Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why Women Wore Pants or Purple Today

I am Mormon. I live it. I love it. I can not imagine a life without it; these are my people and I have made covenants that reflect my faith in an eternal plan of salvation and happiness. I have no desire to separate myself from my faith. My life is fully entwined with my religion. I like it this way.

That said, the gaining, and keeping, of my testimony has not been without some difficulties. There are aspects of the church (which in some regards is separate from The Gospel in my mind) that at times rear up to confront me. Most of them have to do with 'policy' (which is not to be confused with principles of doctrine.) I feel it's part of my journey here on earth to explore these things and it seems I am continually doing so. I am still faithful, I am still learning, and I am still able to put my hardest issues on a shelf and go about my Mormon-church-entwined life because the parts I believe, I believe in so strongly.

However, I have seen, up close, people like me face times where they can not see around their struggles and are suffering for it. I have stood in many a position of judgement over the course of my life toward people like this--even to the point of assuming there must be a 'sin' that is blocking their ability to believe, which is sometimes true but not always and not really any of my business--but my heart is changing and I am seeing things differently than I have before and gaining a fuller understanding of how very personal our personal journeys are. I see people leaving the church because they feel it's 'all or nothing' and they can't swallow the 'all' anymore. These are people I love, my people. Amid these people are women who have been told it's inappropriate for them to go to church without pantyhose on (three years ago), who are told the main reason for modesty is to keep men's eyes from wandering (within the last year), who have been told that their husband has the final say in serious matters taking place in their home or marriage and they need to submit to those things without question (my whole life.) None of those things are true, and yet there is a 'cultural' expectation among some members that they are and it's reflected in lessons, conversations, judgements, and 'policy.' The faith of some begins to fray after years and years of comments such as these and cause them to question why are they being told things in direct contradiction to what their heart believes--that they are a daughter of God, equal in every way to God's sons. Why is their church not telling them what God tells them?

The campaign to wear pants to church started as a way for Mormon feminists to identify each other and show their congregations that they exist and that they want what is taught in church to reflect what they feel in their hearts, they want equal consideration for non-priesthood callings, they want to be acknowledged as contributing members regardless of whether they become a wife or mother, they want to feel like an equal voice in their ward councils.

 I am not a feminist, so it wasn't until I saw the backlash against the pants-to-church idea that I began considering joining the effort, not because I personally feel the same hurt these women feel, but because I've felt different hurts and I have found such comfort in finding people I can talk to about those things and who love me anyway. Mormon feminists often feel that the only way they can be 'in' the church is to keep their opinions to themselves, that if they express their concerns they will be labeled as unfaithful, man-haters, in want of the priesthood, questioning God, or not believing in prophetic counsel. It can be hard to have to keep silent and hide your questions in a church that asks for your heart, that binds you together as saints, and assures you that every sparrow matters. These women are reaching out to be 'seen' and to be heard. They want to feel as though they belong, that their fellow Mormons want them here; that there is room in the Inn for them despite the questions they are seeking answers to.

Wearing pants isn't about 'pants' or wanting to dress like a man, it's about making a point that there are cultural expectations within out church in need of re-thinking. It's never been a commandment that women wear dresses to church (in fact Brigham Young once designed a pant-like outfit for women to wear that he felt was more practical than a dress; it was deemed 'hideous'), but we have been told to wear out 'best dress' and culturally this has become dresses. When women wear pants to church (which many do, especially outside of Utah) they are sometimes viewed as breaking some commandment (which she is not.) The point of wearing pants and breaking that gender mold today is an example that other gender-specific molds need to be looked at. As the movement gained attention, it was offered that those who were uncomfortable with the idea of wearing pants, or for men who wanted to show their support, could also wear purple, a traditional color or suffrage and solidarity. The goal of the pants and the purple is to allow the issue to be seen and, hopefully, be pondered upon.

There is historical precedence to asking for consideration of policy in regard to religion:
  • In the Old Testament women approached Moses about their right to own property. He took their concerns to the Lord who answered with a change to a 'cultural' norm.
  • Emma Smith approached her husband with concerns about smoking and chewing and both the poor manners associated with it and the low-quality habit of the actions. Joseph Smith took it to the Lord and a change was made.
  • Until the 1920's, the temple garment Mormons wear after getting their temple endowment covered from ankle to wrist. By the end of that decade, it was changed to cover the shoulder to knee. This was understood to have been changed because many voices asked why it was the way that it was. It turned out that ankle to knee was primarily due to fashion at the time the garment was introduced (50 years earlier.) With changes to the 'temporal' dress of its members, and no spiritual significance to having so much of the body covered, the garment was changed.
  • In 1978 all men, regardless of race, were giving the opportunity to hold the priesthood after the leaders of the church inquired of the Lord about it which happened AFTER church members asked why it wasn't already that way.
  • Just last week the Church created a website offering a compassionate hand to people struggling with same sex attraction. I believe this was brought about because many members of the church have questioned the hard line approach the church leaders have taken in the past.
I have to wonder what other things God is waiting for us to ask for. Is it not a reflection of the agency He has given us that we have to ponder on these issues for ourselves, then go to Him for help, and THEN get an answer? Is that not the nature of prayer we have been taught? Could this movement be the starting point for people who have not spent any time considering gender inequality to do so? Could it also be a balm for those who have felt wrapped in their concerns about gender inequality and want understanding and change?

I, personally, have not been hurt by the gender inequality I see (it is certainly there.) I have followed a very traditional role in my life and have felt very supported in those things by the church. BUT, as a sister to every other women in this church, if they are hurting, and I can see why the hurt is there, I can feel it too. As a mother of three wonderful, and very different, girls, I realize that they will have their own struggles of testimony--which may or may not be about gender inequality--and I want them to know those concerns are valid and are worth seeking answers to. I want them to know that they can have a testimony of parts of the gospel while still working toward other parts--that they don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater if there are aspects they aren't reconciled with. I want my son to be mindful of God's equal love for women and men; that because he holds the priesthood does not mean he is more loved.

So, I did not wear pants to church today--though the decision to wear purple instead was made just hours before my worship services. I was prayerful and thoughtful about the decision for days and in the end felt that to wear pants seemed to say that this issue was in my way personally, which it is not. But I did wear purple, and my husband did as well, to show our support of their feelings and to encourage understanding of this issue. I only had one person ask me about it, and she seemed disappointed that I would support this effort but had also heard that this was brought up by a group who wanted a woman prophet. I explained as best I could that it was not about that; I'm not sure she was open to my answers. My husband had one man ask him if his purple tie was for the effort, when Lee said that it was, the man laughed and nudged the man next to him, saying Lee was a feminist. No women in my ward wore pants and though some were in purple, I don't know if there was purpose to it.

I realize that some people are offended by members choosing a time of worship to 'protest' anything. I don't see this as a protest, and the reason for choosing Sunday service for this event is because that's when we're all together; that's when this would be noticed. I hope that those upset about this effort reach out to find some comfort for their hurts, that they--like the Mormon feminists who are searching--can also find their answers. I hope that the time and the way that this was chosen to be 'seen' doesn't stand in the way of all members of the church aware of the effort to look deeply enough into this issue to see it for what it is, to at least consider the concerns being presented.

I hope the answers all of us find will be ones of peace, and hope, and love.

My church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Christ stands at the head. It's focus is on eternal salvation, which is, in a nutshell, the chance to maintain the same bonds in heaven as we have on earth. Each and every member of this church is on their own journey (as is everyone in the world.) Each and every member of this church will face trails of faith. Each and every member of this church will have to make choices in regard to how they move forward, how they worship, how they love, how they give, how they serve.

Should the day come that my difficulties rise up to the point where I feel unwelcome; where I feel like these women feel, I hope, hope, hope that people will embrace me anyway, not shame me for my feelings or tell me to get over it, but remind me that I'm a daughter of God, that he wants me to find the answers I am in need of, that I'm on a journey, and that my doubts don't make me less worthy of their support and love. I believe God wants us to explore our doubts and learn from them.

So, to the Mormon Feminists out there who were hoping to be seen, who started something small and watched it explode into ugliness:
I see you.
We see you.
We need and want and love you.
There is room here for everyone.

For more information on this issue, here are some links:

Joanna Brooks: Religion Dispatches

Washington Post Blog


Marion Jensen said... are my hero. I know that for you, these sentiments go beyond just words on a blog. I've seen you live the sentiments you so expertly described. For one who has felt at times hurt, lost, and unwelcome, it is people like you that inspire me to always call the Mormon people "my people." Thank you for this post.

Melanie Jacobson said...

Yeah. I wore purple, and a skirt so I could change into pants after sacrament meeting if I saw anyone else in pants that might want my support. But as expected in our conservative OC enclave, it was all skirts. And that's fine, too. :-)

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Jos, you said it so much better than I could have myself, and I agree with every last word. Love you much

Brooke said...

Beautifully written. I love your thoughts on this. Thank you

C.J. said...

Like Marion, you are my hero as well. I have tears as I feel your full support for me as your friend, and your sister in the gospel. I posted your blog on my timeline. I hope your post gets read by all. Change does require some asking as you so eloquently said. I hope all those angry judgmental people who wrote against this small gesture of solidarity read your post. I hope they understand that was in no way disrespectful of the Lord or the church. And by my definition and I mean this
with the greatest compliment--you are a feminist.

C.J. said...

My husband says WOW!

Anna Maria Junus said...

Huge applause from me! You expressed this so beautifully and eloquently.
I have seen statements on Facebook from people who so obviously don't understand. I will be posting this link to my facebook so more people can read this.

This should not have turned ugly. As LDS people we should be supportive of each other. Not threatening.

Whit said...

The founder of the pants wearing Sunday said this, "We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS Church today stems from the church’s reliance on — and enforcement of — rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality."

Because I don't believe that there is doctrinal inequality I chose not to participate.

However, I do agree that PEOPLE are the far most important part of all of this. I saw comments on both sides of this discussion that I feel were hurtful coming from children of God.

We should all love less and judge more and your post shows you for the loving person that you are.

Marcia Mickelson said...

Beautiful post, Josi. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully, beautifully said, Josi. I loved the ending paragraph especially. It is such a gift to "see" someone, to love them, and to support them. God bless you.

Abby said...

I'm so glad I saw this, Josie! I didn't know anything about this until this morning... (Where was I hiding?) Thank you for your thoughts. There are things here I want to share with my children... especially the part on growing testimonies.

Anonymous said...


My mother sent me your post. Thank you for your support to this cause. Your comments are appreciated and spot on.

I myself could not wear purple, because I was unable to attend yesterday. I love hearing the stories of those that did. I am sorry that you were criticized for wanting to start conversation on the topic.