Who’s wearing the pants?

As everyone knows, I’m a Mormon. And as some people know, yesterday was another one of those “Women Wear Pants to Church” days. A day when many women wear pants to show that they think there should be some changes made either to church doctrine, church administration practices, cultural views, or all of the above. And boy does it stir up some intense feelings! One of the things I really dislike about so many pieces of the world we live in as humans is that so many of us try so hard to define our relationships with each other based on how we are different or how we disagree. It makes us oversimplify someone else’s opinion and sometimes vilify that person, when if we had learned more about the complexity of it all, we might realize we had a little more in common than we thought, even if we don’t completely agree on everything.

Some people may view this as something that makes me spineless, but I’ve always learned a lot and found a lot of peace by studying and trying to understand and maybe even empathize with both sides of a fight. I’d love it if you, kind reader, could humor me for a bit while I share some of my insights and try to provide a gentle voice of reason on this one.

The oversimplifications of both sides of this issue are pretty intense.
One one side, we have the people who wore pants to church. Many of these women view the dress wearers as women who are gutless, meek, miserable, and who like to blindly follow and just always be told what to do, how to feel, and what to think.

On the other side, we have the dress wearers. Many of these women view the pant wearers as a bunch of women who are angry and bitter, and want to emasculate all men and get some sort of revenge on them by ruling over them and being the boss of everything. Also, some dress wearers think that pant wearers hate motherhood.

I didn’t wear pants yesterday, and I’ll explain why at the end. The main reason I’m here today is to try and help us understand the pant wearers a little better. There are so many different kinds of pant wearers. Some of them are my friends and it hurts my heart for everyone involved when I read and hear some of the hateful things being said. It seems like there is so much fear behind a lot of the tirades.

I probably won’t get to all of them, but here are some of the causes being represented by various women who wore pants to church yesterday. These are in no particular order.

1. Some women had no agenda. They don’t live in Utah and they wear pants to church on a lot of Sundays because they like pants and think they look nice. Pants are their version of Sunday Best. I think this might represent a small number of pant wearing women.

2. There were women who wore pants mainly to show a wish for change in church policy that wouldn’t require doctrinal changes. These types of issues involve things like scouting and young men getting a huge budget and young women getting a small budget for activities. Or, maybe a tiny bit more controversial, wondering why a woman can’t be a Sunday School president. Why they can only preside over children and other women even in callings that aren’t directly related to the priesthood.

3. There are women who have been unhappy about cultural attitudes common in the church. Attitudes that, for example, might affect what kinds of activities the young women do vs. the young men. While the church doesn’t have rules against girls regularly going skiing, camping, and hiking, the boys are sometimes the ones who do those activities most often while in many wards the girls are doing sewing and crafts. I remember having an activity as a young woman where we learned to iron men’s shirts and fold fitted sheets. While these are useful skills, (who am I kidding? I still just crumple up fitted sheets, throw them in the closet and shut the door before they fall out) this is not the type of activity the young men would ever have.

Some women encounter sexist treatment when they are a part of leadership meetings. They feel their opinions are not heard or valued. Sometimes they might even feel belittled. The person in charge might be someone who erroneously equates priesthood power with some sort of permission to belittle women. I haven’t encountered many men like this, but there are a few out there. Some of them don’t even realize their actions or words are offensive, because they grew up in an older generation in environments where these attitudes were more widely accepted. I can see how some of the sexist attitudes can be wrongly fortified by the male dominated leadership in our church, and that this might be irritating or even painful to some women who have had a struggle in their callings because of it.

Another cultural view that makes many Mormon women unhappy is the way chastity and modesty are sometimes taught to Mormon youth. Many women feel that the responsibility of maintaining chastity is unequally bestowed upon the women. Many lessons are taught by local leaders stating that men simply can’t help themselves and have no accountability, while women, merely by having a female shaped body, are walking pornography. Another teaching I personally find disgusting is the object lesson, meant to be cute and funny, that teaches girls that if they “mess up”, they become a chewed piece of gum, disgusting, of no value, something no other man will want. Some more traditional and old school wards and stakes still utilize these types of lessons. That seems to me to be a cultural problem. When I get down to the real doctrine, these types of teachings seem to have always been wrong or at the very least, overly simplistic. The chewed gum thing is plainly an evil lie. This is why I call these problems cultural rather than doctrinal.

4. Finally, there are women who want actual doctrinal changes. They want an addendum to the Doctrine and Covenants, a proclamation read in conference allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood. Even this desire divides off into various complicated reasons, too many to list here. Some women simply feel unequal. That men have been given a power they are not allowed to have or use. They can’t give the baby blessing. They can’t give blessings of comfort or healing. Some women think the church is teaching that God doesn’t value women as much as men, and the priesthood is the proof of this to them. Some women simply wish that women could confess some of the more sensitive moral sins to other women instead of men. They particularly wish their daughters could do so.

If you’re still with me, I’m hoping as you have read this list, even if you’ve encountered things with which you disagree, that maybe you’ve discovered that it all isn’t quite as sinister as you thought. You might even empathize with some of the sticky points brought up here.

Or you might be all ready with some rebuttals. Some I’ve heard have involved telling these women that in their wards, they were never taught the offensive chewing gum lessons. Or maybe they grew up in a ward where the girls went hiking all the time and never sewed. All of these things could be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that these other women have had a different experience that is also true and valid.

The saddest rebuttals I see involve women telling the pant wearers that they are evil women who don’t have a testimony, who should leave the church now if they hate it so bad. I think this represents a misunderstanding of many of the women who decided to wear pants yesterday. And I think it is something no person could truly really know for sure about another person.

I’m going to tell you where I fit into all of this. I might get rotten vegetables thrown at me from both sides.

As I mentioned before, I did not wear pants yesterday. Before all the dress wearers claim me and get me to join a strict team and throw some stones, I have to admit that there are several points in #2 and #3 that have been concerns of mine over the years. But let me take just a moment to explain why I think the pants idea might have not been the best, in my humble opinion. First of all, many have pointed out that church is an inappropriate place to stage a protest. I get the idea of that a little but most of the demonstrations I’ve heard about didn’t involve yelling or picket signs. They may have, however, stirred up some contention. This causes me to try and understand the end goal. Are women wearing pants so that the other pant wearers, or people who want some change, can recognize each other and support each other? Then the pants might be working on some level there. But if the pant wearers are trying to gently change the minds of men, it is not coming across that way. Since so much of Mormon culture can seem like a throwback to the 50’s, (which is fun from a vintage fashion standpoint but not really for women’s rights) let’s stop for a minute and realize what it means to many men when their friends say, “Well I guess we all know who wears the pants!” Particularly if we are talking about older, very traditional men. The pants aren’t sending a message of, “I wish I could be respected. I wish you would listen to me and believe in me.” They are saying, whether you wanted this or not, “I wear the pants now. Go home and clean a toilet. I’m smarter than you and I should be in charge of everything.” If that’s the point you wanted to make, it’s working, but not in a way that will get you the change you want. What should be done instead? I’m not sure. I’ve really been thinking a lot about it lately. I guess I see why women might want some changes, but I don’t really completely understand how the pants make it happen.

Let me take just a few more moments to talk about what kind of a “dress wearer” I am, so I am not misunderstood myself. I’m always grateful when a young women’s curriculum emphasizes education and goal setting in addition to temple marriage. I think there are many improvements that could be made in the Utah Mormon culture that would take too long to talk about here. Waiting or hoping for an entire culture to change even a little can sometimes be hard. At various times in my life I have come home from a few ward activities disappointed. I walked out of a Sunday School lesson once when Democrats were being compared to Satan. That stuff still happens in 2013. Imperfect people make mistakes and our church is full of them, including myself. But I also feel like my life has been richly blessed by many things that have gone right for me at church. Some of the very first seeds of my music career were planted when a goal listed in an old Personal Progress book suggested that I try to write a song. I found many opportunities to develop and share my talents through church activities as I was growing up. As a girl and woman, I have found many challenging opportunities to serve and also to lead. Many of my fears of getting up in front of large groups of people have been conquered by teaching sunday school or speaking in church. Those are things that women are certainly eligible to do.

I also have had a profound feeling, from the time I was a little child, that God loves and cherishes me very much. I have felt a connection with Him. I feel like I can talk to Him and hear Him. I feel His love. I feel valued. I trust Him. I believe He sees a bigger picture we will all understand clearly one day.

When I was a teenager, my parents divorced. For a few years in our home, there was no Melchizedek priesthood holder who could give me a blessing of comfort, even though I was going though a time of great turmoil. I do, however remember many occasions when my mother blessed me. She did not put her hands on my head. She put her arms around my whole body and prayed for me. I believe with all my heart that her words went directly to God’s ear, with no messenger or gatekeeper in between. I know that God loves and values and hears my mother as profoundly as He loves and values and hears any man on earth.

If changes are made someday allowing women to be ordained, I would certainly very gladly accept. But I don’t feel like my life has been missing something so far. I don’t wish I could be a bishop. If I wished I could be a bishop in order to dethrone someone I didn’t like, I think the same kinds of feelings would still happen if women were bishops too. I think there might be a misconception about the glory involved in such a calling. I’m not the kind of woman who has no idea what it means to have dreams and goals. I’ve wanted fame. I’ve wanted success. But the bishopric doesn’t seem like the venue for any of that in my mind.

I think it would be a tragedy if dads got taken out of the equation on baby blessings, baptisms, ordinations, and blessings of comfort. I treasure my memories of my father giving me blessings, and of my husband blessing my children.

I realize I have been unreasonably blessed with a happy marriage to a man who treats me as his equal. Not all women experience this. But I don’t know if a doctrinal change would fix those kinds of problems. There are too many things we all already need to fix and maintain that get talked about in pretty much every general conference already. I don’t need the prophet to tell me every time I should be more kind. It doesn’t have to be rephrased as a new commandment every few years.

I also know, though, that my opinions and experiences do not invalidate the experiences and feelings of the women who wore pants yesterday. I feel like I have a few things in common with these women, though not everything. I wish we all could feel like there is room in our church for all of us. I wish we could listen to each other and try to understand. I wish we could take the fear and hate out of all of it and be a family. Speaking of family, I truly, truly love being a mother. Many, many “pants to church” women love being mothers, too.

I believe that God is at the helm. This helps me to not be afraid of any group of people who might actually have desires to dismantle my religion or faith, if those people really are out there, whoever they are. God’s love is bigger and more powerful than all of that to me.

13 Responses to “Who’s wearing the pants?”

  1. Cynthia says:

    I would like to respectfully submit that perhaps you have misunderstood what Wear Pants to Church day was all about. If you would like to learn more the official site is http://pantstochurch.com/ . I did participate in my own way because I want to celebrate that all people are welcome and should be included in our church meetings. No other agenda although there may be individuals who hold another agenda. I just want everyone to feel welcomed and loved. Unfortunately so many who don’t fit the perceived mold don’t.

  2. JenniferB says:

    I agree that there are many issues that seem to be covered by the pants to church issue, many of which are complex. At the heart of many of them, I believe, is the need to be heard. I think it is really key that while many of us crave that feeling, the feeling of being genuinely heard and appreciated, we also generally are not as good at listening and hearing others around us. You express yourself very well, and I hope discussion generated will be both honest and respectful.

  3. Marsha says:

    Insightful piece, Cherie. Thank you for taking the time to express your feelings and thoughts.

    Having spent missionary service in two third-world countries, and knowing something about other world cultures, I’ll point out to your readers that many multiple-thousands of female members regularly wear pants to church. A pants-like piece of apparel is their cultural dress. This may or may not take the wind out of the sails of those who have #s 2-4 in mind as they protest.

    Some women in my branch wear pants to church as a matter of physical need. Some need the warmth pants affords. Others have other physical reasons for wearing pants. In addition, I live in a branch in the middle of a great hunting/fishing/camping destination. We never turn away anyone who forgot Sunday dress in their haste to enjoy the outdoors, whether male or female. I guess that’s why I don’t feel such an impact from the protestations.

    I share your conviction that God knows and loves each of his children personally. If–on a particularly cold day–I should happen to wear long johns under my long skirt, I know he knows I mean no disrespect or intend any affront or protest to priesthood holders. :-)

  4. John Newman says:

    I am so with you on this, Sister. I believe that people get hung up on minutia, much like the Pharasees did, and create a bigger stir than they need to. My wife is a pants wearer. Not because she has some weird agenda, but because her hips ache and it’s hard for her to sit modestly in a dress and not be in pain. No one I’m aware of cares that she’s not in a dress because it’s better that we attend church than not. I don’t always wear a tie because it’s hard for a fat guy like me to find a shirt with a large enough collar not to choke me, and I think wearing a tie with the collar unbuttoned looks cheap. No one has ever said anything to me. Again, it’s better that I attend than stay home over something that minor.

    You want to know what my favorite smell is in church meetings? Cigarette smell. That tells me that someone who is struggling with sin (and that’s a pretty minor one, in the scheme of things) is trying to make their lives better. It’s a testament to faith in the atonement.

    I, too, despise the “parable of the chewed gum.” It’s a fallacy that denies the power of the atonement.

    So, if all this means the vegetables are going to start flying at us, don’t worry, Cherie, I’ll be there taken a few tomatoes for you.

  5. Laura says:

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s one of the most balanced and loving addresses I’ve heard on the topic so far. I can understand the deep distress about #2, #3, and even parts of #4 but I very much doubt that women will ever be ordained to the priesthood. Not because they don’t deserve equal standing in the church, but because I think that would throw off the ideal balance and interdependence that should exist between women and men in the church. To be sure, that balance is not always achieved in the home or ward families, but isn’t that part of the plan? To figure out how to work with each other not just around each other? That’s something the best and most respected men and women in the church have learned well.
    (But I don’t believe that women are excluded from the Priesthood anyway. Priesthood session is another story, but as I see it, they already are equal partners in the Priesthood power although women are not usually wielding it in the same way.)
    In any case, I really appreciated your clarity and humility here. Thank you for posting!

  6. Clive Romney says:

    Thank you, Cherie, for again making me think and examine myself.

  7. Sharon says:

    I appreciate your comments, Cherie! I’ve done the same thing; trying to understand a side different than your own can really be hard. For myself, I don’t wear pants to Church as I would feel uncomfortable. I wear longer dresses, and before the hot flashes came on, leggings and thermal underwear. Maybe subconsciously I felt I WAS wearing pants. I only have problems with those who think that staging a group of women asking to go to the priesthood session of conference will change things. The Prophet can’t even change a thing unless the Lord tells him to. Women have their own blessings and responsibilities. I can’t fathom taking over more than I have, for many reasons. If there are those who feel they aren’t being heard, that will cause problems for everyone, and it does need to be addressed.
    Perhaps there are many who don’t know that women CAN give blessings. Joseph Fielding Smith said in Doctrines of Salvation that there is nothing wrong with a woman laying her hands on her sick child and pronouncing a blessing. If there are no other priesthood holders around, a wife can be her husband’s partner in the blessing. She is not doing it in the name of the priesthood, but in faith and love:

    “President Joseph Fielding Smith, in his book Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3 wrote,
    If a man and his wife were alone with a sick person, could he anoint with the oil and then seal the anointing with his wife assisting using the priesthood she holds jointly with her husband? President Joseph F. Smith answered this question as follows: “Does a wife hold the priesthood with her husband, and may she lay hands on the sick with him, with authority? A wife does not hold the priesthood with her husband, but she enjoys the benefits thereof with him; and if she is requested to lay hands on the sick with him, or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children.”
    When this is done the wife is adding her faith to the administration of her husband. The wife would lay on hands just as would a member of the Aaronic Priesthood, or a faithful brother without the priesthood, she in this manner giving support by faith to the ordinance performed by her husband. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick, . . . there could be no evil in it, if God gave his sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administration.” Such an administration would not be by virtue of the priesthood, but a manifestation of faith.”

    Joseph Smith said:
    In a meeting of the Relief Society on April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith discussed women anointing and healing. Eliza R. Snow reported the minutes and wrote this

    Pres. Smith continued the subject (of healing the sick by the laying on of hands) by adverting to the commission given to the ancient apostles “Go ye into all the world” . . . No matter who believeth; these signs such as healing the sick, casting out devils . . . should follow all that believe whether male or female. He ask’d the Society if they could not see by this sweeping stroke that werein they are ordained, it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority which is conferr’d on them–and if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on. . . . Respecting the females laying on hands, he further remarked, there could be no devil in it if God gave his sanction by healing– that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water. It is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be healed by the administration.”

    Brigham Young said:

    Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease? . . . it is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders. (14 Nov. 1869, JD 13:155.)

    Heber C. Kimball said this:

    Some of you, ladies, that go abroad from house to house, blessing the sick, having your little circles of women come together, why are you troubling yourselves to bless and lay your hands on women, and prophesy on them, if you do not believe the principle? (Heber C. Kimball Journal of Discourses, 5: 176 – 177.)

    We are not left out of blessings if we so choose. This gives me hope, and I feel it a privilege to be a woman in this Church at this time. I remember as a young woman (many years ago) going horseback riding with our mutual-aged group of males and females. My friend and I were the last 2 to head to the corral. I held my horse back, but my friend let her horse have its head. It turned the corner too fast and went down, causing Elaine to smack her head on the hard ground. The horse got up and continued on, but Elaine was unconscious. I jumped off my horse, who also continued on, and put my hands on her head and gave her a blessing. I didn’t need permission from anyone; the Spirit guided me to do so. Elaine came to just as the group of youth came riding up, knowing with 2 riderless horses, something was wrong. She was disoriented for a time, but never remembered what happened. She had a headache, and was fine the next day. That is an experience I shall never forget. It gave me a first-hand testimony that women are not powerless. Sorry for my rant. I just want someone to know that we are special, too.

  8. Katharine says:

    For what it’s worth here are my thoughts in short. We should welcome all people to church, whether in pants, a parka, a toga, shorts and a tank or covered from head to toe in tattoos. And, we, as active members of the church should show respect for those in attendance and to the fact that we are in the Lord’s house and treat it as a place to worship and to strengthen each other. Not as a place to protest, which can put the focus on the protester rather than the messages shared. I believe that information can preceed inspiration. So, write a letter. Schedule an appt to discuss your concerns. There is a time and a place for everything. Church serves aren’t the time for such protests. Having said all of that, it is equally important that we withold judging those who choose to wear pants to church. We all are on our own paths and we all make choices that someone else would disagree with.

  9. Jane Watts says:

    Cherie — Thanks so much for your piece. I have to tell you, this is news to me — I don’t live in Utah and had not heard of the controversy (I’m in Puerto Rico), but the things you stated are completely in line with what I believe. It’s too bad an issue has been made of it at all, as I feel like whatever you wear to church you should be welcome. When you see an investigator attend, 9 times out of 10 she’s in pants and I’ve not seen anyone protest her attire — if she continues to attend, she will usually find some kind of dress, just to fit in — a friend I used to walk with whose daughter was investigating the church, wanted to attend, but didn’t have a dress or shoes and didn’t want to stand out. she would not come until she found something “appropriate” to wear. While living in Chile I was involved with the young women and one of the girls always came in pants — her mother would not allow her to come to church, so she would lie to her and tell her she was just going out — really the wrong thing to lie, but you could not turn her away for either reason! I have to tell you, I’d probably be one of the pants wearers, but for comfort, not protest. I do not feel I need to hold the priesthood to gain blessings from it — I have no wish to be the bishop or hold any of those kinds of callings. (Just a joke, but if women held the priesthood, what would the men do!!). My son was married to a woman who held those feelings of second class citizen — more money put into scouting, etc. My son told me he didn’t realize he was supposed to be ashamed to be an Eagle Scout until after his marriage. I feel like somewhere these women who have felt this way have been treated poorly — I had great leaders and teachers growing up, so maybe somewhere along the line these women didn’t have the benefits that I had. Thank you so much for your comments — Jane (Taylor) Watts — in case you don’t know, we’re cousins — Blanche Taylor was my mother — so you can see I was taught well!

  10. Tamra says:

    Thank you for this beautiful well written article!!! I appreciate all of the different perspectives that you gave….. thanks!! =)

  11. From the website in Cynthia’s link the goal for wear the pants day was: “We are active and faithful Mormon feminists who want to show that there is more than one way to be a good Mormon woman. We believe that everyone is welcome at church.” Call me dense, but don’t the majority of us realize that there’s more than one way to be a good Mormon woman and that we welcome all to church? Without being more specific, it appears rather a rather senseless activity or is there a hidden agenda the feminists are purposely keeping obscure?

  12. Cherie says:

    I did read the pantstochurch.com website and I also listened to all my friends who wore pants to church tell everyone the reasons why they did it and what they hoped to accomplish. No one mentioned comfort or fellowshipping, as the website said. Those may be added benefits to wearing the pants, but the people I know were hoping to encourage the changes I mentioned in my post. Many of the blogs featured on that website would support this.

  13. Well said. I appreciate you shining light on both sides, as I’m kinda out of the loop here in Las Vegas. It’s disheartening to hear when differences in opinion are misunderstood, and assumptions create divisions and lump people into categories from their quick judgement. Thank you for helping me understand it better. Hope the tension settles down and constructive discussion, even change for the better, will result.

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