My wife wears the pants in our marriage. I’ll gladly admit it. I’m too much of a monkish personality to care about things like money and careers. I like sitting in my home, slowly transforming it into a monastery, living out a steady life filled with the litany of domestic chores and sitting at my desk writing out illuminated manuscripts. My wife, as an accountant, actually enjoys doing things like balancing the checkbook or making out budgets, so why not let her do things she actually wants to do? In the end, it works out pretty well for us, and though people are really wary sometimes about our supposed swap of gender roles, it makes our marriage run very smoothly. We’re very happy with the arrangement.
The problem is, while my wife can wear the metaphorical pants in our family, she cannot really wear pants in church.
Well, okay, she actually can — well, sort of. Mormon.org tells newcomer visitors that they should wear a skirt to Sunday meetings, if appropriate. Apparently, women who work as Church employees need to wear dresses or skirts to work. And while I’m not sure if they’ll turn you away from the temple if you wear pants, it’s highly discouraged to do so (if you’re female). What I thought was a cultural tradition actually kinda isn’t — it’s about as officially enforced as you can get without having the For Strength of Youth pamphlet specifically endorse it (I’m actually surprised it doesn’t, but that’s for another day).
So the question I have for you readers is, of course, “Why?”
Jana Reiss, who writes on the blog “Flunking Sainthood,” gives several reasons why she chooses to wear pants to Church (despite cultural and unofficial official opposition), including “Well, in all those dreams I’ve had where I showed up to church having forgotten my pants, nothing ever ends well.” She has some really good points. It’s easier to be modest in pants. When she works in the nursery, she has greater mobility in pants. When it’s cold out, it’s much easier to stay warmer in pants. So why skirts and dresses?
Ask Gramps, a wonderfully charming question and answer blog about Mormon subjects, tackles this one as well. He proposes that “Recommending ‘Sunday attire’ is a wonderful way to instill in our young people a sense and attitude of reverence to the Lord. Wearing dresses to church rather than casual slacks should be taught as an opportunity and a privilege, rather than as a restriction.”
But slacks being “casual” for women sounds a lot like more of that bizarre dichotomy that we erect for gender roles in the Church. Domestic work and primary care giving is the most noble and hardest work of all — unless you’re a man; then he is lazy and shirking responsibility. Slacks are casual if you are a woman — unless you’re a man; then it’s appropriate Sunday attire.
This subject is divisive. While looking for what others thought about this unofficially official “no slacks for girls” rule, I found several forum threads swiftly locked because the discussion took a turn for the worse by the third comment. The issue most likely smarts for many Mormons because it’s just another attack on the traditional gender roles we rigorously attempt to enforce. And in an age of gay marriage, abortions, stay-at-home dads, career moms, and easy-to-obtain contraceptives, anything that even resembles bucking the traditional gender roles (even women wearing pants to church or the temple) is paramount to high treason. Interesting indeed that from a sociological perspective, such a trivial thing (for our modern day) like women wearing pants could become such a powerful symbol for dissent, rebellion, or even apostasy.