The Politics (say it ain’t so!) of Pants

Sorry, friends: I apparently can’t stop myself from weighing in on Pantpocalypsalooza (term borrowed from someone cleverer than me), so if you can’t stand to hear any more about it, I’d stop reading now.

The Wear Pants and Start a Feminazi Riot Facebook page is still just as hopping as ever, now that Wear Pants and Satan Wins! Day has come at last, and since I have a lot of end-of-semester work to do right now, naturally I can’t tear myself away. Among a lot of ridicule, snark, misspelled rants, and the occasional oasis of reasonable conversation, one note strikes me over and over and over: Sacrament Meeting isn’t the place for protests. It’s offensive that you want to politicize church. This isn’t the time or place for it. You’re missing the point of the gospel.

(Personally, I suspect this is a subconscious smokescreen. I doubt those pushing back on the pants in Sac-Meet thing would be comfortable with a Mormon social movement no matter where it happened; I think the idea of movements for change coming from within the Church is, for members who imagine a wholly unified and bounded with-us-or-against us body of Mormonism, unsettling. But I’m going to table the authenticity for these arguments for the moment, in order to address the arguments themselves.)

The thing is, first of all, Sacrament Meeting is exactly the place to have a protest, if you’re wanting to protest, and for the record, I’m not at all willing to characterize this whole International Pants Party as a “protest.” (Seriously? Have you guys really never seen what a protest looks like? Like, maybe on TV or something?) If you want to be heard by your local Mormon congregation, you want your issues to be known, you want to start a conversation, you want people to be disturbed because you’re disturbed, you want to make a show of numbers and solidarity, then where are you going to protest? Kroger? The library? Somewhere nice and safe where no one will feel offended? OWS camped out on Wall Street, not Joe Schmo Parkway up the block, and anti-Mormon protesters go to Temple Square, not, like,  a rest- stop on I-15.  The whole point of protesting is to do something inappropriate, something bold, something that violates the norms of the space you’re in — otherwise, no one will notice, and then you’re not so much protesting as just standing around being opinionated on the inside. Protesters go where the action that they’re protesting is taking place, and if the action you’re protesting is the exclusion and marginalization of people from Church meetings, then you have to go to — wait for it — Church meetings, to make an effective protest.

Seriously, though, I’m not actually advocating for a huge feminist Sacrament Meeting protest, unless it’s going to have refreshments, and they’re going to be pie. I’m just saying, if you actually view this as a protest, then you can’t also be all toruqed up that people are protesting in the only logical space to protest the thing they’re protesting. (And if your response is that then maybe these people just shouldn’t be protesting at all, well, fine, but maybe you need to stop using the Appropriate Reverentness Standards of Sacraement Meeting as an excuse for wanting to silence people.)

My more serious concern, however, is the assertion that these pants-flaunting two-leg-showing crazies shouldn’t be making Church into a political thing. Church is for worship, not politics; for salvation, not your liberal agenda! And in a substantial way, I don’t disagree. Church is absolutely for worship, not politics, and I think many people who had to hear Mitt Romney’s praises sung from the pulpit in the last year have had their testimony of worship-not-politics strengthened. I also try to leave my liberal agenda at home most Sundays, mostly because my skirts don’t have pockets big enough to smuggle it in past the Bishop’s prying eyes. I really do prefer to keep things at church focused on Christ, love, service, salvation, faith, hope, charity, repentance, mercy, grace, truth, and all that other good stuff.

But what do we mean here by political? I’m pretty sure we’re not talking about the politics of the state, because, ummm, it’s actually already way totally legal for women to wear pants in the United States, as well as, I’m pretty sure, all the other countries in the world where women are wearing pants to Mormon church to express their love for their downtrodden neighbor (and maybe also their hatred of pantyhose). So, bad news if you were hoping to rein that in; that horse done galloped out of the barn and got the vote already, probably wearing pants the whole time.

Political here has to refer to the politics of the Church institution: the ideas, means, policies, and strategies by which the Church governs its body of members (and the norms, expectations, and implicit pressures  by which its members govern themselves and each other). And the politics of the Church is something in which we are all, always, inevitably engaged, whether we’re thinking about it or not. The most unmarked Mormony things you can think of to do — come to church, sit quietly, pray if you’re asked, participate in the lessons — have (in these most neutral terms) political consequences: you’re consenting to the behavioral norms of the congregational body politic. It’s just that it’s easy as delicious, delicious pie to brush right by those politics, because they’re the politics of the majority, the unmarked, the comfortable, the Normal Everyday People, who are just trying to live their lives without all this politics. 

So sure, wearing pants is political. But it’s no more or less political than wearing a skirt; it’s just minority politics, which makes it stand out. It’s the kind of politics that might make some people–who prefer not to pay attention to the political structures hemming about their religious practice–aware that those politics are alive and well, and dictating how they dress.

See, you don’t really have to think much about Church politics as long as you’re the unmarked, the comfortable, the majority. But if you’re not, then the politics of Church are always there, always visible, always to be reckoned with, always a burden, always a source of exhaustion and uncertainty and potential hurt.

And that, my friends, is why I’m wearing pants.


  1. precisely.

    (since you always say what i want to say, but so much better, would you write my dissertation for me, please? i don’t care what you wear, and i will make you pie.)

  2. I sat and sat on the Pantpocalypsalooza fence, changing my mind several times before finally opting in. I’m quite introverted and I dislike almost nothing as much as making waves and discomfiting others, so I’m probably even more sympathetic than Melyngoch is to the critique that sacrament meeting and worship services are not the venue for protests. To those who opted out on such grounds, I can only say: you may be right.

    But Melyngoch’s also right that the politics of the majority and of the unwritten rules go entirely unremarked, and that the politics of pants do not insert themselves into a neutral arena. In recent years I’ve sat through Romneymonies and Tea Party diatribes and expressions of searing hatred for homosexuals and searing contempt for anyone with the slightest, most innocuous objection to anything about the church. I’ve endured the embellishing whims of local leaders, some of whom have found the handbook insufficiently restrictive of women’s participation in our communal religious life and who have taken it upon themselves to construct hedges about the hedges about the policy about the practice that guards our gendered sanctity. And I’ve said nothing, because it’s church and sacrament meeting and I wholeheartedly agree that the focus should be on Christ and the ordinances of salvation. I truly don’t want to present myself as a stumbling block to someone else’s worship.

    Wearing pants runs that real risk, and so it is a very imperfect gesture. But imperfect gestures are all we have available to us in this fallen world, and in the end I felt I had to stand up and be counted in solidarity with and memory of all those I love who have been deeply wounded and who are no longer part of the faith community that I also love. I freely acknowledge that I may have been wrong to do so, but I also like to think I can allow myself a subtle moment of protest every decade or two.

  3. The pants protest was a hit where I live. Every woman, young and old, wore skirts. Every man, young and old including me who hates wearing them, had a white shirt and tie. Half of those had suits. I saw two old women wearing purple, but I doubt it was for protest. It was a smashing success in my corner of the Church.

  4. Th., give me just one more semester to become utterly defeated by grad school, and then the pie shop will come.

    It will have to be a pie shop that opens late in the day, though, because I’m not going to be one of those bakers that gets out of bed at 3.30 a.m. to start chopping butter.

  5. I’m wondering where the people who don’t like politics in Sacrament Meeting are on the annual Boy Scout Sunday, when the boys wear their uniforms while administering the sacrament…

  6. I’m wondering where they were during Prop 8. I find it more than a little outrageous to see people arguing that church is only about worship and renewing covenants and anyone who thinks otherwise is apostate, when an explicitly political agenda took over church meetings in California for months. Compared to that, some women wearing pants for one Sunday seems awfully tame.

  7. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. I have definitely had my testimony of worship-not-politics strengthened by attending LDS wards. But the question remains: If the problem is at church, where else COULD the “protest” take place?

  8. I’m exactly with Eve. Exactly. And the author. She’s pretty on target for me too. I gravitated to the smoke screen on about Tuesday and then the skies cleared for me as the conversation continued and I said to myself, “Something needs to be said/worn.” It is already being communicated one way and we cannot not communicate. So we may as well have a voice of compassion and outreach.

  9. “So sure, wearing pants is political. But it’s no more or less political than wearing a skirt; it’s just minority politics, which makes it stand out.”

    Indeed. Since there is no Church Uniform, what we wear is a choice and thus always political.

    Like some in Jettboy’s ward, I usually end up in a white shirt and suit, though unlike him I can’t find anything uniquely righteous about wearing a lounge suit to church. Not only is the modern lounge suit almost invariably the product of sweatshop labor, it not too long ago signaled a certain egalitarian bent as well as disregard for existing dressing etiquette.

    Incidentally, the half of Jettboy’s ward wearing a white shirt and tie but no jacket would be considered subversive and in bad taste in circles that believe if the occasion is formal enough to call for a tie, then a jacket is also required. So whether they like it or not, jacketless Mormons are thumbing their noses at the establishment and their petty dress codes week in and week out.

    In such a revolutionary environment, who can blame the women for wanting to follow suit?

  10. If sacrament meeting is an appropriate place to “protest,” then wouldn’t that make the temple fair game too, right? I see no meaningful distinction based on your logic. Moreover, it is in the temple that some of the things that mormon feminist find most problematic are expressed.

    This leads to the question as to whether, in your mind, there any sacred space or times within Mormonism that would not be appropriate for a demonstration of some sort?

  11. If sacrament meeting is an appropriate place to “refer members to the ward bulletin for announcements,” then wouldn’t that make the temple fair game too, right?

    If sacrament meeting is an appropriate place to “listen to a special musical number,” then wouldn’t that make the temple fair game too, right?

    If sacrament meeting is an appropriate place to “invite a non-member friend to,” then wouldn’t that make the temple fair game too, right?

  12. Peter LLC, when it comes to white shirts and suites, I am by my own admission in my comment a subversive. I am not concerned about “clothing conformity,” but political Feminizing of the rightful Patriarchal order of God and His Church. In my ward Feminism, to my great happiness by the standards they set up for the protest, completely lost.

  13. Peter LLC –

    Your attempt at snark ignores the more fundamental querry:

    Are there any sacred spaces or times within LDS religious observance that would not be appropriate for a demonstration of some sort? If so, what are they? And, how can they be logically distinguished from times when “protest” is O.K.?

    Plenty of activities such as you describe take place in the temple, like clothing rental, name recording, scheduling, singing, cleaning etc., so those are not a grounds on which temples and sacrament meetings can be distinguished.

    (I am not arguing that there are no differences between temples and our meetinghouses. I fail to see any distinction, however, between the lodging of “protest” during the sacramental ordinance and doing so during the temple ordinances.)

  14. Jettboy – I contend that whether you intend to or not, you are making a political statement (in the sense described above) by what you choose to wear to church. I do acknowledge that we often find deliberate political statements (in the sense described above) more obnoxious than those we agree with or don’t perceive as such.

    unknown – I believe that the modifications to your rhetorical question illustrate the obvious fact that while ordinances are performed in both venues, the standards of behavior are hardly the same. It might very well be that wearing pants with ulterior motives to sacrament meeting is inappropriate in any setting where an ordinance is scheduled to take place, but simply invoking temple standards does not make it so.

  15. ” I contend that whether you intend to or not, you are making a political statement ”

    Because I have never been one to state that Sacrament Meeting is not a place for politics (hogwash as history has proven from day one), your argument doesn’t really touch on what I wrote. By the way, even conservative political statements in Church make me cringe at times. My point is that the issue for me is the apostasy nature of feminism against the God given patriarchal order .

  16. If wearing pants during Sacrament meeting helped you to focus on the Savior and the Atonement, then wonderful! If it was a distraction, then that is unfortunate. If you were trying to draw attention to yourself or to your clothing in Sacrament meeting instead of putting the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and his marvelous sacrifice, then that is unfortunate. Again, there is nothing wrong with wearing pants in Sacrament meeting. There is nothing wrong with dissent in the Church. It is healthy to have these conversations and to have civil dialog. But the focus of Sacrament meeting should be on nothing but the Savior and the Atonement. It is a sacred time to contemplate the Savior’s agony in Gethsemane, his horrible crucifiction and our relationship with the Savior and our Heavenly Father. It is a time for deep inner contemplation on what we need to change in our own lives to be more Christlike. If the Pantscapades helped you with that, then great. That is was Sacrament meeting is about.

  17. Peter LLC – Thanks for the response. I feel, however, that you’ve parsed the wording of my questions, but have not made a real effort to answer them. (Not that you are obligated to do so.) The questions strike at the fundamental issue underlying Melyngoch’s excellent post.

    Either: (1) every occasion on which an ordinance is performed is open as a suitable forum for protest; (2) no occasion on which an ordinance is performed is open as a suitable forum for protest; (3) or some occasions on which ordinances are performed are open to protesst and some are not.

    If the answer #3, then there ought to be a meaningful way to distinguiosh between when it is O.K. and when it is not O.K. to protest. I cannot come up with any meaningful distinctions, which is why I think option 2 is the best choice.

    If the temple is throwing you off, I could ask whether one is O.K. with “protesting” at a baptism or a confirmation or a healing blessing or naming blessing or a grave dedication. If not, how are those occasions different from sacrament meeting? I don’t think they are.

  18. I feel like there’s a whole ‘nuther layer to Pantsgate that’s related to our special extra-strict dresscode and policies for Church schools, missions, and Church employment, and the tendency of many of us to think that there is something that is somehow more righteous about dressing or styling one’s hair according to those standards. On the one hand, there’s an understandable logic to that assumption. (If it isn’t better in some way, why is it required?) But the consequences of that line of thinking are that people who choose to dress differently are viewed as less righteous, obedient, etc.

  19. What protest? I wore pants to church. Pants are allowed. Women wear pants every single week in our ward. Men wear whatever they have that is best, too. People who oppose something call it a protest. IMO it was choosing to let people be seen for who they are and to know they will be accepted. I wasn’t wearing pants to be against anyone, just FOR my sisters who want to feel comfortable in pants (which I generally don’t prefer to wear, even at work), or being liberals (which I’m not), or being feminists (which I am). My message (if there was a message) was “everyone is welcome to come and worship; there is room for all.”

    I took the sacrament with more meaning and feeling than on most weeks when I am conforming to the social-pressured unwritten dress code.

  20. I wore pants as well, for the very same reasons that hawkgrrl expressed.

    It is kind of sad to think that there might have been a few Jettboys watching from the congregation thinking to themselves that I was “feminizing the rightful Patriarchal order of God” and that I somehow “completely lost” just because I was in the minority as a pants wearing woman.

  21. Jettboy (#22)

    In my ward Feminism, to my great happiness by the standards they set up for the protest, completely lost.

    I’m curious as to what you think the goals were. Thousands of pants-wearing women rushing the podium and demanding the priesthood?

    I was ambivalent about participating, but I’m glad that I did. It made me feel better and more hopeful about church than I have in quite a while, and in reading people’s stories, I felt a real sense of connection with my sisters and brothers in so many different places who were also participating. It was, dare I say, faith-promoting. And I’m not the only one to have had this experience–anyone who’s simply dismissing this as a failure might want to check out people’s stories (see ).

  22. unknown (#27), I actually do see a difference between sacrament meeting and the other things you listed, in that sacrament meeting is a public event to which any and all invited, whereas all the other things you mentioned are private, invitation-only (especially the temple). I think that’s an important distinction in terms of the range of behavior that’s acceptable. I would also note that sacrament meeting is often disrupted, whether by children throwing cheerios or by wacky doctrine being shared in testimony meeting. And that’s okay; that’s what you get when you invite children, and give people an opportunity to speak and bear testimony.

    That being said, I did have my own concerns about politicizing church. (Though I think Melyngoch makes a great point about minority vs. majority politics, and the ease of assuming that only minority politics are problematic.) But when it all came down I saw this as acceptable in the context of sacrament meeting in that it was non-disruptive. As several people have pointed out, protest is a pretty strong word for a handful of women (at most) in any particular ward wearing pants and worshiping along with the rest of the congregation. I’ve participated in actual sign-bearing protests, and this didn’t have that feel at all.

  23. Thousands of pants-wearing women rushing the podium and demanding the priesthood?

    This is exactly what happened in my ward! I, wearing thousands of pants, had to be dragged from the chapel in handcuffs after I was denied the priesthood.

  24. Lady Gaga Eating Gaga, I think you’ve eaten too much Gaga. Don’t you know that wearing thousands of pants at the same time not only creates pants/skirt confusion, but worse, stirs up in people the spiritually corrosive feeling of pants envy? In my extremely humble opinion, some talents are better off staying buried in the ground.

  25. I am really late to this, since I’ve been without Internet access for a few weeks. I sympathize with the idea of women’s wearing pants to church. For years I have been mystified why a nice pantsuit was considered inappropriate for church, but a t-shirt and Levi skirt was okay. A t-shirt and Levi’s is a t-shirt and Levi’s whether the Levi’s are pants or a skirt.

    I have worn a beard for years, and rarely wear a white shirt to church, for what may be considered “political” reasons, but not really. The vast majority of men who come to church in other than a white shirt are–who? Nonmembers. One of the easiest ways to make someone feel like they don’t belong is to have everyone dress differently than they do. If a man is interested in the church comes for the first time and is the only one not wearing a white shirt, how comfortable is he going to be? Similarly, if a woman comes to church for the first time and is the only one wearing pants, how comfortable is she going to be? Don’t we want to make newcomers feel welcome? I do.

  26. If one wants to wear pants to church, wear pants. But seriously people. don’t we have more important “causes” than this to focus our time and efforts on? Things like- how are we going to help our schools be safer for our children and how can we help people (young and old) that have poor mental health get the help they need? I personally think that instead of focusing on wearing pants to church we should all wear signs pinned to our shirts that say things like, “I struggled with postpartum depression” or “My best friend is bi-polar.” Maybe if people were more open about mental health issues, we could make some progress getting people the help they need. Instead, we tend to shy away from these “crazies” and ignore the fact that mental illnesses are becoming rampant in our society. We all feel devastated by the terribly tragic events (and the precious lives lost) that took place last Friday at the hands of a young man that was clearly out of his mind. But enough “talk” of this tragedy, let’s get back to the really “important” issue… wearing pants to church.

  27. Hint: A really good thing to do before you comment is to read the post, and then in your comment address the issues that the post is discussing. Otherwise you come off sounding pretty clueless.

    Bonus hint: This post wasn’t actually about whether or not we should wear pants to church and ignore all other problems in the world.

  28. Dear “The Bouncer,” Actually someone that comes across sounding “clueless” is a person that attacks an individual’s own opinion. In my comment I shared what is on my mind currently and I’ll admit that I somewhat “attacked” the pants ISSUE- but my comment was NOT directed at slamming someone’s personal opinion like yours was. :0)

    Bonus HInt: If you can’t “take” others opinions that are different from your own, don’t read blogs!!! P.S. Have a very happy holiday :0).

  29. A long time ago, on a comment here on ZD, a woman remarked that LDS feminists aren’t trying to destroy the church; that we love the church, and want to help it become better. This comment (I wish I could remember who wrote it) has made a deep impression on me. As such, I tend to think that women who wore pants on Sunday (as well as men who wore purple) are people who have a deep connection with the gospel, and will not be deterred by those who use nastiness or dismissal to hide their fear.

  30. Fortunately, wearing pants requires so little effort (no more than wearing a skirt, in fact) that one can wear pants and still be an advocate of socialized medicine, including mental health care.

  31. X2 Dora, I couldn’t agree more with this insightful statement that you shared:
    “As such, I tend to think that women who wore pants on Sunday (as well as men who wore purple) are people who have a deep connection with the gospel, and will not be deterred by those who use nastiness or dismissal to hide their fear.” In fact I wholeheartedly agree! Thank you for sharing :0)

    Well friends, it’s been so nice visiting this blog and reading the well written post above. I even appreciate the comments (including mine) that may stirred some emotions. I’m headed to a singalong at my kids’ school and then will be baking cookies for gifts for our neighbors. If I could, I’d share a warm “snickerdoodle” with you too for taking time to respond (albeit with differing views) to my comment. Much appreciated!

    P.S. It is quite true that putting pants on takes so little effort, but Writing about whether to wear pants or not seems to be taking quite A LOT of time and energy these days. (Facebook, blogs, news articles etc.) Perhaps we could be using that time more wisely on the issues that I mentioned about in my initial comment. Again though, thank you for letting me share, it’s been fun and quite insightful. :0) Best wishes to you all!

  32. Jennifer, we’re glad you could stop by and chime in. As I hoped to express in my post, the pants thing is clearly about something much, much bigger than pants; it engages a whole underlying structure that informs how men and women behave in church, and even more so, how dissent is managed or restricted within church culture. The reason I came to care about this issue was not because I care about pants per se (I initially found it a little silly, I confess), but because I see these underlying issues as extremely important in a church I care about, and the over-the-top reaction to the pants thing as symptomatic of how ill-equipped we are, as a culture, to address these issues.

    So I don’t quite see myself, or the others who’ve written about Pantsemonium, as “spending a lot of time and energy” writing about wearing pants. We’re spending a lot of time and energy writing about the issues (such as the political ones I consider above) that pants have raised.

    Certainly there are other issues worth addressing, in and out of church culture. But I think the Bouncer was (rather gently!) suggesting that it’s not especially good commenting etiquette to ignore the substance of a post, reduce it to a strawman, and then demand that the writer address some pet topic of your own, rather than that strawman. Your initial comment kind of makes it seem like the only part of my post you’d read was the title.

    I’m glad, however, that you did read the post, and that you found it well written. Happy Holidays to you too!

  33. CS Eric (36), I love your point about wearing non-canonical clothes to church so that there’s some variety for people coming for the first time. And that’s something I can keep doing, as I’m contemplating how to carry the lessons of Pantsmageddon into the future. Thanks for an excellent idea!

    We had a girl in the branch I used to go to who had a nose piercing, and I always thought it was such a relief to see, one little thing out of the ordinary Mormon uniform. Maybe it’s time for me to re-pierce my nose . . . 🙂

  34. Dear Melyngoch, I’m very sorry about my initial commenting etiquette as I didn’t mean for it to be taken personally to your post. I don’t spend much time reading blogs or leaving comments on them, but I have certainly learned today that when leaving comments on a post that it is not a place to share what’s on one’s mind, but rather a place to either agree (and compliment the writer) or disagree with the actual post. Next time, I promise I’ll stick right to the “written post at hand.” To summarize what I’ve learned in comment leaving: do not veer from the post in any way, and as much as possible- post in favor of whatever the author writes. Freedom of Speech (no matter how unpleasant it may be at times to hear or read) does not apply when leaving blog comments. Got it, thanks :0)

  35. Hey and I’ll be right here to make sure that I compliment and support everything you write from now on- as it does appear that some writers simply cannot take what they believe to be criticism. :0)

  36. Jennifer,

    Please feel free to disagree with anything we post. Disagreement helps us hone our arguments and occasionally even change our minds.

    When you disagree with us, please be prepared for us to disagree with you in turn. It’s just the nature of the beast: if we don’t agree, we probably won’t agree.

    And now: back to a discussion of the politics of pants.

  37. Yes, I completely agree and even thanked commentors for taking time to respond to my original comment even though we had differing opinions. I appreciate you letting me drop by your “corner of the internet” the past couple of days- although I think I find it somewhat hormonal and over-emotional for my taste. You’ll likely be glad to have me stay away and I’ll be quite happy to do so. Farewell friends! :0)

  38. There are many causes to which we can and must devote our energies. But one reason I think calling attention to feminist issues continues to be a pressing concern to the Mormon community is that those of us who have been socialized to be good Mormon women—and I include myself in this group—often have difficulty expressing disagreement or owning our own negative emotions. This is something we can improve at. But we need to let go of the beloved myth that women are unswervingly sweet and charitable, which serves the patriarchy better than it serves us.

    On the issue of the appropriateness of protesting sacred ordinances: if your protest is expressed simply by donning pants, not only do I see no problem with protesting sacrament meeting, I see no problem whatever with protesting in the temple. This is a subtle and non-disruptive way of transgressing the norms by which femininity is performed in our community.

  39. While I hadn’t planned to jump back on here (I’m never on the computer as much as I have been today… I’m a busy mom and just don’t usually have time), I felt impressed to stop back by to just share that I’m proud of you folks for standing up for what you believe in. I’m outspoken at times about the things that I believe in too (see my comments above) and I think this is how we move good causes forward. Anyway, best of luck to you all and keep doing what you feel you must!

  40. Given that I see pants all the time anyway, I think it was a bad protest. You should have worn suits, ties, and white shirts.


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