For my non-Mormon friends out there who now think that we are even more puritanical than you had originally thought, it is the cultural tradition - particularly in America - for women to wear dresses or skirts to a Mormon church service. It is a tradition passed down through our English ancestry that culturally promoted clothing in women as a sign of her marital status. Women's clothing has always been subject to such ideas - you don't see it as much in the men. The modern motto behind this tradition is that we wear other clothes throughout the week and that dressing up is a way to show respect to sacred meetings. For women, this generally means a modest dress or skirt, for men it means dress slacks, a white shirt and tie.
|Welcome to not the 1840s, girls.|
|This is what they see in their heads.|
So why is it such a big deal?
I think it is because there is a bit of a conflict of standards. We have days after major school dances where girls wear their prom dresses to church meetings and boys wear their tuxes. Is that appropriate? What about the boy passing the sacrament in an untucked and sloppy shirt? Or super long hair? Or the men or boys wearing sneakers? Is it alright to pass the sacrament in a blue shirt instead of a white one? What about those cheap Old Navy flip flops? Are any of these alright? I think most people would agree that they probably aren't the most respectful dress options in church - but do we accuse the girl showing up in her ball gown of going apostate or the boy with the long hair has going against his priesthood duties?
Feminism itself is such a huge buzzword in this culture. I suppose I can see why. The word itself conjures up some rather violent images of bra burning and man-hating women. In a church that promotes traditional family structures, this can be a little unnerving. It leads to a culture full of women who cannot say anything related to typical "feminist" ideas without being labeled as an extremist who wants to be equal to a man in every way, when that isn't always the case.
|This is more accurate.|
I think back on my own experiences. After college I was ready to move to Seattle. A good portion of that reason, honestly, was that I was hoping to get married. I had heard from friends that the wards there were good. I was tired of BYU Student wards and how transient they always are. People move from one ward to the next always looking for the bigger fish. I was hoping for something more steady. But that's not what the Lord had in mind for me. I was told pretty firmly to stay in Utah. And now I'm living in a small town where the closest single's ward includes primarily 18 year old teens living at home with their parents (some of which are former students of mine.) I don't know why I'm being taken down the particular path I'm on. I do know that I've battled through feeling guilty over not being married (or not wanting a large family, or loving my job) because of those cultural pressures.
So what does this have to do with pants in church? It has to do with women wanting not to be equal to men by robbing them of their priesthood. These are not women going apostate from the church. Trying to make a positive change is not equivalent with any of these things, particularly when the change seems to be primarily cultural and not doctrinal. Women should be able to ask questions about their divine role in the universe without feeling badly about it. We should be able to talk about our Heavenly Mother without feeling awkward or wrong. We should be able to discuss what we think our Celestial experiences will be. And we should be able to discuss them without being given the toss-off answers so often used. We may not have the answers - but fear is not a productive or constructive or even respectful response to a legitimate question.
I won't be participating on Sunday. At least not directly. I am afraid that some of these women will find that wearing pants to church is morphing into an act of "rebellion" in mindset, which distracts from the spirit of church. That shouldn't be the goal. They aren't "rebelling" against the church - just trying to influence the culture. At the same time, I return to what I said before: it shouldn't be a problem in the first place. Cultural expectations that become doctrine are scary to me - especially when they lead to this kind of terrified extremism in response.
The problem is that cultural change can't be mandated. Not really. And as one of my friends put it - it is really hard to walk the line between respect and change. So to those who will be participating, you have my support. As a woman living an unconventional path in the church, I appreciate you.