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.
- 16 December 2012