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|December 17, 2012
This is Not a StoneFor The Love of Pants
by Hannah Bird
No matter what rock one shelters under it is impossible to ignore this week’s tempest in a pair of tasteful slacks. A feminist Mormon group called “All Enlisted” deemed Sunday December 16th Wear Pants to Church Day. Stephanie Lauritzen, group founder, has advocated this as a form of direct action to advocate for equality in the LDS faith. After a brief post-Romney reprieve from hearing about our underwear the whole world is once again talking about what Mormons are wearing.
In light of this unprecedented scrutiny, I feel mildly chagrined. My sartorial choices are largely based on what feels most like pajamas without looking like I am on my way to bed. But with the ante most decidedly upped, we now get to worry about what our clothes say. If I wear pants, am I saying I don’t sustain the prophet? That I want the priesthood? That I think it would be super fun to be on the high council? Does it say I want to be a friend to people who are struggling? If I wear a skirt does it mean that I am for oppression? Does it mean I oppose the application of some basic critical thinking to the ways we have always done things? Does it mean I disapprove of “those women”? It’s an academic argument for me. I don’t have dress pants. In fact my dresses are so comfortable I wear them all week, too. I do have one pair of jeans. But they have seen too many hours in the barn and neither prayer nor alchemy will get the manure smell out.
So it’s a dress for me. But I hope that any woman who chooses pants is treated kindly. I hope those that choose to wear pants feel whatever peace and comfort they are seeking. I have worn pants to church and don’t remember it as a huge watershed moment but here’s hoping it will be a lovely moment for those that desire it. I am fine with pants at church. I think women who wish to wear pants should do so without expecting a backlash. If what they really want is pants, let there be pants. But that is not what the originators of this event want.
The Facebook page announcing the pants heard round the world says, “This event is the first act of All Enlisted, a direct action group for Mormon women to advocate for equality within our faith.” Women are not asked to wear pants but rather a message, we are treated unfairly. In her blog Lauritzen refers to the church as “deeply flawed”. She says that she “think(s) it is time to think about ways faithful Mormon women can engage in peaceful resistance and Civil Disobedience. I'm a planner. I know plans take time, but what yesterday represented was a call to plan, and a call to act in the best way possible for all concerned parties.”
She wants the pants to mean something. And, that, I do have problem with.
First, I am sick to death of the Utah as Mormon culture mindset. To death. Those of us blessed enough to live in places that people actually like to visit see women in pants at church all year long. It’s not a revolution. It’s a practicality. But Lauritzen assumes that her experience living in Utah is somehow the complete perspective. I don’t want to scare anyone, but there are more Mormons outside of Utah than in it. Feel free to buck Utah Mormon culture all you want. I had to drive through the Wasatch front two months ago. After two hours of concrete and plastic surgery billboards (enlarge your breast with your own body fat!) , I am down with any insurrection that anyone wants to start. I will bring the pitchfork and torches. But do make the delineation between your culture and the church at large. There is no doctrinal or practical prohibition on wearing pants. Pants as civil disobedience is too silly to take seriously. To pretend there is makes the Gospel ridiculous and trivial.
Second, this Mormon feminist movement makes no attempt to acknowledge the history of Mormon feminism except to behave as if Mormon feminists get burned at the stake as they lovingly profess their total devotion to the church and it’s doctrines. I am not ashamed of the church’s history towards women. I am proud. Mormon women were encouraged to seek education nearly a century before that became a mainsteam movement for women. The founding board of the academy that became BYU had women on it. LDS women were given the right to vote before that gift came to other women in the country. The expectation that women were bright and capable has permeated the church from the beginning.
Third, I am attending Sacrament meeting not an event. I am there to take the sacrament, renew my covenants, worship the Savior and reflect on the fact that I was a jerk again this week and I should not have said that blue word when annoyed in traffic. My plate is full. If you would like to host an event, play fair. Don’t just label the place we are all going to be Sunday anyway your event. Sacrament meeting does not belong to Mormon feminists. Nor does it belong to Mormon anarchists, republicans, democrats, coin collectors, or ninjas. It belongs to Jesus Christ. I am loathe to sit in the congregation and watch anyone arm wrestle him for it.
Fourth, this is not how empowerment works. I know, it’s near heresy in this day of “raising awareness” and “speaking truth to power” to suggest that talking about things is not magic. But the truth is if you have to ask for empowerment, you can’t have it. As long as someone can bestow power or equality they can also take it away. If you are looking to the church office building or your Bishop’s office to make you equal, powerful, or important, you don’t understand how power works. I am already powerful, equal, amazing and important. It’s not because I wore pants to church or, like Lauritzen, decided to start helping my husband administer blessings or close a talk in my own name, it’s because I have things to do. And when the Lord gave me the specific responsibilities that he has he gave me the capability to do it. That is a gift promised regardless of gender. To place such hopes in pants or a day or Mormon feminism is to trivialize the work of each unique life.
Fifth, Lauritzen refers to Mormons as “my people” in what I can only assume is an attempt to give me a new facial tic. We are the Savior’s people. He paid a spectacularly high price to call us His. I am sure that Lauritzen is talking about feeling a sense of continued community with the LDS culture. But her claimed affinity for LDS women does not subject us to her conclusions. How patronizing is it for her to assume that she is better able to discuss and define my role in my own life than I am? If I have something to say, I will say it. But in the meantime, the fact that we both have uteruses does not make us interchangeable. While the Facebook page announcing the event and many of the comments refer to “faithful” LDS women, the writings of the woman who originated the event sound decidedly less LDS as she talks about the path of her faith culminating in putting away her garments and buying pretty underwear (again with the underwear). My greatest fear is that Lauritzen will use her participation in feminism to cry persecution when someone looks askance at her very real dismissal of doctrine.
Sixth, the horrible white male patriarchy of the LDS church is nowhere near as fragile and rigid as they are being made to appear. I know this because I have had my own epic battle with the church and LDS culture. Finally I sat in a room with area and general authorities and said my piece. My heart was broken. I would prefer now to think that I was emphatic and focused. An impartial observer might think I had been furious and belligerent. I was angry. And I spoke with anger. I sat in that room, woman though I am, and was critical, challenging and most emphatically equally privileged to speak and be heard. I was treated with kindness. But far more importantly, I was listened to. I was able to effect the change that my heart was breaking for. I didn’t ask anyone if I could be there or say those things or feel those feelings. I had work to do. I did it.
Wear pants if you need to. If that is where your heart is, do it. The fact that Lauritzen and other women are being attacked is appalling. We should have no tolerance for threats or stupidity of any kind. But don’t be sad when I do not think pants are brave or daring or empowering. I am doing a good work and cannot come down. I have been offered all that my Father has. You offer me pants. I’m good.
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