Wearing the pants

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.

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4 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion

4 responses to “Wearing the pants

  1. Mike Jensen

    I have had the same question for a long time. Always wondered what would happen if my wife just started wearing pants to church. I find it hard to believe this practice will continue forever. Good post.

    • Ted

      Thanks! I find the practice somewhat bewildering myself, since I can’t really think of any super good reason to continue it, though maybe someone will enlighten me (if there really is a good reason for this trend, I would honestly really like to know).

  2. I’m entirely fine with women wearing a pantsuit to church (that seems perfectly reasonable). Discrimination even when it’s clear that a women is dressed professionally, nicely, and reverently is certainly not cool. (I mean, we don’t generally approve of)

    But again Ted, I feel like you’re comparing apples to oranges, to some degree or another. To compare women’s being pushed into wearing dresses as unfair requires some sort of comparison? Is the Church’s position on this actually arbitrary, or does it have some basis that simply hasn’t occurred to you? Not that we won’t see more women in slacks, but we give them a lot of freedom with what to wear in general to begin with, even at church– such freedom seems lacking for men. White shirt and tie, and a suit, maybe a little bit of western wear, depending on wear you’re from (I don’t know what’s generally expected in other countries or the pacific islands, I do understand there is some flexibility though).

    Maybe what it means culturally for a woman to wear pants is the important point here. Why has ‘the church at large’ or what-have-you defined slacks for women as being generally casual? Well, why has the church at large enforced men wearing white shirts to pass the sacrament? Well– maybe it’s because the world wears other kinds of collared shirts for various things?

    My question is not whether or not the intolerant attitudes are okay… they are generally not okay (intolerance of intolerance or what-have-you opens a can of worms there…). But what valid reason is there for attempting to stand apart from the world– to distinguish ourselves from it– to say in essence with our mode of clothing and style of dress that we are different, that we are as has been said ‘a peculiar people’.

  3. Ted

    The desire to be “peculiar” or to stand apart form the rest of the world is a reasonable one, I will admit. It’s much like the whole white shirt/tie issue. Like you, I think it’s silly if someone goes after a woman for wearing reasonably sharp pants to church, and it’s just as silly if someone goes after a man who is wearing a blue shirt.

    However, men have the whole “white shirt and tie are the unofficial uniform of the priesthood” bit going on. Women don’t have quite the same…justification? Reason? Spiritual significance behind wearing skirts/dresses? Again, I suppose you could say the whole Sunday reverence bit comes in, but then that just brings up the same question — why are reasonable pants not okay? To me, the whole “white shirt and tie is the unofficial uniform of the priesthood” bit carries more gravitas than “women should wear only skirts/dresses to church because it’s…” what? Feminine? Motherly? There’s more confusion behind why rule exactly exists, and I think that’s what brings about a lot of the sharp contention surrounding it (including the whole gender role thing).

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