Wearing Pants to Church: Mormon Women’s Protest for Equality

Women don’t get a fair shake in the Mormon church. They are barred from the ministry. They can’t even join a lay priesthood that is open to boys as young as 12.

Boys also have the opportunity to be troop leaders in the Boy Scouts, which have a “pronounced role” in the church, “but girls have no similar outlet with the Girl Scouts.” More surprising to an outsider is that women are not expected to go on the iconic two-year missions to spread Mormonism (the same missions that form the backbone of the plot of “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway).

Some women have decided it is time for them to get the equal treatment they deserve from their religion. As a symbolic and peaceful first step, on Sunday, December 16, some Mormon women wore pants to church.

This was revolutionary, even though there is no official church policy against women wearing pants. The Facebook page that had been used to organize the event saw a comment posted threatening that “Every single person who is a minority activist should be shot … in the face … point blank … GET OVER YOURSELVES ….”

The overwhelming reaction was negative. The New York Times reported that some women decided “they could not participate because they were fearful of ridicule or reprimand.” A bishop near Las Vegas opposed the initiative: “‘I think wearing pants is not liberating,’ he said. ‘Liberation comes from inside. I’m not sure they have a clear understanding of the church’s position on gender.’”

That position is “that women’s roles are different, not lesser,” Ms. Magazine’s Blog writes. But “Mormon women’s rights advocates argue that men are given complete control over church management, and therefore have power that women do not.”

The battle over pants vs. skirts is a familiar one to feminists, going back at least to the age of bloomers. While skirts can be nice and breezy on a spring day, they can also be the attire of the victim: they restrict movement, making it harder to run. They also provide easy access to the genitals. While these are never the explicit arguments skirts’ proponents make, and may not even be part of their conscious reasoning, it is hard for them to argue that women should wear skirts because they are more modest. The skirts Mormon women wear to church often reveal their legs, at least up to the knee, which pants do not.

Theorist Thorstein Veblen wrote of skirts that they disregard the wearer’s comfort, and in that way are “evidence to the effect that in the modern civilized scheme of life the woman is still, in theory, the economic dependent of the man – that, perhaps in a highly idealized sense, she still is the man’s chattel,” because her clothes restrict her from some economically productive activity.

The bedrock reason religious leaders want women in skirts is to mark them as different from men. Orthodox Jews follow the same principle: women and men shall not dress the same. This comports with the Mormon ideology that women are different than men, though “equal.”

Our nation had the sad occasion to witness up close the effects of that belief during the Jim Crow era. It doesn’t work. Either women have the same opportunities and authority as men, or they are not equal. Wearing pants is a peaceful and subtle protest against Mormon sexism, and I hope that the brave women who have begun the movement will see it through.

Related Stories:

Update! Sudan’s Woman and Her Scandalous Pants

Sofitel Lets Housekeepers Wear Pants After Alleged Sexual Assault by DSK

Malawi President: Women Should Be Free to Wear What They Want


Photo credit: Image Source


Cherilyn E.
Cherilyn E.4 years ago

Part 2 - Don:

Instead, a person would have the opportunity to repent and to continue to grow and progress in the next life. In the New Testament Jesus speaks of "many mansions" that he is preparing us for after his death. His promise was that if we are faithful and live good lives, we can inherit all he has.

There is some good information about this more complex doctrine at www.FairLDS.org.

We do believe that Jesus did appear on the American continent after his resurrection. The Book of Mormon documents that visit.

It would make sense that if there were a Savior of the world, that Savior would make himself known to the world after he came. In the New Testament, he did tell his disciples "other sheep have I that are not of this fold" and that he needed to go to them. That account of the "other sheep" in the Book of Mormon and considered another testament of Christ.

We are all tied into the tribes of Israel. Over the centuries, they have been scattered. We believe that they are being gathered again. American Indians are part of that gathering.

I hope I've answered your questions this time. For more information go to www.FairLDS.org. Also www.LDS.org is the official site of the LDS church.

Cherilyn E.
Cherilyn E.4 years ago

Don, I'm sending this response in segments to meet the limitations of this board.

Thank you for asking some thoughtful questions. You can go to www.FairLDS.org and find a host of answers to more questions as well

About "magic underwear" - Many religions wear some kind of clothing to express their commitment to their beliefs. Jews wear prayer shawls. Muslims burkas.

Mormons who have covenanted to be obedient to gospel principles, faithful to their spouses, to dedicate their time to building up the kingdom of God on earth, wear underclothing as a reminder of those promises made.

As such the "protection" it gives goes without saying – to be daily reminded of those promises and to follow through on that reminder tends to protect that person from doing that which might harm that person morally or spiritually. Some people have shared stories about how they were also actually physically protected. If it helps people live better, kinder and more caring and loving lives, who would object?

Mormons also believe that this life is not the end. We believe in an afterlife and that our bodies and sprits will be reunited in a literal resurrection. We believe that there is ongoing progression. We will be judged for our actions in this life, but what if someone made mistakes? Is that person forever doomed to damnation? That would not be part of Mormon theology. More...

Don Saito
Don Saito4 years ago

@ Brian C: It's WAY late, but I was catching up on my Care2 comments and saw your reply to my post on this article. I went to the FAQ you listed (thank you) (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101) and it did NOT address my questions about: "magic underwear," or "becoming a god over your own planet" (if you've been a good Mormon), or that Jesus has been to America, or that American Indians are a lost tribe of Israel? So, what have YOU got to say on these *very* serious questions? Do you and all Mormons really believe these things, and if so, why?

Sarah S.
Sarah Smith4 years ago

I grew up in a church where women are frowned on for wearing trousers, in church or outside. The reason is given that the Bible states that it is wrong for men to wear women's clothes, and vice-versa. If you look into this a little deeper you find that it was St Paul warning against the Roman practice of men dressing up as women on the stage, because only men were allowed to act in plays. Also there was some depravity connected with men dressing up as women in order to have sex with other men, that kind of thing.

The next problem comes with trying to define what exactly constitutes men's clothing and women's. Jesus wore what today we would class as women's clothing. Most of us consider trousers (pants) to be women's clothing. Tell a Scotsman in a kilt that he isn't wearing a man's clothing!

In other words, this obsession with women not wearing trousers is a load of rubbish. Trousers on women can look smart and respectful and not like men's clothing at all. As the article points out, skirts can be less modest. I really think it's a form of oppression to say that women shouldn't wear trousers to church, and it comes from ignorance of what the Bible is actually saying.

Cherilyn E.
Cherilyn E.5 years ago

This has been an enlightening discussion of misinformation about Mormons and Mormon women.

I will repeat this again: Mormon women can wear - and have worn - pants to church. There is no law or rule against it. It's simply a cultural preference to wear a dress because culturally in the United States and in many nations around the world, dresses are viewed as more formal attire and therefore show greater respect. We respect God. It's His house. We wear our best.

Furthermore, I am quite happy as a Mormon woman. I've lived a very full life, had many opportunities, and I chose to stay home and raise five children. I have been a candidate for U.S. Senate/Congress, and now I own a business.

But my first priority was - and is my family. I gave those five children my full attention when they were little. I have never regretted it. Of all the things I've done, that has been the most rewarding.

If you don't like that lifestyle, then there are many other choices out there for you. But please stop obfuscating the truth about who we are and how we are treated.

Of course there are Mormon men who mistreat their wives, but look at the divorce rate - non-Mormon men mistreat their wives as well. The point is, the Mormon church does not approve of either spouse mistreating the other. We are counseled to respect each other and to share the responsibilities of caring for a home and family, each with different roles. Traditional as they are, they are the roles th

Christine Jones
Christine J5 years ago

I wish the Mormon women all the best; it can be very hard to be the first ones to stand out and be different.

Alexis Church
Alexis Church5 years ago

If you want to misrepresent the women of the church, that is your right, but I just want to say as an LDS woman that you are grossly twisting the standards and priesthood practiced in our church. The women of the church have no problem with the way things are set up and your craftiness with words will not change the fact that the people in the church are happy and fulfilled in their lives. Pick on something that people WANT TO CHANGE. The saints are of one heart and one mind and have no quarrel with others, but don't appreciate others being misled about us!!!!!!!

Brian C.
Brian C.5 years ago

@ Don S.
I'll assume you are actually interested in gaining factual information, despite your tone. Which of those topics would you like to hear about first? Might I recommend reading the FAQ on the following website, which gives brief answers to some of your questions. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101

Don Saito
Don Saito5 years ago

@Brian C: If what you've been saying is true, then this whole "pants" thing is a non-issue, and I can accept that. Can you comment on the other tenets of your church, say, about "magic underwear," or "becoming a god over your own planet" (if you've been a good Mormon), or that Jesus has been to America, or that American Indians are a lost tribe of Israel? Do you really believe these things, and if so, why? If you give good answers, I'll join your religion.

Renee Rekceb
Renee Rekceb5 years ago

God made all of us Equal ... so I thought.