Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Mom and Pants

1940s women's pant suit
For my friends who are not highly attuned to the pulse of the disaffected mormon underground or mormon things in general, there is a big hullabaloo because some faithful mormon women intend to wear pants to church this Sunday. And they created a facebook group about it. 

My Mom went back to work when my youngest sister was in kindergarten.  It was a very good thing for her to work outside the home, for many reasons.  I left home a few years after for college, so I haven't seen what my Mom wears to work most days.

Yet the times I have seen her go to work, I never remember seeing her wear a skirt or a dress.  She may have, but I certainly don't remember it.  She typically wears business casual pants (just like I do).

It always seemed odd to me that the only time I saw my Mom wear a skirt was to church. The only times I ever saw my Mom wear skirts was to church or to important events.  She wore a dress to my wedding, to various funerals, graduations, etc.  Somehow there is this association that skirts (and nylons) are more dressed up, are more appropriate, are more reverent.  

My Mom is a very faithful mormon.  She's also never been terribly feminine, like some of the mormon women I remember growing up.

Countless after school specials would decry peer pressure - but social pressure is incredibly real.  You may not believe it's there, but step outside those boundaries and watch the storm.

Social norms and the vehemence with which people stick to those norms can be astounding.  My Mom never wore pants to church, because it just wasn't done.  I recall the serious looks that I received when I wore pants to church twenty years ago.  I think someone did say something to me, although it's been so long I don't remember exactly.

Americans scoff at those British dramas where someone claims in a haughty way that things just aren't done that way - but we can't escape it ourselves.  We are governed by social norms, and however we try to escape it, they are still there.  Mormons have their own unique social norms, which are informed by misogyny (entrenched social roles for women and men).

One of my young woman group leaders used to wear this black dress with a white rose.  It had sleeves and was long enough, but it was a cocktail dress.  She looked great in it.  The only reason I remember it is that it was so out of the norm, even twenty years ago.  It was black, and it wasn't shapeless. I don't attend church regularly, so I assume many more mormon women wear dresses like this to church, and some may even wear pants now and then. 

What we wear matters.  What women wear matters.

I support the women (and men) who are protesting.  Granted, the protests are around 40 years late, but better late than never.  I suspect many of the protestors will receive personal backlash, some may be excommunicated.

Personally, I am grateful to all the women who came before me who protested so I could wear pants to work every day.  Also grateful to those who were force fed so I could vote.

Wearing pants seems like such a small thing - but really it's not.  It's not easy to play basketball in a skirt. It's not easy to wait tables, run a pre-school or mow the lawn.  It's nice to wear pants particularly when there is a foot of snow on the ground.

Controlling what women wear, controlling what women look like is just a subtle form of sexism.  And it seeps throughout our culture. 


Kathryn said...

By the way, "Disaffected Mormon Underground" would be a fantastic band name.

Aerin said...

@Kathryn - I'd love to pretend I came up with the phrase - it's definitely been around for awhile. And yes, it would be a great band name.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I don't think it is like it use to be. I see at least one woman wear pants to church every week. I am not talking about an investigator or recent convert either. She just likes to wear pants & nobody says anything (as far as I know).

What has mostly disappeared is the frumpy/oversized clothing look. Most people I see are quite trendy. I happen to like wearing skirts.

As far as protesting cultural clothing norms, I kind of think the guys have the raw end of the deal. I can't tell you how often I see the men wearing suits and ties while the women are wearing jean skirts and flip flops. You wouldn't see a couple dressed up like that any other place.