Friday, December 14, 2012

show me how to open a box

I hope you will indulge me in a little faith-based musing.   Normally I keep my church stuff over on the other blog, but this one feels like it goes here. 

I am a feminist and a Mormon, and please, let's not dust off the old "but isn't that an oxymoron?" chestnut.  It was not an oxymoron for a woman to be a wife and also a suffragist, so let's drop that straw man for good, shall we?  Advocating for change from within a system, seeking to maintain what you think is good and prune out what you think is bad, is just as valid and honorable as seeking to divorce yourself entirely from something you can't wholeheartedly support.  Anyway, in the Mormon feminist community there is a plan for women to wear pants to church this Sunday--something that is within doctrine, but outside of social norms.  I'm not going to get into the reasoning, but you can get more information and background than you could ever want from the women over at Feminist Mormon Housewives, where you will find some interesting opinions and some truly idiotic comments.  There are also stories on By Common Consent and the Huffington Post, and you can do as much research as you want without me paraphrasing for you.  What I want to discuss/navel gaze about is what I am going to do about it. 

I have been wrestling with this decision for a number of days, seeking to understand what my motives would be were I to choose to wear pants this Sunday, or a dress like usual.  I have always worn dresses, because of social norms, and I look great in heels.  That's it.  I have no misconceptions that a dress enables me to better worship my Heavenly Father.  So I started thinking, what if I did wear pants to church this Sunday?  What would I be saying?  What would I be supporting?  What if I chose to wear a dress?  What would I be saying and supporting in that case?  I have been puzzling it out, and have decided that the situation is much more complex than I initially thought, and my motives for either choice were not totally pure.

I want to wear pants to show solidarity with my sisters and needle the people who confuse custom with doctrine, but I also want to show that I'm Smart and Progressive and Unique--just like all those other Mormon feminists!  Individuality through conformity, essentially.

I want to wear a dress because I think that wearing pants with an attitude of defiance and self-awareness misses the point and distracts from the goal--it's not about you, as an individual.  And most of the time I see someone protesting I wonder disparagingly how much they actually know about the cause they're supporting.  I usually assume they're just going along with a crowd whose approval they seek, and not thinking for themselves.  Also I want to wear a dress so I can wear my new boots.

Maybe wearing pants on a different Sunday would be better, because I would still be advocating for a cause I believe in, but I wouldn't risk being associated with an event about which your rank-and-file Mormon is not very educated.  Most people have had a gut reaction about it without examining their reasoning, and I don't want to alienate people who might be allies if approached in a different way.  Each case is different, and the approach matters.  But would wearing pants on a different Sunday lack the emotional heft that comes from women uniting together for a common goal?  Am I being a coward?  What if someone else in my ward wears pants and gets more feminist cred than I do? 

What I decided is that since my motives were corrupt in either case I needed to figure out what was best for me, in my situation, in the interests of winning the war, not the battle.  Our bishop is a wonderful, kind, intelligent man, and I like and admire him a lot.  He is very traditional, and believes in top-down revelation.  There is not a single decision, no matter how outlandish, he would not wholeheartedly support, as long as it came from higher leadership--but that's the key:  as long as it came from the top.  For example, he had no problem with the temple denying young women the opportunity to do proxy baptisms if they were menstruating, but as soon as the policy changed he was very supportive.  I believe in top-down leadership as well, but I also believe that pressure from outside and people working from within to challenge the status quo play an imperative role in effecting change for the better.  I think it's terribly naive to think that pressure from within and without the church have not affected the church's reversal of the priesthood ban or their changing position on homosexuality.  And, by the way, I'm pretty sure that the campaign of shock and dismay that I and my fellow feminists waged on the sexist and archaic proxy baptism policy was a motivator in the policy being changed. 

So, knowing what I do about my bishop, what effect would my decision to wear pants have?  I think--I'm almost certain--he would be fine with me wearing pants, but not with me being associated with a "cause," if you will, especially a cause that is considered by many to be attempting to disrupt the sacred nature of a Sacrament meeting by staging some kind of protest.  Currently, I am the Young Women's president of our ward, so I spend quite a lot of time with the 12-18-year-old girls.  I get the chance twice a week to share my worldview with them, to show them that their gender does not determine their worth, to inspire them to value knowledge and achievement and kindness and strength.  If I sow seeds of uncertainty, if I give the bishop a reason to question my judgment or my fitness as a YW leader, I might be jeopardizing my opportunity to give these girls what they need.  So I think for my particular situation, my particular ward and bishop, the right decision is to wear a dress this Sunday.  I feel a little wistful, but I intend to win this war. 


tipsybaker said...

What a quandary. Very interesting and complicated! I need to read more about the objection to pants before I fully understand.
I understand why you don't want to just "go along" with the protest.
But the last part of your essay in which you decide that you should wear a dress is the part that made me feel most strongly that you should wear pants! It is upsetting that your fitness to guide young women might be questioned because you chose to participate in a very mild-sounding protest.
I hope you will follow up and tell us what happens.

Layne said...

Oh, the objection is completely nonsensical. You will understand once you read the comments ("Why do you even want to be the same as men?" etc.)

But I'm reminding you--the approach matters. Am I losing the chance to get the bishop on my side by aligning myself with something that he might have a knee-jerk reaction to before he understands the issues? Am I presenting my position in a way that encourages sympathy or antipathy? I think we need to understand which battles are being fought where, and what tactics are going to be most effective in the long run. If I lived in Salt Lake, or if I weren't the YW president, or if this hadn't blown up and gotten so much coverage it would not even be a decision.

I'm not saying I won't change my mind before then, but for now I think this is the most effective approach.

tipsybaker said...

I don't question your decision for one minute -- you know the situation firsthand and the characters involved and what's at stake.
But reading it from a distance, the freedom of women to be uppity without repercussions seems more important than the right to wear pants!
On the other hand, is this the hill you want to die on, so to speak? Clearly not. And I can see why.

Layne said...

Right--because in my particular situation, I suspect that if we handle it right, nobody's going to have to die on that hill at all.

It's maddening to me that this is even seen as uppity.

And when you think about what happened in Connecticut this morning, pants vs. dresses sure seems like a silly thing to be worrying about.

Jenny said...

First of all, I want to see your new boots. (Post pics!) Second of all, I love wearing dresses and skirts and have even considered buying a new one for Sunday. And third, my biggest issue with all of this is that Sacrament meeting is not the appropriate place to try to make a "statement". It is to take the sacrament. Who cares what people wear. They wont be turned away! And lastly, I think I'm going to get sushi tonight because I'm feeling sad about being alone all weekend.

All8 said...

This must just be a Utah thing going on. I've only read about it from people that live there. (You, Cjane, and Middle Aged Mormon Man, except he doesn't live there, but he must be close.) It's not unusual for women here to wear pants but it's not the norm either. Everyone is welcome.

For me, sacrament meeting is the time for me to renew my covenants with Heavenly Father and reaffirm my commitment to be a disciple of Christ and that's the kind of statement that I like to make. And, oh yeah, there are other people there, doing whatever their conscience dictates too.

One of my concerns with the pants wearing bit is that it's from someone who is, by their own admission, an apostate. I can't follow that, no matter what it looks like on the surface.

All8 said...

Hm, there was a post on Mormon Mommy Wars too. Interesting.

Layne said...

All8--in the articles and interviews I read both Sandra Durkin Ford and Stephanie Lauritzen describe themselves as faithful and active, not as apostate.