The idea of dressing up for worship is an old one, and a common one in most Christian churches, though more and more churches these days have adopted a come-as-you-are attitude that encourages people to come to church with a focus on worship and not on the dress of those around them. I have no problem with this, because I’m most comfortable in jeans and t-shirts every day of the week.
However, I also really love the idea of dressing our best for the Lord. As someone who wears jeans and t-shirts every day of the week, I enjoy making a distinction on the day that is set aside for worship. Sunday is a special day, separate from the rest of the week, and when I put on my “Sunday best”, it’s helping me to make that distinction.
I own a very nice pair of gray slacks. I bought them years ago to wear to work, and I pull them out every once in a great while now that I no longer have a job that requires business casual attire. I also own a denim skirt, which is very clearly denim (in other words, not so dark it could be mistaken for navy cotton). It is socially acceptable (within the Church) for me to wear my denim skirt to church, but not my gray slacks. Why is this? If we are supposed to wear our very best for the Lord, why is it acceptable for me to wear something that would be rejected at most jobs that require people to dress up (for example, can you imagine a female senator or governor showing up for work in a denim skirt?), but it is not acceptable for me to wear pants that are much more dressy?
A group of women have organized this Sunday, December 16, as “Wear Pants to Church Day”. They are encouraging women to take this tiny baby step toward a little more equality in the Church and wear “...not jeans, or sweats, or yoga pants, but dress pants. Tailored suits and flowing shalwars and holiday-appropriate black velvet. Pants that are modest, elegant, and feminine, and not at all out of place in a church house (not that we think you need to be any of those things to worship God!).”
Their purpose for this event? “…to give voice to and express support for women who don’t conform to traditional gender roles and those who seek gender equality in the LDS church.” There are those of us out there who, for whatever reason, don’t fit in to the traditional gender roles defined by the Church. Women who feel uncomfortable at church. Some may still continue to attend, some may not. Everyone has their struggles, and until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s wrong to judge them.
I guess now is a good time for me to come out and say it: I am a feminist.
I’m also a Mormon. It’s kind of an awkward place to be.
Now, before folks go getting all riled up, I’d like to address the term “feminist”. See, there are certain individuals out there with a public presence who try to silence women, especially strong women, by distorting the message of feminism, and calling us belittling names like “femi-nazi”. We are not demanding to be the same as men. We are not trying to take rights away from men, or to make the world entirely gender-neutral. I’m proud to be a woman and happy to be different from men. What I’m hoping for, and praying for, is the equality that should be extended to all of God’s children, regardless of race, religion, or gender - the equality that is lacking in so many places and points of view. As Sandra Ford said in her recent post on Feminist Mormon Housewives:
"We envision a world where we can participate fully in our religion, where we are afforded the same opportunities as our fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons: a place where programs for girls receive funding on par programs for boys; a place where young women are encouraged to serve missions on the same terms as young men; a place where women can finish their schooling without being criticized for putting off marriage and pursue careers without being condemned for abandoning the home; a place where mothers can bless their sick children and preside alongside their husbands in the home; a place where our spiritual progress is based on our worth as individuals, rather than on our relationships to the men around us."
I like being a woman; I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to be better than the men around me. I don’t want to have more than them, or be above them in any way. I simply want to be equal.
I consider us a feminist family. Ask Chris; he’ll say the same. (In fact, sometimes I think he’s more of a feminist than I am.) With three daughters, it’s important to both of us that they grow up to be strong, independent women, that they are sure of themselves and comfortable with who they are.
This is not about the Priesthood. Over and over in the Church, women are placed second to men. The budget for youth programs for girls is much smaller than it is for boys (the Young Men and Young Women programs generally have the same budget, but the Scouts often have an additional, separate budget even though they fund the same boys; Cub Scouts get a rather large portion of the Primary budget, but the Activity Days girls don’t generally get a budget at all). I was fortunate enough to grow up in a part of the world where the Boy Scout program was not part of the youth program at church, so our activities were pretty similar, but I dread the day when Vicki, who would spend all summer at camp if we let her, realizes how many camping trips the boys take and how much more money is spent on them compared to the girls. This is one reason why we will continue with the Girl Scout program in addition to the Church programs, at least as long as our girls want to. Women do not give the prayers in General Conference, though two or three may speak over the course of the four general sessions. The Priesthood session takes place the same weekend as the general sessions, twice a year, but the sessions that are specific to women take place the weekend before, are referred to as “broadcasts” rather than “sessions”, and alternate between the Relief Society in the fall and the Young Women in the spring. Women are not called to positions such as Ward Clerk or Sunday School President, even though neither of those callings is a Priesthood position.
The fact that women do not hold the Priesthood in our church is not why I will be wearing pants to church on Sunday. Maybe women will hold the Priesthood one day, maybe they won’t. But I hope one day my daughters will be able to walk into church in a nice pair of slacks, maybe chat with the people in the next pew about the beautiful prayer Sister So-and-so gave last week in General Conference, and then send their daughters off to Young Women, where they’ll make plans for their next camping trip.
I believe in a loving Savior who knows me as an individual and loves me for who I am and who I want to become. He knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and, most importantly, He knows my heart. His Gospel is a gospel of love, of understanding, of forgiveness and mercy. When I show up in Church on Sunday in my gray slacks, I believe He will understand why I am wearing them, and He will be proud of me.