For those of you who may not know, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other words: I am a Mormon.
For those of you who do not know much about this church, please take a look at www.mormon.org.
Growing up I thought my parents knew all the questions I would ever have about church/gospel related things. When I entered my teen years I realized they didn’t know as much as I thought they did and I accepted that wholeheartedly. If my parents, who were 23 years my senior, still had questions then it was certainly okay if I had questions, too.
In fact, the think one of the best pieces of advice my mother ever gave me was, “If you don’t know, then ask.”
Since then, I have spent quite a bit of time asking questions and even more time listening to answers and doing my best to put my answers into how I live my life and how I raise my two children.
In my home it was always understood that we wore dresses or skirts to church. Pants were not allowed. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I saw women who regularly wore pants to church and it was always the same woman or two . It was rare and I always wondered (a better word would be judged) why they did that if the wearer appeared to be of normal health. Obviously an elderly woman with a walker wearing pants wasn’t at all an issue to me because it seemed safer than risking catching the hem of the skirt under a leg.
Over the last few years I started to see grown women wearing leggings under their “too short” skirts and it bothered me because the skirt was too short! Never mind that those same women were in fact dressed more modestly than others whose hem line was 3 to 5 inches longer when standing but would ride up and show an incredibly amount of thigh when sitting.
That skirt hiking was something I’ve fought for years and it drives me crazy. I prefer to keep my thighs covered so fighting my skirt and my toddler just doesn’t work for me. This means I wear far less attractive long skirts or maxi dresses. Yes, some of them are seriously cute but it’s not the same look as a knee-length pencil skirt.
Over the last few years as my weight has fluctuated with pregnancies, miscarriages, and health issues my wardrobe has been a mess. On many occasions I’ve stood in my closet in my bathrobe and lamented to my dear husband how much I hate my church clothes and wouldn’t be nice if I could just wear pants to church?
I must give the man some credit—he’s honest and open minded in so many wonderful ways. On several of the mornings where I mentioned my disgust at my wardrobe he’s told me, “Then just wear pants. It’s okay. “
But to me it wasn’t okay. I was raised in a home where you simply didn’t wear pants to church!
In December 2012 that all changed. I learned of an event put on by a group of (mostly) church members in support of gender equality within the church. As I followed the blog posts, comments, and Facebook page associated with the “Wear Pants to Church” event, I realized just how judgmental I had been with respect to something so simple as leggings and pants.
The group who organized the event, called All Enlisted, has this as the group description:
All Enlisted is composed of faithful Latter-day Saints, their allies, and advocates for social change. It is intended to be a place of action where active LDS men and women can engage in acts of peaceful resistance to gender inequality in the LDS church. Drawing inspiration from suffragettes and civil rights leaders, we aim to display a respect for personal revelation and community strength as we seek to build Zion, a place where we fully realize and embrace the truth that all are alike unto God.
We strive to keep our actions consistent with those of the Savior by showing a commitment to Christ’s injunction to love one another as ourselves. We echo the words of Gordon B. Hinckley when he said, “God will hold us accountable if we neglect his daughters.”
Logically and doctrinally, it stands to reason that women are equal to men in the eyes of our Heavenly Parents. Thus, women’s realm of influence is, and ought to be, much broader than those defined and promulgated by existing church policy.
By preventing women from fully participating in the church, many women who consider themselves Mormon feminists feel forced to choose between their divine nature as women, and the church organization they love. By equalizing the role of women in the church, all members will be edified as members make decisions based on personal revelation instead of rigid gender roles.
Equality benefits both men and women, allowing us to see our brothers and sisters as the Savior see them: as individuals with unique needs and talents and limitless potential regardless of gender.
Our group’s name reflects the belief that all members maintain responsibility to enlist in causes dedicated to improving the church.
While I do not agree with every aspect of this mission statement or group description, I agree with several parts of it and it put me in a position to start thinking in ways I hadn’t thought before. It was during this few days of introspection that it hit me: I was, in fact, JEALOUS of those women wearing those adorable skirts and dresses, looking fabulous, while I sat there feeling frumpy and fat and constantly fighting my clothing each time my toddler climbed in my lap or squirmed.
**I have quite a few opinions on equality within the church as well, but I’d prefer to keep most of those to myself for now.**
There was quite a bit of anger on both sides of the Pants event (those supporting it and those that didn’t). Because of this vitriol, I wanted to make sure that if I began wearing pants to church that I would be doing it for the right reason.
Leading up to this decision I knew it would be a lesson to me in just how deep my cultural roots go. How uncomfortable was I going to feel? Did it really matter if I was the only one?
This “wearing pants to church” was the first time in my life I’d ever done something I’d specifically been told not to do. That morning as I dressed I was filled with both nerves about what others might think as well as a sense of excitement the came from knowing I was supporting what I consider to be a just cause and knowing that it would not be the only time I wore pants to church.
I wore a pair of medium grey dress slacks, my favorite black wedge shoes, and a bright yellow fitted cardigan.
What I didn’t anticipate in all my preparation was the lesson I was given on compassion. The only time I’ve felt truly judged at church was when my husband and I had been married for almost 4 years and still did not have children. Week after week people would ask about our intent to have children. Some of it was “good natured ribbing” but some of it was hurtful. They thought we were putting off our family because my husband was in law school, because I was too busy making a name for myself at my school, etc.
What none of those people knew was just how hurtful all their comments were. My husband and I tried to get pregnant for a very long time before our eventual success. It was so hard to go to church, watching couples who had just been married have children while we sat there, childless, and being informed we weren’t good enough because of it.
In the end only my toddler and I went to church that day. My husband had to stay home with our oldest because she was sick. This meant I was the only adult who could help entertain our toddler and that she’d likely be in my lap, squirming, for a good chunk of the meeting.
I’ve never been so grateful for a pair of slacks in my life! My little girl squirmed, wiggled, and climbed and not once did I have to fight my clothing! As I sat there, holding her, I was able to turn my focus fully on the Sacrament (something along the lines of what others call mass), my Savior, and the speakers who taught of them.
I was filled with such a sense of peace that I knew I’d made the right choice. I know there were eyes following my slacks as I walked in and between meetings. Hesitant smiles and averted glances were noticed, too. Nobody was saying hello in their usual friendly manner. I felt it. And compassion for others who had felt left out filled me beyond anything I’d felt before.
I’d made the right choice. For the right reasons. For me and in support of others who have felt the sting of inequality and the bitterness of being judged.
Three weeks later I heard a story that will stick with me for a long time. My father was dating a women who had spent some time about 35 years ago not attending church. What is interesting is that her time away from church started on a Sunday back in 1974 or so when, as a teenager, she sewed herself a pair of culottes and wore them to church. As my dad tells it, she was treated poorly by her peers and their parents. She didn’t feel welcome and quit going.
I began to wonder how many other women, before and since, felt so unwelcome at church because of their attire that they never returned?
I know a little of what it is like to not fit in. It seems I am frequently on the outside of things and for a period of time in my life it really bothered me. For years now I’ve felt my divine worth as a daughter of God and the power that came with that knowledge has improved my life in so many ways. When I gained that knowledge, it made being on the outside a little easier.
I know a great many people who have not been blessed with that same understanding and strength; men and women alike who walk into the Chapel and immediately feel unease because they aren’t dressed as others are, because they believe they are alone in their parenting style, political beliefs, family dynamics, or because of reasons related to health, etc. It is a horribly unpleasant feeling.
If you have time, I highly recommend reading the stories of other women here:
As you read them, whether you are a “pants supporter” or not, you’ll see that something truly amazing happened: Women attended Sacrament meeting who had not been attending church for quite some time. This single event helped to bring daughters of God to Christ. And isn’t that what Sacrament meeting is all about?