I wore pants to church the Sunday before the Sunday before Christmas. It wasn’t any big deal in my urban ward where one or two other women wear pants on the regular. In fact, it was among the least significant of my many transgressions against Mormon culture and doctrine over the years. Maybe on par with the combat boots I wore with a dress last week? As far as I know, I didn’t cause any disruption.
I walked in to sacrament my usual five minutes late, during a hymn (if that doesn’t prove I’m Mormon, I don’t know what does), and the usual amount of heads shifted in my direction. I blame the bright red coat and the lack of husband and children in tow for that, though, not the pants. I took the sacramental bread and water, quiet as usual, head bowed. I sought forgiveness for causing contention in my church. After the first hour, I said hello to a missionary, visiting from California, who used to serve in our ward, who Robert and I used to have over for dinner and who maybe broke mission rules to text us restaurant recommendations in Chicago kind of frequently. He was also wearing pants, but the that’s not really unusual.
I volunteered a few answers during a second hour Sunday School class on miracles. I reflected on the many small events in my life I like to call miracles, never hesitant to chalk something up to the divine. That’s what Mormons do. I shed heavy, hurting tears when the conversation turned to the miracles that don’t happen. The tragedy in Connecticut. My mother’s mother. Robert’s oldest brother. The people I will never know. I thought about how wearing pants changes none of that, and how that’s sort of the point.
I taught the lesson during the third hour, that hour people not of our faith can’t fathom, not because of the subject matter, but because our services are just so dang long. Women and men meet separately in the third hour, and I prefer it that way, because I’ve never been part of a congregation where the women weren’t vastly interesting and insightful, and where they didn’t talk a little more freely when men weren’t around. We talked about how to forgive others, of the petty and horrendous, of the purposeful and the not. We talked about how to forgive ourselves. We talked about seeking forgiveness, from God and man. I didn’t say it, but I’d spent the week leading up to this lesson, no, my whole life, wondering how to forgive my fellow Mormons. The ones who don’t like the way I live. The ones who just want me out.
In the entire three hours, I exchanged glances and waves and small talk with three other women in pants, two men in purple ties, and one woman in head-to-toe purple because she didn’t have any dressy pants that fit. These are people I talk to every week anyway.
It was an average Sunday, a non-event, and completely as I expected. So why did I wear pants, if not to cause a stir? There are lots of reasons. People have written lots of words about why Mormon Feminists, as a group, chose a specific day to buck this cultural trend en masse. I tried to explain myself here and here. Others have written lots of words about why they, as individuals, chose to join us in bucking this cultural trend. Even though I think this event has already generated far more online noise than I expected (maybe even more than it warrants), I’m going to give it one more go.
I wore pants because I wanted to answer the question once and for all, can you be feminist and Mormon? The short answer: of course you can. Here is the long answer, bifurcated for people in both of the two worlds I span, people who couldn’t be more different, but who are united and determined in their insistence that Mormon Feminism is an oxymoron or, at the very least, a very stupid thing.
1) Non-Mormons: Mormon feminists exist. Yes, we know that the Mormon church is not a feminist organization. Neither was the legal profession. Neither was the United States for the vast majority of its short life. Neither was the skeptic community or the world of online gaming. And yet you don’t see women clamoring to quit their jobs, renounce their citizenship, or give up their passionately pursued hobbies. It is possible to be a feminist in a non-feminist organization. It is possible to hope and work for something better. I believe that the Mormon church is bigger and better than the way it treats black people and women and gays. Heck, I believe that people the world over are better than the way they treat black people and women and gays. I won’t try to convince you what I like so much about this religion, if you stop trying to convince me that everything I believe is wrong.
2) Mormons: Mormon feminists exist. No, we don’t want to be men. No, we don’t want men to have babies.* Feminism is not a fight for sameness. There are a lot of overlapping definitions of feminism floating around, and I’m partial to the snarky ones about equal rights and women being people too, but the best one I’ve read lately is from my friend Ru: “I just want to get treated as well as a man because there is no justifiable reason why I shouldn’t be.” Yes, I know that the LDS church talks a good talk about respecting women, and putting us up on a pedestal and all that, but the reality for me and many other women is we feel unequal. I know, it’s hard to argue with the feelings of a bunch of ladies. It’s just so fuzzy. You don’t have to agree with me. But you need to know that Mormon Feminists are, for the most part, past the point of wanting to liberate women who are happy with the status quo. Do I read parts of the LDS text The Family: A Proclamation to the World and feel suffocated? Yes. Can you read the same document and feel blessed and empowered fulfilling what you perceive to be your divinely ordained role as a nurturer (or provider, if you are a man)? Also yes. Can we worship in the same pews, sing along to the same hymns, and support each other as we confidently stride or blindly grope our way along the righteous path? Yes, yes, and yes. Am I on the clear road to apostasy? I mean, sure, maybe. I can’t tell you that. I can only tell you this is the road I was born the walk, the one my Mormon parents put me on, and no matter how many turns or about faces I make, I always find myself right back here, and my heart tells me that’s okay. Yes, I’ve prayed about it. Have you?
People keep asking me if Wear Pants to Church Day was a success, and my response is yes. Women wore pants to church. Women all over the world. People who’ve been part of this cause longer than me are calling it the largest concerted Mormon Feminist effort in history. What I’m most grateful for, though, is that people started talking about gender inequality, that thing that secretly pains so many of us, that drives us from religion and even faith in droves. I don’t want to force change upon the church. I only want to be able to talk about this, without my morality being called into question. The conversation that happened these last few weeks taught me that I operate from a very different starting place than many of my fellow Mormons, a place so different I almost want to shut my mouth and hide my head and never speak about my fears and beliefs and hurts and loves again. After all, what outcome could possibly be worth the slings and arrows and rejection? And then I imagine someday speaking honestly about who I am without facing fear, or suspicion, or righteous condescension from my faith community, in the place where I commune with God, and I realize, how could that not be worth it?
*That thing I said about not wanting men to have babies? Total lie. I’m smack in the middle of pregnancy now, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Robert that if that esoteric Mormon bit of doctrine/folklore that says I’m going to get my own planet turns out to be true, well you can bet I’m going to try my hardest to make it a planet where women and men share that responsibility.