A new Mormon feminist organization called “All Enlisted” has declared Sunday, December 16 “Wear Pants to Church Day”—an event conceived as an expression of Mormon feminist visibility and solidarity and a gentle challenge to traditional gender inequalities in Mormonism.
I spoke to event organizers Sandra Durkin Ford and Stephanie Lauritzen. Both are self-described faithful, “active”(observant) LDS women, and both are Mormon feminists.
RD: Tell me about All Enlisted. The name comes from an LDS hymn, right? “We are all enlisted ’til the conflict is o’er…”
SL: I started “All Enlisted” because I have sensed growing frustration in the Mormon feminist community that we talk a lot, on blogs, on Facebook, but we never take direct action. I thought, “Maybe there is a way to take all that we’ve talked about—more equitable roles in Church—and to make them happen through some peaceful resistance to cultural norms.”
SDF: All Enlisted is a group of Mormon feminists who identify ourselves as active members, believers, people who are committed to the Mormon church but who would like to stop talking about equality and starting acting on it. Following civil rights leaders, suffragettes, our heroes in the feminist movement, we wanted to start engaging in peaceful resistance to gender inequality in the Church.
How do you define gender inequality in the LDS Church? Those who don’t understand Mormon feminism often reduce the issue to the question of women’s ordination. But for Mormon feminists, it can be more complicated.
SDF: The women at the Mormon feminist group LDS Wave have a terrific rundown on inequality in Mormonism, including:
“I feel unequal when there are more (a lot more) men’s voices in religious texts, meetings, leadership positions, and decision-making bodies.”
“I feel unequal when callings that don’t necessitate the priesthood are given only to men: Sunday School Presidency, Brigham Young University Presidents, Church Education Commissioners, Ward Mission Leaders, recommend takers at the Temple, etc. (Similarly, men are not currently called in Primary Presidencies and could be.)”
“I feel unequal when women doing the same job are called by different titles (i.e. Sister vs. President) and/or are accessories to rather than serving equally with their husbands, i.e. Mission President’s wives.”
“I feel unequal when my value is primarily linked to being a wife and mother rather than by being a child of God.”
“I feel unequal when the men in my life acknowledge that they have no female spiritual leaders in their wards or communities.”
“I feel unequal when women have less prominent, prestigious, and public roles in the Church, even before and after child-rearing years.”
“I feel unequal when males handle 100% of the Church finances.”
“I feel unequal when I am taught at church that my husband presides in my family, he is the head, and all things being equal, he has the final say.”
“I feel unequal when people preach that men and women are completely equal and in the same breath say the above sentence.”[Read the entire article here.]
So given the dimensions of traditional gender inequality in the LDS Church, why pants? How does wearing pants to church constitute peaceful resistance to gender inequality?
SL: We planned “Wear Pants to Church” Day to raise awareness and visibility: to allow Mormon feminists to say, “We’re here, we’re all in this together, and we’re ready to work to make the Church better. We’re faithful. We’re serving. We’re ready to work.” We also wanted a gentle first step—the action doesn’t even break any LDS Church rules.
SDF: Women wearing pants to Church is not prohibited by Church policy, doctrine, or scripture. No Church leader has ever told women they can’t wear pants on Sundays. There are lots of statements from Church authorities encouraging people to dress in their Sunday best. But women wearing dresses to Church is simply a gendered custom. With this action, we are challenging a gendered custom so as to become visible as Mormon feminists to each other and our wards.
So many Mormon feminists have felt obliged to silence themselves at church or stop attending church altogether. Is this why visibility is one of the goals of “Wear Pants to Church Day”?
SL: Mormons wants to feel like they belong, that there’s a place for them—and as long as people don’t know that Mormon feminists are in their families and wards they inadvertently forget to make room for us or they don’t know how to make room for us. Many Mormons inadvertently say things in Sunday School that are alienating to progressive women. We want to see that alienation stop. Once we become more visible, people will be more conscious of their words and their effects on people in their congregations.
“Wear Pants to Church Day” has elicited quite a reaction already.
SDF: The reaction has been entirely unexpected, first in size—we didn’t think we’d find this many supporters or detractors. I was expecting this would be a way for me to find Mormon feminists in my family and ward. I thought we’d see each other in pants and get the conversation going. I could have a nice open dialogue about it. I was not expecting that this event would force us to explain feminism to people who have never thought about it. That’s a big surprise. It’s important because it shows that substantial dialogue about gender hasn’t been happening. Feminism has been so silenced that Mormons are not even used to talking about gender issues out loud. Clearly, it’s time to start talking.
SL: I am quite surprised at how explosive the pants thing has been. It has been covered by all the television news networks in Salt Lake City, by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Associated Press, and the feminist blogosphere. Within the world of Mormonism, it has struck a nerve in positive and negative ways. There have been some incredibly nasty comments online and personal messages to organizers. I’ve been thinking about why the reaction is so negative, and it clearly comes from a place of fear that allows Mormons to justify acting online in ways they’d never act in person. People call for the excommunication of women who would wear pants and cite the loving example of Jesus Christ in the same sentence. But the positive comments have been wonderful. Early on, one woman wrote in, “These are my people!” I feel like everyone wants to belong—being Mormon is your tribe. When you feel isolated from your tribe and find people in your tribe who are the same—for example, other Mormon feminists—you realize you are not alone.
Time and time again, Mormon feminists have been presented with or forced into a false dichotomy—either you are excommunicated or leave the Church or you accept everything in Mormonism as divinely appointed and infallible. This “pants” action carves out a broader middle ground where people who love their Mormon faith can begin to engage more thoughtfully with limiting aspects of the tradition that are traditional rather than doctrinal.
SDF: One of the things I’ve seen in the group on the event page is people who are not going to agree with us. And I’ve had some of these people say, “that’s okay—we agree to disagree.” That really shows that there is a middle ground. We can all go to church together even if we don’t agree. It’s hard to see that sometimes in the more confrontational and nasty things people have said online, but I expect that in real life we can have a perfectly pleasant conversation.
SL: I am amazed at just how eager Mormons are to profess their faith and their hope for a better Church at the same time. There are so many really earnest, very devout people who do see room for improvement in how our religion is run.