Today is the second annual “Wear Pants to Church Day” hosted by the Feminist Mormon Housewives. As I’ve written about before, I support this group and their activism. It’s not often you see a group of activists try to change their church from the inside, but that is exactly what they’re doing. I don’t go to church, nor am I Mormon, but today as I logged onto Facebook, my timeline was flooded with photos of Mormon women and their daughters dressed in pants. One woman even wore purple pants and her husband wore a pink skirt in support. How awesome is that? I’m standing in solidarity for them today and wanted to share some of their interesting thoughts about pants and authority and rebellion.
One blogger, Marjorie Conder explains the history of women’s vulnerability in skirts in a blog post written for fMh. During her research, she’d learned that many women died by fire historically speaking. She explains that:
So many traditional female tasks involved fire—cooking, heating water for washing, keeping a home warm, etc. Instead of skirts, that could so easily catch on fire, why hadn’t women worn pants? I realized that there had to be larger social forces at work, and that even the women had bought in to those ideas. (Emphasis my own.)
Conder explains the history behind women wearing pants: During World War II, millions of women went to work and realized that skirts were not only not functional, they were dangerous. She goes on to say:
At the close of WWII with the big national campaign to have women leave the workplace and return to her “proper sphere”, at home, skirts and only skirts were seen as proper attire for women. It is a rare ad, up through the 1970s, for any household product that did not depict women in skirts. Meanwhile real women were wearing slacks more and more while housekeeping. At first the national rhetoric was that even if you wore slacks at home, you certainly wouldn’t wear them anywhere else, like shopping. Such silliness never got legs. Still there were conservative pockets where skirts and only skirts were deemed respectful. Courtrooms and conservative Churches were the last holdouts.
Conder is right. Even in evangelical circles or corporate environments, skirts and dresses are the norm for women. Women rarely go against the norm, even if they’d rather and even if it’s more practical to wear pants. Conder finally explains the heart of the matter for Mormon women wearing pants in protest: “In having the option to wear slacks, women assert their right, both literally and symbolically, as beings to ‘act for themselves and not to be acted upon‘. (2 Ne:26) This idea is right at the core of our beliefs about choice and accountability.” (Emphasis my own.)
Another fMH blogger, Anne Peffer also links gaining authority to wearing pants. Peffer also explains how Mormon women can recognize the “language of submission” and replace it with the language of authority in this powerful passage:
Mormon women generally understand a lot more about speaking the language of submission than they do about speaking the language of authority. And the deep physical sensations we feel in the presence of authority likely evoke the language we’re most familiar with using. When a Mormon woman interacts with a priesthood authority, her bodily sensation determines her initial response and the language she is most familiar with determines the way she communicates that response.
If she feels respect and honor and speaks the language of submission, she will do as she is told. If she feels anger and rebellion and speaks the language of submission, she may cry, scream or make nasty accusations. If she feels extremely threatened, she might remain silent. Strangely, obedience, expressions of despair, passionate rebellions and silence have much in common: they all demonstrate that one is more familiar speaking the language of submission than the language of authority.
Maybe what Mormon women need is both a greater self-awareness of their own physical response to authority and a greater intellectual understanding of how to speak the language of authority. Then, upon interacting with authority figures, there will be less a sense of intimidation and more a sense of solidity and purpose.
The language of authority includes speaking in calm, purposeful tones. It includes eye contact. It includes a resolute determination that one’s own beliefs and actions are valuable, defensible, and even right. It includes carefully and genuinely listening to others’ ideas and then repeating one’s own argument — several times if necessary — even when others don’t agree. It includes being cognizant of one’s own sensations of honor, fear and intimidation and allowing those sensations to move through one’s self and then to dissipate so that one’s own position can again be clearly stated. It includes smiling and speaking to bishops and stake presidents and others who wield control over our lives with the same tones in which we’re accustomed to being spoken to. These men are our equals. (Emphasis my own.)
Wear pants this Sunday – and every Sunday if you wish. And if and when you begin to experience a bodily sensation you associate with authority, give the sensation a name. Decide if it’s fear or rebellion or honor. Let that sensation pass through you….. through you and out of you so that you can move on to other things.
All you need to do is remember the language of authority. Listen. Speak calmly and purposefully. Be respectful. Use eye contact. Smile. Repeat your position and don’t back down. Listen more. Repeat yourself more. Speak with purpose, having knowledge that what you are doing and saying is important. Know, feel and understand your own very real authority. Let your awareness of your own authority be the new sensation you feel in your bones. You have power, too.
To join the Feminist Mormon Housewives in solidarity, you can join the Facebook event or wear pants and/or purple to church. To find out more about the Feminist Mormon Housewives, check out their website.