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.