept of reverence as a shield is … well, circumspect and lacking in courage. Heavenly Father isn’t threatened or insulted by earnest hearts. And Heavenly Father didn’t put any of these concepts of what people should wear, or who should pray first or who should live their adult lives without autonomy into scriptures. They were written by men.

    Women should wear what they’re comfortable in and many Mormon women will do that this Sunday whichever side of this they have sympathies with. But they shouldn’t wear or not wear anything because they’re afraid or intimidated by showing their concerns because if adult women don’t make themselves heard this time — having been duped about the ERA in the 70s — they will only be leaving it to their daughters to resolve.

    • If your model for equality in the Church is the ERA, then you and I have different goals for change. If by rocking the boat to change the “power structure” means demanding priesthood for women, I think you are treading on dangerous grounds. I do not seek to grant the Priesthood for women and I think most LDS women are with me, including a majority of those wearing pants this Sunday. I seek to give a voice to women who feel that their opinion isn’t valued. I seek to encourage women take an active role in changing their individual wards by using persuasion. Believe me, women have much more persuasive influence than they realize. Men today are a lot less stuck in tradition than they were 40-50 years ago. I think we would all be surprised to see how welcoming and supportive the men would be if all the women expressed their feelings and desires openly and honestly. Instead, by engaging in this pants demonstration, you will make men feel awkward and unsure how to treat women. That’s not what you want is it?

  5. “Let’s have lessons in Relief Society about this. Let’s bring it up in meetings at church. Let’s talk to our bishops, our relief society presidents, our visiting teachers, our husbands and fathers and sisters and friends about our concerns.”

    And when our concerns are consistently overlooked, let’s be patient, because people without power to be heard should wait patiently. And when people more vulnerable than us are hurt by not being heard, let’s urge them to be patient too. And above all, let’s not do something that is out of the ordinary (even though it’s approved by the church) because people with less power should avoid threatening the status quo. It hurts everyone.

    The argument that wearing pants this Sunday will divide women rather than unite them was argued when women went outside their traditional sphere to pursue suffrage. Progress always divides those who see the need from those who are content.

    • See my response to ANOTHER THOUGHT’s comment.

      Also, I think you should be up front an clear in your intentions. If by mentioning suffrage and power you are saying that you want women to hold the Priesthood and all the same offices as men, please say so up front. Most of the women following your demonstration do not seek Priesthood power. They are sincere women who are boldly joining a cause because they want men to know how they feel. They are not coveting power, they put their faith and trust in Christ and know that God loves them equally to men.

      Let’s not be disingenuous about our intentions. You will only lead faithful women into bitter feelings of enmity which will weaken their faith. If my assumptions about your comments are incorrect, I sincerely apologize, but I know the creators of this demonstration do seek to gain followers to push for Priesthood positions and I think everyone considering wearing pants this Sunday needs to know that.

  6. My intentions are to let young women know that not all mature women are content with the status quo (which includes a semi-expectation that women will wear dresses). I have no desire to “gain followers to push for Priesthood positions.” It’s sad that this is the assumption when there are really so many good reasons to wear pants.

    I’m currently serving in a stake position and have done so for many years. I have great desires for progress that would help our young women have hope for their contributions to our church. Many of them feel that the status quo is stifling (although many are quite content), particularly when contrasted with opportunities available to them elsewhere. We are losing some of our best and brightest minds and hearts.

    If even one young woman re-considers her discouragement with the status quo tomorrow and decides to keep investing her heart and energy in the church I love, this effort will be worth it.

    • In that case, I support your efforts (and I hope you will distinguish yourself from those with more radical ambitions). I just disagree that the pants demonstration will achieve what you think it will. It will alienate the ones you will to inspire and persuade. There are better ways.

  7. When did Lisa or I say anything about wanting the Priesthood? You inserted that out of your own sense of being threatened. Speaking for myself, I don’t WANT it. You can keep it.

    Women want the autonomy to make decisions in their own lives and to be able to raise daughters knowing that they will never face that fight. And we don’t require or ask for your permission to support one another in the effort. We have our husbands, sons and one another. And if you don’t think that autonomy is necessary monitor your own reaction to women deciding what to wear. What could be more personal or less about you?

    • I don’t understand what you are talking about. You can keep it? Autonomy? I’m confused. But I did not say you wanted the Priesthood, I said the founders of this demonstration do. I think that it is important for you to distinguish yourself from the founders of the movement if you do not agree with their full agenda. There are many other great passionate and faithful LDS women who may not know what they are following. I think it is important that we understand what this is really about for those who started it. For those of us who believe we need more autonomy and that there should be more sensitivity to women who feel oppressed or out of place, we should engage in rigorous discussion instead of divisive demonstrations.

  8. If you don’t get that having the freedom to choose what to wear signals badly needed autonomy and that a, frankly, hysterical reaction to it only amplifies the message then there’s no point in attempting to have any discussion. It’s clear you have willfully choosen to be obtuse. There is no possibility of discussion with someone who is wedded to the conclusions he has already imposed on others’ points of view.

    Adios. I leave you to your insistence on the status quo.

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