Pants on Fire
By leahmsilverman on December 15, 2012
Oh, but the Mormon world has exploded this past week. What began as a fairly simple movement has turned into some shocking drama. I know all people are prone to over reactions, but I feel like as Mormons we excel at this. I think it’s a part of our mythology. Joanna Brooks hit on this in her book, Book of Mormon Girl. The Mormon pioneers would “circle their wagons” as to protect themselves from danger. Mormons have been through such periods of persecution throughout history, that we’ve always learned to “circle our wagons”. And we tend to do it en force when someone is threatening our way of life… even if it is just a perceived threat, I should add. But what do we do when the threat comes from inside the church? Well, we still circle the wagons, we just leave some of our own members on the outside of the circle.
It began when a group of women, All Enlisted, decided to organize a “Wear Your Pants to Church Day”. First let me start off by saying that it was not about the pants. They were a symbol. But even still, a lot of people didn’t grasp the concept of the pants. The church has no rules about women wearing dresses to church. In fact, they released a statement this week saying, “Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.” It was never about what the church allowed. It was about what the body of the church considered normal. The social norm, if you will.
When I posted about this on facebook (and oh my gosh, the reaction I got) several people just had to let me know that several women in their wards wear pants to church, and no one cares. Sure. Except that in every ward I’ve ever been in, there were only one or two women who wore pants, and they were different. They were an “other”. Of course they weren’t kicked out. Of course everyone was kind. Lots of Mormons are jerks, but we all seem to know enough to not do so blatantly. But, if you argue that the women in your ward who wear pants are just like all of the other mainstream Mormon women in your ward, I will call you a liar. Now listen, it may be true in some wards sometimes—wards all of their own unique cultures, and some of them ARE more progressive than others (I just blew some Mormon minds with that. We like to tell ourselves the church is THE SAME everywhere.)—but the social norm is, and has been, that women wear dresses or skirts to church. Challenging that norm puts you on the outside. Period. And please, the whole idea that women look their best in dresses stems from the good old days when women were considered indecent unless they were swathed in clothing (is that your ankle showing?!?!). The norm in and of itself is steeped in gender bias.
And that gets us to what was really at the heart of the matter. It was really a movement about women’s issues. It was a movement about gender inequality. It was just a way that these women felt they could invite some inclusion. Those of us who struggle with gender inequality in the church often feel like we’re on the outside. When we try to force our concerns, the wagons get circled against us. Just in the 24 hours after I posted to facebook about wear your pants to church day I was told (either directly or indirectly—cause you know how some people don’t have the courage to say something straight to you, so instead they do a status about it and pretend it’s a general thought. Some people did have the courage though.) I was told I was disrespectful. I was told I need to reevaluate the reasons that I go to church. I was also told that my point of view has no place in sacrament meeting. I was told that there are bigger problems in the world—greater gender inequality outside of the US, which I obviously had no concept of—and so I just sound whiney when I bring up my own issues. I was told I didn’t understand the gospel, that my testimony just wasn’t strong enough, and that I needed to pray about the role of the priesthood in the church so that I can gain a real testimony of it.
But none of that applies to me.
Wearing pants to church on Sunday would not be disrespectful. I do not need to reevaluate why I go, or be reminded that church is a place for worship. I think people were saying this because the whole “Wear Pants to Church Sunday” thing was being called a protest. And maybe people were envisioning droves of angry shouting women storming the church with picket signs… I’m just not sure. They think that this whole thing is going to detract from the sacred purpose of our meetings, which are meant for worship. But really, they’ve got it all wrong. It wasn’t really a protest, especially not one against the church. It was more about awareness. It was more about raising the white flag to women who struggle with gender inequality and letting them know they are not alone. It was about extending the invite to come and worship, and to not be afraid to be outside of the mainstream. It was really a message of hope and peace for those who have felt silenced and ignored. If you must call it a protest, please think of it as a Gandhi type protest. A silent, peaceful one. One that was really just meant to begat more peace. And if you feel like the whole detracts from your ability to worship on Sunday, it convinces me all the more that it needs to be done. Because, really, we should give you an opportunity to examine in yourself why exactly that is. Because you make me feel like an outsider when you tell me my point of view does not belong in sacrament meeting, and that is the opposite of what the Savior has taught us about worship.
And I know there are bigger problems in the world. Anyone who knows me, knows that global gender issues is something that I get really passionate about. But, as I said to someone earlier this week, you don’t ignore brakes that have gone out just because you’re having engine trouble. And perhaps I’m an idealist, but I believe that the more we address these issues in countries where we can, the more influence we can have on the rest of the world. Besides, someone else’s pain—even if it is greater than mine—doesn’t negate my pain. And its unfair of you to tell me that I can’t address my problems just because other people have problems too. It’s just another way to silence me, and I’ve already had a lifetime of that.
I do understand the gospel. I love it. I love it’s principles and I live by them. I have dedicated time, so much time, to reading and studying the scriptures… and reading and studying books about the scriptures. I do understand and know the gospel and I do have a testimony of it. It’s insulting that you would imply otherwise. Now, I will give you a moment to examine your moral superiority. …. Done? Let me explain something. While I believe the gospel is true, that doesn’t mean that I believe the church, an organization made up of imperfect people, always functions perfectly. I am capable of separating our culture from our doctrine. Are you? Because if I question something that the church does functionally, it does NOT mean that I am doubting the doctrine. The way the church functions is NOT always a matter of revelation. It is often a matter of culture. We, as a church, need to recognize that. We need to let go of the idea that because the gospel is perfect, so is the church. I mean, really, would you being saying that before the 70s when women weren’t allowed to pray in sacrament meeting? You can’t pretend that the church has never made changes on these issues. Of course, you might be telling yourself that the that change happened in the Lord’s time through revelation… and not actually in response to women who were complaining about the unfairness of it, which is the truth. Will it help you if I tell you I believe those women were inspired to complain about it? No?
I also don’t need to be lectured about the priesthood. I believe the priesthood to be the power of God here on earth. And I believe that it blesses men and women equally. And, quite frankly, women holding priesthood office is not really an issue for me. I sympathize with women who struggle with it. Especially in regards to the differences in ordinances that women are allowed to participate within and without the temple. It can be confusing to define our role as priestesses. But still, for me it is not really an issue. And you condescend to me when you assume that because I have issues with gender inequality in the church, I struggle with priesthood authority.
I wish that women were invited to pray in general conference, and that there were more women speakers (with longer speaking times) in general conference.
I wish that young women and young men/scouting budgets were equal. In fact, I wish that women were involved in the church’s finances at any level at all.
I wish that young women weren’t taught that they need to dress modestly to protect the young men from having impure thoughts, and conversely I don’t want my sons to ever be taught that if they have an impure thought that it is the woman’s fault.
I wish that I didn’t have to specifically request that my tithes and offerings be separated on the records from my husband’s. I want to make my offerings to the Lord myself, and don’t know why I should ever have to explain that.
I wish that we were all more comfortable talking about Heavenly Mother. We’ve been instructed that it is inappropriate to pray to Her, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend She doesn’t matter. We also don’t pray to Jesus, but we talk about Him, and our relationships with Him, an awful lot. As women, She is who we hope to become, it’s too bad we often are shamed out of discussing Her.
Look at how none of these things have anything to do with the priesthood. For the sake of clarity, this list is not inclusive. But if I went on and on you might get bored, and you’d still not find anything that has anything to do with priesthood authority, or that goes against church doctrine at all. The fact is that our church was established within a society and culture that was fairly misogynistic. And, as such, our church culture bears the resemblance of that. Society has changed and continues to progress. I don’t think that I am out of line in requesting the same from my church culture.
I was actually told this week that people in my ward care about me, that when I bring politics into church it makes them uncomfortable. Well, my first problem is that you see these things as “liberal politics” (which I don’t. I don’t see these issues as being political at all.) then I have to call the rest of you out on spouting lots of “conservative politics” in church all of the time. Which makes me uncomfortable all of the time. My second, and more prominent, problem is that the basic message here is that people care about me, but are uncomfortable being around me unless I keep my mouth shut. Never felt like more of an outsider in all my life.
I actually haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to wear pants on Sunday. I have been made to feel, by members of my ward, that if I wear pants to church on Sunday it will be a point of contention. Contention is not the objective. I wish that instead of looking at me and saying, “She shouldn’t be doing that,” they would look at me and ask, “Why are you doing this? Why does this matter to you?” I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking.
We’ll see. My husband is very encouraging and wants me to move forward. He has committed 100% to wearing a purple tie (which supportive men have organized to do, since purple is a color often associated with the suffrage movement). I, for myself, am so exhausted from the responses I received this week, I’m not sure if I have it in me. Hopefully other women are having more luck, or more strength, than I am.
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