Monday, December 17, 2012
I wore pants to church on Sunday. Yes, to Sacrament Meeting, too. I want to share my experiences from it, for those who are curious about how it went. To share effectively, I really feel the need to give my background, and why this movement is so personal and important to me.
Let me start by asking this question: When was the last time you had your virtue or worthiness called into question because of what you were wearing? If you're a man, chances are good your answer is "Never." If you're a woman, especially a Mormon woman, chances are good you're answer is, "Recently." If you're a Mormon woman who wore pants to church, yesterday, your answer is definitely, "Yesterday." Sexism within the church exists.
In my own lifetime, I have personally experienced sexism within the church. As a young teenage girl, I chose to wear a sleeveless black sheath dress to church. To be clear, the neckline went all the way up to my neck, and there were arm-holes where there should have been sleeves. The arm-holes fit snugly around my arms, and the only "extra" skin showing was the tops of my shoulders. I felt confident and beautiful in that simple black dress. I looked very nice.
A member of the bishopric, and the father of one of my good friends, pulled me into a classroom during the meeting block. He sat me down and shut the door. He then proceeded with the following dialogue, "I noticed you're wearing a sleeveless dress, today. I want to ask you how you feel about what you're wearing." I responded with something like, "Okay, I guess." He continued, "What your wearing shows far too much skin. You have a responsibility to the men of this ward, to help them think clean thoughts. When you wear clothing that shows too much skin, like the dress you're wearing today, thinking clean thoughts becomes difficult for us." The message was clear: he, and every other man in that ward was thinking unclean thoughts, and not only was it my fault that was happening, it was also my responsibility and duty to make it stop.
A few months ago, I wore one of my favorite dresses to church. It covers plenty of square footage. It even covers my garments, but is form-fitting. It's extremely flattering in all the most feminine ways. I wore this beautiful dress with some gorgeous black suede 5-inch high heels. I looked smashing. Some would even say, "sexy." I was treated differently that day. Men in our ward, who had never even acknowledged my presence before that day, were overtly friendly. To be clear, there was no flirting or misappropriation. Men who I have never spoken to in my life, and who probably still don't know my name went out of their way to strike up conversations with me between meetings. They smiled broadly at me, in the hallways of the church. Men, who I could name by name, treated me differently the day that I went to church flaunting all of my God-given assets. In what would be deemed by most to be "modest," simply because it covered my garments.
This is a small sampling of the undeniable sexism I have been confronted with. I have also encountered the following situations in other women: turned away at church dances, because they weren't "wearing the right thing," lectured by bishops for breastfeeding outside of the mother's lounge or nursing uncovered, lectured by bishops and other members of their wards for wearing bare-legs under their skirt, or wearing a skirt that was deemed too short. I could go on. The point is: sexism within the church exists. This is not a contrived plight.
Taking it one step further, because people were so incredibly tense over something as simple as women wearing pants, I humbly submit that this is a conversation that we need to be having.
When I got out of bed yesterday morning, I had gone to sleep praying that I would know what to do. I definitely did not want to be disrespectful or cause any type of distraction. I made the decision to wear pants, and felt a tremendous and tangible peace over that decision. The Spirit told me that Heavenly Father was very okay with me making that decision. I chose out a very nice pair of black slacks, a silver sweater, my black boots, and some tasteful jewelry. I fixed my hair, and went about preparing for church in a way that I have every Sunday, for as long as I can remember. When we walked out into the cold, snowy world, as a family, I was especially thankful to be wearing some nice, warm pants.
Church was uneventful. I received few, if any, strange looks. I am the ward chorister, and so I had to be on the stand 4 times during Sacrament Meeting. There were no comments on my attire. I was my same self, commenting during meetings, and juggling kids. Mostly, people seemed not to notice. From my perspective, the only distractions I caused were when I had to get up and leave the room with a screaming baby. That is a very typical thing for me to be doing any Sunday, though. I do want to share that I felt as though many people really saw me, yesterday. Not that they just looked at me, but that the really *saw* me. Like they were waking up. In Sunday School, many people made comments that were pretty obviously in support of me. They said things like, "I'm glad to have the priesthood, because it allows me to serve others in such a unique way. I don't want to leave the sisters out of that comment, though. The sisters of this church serve in very meaningful ways, and their presence is felt."
I went home from church without having had a single event of any kind. After church, however, at choir practice, there was an event. I was talking with my choir, about what we should wear for the Christmas Program. The choir pianist, Marilyn, piped in, "Whatever you wear, just DON'T wear pants! People on facebook are saying that women should be allowed to wear pants to sacrament meeting. Can you believe this garbage?!" (Should be noted that she is very elderly, and very sweet. I really, really like Marilyn.) Awkward silenced followed. Everyone was watching me for a reaction, as they had all seen me in my pants that very day. I chuckled softly, adjusted the music stand, and cleared my throat. One of the choir members started laughing hysterically. Then Marilyn asked, "Did I miss something?" I answered, "Well, I wore pants to church, today." Aghast, she exclaimed, "You did?! To sacrament meeting?!" "Yes." We proceeded to have a really great dialogue, where everyone joked about men wearing skirts, to which I pointed out that in many cultures, men do. I also took the opportunity to point out that it has been culturally acceptable for women to wear pants in our society for decades, that wearing a dress is a social-norm, not church doctrine, and that women do not need permission to make fashion choices. It must not have been that big of a distraction after all, since Marilyn didn't even notice. She and I hugged-it-out, and we finished practice. It was very light-hearted and positive, and I think everyone walked away from choir practice with a sense of sharing and camaraderie. I am SO glad I wore pants.
I plan to wear pants to church every week, until it is not a "thing", anymore. Because it should never have been a "thing" to begin with. It did not effect my worship, or (as nearly as I could tell) anyone else' worship, either. I felt reverent, and enjoyed all my meetings the best that I could with an 8 month old on my hip. In my own life, the Spirit was abundant, love was present, and the world went on turning on the day women everywhere wore pants to church.