Monday, February 4, 2013

Who wears the pants

I wore pants to church yesterday.

(I like pants. I own lots of pants. I wear them a lot. Actually, I wear them almost every day and often at night. Funny how it can suddenly be hard to find pictures of pants when you are looking for them. I evidently I also like crouching down in this position while wearing pants!)

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Normally I wear a skirt or a dress to church, but I finished a case in the OR earlier than expected. I changed out of my scrubs and into my dingiest jeans (which I just happened to be wearing on my way to the hospital that day). I figured I could catch the tail end of church but it meant I would have to wear my jeans if I was going to make it. I didn’t worry about what people would think. I didn’t feel like I was making a statement. I put on the best of what I had hoping to receive a little spiritual pick-me-up. I felt a little bad about what I was wearing, but only because of how dirty my pant legs looked after trudging around in the melting snow outside. Not because the fact they were pants…


This reminded me of a post I started a few weeks ago but never finished. Maybe it is time to post it…


There was recently a bit of a stir in the Latter-day Saint community. Strangely enough, it had to do with something that most people do without a second thought: wear pants to church.

Okay, that needs some clarification, WOMEN wearing pants to church.

(To clarify, these are my own opinions. I don’t mean to sound judgemental or self righteous or like I have all of the answers. I don’t feel threatened if you disagree with me and I actually probably understand your point of view, maybe agree with you at least partly. But here are my thoughts on the subject weeks later, hopefully after some of the emotion died down.)

Unfortunately, there are evidently a number of women in my church who feel they aren’t “allowed” to wear pants to church. Sure, there are no rules that state you can’t wear pants to church (in fact, I don’t think there are any official rules about what clothes are worn to church, as long as they are worn), but the culture has overwhelmingly been one of women wearing dresses or skirts. I don’t find this strange or alarming as women in the US often wear dresses to events where they are supposed to look nice (prom, weddings, funerals, …the oscars). I may not choose to wear pants to church regularly but I certainly wouldn’t feel bad if I did.

Evidently there is a feminist undercurrent that feels the women in our church are discriminated against or treated unfairly. I know this is a common perception of others on the outside looking in. I think this has a lot to do with the large number of stay-at-home moms and a more traditional family view in our church which may seem “old fashioned” and for some perhaps even “oppressive.” I have heard a lot of comments from others wondering if women are forced to stay home or why more women don’t work. This certainly appears strange to some but it is usually (or at least hopefully) something the couple has decided together. It also has to do with the fact that the Priesthood (what we believe is the power of God on earth to perform His work) is only given to men in our church. However, while I have had my fair share of wondering my place with God as a woman (especially after reading the Old Testament), I feel very strongly that I am in equal standing with the men in my church. There are surely examples of bigotry and prejudice in any congregation but in my experience I have found and hope these to be fairly isolated.

It seems so few men these days want to grow up. There are articles all over the internet and the news about the Peter Pan complex complex of boys who want to remain forever in Never Never Land. Men who play “Call of Duty” all day and live in their parents’ basement. Men who aren’t willing to take on the responsibility of work and a family. With this in mind, I don’t feel threatened by a church that asks men to GROW UP. To be a man and to look outside of himself and to help others. I am proud that my husband has extra opportunities to be nurturing and to serve others which is what the Priesthood requires and I don’t think I need to take that role away from him to feel better about myself.

In an age where women “can have it all” and do/be whatever she wants without a man (including in some instances make a baby with test tube sperm and no real man in her life—something that in the past always “took two”), I am happy to hit snooze on Sunday morning while my  husband is up early performing his “Priesthood duties.”

No one wants to feel unimportant and unneeded and I think letting the men have one job that we don’t get to take away maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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And maybe when I get up, I’ll put on a pair of pants.


Sarah Kubus said...

The "event" a few weeks ago disappointed me. I find it very sad that the women involved feel that it is necessary. As you said, I absolutely feel equal to the men in our ward.
If I had to wear pants to church these days, I'd be a bit worried that I was going to be judged, *but only BECAUSE of the recent pants-wearing event.* I would worry that people would think I was trying to make a statement.

Jenna said...


I felt like you expressed your views in really respectful ways. Unfortunately I find the approach of "Well I don't feel unequal, my feelings aren't hurt, so I don't see why you would feel that way" to be very disheartening, and rather un-Christlike. For me the only approach is one that seeks to understand the pain and suffering of others. It might not mean you agree, but at least you acknowledge that those negative experiences and associations exist. Because even though no one ever said anything to you about wearing pants to church, which is great, that doesn't mean that it hasn't been said to hundreds, probably thousands, of women who have worn pants for various reasons over the years.

And of course thsi is about more than pants. This is about young men and young womens programs not being funded equally. This is about the entire ward gathering for an eagle scout program and no one showing up when a young woman gains her medallion. This is about women wanting to do nothing more than hold the baby they carried and labored to birth during the baby blessing but being told it "isn't allowed" with no good reason being put forth for why that isn't an option. This is about twelve year old boys telling their female counterparts that they are "better" because they have the priesthood. This is about women stranded and alone feeling like they have to call a stranger to bless them or their children because they have a vagina instead of a penis.

By Common Consent has had some excellent posts related to women praying in conference. This one made me cry:

And these two are moving as well:

And I won't even get started on the "Men need this because they are inferior" claims. How is that any better than women being suppressed and abused for thousands of years because they are the "fairer sex"? Sexism is sexism, no matter who it is being targeted toward. I can assure you that my husband has never needed to priesthood to force him to "own up and grow up".

AJ said...

I have worn pants a few times to church--and they were by no means my "Sunday best". Instead, I wore cargo pants covered in five days worth of filth, dusty hiking boots, and had my hair pulled back into a sloppy pony tail. And forget about the make-up--I'm not even sure I could say that I had showered for several days before attending church. But, I knew that I needed to go to church and that my Savior would be happy to have me. What I wore was less important than being there to be spiritually uplifted and show my commitment to my Lord. And it was going in that filth or not going at all. Fortunately, I had a great ward (and while I'm sure I caused some confusion and likely some judgement, no one said a word). Perhaps it's also helpful to say that I was ready for comments and had already mentally prepared myself to not take offense and recognize that any backlash would be a result of judgmental and rude people, not a reflection of my religious institution. Or the Lord.

From what I know of you, Erin, I think you have a fair and balanced perspective on this. I wouldn't say that you merely haven't experienced sexism and thus, haven't any context to show empathy toward others. Instead, I think you have faced sexism head-on, yet have chosen to take those experiences as the weaknesses of a few individuals, instead of placing judgment on an organization as a whole. I remember when you were told you shouldn't be a dentist because you were a woman and needed to wait until you weren't marriageable anymore before you could pursue it. And I also remember how people would ask you if you were in dental school to be a dental hygienist or assistant--because women, LDS women, aren't dentists. We've talked about how people assume you are selfish because you have a prestigious career, which means you obviously have no intentions of having children. But you do not play the victim, in spite of these hurtful comments.

I do not want to downplay that there are women who have been treated poorly. Or who feel oppressed and wonder their place in the world and in God's eyes and perhaps in His church. I feel empathy for them and wish that they feel the comforting love of the Savior and Holy Ghost. But, I'm also not sure that means you have to feel guilty for not feeling the need to advocate for "equal rights"--and especially the priesthood.

Personally, I am grateful for the partnership I have with my husband and grateful I do not have to worry about that level of responsibility. I have a hard enough time balancing everything else as it is. And personally, I am grateful that my husband and other men we love and admire can bless my babies. Otherwise, what else do we leave for our wonderful men if we bear the children, feed the children, and also administer blessings to them? It is an honor to sit in the stands while I listen to the beautiful baby blessing of my child delivered by my righteous and amazing husband.

**After all, we can argue whether women should be able to have the roles and responsibilities of men and we can probably make that feasible (although perhaps not appropriate in the Lord's eyes). But what about the other side? No matter how much we argue for the fairness and equality of it all, men can never be pregnant or nurse their children--and that's merely because they have a penis and not a vagina.

Abby said...

I think your post is really well written, Erin. And to AJ's comment...YES. Very well put. Especially the parts about you, Erin, having definitely experienced these things firsthand as a woman who works full time in a very demanding career and has not yet had children.

To Jenna's comment, I would say that I definitely see a lot of her points, but they miss the mark for me a little bit. I heard a lot of people use the argument that she used in her first paragraph to say why others should support "wearing pants to church." Because even if you haven't experienced feelings of hurt or insecurity, it is Christlike to acknowledge that others have. And that's true, but why do you have to wear pants to do it? And should we have a "wear X to church day" for every issue or hurt feeling that people have regarding the church?

The bottom line is the above paragraph is kind of irrelevant because she's right that the pants day wasn't about the pants. It was more about what she indicated in her second paragraph (mostly dealing with various ways women are unequal in the church), so if you wore pants, you would be assumed to be in favor of changing those things. Various people could argue all day about how much the items she listed *should* bother women in the church, and how things should change. I personally see the validity of some of the viewpoints much more than others, and don't disagree with a lot of it. I have beliefs about the Priesthood that I won't get into here, but I understand women who worry about it, even if I don't feel the need to advocate to hold it myself. But if you didn't want to make a public statement in support of that type of equality in the church, or just didn't want to make a public statement one way or the other because you *just want to go to church and think about the savior, darn it, let the revelations come as they come,* that's your right, and I don't like the "it's Christlike to support the cause because you sympathize with others who feel unequal" argument. Empathy, from what I gathered, wasn't the bottom-line here. Feminism and equality in the church was.

Here in Boston it seemed a little silly. We had a group of young women stand up and sing in sacrament meeting that day. In the group of about four, one was in `sweats and another in jeans. That is what they wear every Sunday. To be honest, it made it seem a little like a disgruntled rich girl problem, if I'm being honest.

I do agree with Jenna that men don't "need" the Priesthood to be good, and Erin I don't think that's what you meant either. I know both her husband and yours, and don't think either of them need it to "own up and grow up." In fact, the thought of Abe falling into that category is so silly, isn't it? He's probably the last guy I know who would qualify:) You got a good one! (I'm a little biased, but...)

Okay. Longest blog comment I've ever left! It's kind of fun to get in on the discussion.

Erin said...

Thanks for all of the commments everyone! I really appreciate the feedback.

Anonymous said...

I support the whole pants thing, not as an attack to the rest of the church, but simply as a means of progress for women overall. My generation just simply isn't okay being told what to do because they were born with the wrong kind of genitalia, and I feel like a lot of members just took the pants thing too personally; it's about being able to wear what you want to wear without the rest of society judging you for it.

Slut shaming? That's the big thing right now. Just the idea that if a woman wears the wrong kind of clothes, she is 'asking for it', she's a 'whore', she 'just wants attention', she has 'no place in society'. She is suddenly blamed for the things that make her happy, because an observing man thinks tasteless things about her. Wow, rape culture!

And hey, it works on the opposite side of the spectrum too! A woman still wears the wrong kind of clothes, she is a 'prude', she just 'conforms', she isn't 'pretty enough'! She is blamed for thinking she is better than everyone else for meeting her own sense of comfort.

So, it's hard to argue this in a church setting. How do you argue that it's okay for a woman to feel okay about her own happiness when it's linked to wearing short skirts and having sex with people before they're married? Well, it's still her choice, and in the church, that basically just translates into, "I feel comfortable wearing what I choose, not what I feel like the person sitting next to me in church expects", because we all know that stigma is there, but I think we've all had that one leader as a kid who told us that we, as women, couldn't do anything but prepare to be a homemaker someday. Can we pretend it doesn't exist? Yes, and that's why things never change.

Feminism ain't bad. Feminism simply means allowing women to be treated with the same respects and rights that men expect to receive every day. Human equality, man.

and I know this is a dodgy topic, but I feel like everyone should kind of educate themselves on both sides. The generation before mine grew up in an era where feminists were bra-burning heathens, but what is honestly so bad about human equality? What is so bad about being able to feel comfortable about your body and not have the rest of the world throw you on a pedestal to be raped, only to blame you?

Marisa said...

Hi Erin,
I appreciate you sharing your opinion, it is always hard to put yourself out there especially when there are some that might not agree. I thought your post was very honest and open, and as you said in the disclaimer at the top, it showed your opinion, which inevitably may not be shared by others and that is totally okay. Opinions are just that and should not be criticized by those who disagree. In no way did I find your post to be judgemental, offensive, or anything of the sort, in fact I felt that you did a great job of tackling what is obviously a very charged topic in as lighthearted and open a way as possible.

I am not LDS so can only relate to what you describe from an outsider's perspective. I have always been in male-dominated fields and certainly understand the inequalities between men and women particularly in the work place and in accomodating family situations. I think most women would agree that there remains room for significant improvement in supporting women to acheive balance in their lives, and the "having it all" argument has certainly taken interesting turns in the last year. Whether you raise a family or work full time the best thing you can do is represent yourself honestly and work as hard as you can, and I have hope that the rest will follow if we lead by example.

Keep up the honest posts, if it strikes a cord with someone that is okay. As we all know by now people will have different opinions, all that matters is that you stick to yours!

Erin said...

It's nice to see some comments and some real discussion. I've responded to some posts privately. I did have a few more thoughts I wanted to share.

Thank you anonymous for your comments. It takes guts to talk about these kind of issues. I agree feminism often gets a bad rap. I consider myself a feminist because I am an advocate for equality and women's rights. But I was saddened by your comment about being born with "the wrong kind of genitalia." I am guessing you are just trying to make a point or are putting out a conversation you feel you have heard from others, but I think this is a really disheartening comment. No one should feel like they have the "wrong genitalia." It doesn't make sense and we definitely have something to strive for if people feel that way.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by a "rape culture" and I certainly disagree with anything that would be that way. Rape is horrible and inexcusable and no one EVER deserves that, no matter how she dresses or acts or how promiscuous her past.

But, I also as an advocate of women, think that covering up a bit more makes sense. We are trying to empower ourselves and be valued for who we are and not our bodies, to be legitimate and equal to men, but it seems we are so susceptible to dressing in a way that objectifies ourselves and sends the very messages to society that we are trying to overcome. It is hard to take someone seriously as a business woman if she is showing too much leg at work. It may be difficult to recognize the girl on a date as smart and funny when her cleavage is doing all the talking. I think if women feel empowered by dressing a certain way, they should have the freedom to do so. But I think they should also understand that it comes with consequences. People do make judgements and I think we should think about the message we are trying to send when we get dressed to go out.

And I also agree that it feels like we just can't win. You do cover up and you are a "prude."

Being a woman is hard! But I do feel lucky for how far we have come. I hope I can contribute to helping us get farther for my own daughters (if they come). I just hope we aren't our own worst enemies.

Claire said...

Erin, Thanks for the great blog post. I wore pants on "pants day" and occasionally wear pants otherwise to church. I, like you, typically wear skirts because I don't get many chances to wear skirts in my professional life and personally see a skirt as "dressing up" for church. Many women and girls wear a pair of pants to church as part of an outfit because it is the nicest thing that they own or they simply want to come to church regardless of what they are wearing. Or perhaps they do not like to wear skirts. The notion that we must conform to a traditional norm in order to worship is what I want to see change. I appreciated Abby's comments about Boston, we just recently moved from Boston where young women routinely wear jeans, but are welcomed openly and feel that they belong.

The fact that the "pants day" ended up having so many feminist issues and battles linked to it was a bit frustrating. I simply saw it as an opportunity to make a quiet point about increasing acceptance of all women and all forms of dress to our meetings. Yes, there are other issues of inequality that feminist Mormon and non-Mormon women are tackling, but I feel that these dialogues are largely separate of what someone wears. I do, however, respect that some people see things differently and felt it best to combine all their emotions into one quiet, nonconfrontational act of wearing pants. For me it wasn't that complicated.

Most of my personal ideals and feminist motivations center around trying to increase opportunities for girls and women to become leaders, feel empowered, and take on opportunities of responsibility in the church and in their lives, not just in families. Women have great opportunities in families, but the church is lagging behind the rest of society in allowing opportunities for other responsibilities to women. Church culture still inflicts a sense of "outsider" mentality on women who work outside of the home, where I simply see women who work outside of the home as wanting opportunities for leadership, development, financial gain, and service outside of a religious context. These women may either 1) want to work and feel fulfilled by their work, 2) have to work, 3) see economic opportunity to seize, or 4) get bored or feel underfulfilled by rearing children/family life alone. The reality is that in many church congregations across the world, the majority of women work. In the age range of 25-34 in the United States, more than 80% of women perform some type of paying labor.

I am very happy that women like you, Erin, are paving the way and becoming leaders in their fields. I, too, hope to be a role model for girls and women in the church that you can strike work-life-religious practice balance and have fulfilling opportunities within and outside of the church.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog, Erin. I'm not LDS but I am a female OMS. I can say that at least in my experience I have encountered less sexism, hazing behavior and unveiled contempt from the (*many*) males in the profession who are LDS. I can assure other readers that you have faced down more bias with a smile (lol or not--sometimes an eager-to-please smile is lovingly and firmly witheld for total inappropriateness) in the OR than you will have to in a lifetime of service within your spiritual family. I enjoyed coming across your reflective and discussion provoking blog. Thank you. Sarah

Erin said...

Hi Sarah, I am so glad you found me and decided to comment. I love connecting to other women in our profession. I feel like there are so few of us. Your words really meant so much. That was a lot of what I was trying to convey so thanks for saying it better than I did. Please keep stopping by. Would love to hear more of your perspective.