Wear Pants to Church Day

Formal dress pants: Showing your Downeast Outfitters floral skirt who's boss.

Formal dress pants: Showing your Downeast Outfitters floral skirt who’s boss.

I’d like to say a few words about Wear Pants to Church Day. I’d like to be clear that my goal is not to change anyone’s mind. My goal is to explain why I feel the way I do about this event.

The purpose of this event is for women to reconnect themselves and those they love with the Book of Mormon assertion that “all are alike unto God.” Some comments on the event’s Facebook page have argued that church is an inappropriate forum for such a demonstration or that women already enjoy full equality within the LDS Church. To these views, I have two responses: First, church is a meant to be a place where individuals with all sorts of different views and experiences can come together to nurture one another as saints and to learn how they can use their unique and beautiful talents to glorify God. And second, it’s easy for the socially advantaged to see their view as normative and any differing stance as opposition.

The religious experience of a Latter-day Saint is inclusive. For as long as I can remember, I have seen my identity in terms of the LDS Church doctrine. From a young age we sing, “I am a child of God.” As young women we recite, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him.” As adults, our Relief Society Declaration reminds us that “We are beloved spirit daughters of God and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction.”

In addition to defining our very being, religion is a source of emotional strength, spiritual nourishment, and social support. When stressors arise, religion is a source of direction, of peace, of counsel. Religious worship provides a venue for us to commune with the Divine, to experience a sense of awe at eternity, or even to assuage the occasional existential dilemma. Particularly as Latter-day Saints, we spend hours with our ward members during several days of the week. Truly, for Latter-day Saints, the Church is central to every part of life.

Within the Church, be it in doctrine or culture, there exist constructs of womanhood that many women find exclusive and hurtful. These constructs are widespread enough to have been felt by women from diverse wards, stakes, states, and nations. When a woman feels that she is not included in the definition of “femininity” accepted by her ward or stake, she experiences a social disconnect between herself and her fellow congregants. Even beyond that social alienation, she feels that her very being, her identity, her ability to commune with her God, her right to spiritual healing, the applicability of church counsel, and her place within the Kingdom – all these are undermined.

In several posts on the Facebook page, I read comments that questioned participating women’s understanding of the words of the prophets or scripture, their motivations for participating in Sunday worship, their desire to fulfill God’s purpose for them, the integrity of their intentions, their sexual desirability, their testimonies, and the value of their opinions. Every part of these women’s place within their religion – their ability to fulfill their identities, their driving emotions, their ability to interpret spiritual guidance, and their place within the organization of the Church – was called into question when they made a plan to express solidarity by wearing a Church-approved item of clothing.

It’s fairly clear that the majority of people who oppose this event are comfortable with the status quo.These people are comfortable expressing their views in Church and are comfortable hearing others’ views. That’s because they are fairly sure that, overall, they and the rest of the congregation basically agree. This is their normal.

It isn’t mine. I’ve sat in many Relief Society meetings, hearing a definition of how men and women differ or of how women should find fulfillment, and felt the vague discomfort that if I were to express my true opinions, it would be seen as “political” or “contrary.” Whether or not anyone would actually do anything isn’t necessarily the point. The point is that a vast number of Latter-day Saint women across the globe have experienced the same thing. Clearly some stigmatization is being felt, even if those on the opposite side aren’t aware of it (Here’s a great source to learn more about the nuances of stigmatization).

No one has ever told me that I was bad at being a woman. They’ve merely repeated a definition of what women should be that didn’t include me. I’ve sat in lessons where the teachers and commenters assumed we all dreamed the same, that we all found fulfillment in the same way. They could comfortably say what they felt because they’d experienced a precedent of everyone agreeing and certainly no one contradicting. I, on the other hand, could not comfortably say what I felt. I’ve seen disparate views viciously shot down very few times, but I have seen it. Mostly what I’ve seen is the absence of disparate views. A gentleman’s agreement not to broach certain topics, which is a little bit the same thing.

I’ve rarely been told that my interests or skills didn’t fit femininity, or that I needed to pick up new ones in order to fulfill what God had in mind for my sex. I have been told, but it hasn’t been often. Mostly, I’ve attended activities from the time I was a Merry Miss that promoted pastimes and priorities that I didn’t share. My brothers were out sleeping in snow caves while I was practicing setting a banquet table and learning the tricks of makeup. They were learning to light fires while I was tying yet another quilt for some very fertile Young Women leader’s next child. I was working toward my YW medallion by creating a collage of the temple where I wanted to be married, while they were working toward their Eagle Scout by going canoeing. My male friends’ priesthood activities usually involve some form of meat and football, and my Relief Society activities usually involve a craft and cupcakes. Whether or not anyone is shoving ideas down my throat verbally, an atmosphere of narrowly defined genders has been set.

It’s natural for those who enjoy the way things are to see another view as opposition. They’ve been expressing their views among like minded individuals for years, and it has felt safe and comfortable. But to them I say, I don’t see your view as opposition. I see your view as valid, and I grant you the right to express it. To quote the Isley Brothers, “It’s your thing. Do what you gotta do.” Whatever brings you fulfillment and peace before God and man, you pursue that. You rock your identity. You live it up with your hopes and dreams. Be extraordinary and magnify the pants off your divine potential. I, and the women in this group, merely ask that you grant us the same privilege. When a woman raises her hand in Relief Society to express a sentiment you don’t share, don’t shoot her down. Don’t whisper to your roommate that views like that are why she’s still single. Instead, wish that sister all kinds of success. While you might not have the slightest idea how she could possibly be happy, be glad for her when she expresses the ways she finds fulfillment.

And when that sister shows up this Sunday wearing pants, I would ask you not to tell her church isn’t an appropriate forum for this kind of demonstration. Instead, recognize that this woman has been feeling very alone at church for a very long time. And be happy for her that today she can look around the congregation and identify other women who have been feeling the same way. Finally, within the Church she calls home, she has some proof that she’s not alone, after all.


23 thoughts on “Wear Pants to Church Day

  1. Author, I know you, love you, and admire you. Thanks for expressing your opinion so eloquently. It certainly has given me something to think about. Just a quick comment. My assumption regarding church policies and practices (whether decided by general or local leadership at all levels) has always been that leaders had established them while doing their best to act under inspiration. When it was my turn, and within my own purview, I could do the same. Therefore my dissatisfaction with how they were doing their job didn’t enter into the equation; rather, it became my problem, not theirs. In some cases, if I could find a way to do so, I expressed my contrary opinion. And sometimes, yes, it was shot down, with authority! That hurt. And, although I won’t claim I was good at this, it was my responsibility to accept it and move on. I will not pretend to understand the deep feelings that “Wear Pants to Church Day” reflects, but I know very well what it feels like to be different in fundamental ways and to have those differences pointed out. But, in most cases, within the church, it should be enough for us just to share our feelings with someone close to us, smile pragmatically, and move on.

    Incidentally, in the ward of my youth, it was explained to me that the chapel itself was to be treated much like a temple: dress and comportment standards were established to enhance its sanctity, much like the temple. As you know, just entering the front doors of a temple, women are expected to wear a dress, men, a tie; a temple worker may make that quiet request of a non-conforming patron. Likewise, but hopefully indirectly, many bishops will likely take some time, after the event, to give a lesson that reinforces any related gospel principles. I think that this may allow some women the time to consider why they are doing this without ever having to be directly asked not to do it. After a few weeks, I expect it will quietly go away and nearly all women will once again wear dresses and skirts — just my prediction. I hope, however, that no local church leaders ever say anything specifically about it. What I get from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is that Paul wants all to partake of the blessings of the gospel and will stand beside anyone in any way he can in order to help them get those blessings.

    I sure enjoy your blog posts!

    • Dan. I don’t know you, pretty sure I will never love you, and I will definitely never admire you.

      “Therefore my dissatisfaction with how they were doing their job didn’t enter into the equation; rather, it became my problem, not theirs.”

      That statement is exactly what is wrong with your narrow-minded belief. Anytime something is wrong, it is with you, not the belief? That is an extremely oppressive and sad position to have. The Church has an “approved” dress code that women ARE allowed to wear nice dress slacks to church. They are getting vehement backlash from a community that thinks so little of women, they can’t even do something that is approved because it doesn’t meet with antiquated and chauvinistic expectations. The Church thinks so little of women that this is the only way for these particular women to feel any sort of freedom or power to be someone other than what your sterilized Barbie version demands them to be.

      If you actually cared about the women who are struggling to come to terms with an LDS culture that does not appreciated the beauty that individuality creates, then do something to actually support them. You could start by letting them wear dress slacks…..and not complain about it.

      • Actually, my position is an extremely liberating one to have. By accepting the choices made by leaders in the church (and by the way, as a musician, I can think of many women who presided over me), I am free to allow inspiration to come to me about my personal needs and questions regarding my most important reason for worship — to work out my salvation through a personal relationship with Christ. The less I allow non-essential issues to interfere with that ultimate goal, the more I am allowed insights and positive feelings that build my faith and hope. I remember once, I was steamed for months about a leader’s response to a comment I made, believing that, since he couldn’t understand my opinion on something very important to me, he had just lashed out and embarrassed me. Again, once I realized all I could do was deal with my own problem, I was able to get some inspiration that allowed me to let it go. It’s not always easy to identify my part in problems seemingly created by others, and I’m far from being perfect at it, but I think it is essential because it identifies truth in my life, and “the truth shall set [me] free.”

  2. Just by you writing this, I feel less alone. Thank you!
    And I honestly don’t feel comfortable wearing pants to church because I already feel so alone without wearing a huge sign saying, “I am completely different than you!” I actually believe I would be the only woman there in pants. (And secondarily I don’t own any slacks, just jeans which I think would be too casual.) I guess I am more insecure about this than you are right now. Hopefully, I will get there some day. Thank you though, for writing this down. It is basically exactly what I have been carrying around inside of me for years with no way of expressing it/ no one to express it to.

  3. Foxybronze be praised. And not just because of the “meat and football” line. I love it when a writer can express her feelings so persuasively that I can’t help but feel the same way and champion her cause. And this isn’t my cause. I’m a guy. I’m part of the norm (or I would be if I went to church). Maybe I can’t empathize but I do sympathize. Really I just adore good writing. As she said she’s not trying to change minds, she’s just expressing her point of view. And I love that, having read it, I get it! That’s writing, kids! I call for more LDS marginalization of women! I want more impassioned blog posts! And I want to invest in women’s pants!

  4. You know your post was very thoughtful and I enjoyed reading it. I personally was raised NOT LDS but still to wear a dress to church because of respect. Now as an adult and a convert to the church, I could care less what anyone wears. However, to be quit frank, it bothers me that anyone man or woman would use the church or church building as a means to promote a cause. I don’t agree with this at all. And no I am not narrow minded. I actually hate alot of Mormon culture crap that is not doctrine but I do believe that Sunday’s are set apart as sacred and bringing a cause into it that is not sacred in nature is not appropriate. Wearing pants is fine…it is not the event itself that bothers me , it is that it is being promoted to be held in a place of worship that is sacred. That bothers me. I think it is mocking GOD. So I am against this event and would never have anything to do with it. Now, if you held this event at a different time and not at church, I would be happy to listen. I understand what the authors of the event are trying to do but their choice of venue is very self serving and I frankly think is sad for them. But let the chips fall where they may.

    • Angela, I really appreciate your response. I agree with you that worship is the primary purpose of Sunday meetings, and I do see how this sort of planned, very visual event could seem aimed at creating contention. The following is written on LDS.org, under Topics: Worship: “Another way to worship Heavenly Father is to join in fellowship with others who worship Him.” For me, Wear Pants to Church Day is an expression of fellowship with other women who have felt alienated during time set aside to worship Him. Wear Pants to Church Day is, for me, a way to express fellowship. To express that I belong to a community of shared feeling and experience.

      Still, I understand that it might seem that this fellowship as worship could best be expressed in some forum other than the three hours of church on Sunday. It makes the most sense to me for women to express fellowship for one another during the three hours of the week when they feel the most marginalized and alone. Many of these women already do use time outside the three hour block to discuss their feelings of alienation. This event is a way for them to express support for one another during the three hours when they most feel their religious identity undermined and when they need one another’s fellowship it the most.

  5. I have no problem with anyone wearing pants, I have met many women that do wear pants to church. It is that the purpose of the event is to protest inequality in the church. I personally feel that protests are not a very respectful thing to hold in the Lord’s house. In regard to your comment on activities, it really is all about who plans it and who speaks up. My young women groups went camping and hiking and learned survival skills as well as did makeovers. We requested and the leaders listened. I have often suggested other activities and most of the Relief Societies I have attended ask all of the sisters to fill out a paper with their interests so they can have activities all enjoy. A lot of the activities were sport centered and a lot were home centered. We did both to accommodate everyones interests. They also go with the majority. They do encourage us to form our own groups outside of church to do activities together. I feel that would be a better place to put together a group for this cause. I don’t want anyone to feel alone or unable to express their opinions. I hope that those that wear pant to church this Sunday know why they are doing it and are respectful to our Lord and Savior while they find their support. I wish more sisters would just speak up, then no one would feel alone.

    Also, I know a lot of people have a hard time with our women not being leaders and not holding the priesthood. It is said that the man is the head of the church but you better believe that the woman is the neck holing up and moving the head. My husband and I work together to make our family decisions. He even lets me have the final say without putting up a fight. 😉 But we both respect each other and we both listen and consider the others viewpoint and feeling.

    We are asked to show respect to the Lord while we are in His house, I hope the sisters that wear pants to make a stand and the members that do not feel the same way will be respectful to one another and to the Lord. And I hope you find a support group and do not feel alone or excluded anymore!

    • ^ I think people should go read the above blog post, because then you’ll know how close-minded people are about women wearing pants. I posted this reply over on paracleade’s blog, but she won’t approve it, so I think I’ll post it here instead. Apologies if I am hijacking.

      Paracleade said – “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.”

      Blacks (as you so eloquently state), were not holding demonstrations in sacrament meetings because they were busy holding demonstrations outside the Salt Lake City Temple. They were busy having demonstrations against BYU’s precious football and basketball teams. They were busy demonstrating on BYU campus. They were busy receiving racial slurs and attacks hurled at them from high-ranking Mormon officials. They were busy boycotting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They were busy boycotting the BSA because of the Mormon connection to them. So, if they didn’t have time to come to a little Sacarament Meeting to also hold a demonstration there, I’m sure you’ll forgive them.

      As far as this whole pants thing and women is concerned…Pants are an APPROVED form of dress for women ALREADY! It has been since the 1970′s. Why is everyone all up in arms about women doing something that is APPROVED?! Why not write about whether or not to pray with your arms folded or your hands clasped? Why not write a post about if you should take the sacrament with your left or your right hand? White shirt or a very light blue shirt? Short hair or slightly shorter hair? One earring in each ear or two? (Oh wait, that one was already decided).

      Articles like the one you just wrote are the things that are causing divisions.

      • Blacks protested the church in the 60 but there were almost no protest going on I the 70s and by the last 70s I never saw a single protest and I was on BYUs gymnastics team and in the ROTC, attended dozens of football and basketball games and never saw a single protest. People wer up in arms about Jim McMahons hair but I never saw a single demonstrator over blacks and not in church meetings either. I was everywhere in Utah those four years and your comments about blacks protesting or being attacked by church leadership are bunk.

  6. I can see how it would be difficult to have leaders that portrayed women as all having the same goals and like minded personalities. My experience has been quite different from yours. In Activity Days my daughter has gone canoeing, shot BB guns, and arrows; as a young woman I hiked, camped, went canoeing; and in Relief Society our leaders are always open to suggestions that don’t include crafting like going shooting at a range. I like Super Saturday to make inexpensive Christmas presents and appreciate learning homemaking skills to run my house with five kids more efficiently but I’ve never felt subjugated into a single personality. I think we’ve even discussed playing some flag footbal 😉

  7. Umm… I grew up in your ward and feel sorry that you felt alone. However, I just have to say that I have great memories of camping, canoeing, river rafting and playing sports (I’m not at all athletic, but I do remember going to such activities to support those who did enjoy that type of stuff.) I remember lessons on how to start a fire, cook in a dutch oven, and chart stars when camping. I know we had a wide variety of lessons and activities. I also remember your mom being my achievement day leader and the young women’s president… If you didn’t like the types of activities that were organized maybe you could have talked to her about it?

    • Thanks so much for posting! That’s a really great point you bring up. We definitely had girls camp and sporting activities. Certainly, activities weren’t some sort of mad Stepford Wives boot camp. All my YW leaders (including my mom) were inspirational and wonderful and lovely, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for their time and service. I intended (and possibly failed) to use the general trend of activities as an example of the sometimes gender-divided stereotypes and culture that can be perpetuated in the church.

      There have always been church settings in which I felt my opportunities limited by the climate of traditional gender ideals I perceived. I have felt alone because I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted if I spoke up. It’s quite possible that if I had brought up my own feelings about gender roles everything would have been just fine, and I would have been embraced warmly. Just as I was today when I wore dress slacks to church. But my response to the climate at the time was to feel isolated. Wear Pants to Church Day was, for me, an opportunity to affirm that I could be my liberal, feminist self within the church and still be accepted and loved. I am and always will be extremely grateful for the community I grew up in. I will also be forever grateful for the very freeing affirmation of the community of women I’ve connected with through this movement.

    • I agree that we ought to wear our very best out of respect for our Heavenly Father. Regardless of equality, I would posit that standards of dress–what styles are considered one’s “very best”–vary by custom. In our society, where the US Secretary of State greets dignitaries and stands in a pantsuit right alongside men… who are also wearing a sort of pantsuits (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2103934_2103935_2103993,00.html), I believe dress pants have become an acceptable option for women. As, it seems, do the Brethren:

      “The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing.”–LDS Church Presidency (1971)

  8. I enjoyed your remarks and wish you the best. I’m not terribly hopeful that reasonable dialogue will follow, but perhaps some will be able to discuss these differences in a congenial and open way.

    In the meantime, I hope that you are making the most of your opportunities for camping and otherwise exploring the world.

    I wouldn’t wait nor postpone opportunities to explore the world while waiting for others to catch up from generations of cozy lack of thought or concern.

    And if wearing pants makes you feel good, be ready, feel free, respect yourself more, I can only say go for it.



  9. I always figured that God was the one person I could count on seeing through to who I really was, and that pants or a skirt never really mattered much to Him. Love and respect can be shown bare naked! Are people wearing the skirt/dress clothes/whatever to respect Him, or to give homage to the church?

  10. Pingback: Pantpocolypse and the Threat of Roleplaying | Feminists-at-Large

  11. Wear pant to church or don’t wear pants to church. No one cares. Over the years I’ve seen LDS women’s wear pants to church and never heard a word about it. Tis is all about self conscious low esteem woman who feel the guilt about everything real or imagined.

  12. You say, “For me, Wear Pants to Church Day is an expression of fellowship with other women who have felt alienated during time set aside to worship Him.” As a female member of the church who has also asked my Bishop if the young women could learn to canoe, go hiking etc, there are so many women in the church that feel alone and sad, but not because of the clothes they wear. It seems that you are directly taking a stand against the women that are trying to do their best in following the Prophet and accusing them of not accepting you. You have such a set agenda, that instead of creating fellowship you are creating separation and contention. Why? Because our generation has been brought up so liberal that simply asking a women to wear a dress is completely offensive? Is wearing pants and standing up for feminism so much more important than faithfully following the Prophet and humbly recognizing other dress wearing sisters that may need a friend as much as you do? Your position has nothing to do with unity and everything to do with contention and pulling others away. There is no other day of the week that I wear a dress, but if the Prophet has asked me to look my best and wear a dress on Sunday, then the Savior has asked me to look my best and wear a dress. Think about who it is you are truly arguing against and for what purpose.

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