Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Pants Party: A conversation between Nick and Maren

Right now the entire family is getting ready for church, just like any other Sunday.  Except today is a bit different because Maren is wearing pants.  Classy dress pants, mind you, not skinny jeans or cutoffs or yoga pants, entirely appropriate for board meetings, job interviews -  and church.

Today is special.  Many of you may have heard of the Wear Pants to Church Day movement via Facebook or any number of other sources (we've seen stories in the LA Times and on, among other places), but in case you haven't, the Facebook page for the movement is here.  This is an activity to bring awareness to unequal gender roles in the church by members of the church, and we are both participating (Nick is wearing purple in support).  

We are taking a departure from our family pictures (more coming!  the break has been temporary!) to give you an insight as to why.  We've co-authored this post as a conversation between us to explain why we feel this is important, and we're using our real names (instead of the traditional Witch/Warlock monikers) to underscore our seriousness.  So, with that as a background, Maren, why are you wearing pants today?

M:  Well, I know that all week a lot of people have been saying this isn't about the pants.  The pants are a symbol for our pushback on an LDS culture that we think is irrational.  And that's true and important.  But for me it's about the pants as well.  Pants are practical, modest and comfortable, and with my calling in the Young Women I want to show the girls that they have options.  I like dresses and skirts, but pants are a valid, respectful option.  I'd love to see sister missionaries allowed to wear pants, but it's just not done.  And I think it's weird.

N: Yeah, I think it is really a metaphor for the entire movement.  There's nothing in any policy that says women can't wear pants.  The church itself released what was effectively a no comment statement earlier this week.  But there seems to be this unwritten order of things, this set of cultural norms, to which women are expected to conform - it includes pants, but goes much further than that.  

M:  Right.  The organizers of this have a list of the sorts of things that make them feel unequal as women in the church.  Not one of them is about getting the priesthood, by the way - these are all things that can be fixed without changing that.  Although you and I have different viewpoints on women and the priesthood. 

N:  Yes, I think the priesthood should be given to women outright, based on my own self interest and on strong precedent in church history (some scholars argue that women already have it, and it merely need to be recognized).  But even without taking that step, there's much that can be done to address the issues.  Like letting women pray in General Conference, for example, as one very small starting point.  

M:  Or letting us be involved with the finances of the church - it's completely opaque to us right now.  You know how it works to some degree because you were the ward clerk for a while, and you have that experience, but no woman has ever done that.  And it's certainly not because there are no capable women.

N:  Right.  And then there's the issue of priesthood executive committee meetings.  This is the committee that sets direction for the ward.  Every ward has a PEC, but it's made up of men only.  You're allowed by the handbook to invite the Relief Society president for certain things occasionally, but she's not a member of the committee.  I know of wards where bishops - smart bishops, I would say - just make it a standing invite, or do away with the PEC and just do things in the broader ward council, but that is not normal at all.  

M:  But we sound like we're complaining more than we mean to now.  We happen to belong to an efficiently run ward, and I am content with my role as a woman in the church.  Today isn't about complaints but awareness.  I am participating today because I think the way things are currently run is very limiting and that the church has been culturally outgrown.  I believe we need to stretch if we want the church to continue to grow.  But I have a question for you.  You've been very passionate about this, much more so than I, and were the one who informed me about it.  You're a guy - why are you participating? 

N:  Well, a few reasons.  One is that I feel a duty to make up for all my years of being an unintentional chauvinist.  Maybe I still am - you can tell me!  But I know for those first few years of our marriage I was out of line and quite domineering.  Nothing physically abusive, nothing legally wrong, but morally I think I was suspect at a minimum - largely because of my cultural baggage from the church.

M:  Yes. I remember those years.  It was a bit annoying.  But there was another experience you talked with me about that involved Pippi, our 11 year old daughter - what about that?

N:  Oh, right.  Pippi and I were on a car ride talking about things - boys, school, that kind of stuff - and she asked me why she doesn't get anything when she turns 12 like the boys do?  Why do they get the priesthood and she gets nothing?  What is her importance?

M:  And there's not a good answer for that.  Traditionally we've said things like, oh, well, you get to be a mommy. The Young Women program now is really focused on empowering our young sisters within their own families, in their roles as daughters and sisters in preparation to be mothers.  I remember clearly as a young woman feeling very powerless in that regard, and a little scared, knowing that I was reliant on a man to give me purpose and help me fulfill my role in a church that equated priesthood with motherhood.  As I've gotten older I see how ridiculous this is.  Fatherhood is equivalent with Motherhood. 

N:  And to me, the answer I most often heard - that's the way God's plan works - is even more ridiculous.  The God of that viewpoint is the same God who said multiple wives are cool but black people aren't.  That God is a jerk, and I don't believe in him.  

M:  Yes!  Cultural tradition is not the same as Truth.  And cultural tradition is a determiner of doctrine along with Truth.  We have such a bad history with polygamy and racism, and because of that history  I think it's even more important to take a quiet stand.  We both love the church and are very much committed to it - and I think we're all that much more concerned about this particular problem.  You know much more about the history than I do but it seems to me that the rhetoric we're hearing from people that are opposed to this movement is just about identical to what you heard in the 1960s and 70s when there was a push to give black people the priesthood.

N:  You and I are too young to really remember that, of course, but based on what I've read that certainly seems to be the case.  And if that could change, this can too.  But you mention the opposition - that's what has really surprised me about this.  I mean, this is just women wearing pants and quietly sitting.  How can you get offended at that?  But the original Facebook page - whoa!

M:  I didn't actually see it - you did, you told me about it - but wow.  Some of the things on there were horrible.  Blatant sexism, telling the women to just leave the church already, calling them lesbians - it was terrible, for a bunch of people professing belief in Christ, it was beyond disgusting.  And you can't just explain that away as internet trolling.

N:  As an erstwhile troll myself, no you can't.  And then there were the private death threats!  The organizers received private death threats that were serious enought that law enforcement got involved - apparently involving some BYU students, it seems.  These women, mind you, are active church goers.  Not everybody participating in this is an active member, of course, but just about all the people I know that are participating are faithful members with testimonies.  It leads me to think that the problem is worse than we thought.

M:  Well, and that reminds me of the conversations we had with some friends last night.  These friends - none of them are Mormon, but they all know about this movement - have all been very encouraging, after getting over the initial shock that something like this is even needed.  One of them said, what, 50 years too late?

N:  It's not that this isn't an issue in other churches - it definitely is.  But you've said more than once that we're going to start losing smart, intelligent women over issues like this.  That's not to say that smart, intelligent women won't remain too, but we're going to lose a lot of people that we'd like to keep.  We need to give people reasons to stay, not reasons to leave, because heaven knows we have enough of the latter.

M:  This isn't just about women, though.  I think that the term "priesthood" has been used an awful lot lately to describe things that are completely irrelevant, everything from cleaning the chapel to putting away chairs to moving people into houses.  It's used as a cudgel to beat men into compliance with whatever thing somebody wants to get done, a mechanism to guilt trip.  That's not right - it cheapens priesthood terribly.  More than once I've heard you say that if they are going to use the priesthood to guilt trip you, you'd as soon not have it.  And I think the men should move people and clean the church and chop wood for widows and repaint house and all other good things, just as the women clean apartments, make casseroles, and help care for each others children.  We do these things as disciples of Christ, because they need to be done and we have the power within us to do them.  If this is what the priesthood is, then I think the women already have it.

N:  True.  However, I think by having women participate on an equal basis in the management of the church - whether or not you call that "priesthood" - you are going to get rid of that cultural baggage.  And that's what it is - cultural baggage.  It's my invariable experience that having women participate fully and equally at the highest level of anything makes things better for not only women but for men as well.  I've been very blessed to interact with some fantastic women in my life in addition to you - my mentor at my first job, for example, or the women I work with now.  They are all amazing and talented and have made my professional life much easier than it would be in a single gender dominated workplace.

M:  You've definitely benefited from following the lead of women! :-)

N:  I think we both have some specific ideas about things we'd like to see changed - letting women perform healing blessings like they used to, for example. But this conversation is already pretty long, so we should probably wrap it up even though we both have a lot more to say.  We're both pretty convinced that we're going to be the only people at church in pants/purple; what are your goals for today?

M: I just want people to think about it.  I want them to think about why some women might feel marginalized in our church.  I want women to think about why they often feel nervous when leaders are in the room, and I want to infuse the women with confidence.  I want people to feel empowered to use their talents.  And I think things can be different in the organization of the church and have it be even better.  What about you?

N:  I think my main goal is to send three messages.  The first is to my daughters - this is how I feel and won't apologize for it, and neither should you.  Second, I want to quietly make my views known to others without being insulting or in-your-face about it.  There are a lot of people who don't know anything about this movement, of course, but for those who do, I want to tell them that I support it.  It's much harder to be dismissive and openly hostile to something if somebody you know is supporting it.  I hope saints who know but for whatever reason are unwilling or afraid to show their beliefs - and I understand the many reasons why that may be the case  - can take heart that they are not alone. And I want to let the leadership know that I think changes need to be made.  All in a very subtle, very inoffensive way.

Epilogue:  We wrote most of this before church today.  Maren wore her pants (and was quite fetching in them!) and Nick wore a purple shirt and tie.  We didn't make a big deal about it.   One other brave woman in our ward also wore pants, and there were a smattering of purple ties, dresses and blouses (perhaps coincidence, perhaps not).  The stake president noticed both of us separately and made a point of saying hello and noticing; we are pretty sure it was not a coincidence.   If his knowing that two of his parishioners feel this way is all that came of things, we both think that this weekend was a success.


Anonymous said...

One small correction: No one was clamoring for the blacks to get the priesthood back in the 1970's. Very little questioning went on in those days...

niku said...

Let's just sweep that little tidbit under the rug, shall we? ;)

Actually, there was a movement from within leadership in the 60s, but it was shot down by a few key people. I can't speak to the general membership of course, although some of the ugly incidents that happened with the BYU sports team had to have been on the minds of a few people at least.

Erin said...

You guys are fantastic. I admire your bravery and very much wish we were in the same ward...or state. Phil's my only local feminist ally (although, he's a great one to have!)

I've gotten a lot of push back from family members/facebook friends about this issue. They take it as a personal assault, despite my calmly reasoned and loving attempts to explain otherwise. Phil and I wore purple---a lot of purple--like Elton John purple--to church today. I'm not sure if it was noticed or not. I did get a few glances. I plan on fitting pants into my regular Sunday outfit rotation.

Finger Slinger said...

After I had Malea and became active in the church, I had a lot of questions specifically about the sexism and gender roles that I saw. Due to the way women are treated in the church I chose to not raise my daughter in that environment. I love the church and strong beliefs towards the teachings of the church, and I still feel strongly that I am Mormon...but I can never allow my daughter to be taught that she is "less" simply because of her gender. I applaud you guys for taking a stand for what is right.

The Silly Witch said...

Finger Slinger, I've been pondering your comment. I am stunned. I am so sorry that you felt that whatever benefits the church had to offer you daughter was negated by the church's inequality in gender roles. That is why I wore pants. We aren't drawing people in the way we need to. And the Church of Jesus Christ has beautiful beliefs. It's so sad that the only way most people can object to a policy without upheaval is to vote with their feet. But I'm not leaving. Ever. And I'm taking my children to church. Some of Pippi's greatest mentors are women in the church, because many LDS women are strong, capable women who know who they are. Hearing my children sing the primary songs that I sung as a child brings me great joy. Quinn is not a fan of church or church clothes, but when church is over, he is happy. He feels loved. I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint and I would sacrifice all my feminist leanings for it. But I don' have to. I can think what I want and just wear comfortable, sensible pants whenever I want to. Love Ya!

Finger Slinger said...

Unfortunately inequality in gender roles was only part (certainly a large part) of why I chose to not raise my children in that environment. If only it were as simple as what clothes to weat to church. There were several other reasons...too many to list on a blog :) I have learned after all these years that God loves me and my children, no matter what church we attend or don't attend and I'm grateful for His influence in our lives. Feminist leaning aside, I made the choice to be inactive because it was what I felt was the best decision for the well-being of my children. Even though we don't attend church and my children don't attend the Wednesday activities, I am so grateful to be able to continue teaching my children a way to live that I know God approves of and that He loves us no matter what.
But, because of the acts of members such as you and your family, I can look forward to a day in the future when the church believes and acts with the belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God.
Love you too! :)