Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wear Pants to Church Day: Silly Protest or the Beginning of an Important Conversation?

So, I've said before that I am currently protesting the protests and boycotting the boycotts.

I still am.

However, I find this protest interesting.

On December the 16th a group of LDS women are declaring it "Wear Pants to Church Day".
(Click here for the news article)

Their general gist is this:
"We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the LDS Church to acknowledge the similarities," the group’s mission statement says. "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."

Now, the church's statement on this is:
"Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ," LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Tuesday in a statement. "Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that."

So, basically this protest is NOT a protest against a church policy of any sort, but a protest against cultural attitudes, in my opinion.

Sounds fine to me.

I've long held the opinion that the general ideas and policies of the church support women and men equally. Sometimes differently, but equally. However, I have seen far too many instances when men and women in the church have outdated ideas of gender roles in the LDS church and in society.

I realize I am in a small predominantly LDS community so I do see concentrated doses of inequality on a regular basis. However, I have friends all over the world and I know these attitudes prevail in LDS congregations everywhere.

 I remember the first week we went to church in Rigby. One of the higher ups in that congregation got up and spoke of how to keep your kids spiritually safe. His solution: If your wife makes breakfast every morning from scratch, your children would grow up and stay close to the church. But, if your wife slacked off and served cereal or frozen waffles, chaos and confusion would reign. That was why he was proud that his wife made his entire family breakfast every single morning.


We came home from that church meeting and I told Sam I was sorry we were all going to Hell over my love of Cheerios. Bless him, he was cool with it.

This wasn't even the wackiest thing I've heard that just screamed "chauvinist" at church. I remember being "counseled" to dress appropriately when I was nursing a newborn and was a bit, ahem, busty for my clothing. I decided the best way to show less skin was to not pull up a shirt to nurse but go the other direction, which let to not wearing turtlenecks and more lower cut tops for easier access. I also had baby carriers on and that is a lot of fabric that covers a lot of skin if you know what you're doing (and I do). I also had a nursing cover that I frequently used. However, people were still offended. Um, why? Just so everyone is aware, there wasn't any baby formula when Jesus was a baby so I'm guessing he was breastfed by Mary. Was that offensive?

Why is nursing in a church meeting upsetting to anyone? When did that attitude begin? It wasn't the attitude of the church always. Check out this picture from an illustration of an LDS sacrament meeting in the late 1800's:

Do you see what I see?

Let's get closer.

See that guy sitting with the big nose? Check out the women sitting between him.

Oh, wait, no it isn't. Normal. Not a big deal.
(Click here for a link to the full post about these pictures)

So, when did the LDS community suddenly decide nursing mothers should be sent to Mommy Prison, I mean, the Mother's "Lounge" (people, those rooms are glorified closets and no one should be forced to go sit there. I've been crammed in that closet with 7 other mothers, 1 chair, 7 cranky babies and a half dozen toddlers/preschoolers who needed to hang out with mom. It was hot, so cramped and smelly. But, everyone there just seemed resigned to sitting in that prison instead of out in our pews where we had room for the older kids to color, it was under 100 degrees and we could actually hear the sermon. It was a joke and the last time I used that room

Now, don't get me wrong, I have had a few babies that I needed to nurse in more private place just so I could get them to concentrate on eating and not flash 100 people (because that isn't really the point of nursing and I do want to be modest), but I would find an empty classroom or the back of a room where I could comfortably feed a baby and tend kids if I needed to. I've also fed the baby DISCREETLY in a hallway full of people, in the chapel and wherever else worked for us. All mothers have that right, and members of the LDS church should be supportive of a mother actually MOTHERING whether they nurse or use a bottle. Both are normal and acceptable and should be welcome anywhere.

But, I digress.

Or, do I?

See, here is the deal. I personally don't care about wearing a dress to church. I like skirts myself and while I rarely wear a dress, I do wear a skirt every week. They are my fanciest clothing and I want to look nice for God. However, I've seen many a ladies pantsuit that was a million times nicer than my very best skirt. I've also seen some pretty immodest dresses at church. I don't know that I care about either on of those. We're all doing the best we can with what we have, where we are at emotionally and what we can afford.

Does anybody actually think God cares what we are wearing? It makes me think of the widow's mite a bit. It wasn't what she gave, it was the fact that she gave all she had that mattered the most. Who are we to decide how spiritual a person is based on their clothing?

Yet, I see these "rules" and attitudes rear their ugly heads over and over again.

I've actually protested church dress codes before. When I was single I went to Institute. That is young single adults (and newly married) church classes and events in the college phase of life for lack of a better description. (Give me a break, I'm doing school and parenting while typing.) Anyhow, we had monthly dances at the Institute. They were pretty fun, but apparently one of the men got his knickers in a twist at some point and he made a rule that the women could not wear jeans. It was implied that everyone needed to dress a bit fancier. Okay, fair enough... until I found out men could still wear jeans, no problem.


Of course, this really irked me. We were dancing! Dancing in a skirt is annoying! Why can't I wear jeans if a dude can? Ridiculous. If I'm dancing I need to be comfy. So, what did I do? I wore pajamas to the dance. Of course I was allowed in as the written (in fancy posterboard) rule clearly did NOT ban pjs. I'm sure I irked the powers that be, but you know what? That rule disappeared after a few months. It was stupid and unfair and I doubt I had much to do with the change, but I like to think I helped a bit. (Oh and by the way, that night is when I re-met the guy I eventually married... who was wearing jeans. He also kissed me in the parking lot. Or maybe I kissed him. Either way, win.)

I also wrote a letter protesting a talk I heard in a stake conference when I was a newlywed. One of the leadership gave a long talk about how inappropriate flip flop shoes were at church and they were not to be worn anymore. At the time I happened to be 100 years pregnant, extremely swollen, particularly in the feet and too broke to buy a new pair of shoes. So, I was living in my flip flops as my fat tootsies could spill over those puppies without blistering. The new "rule" was just silly and I said so.

I received an apology from the author of that talk.

(Now, don't get me wrong on that one, I understood the point was more "dress nicer for church", but I was bothered by the lack of thinking of people in ALL situations. At that time I was wearing my best. It was all I could afford and I really did wear my fanciest flip flops every Sunday. Who are we to judge another person's wardrobe? I ask this again because I really don't understand why we care what is on the outside of a person as it doesn't really mean jack about who that person is.)

Now, this all comes together this way.

In my ever so humble (and really unimportant) opinion, it is time for a conversation to begin among church members about gender equality in certain issues. Don't freak out, I'm not saying we need to give women all the same roles as men and vice versa. Not at all! I'm saying, we need to readjust how we view each other. Women can sometimes have more common sense than a man. Men can be crybabies. Men can be better nursery workers than women and women are capable of more than taking minutes in a meeting. If men can wear jeans and a polo to church (see it on a regular basis) why can't women wear a nice pantsuit? If a woman can bottle feed a baby anywhere, why can't she nurse a baby (yeah, yeah, if she is being discreet. Please, I see more cleavage when I look at a group of Young Women AND their leaders than I do in a room full of mothers. Seriously people, get over this one.)

This protest may start this conversation in a far less inflammatory way than if someone staged a nurse-in or a letter writing campaign or several other ways I can see people trying to change these old and stuffy attitudes. While I personally have no interested in taking part of this event, I don't have a problem with it either. I hope it does cause people to reevaluate gender roles in our church and some of the outdated attitudes we have.

Change is good. Peaceful, thoughtful change is even better. I'm very interested in seeing how this plays out and IF anything actually happens.


  1. Love this and completely agree. A change to bring us closer to God is, or should be, the shift.

  2. Depending on the temperament of my baby, I nurse in the back of Sacrament meeting with a nursing cover and in RS without one! I figure, Ladies, we've all seen it before. No one has ever said anything to me.

    I agree that this is a good conversation to have. (Not just about breastfeeding.) But every ward has different people in it and some are better about gender fairness than others. I've been pretty lucky.