“Pantspocalypse” has come and gone, but its magnifying effect on discussion surrounding gender roles within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues.
All-Enlisted, a Facebook group dedicated to the support and advocating of Mormon feminists, launched the Facebook page “Wear Pants to Church Day,” which designated Dec. 16, 2012, as a Sunday where Mormon women would wear pants to church and Mormon men would wear purple in support. The group drew attention from media outlets such as Jezebel, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Huffington Post and The New York Times and received an influx of commentary ranging from support to antagonism. The LDS church issued a statement encouraging church members to dress respectfully but said nothing about women wearing pants.
Jane Hise, a senior English major from St. George, said the important question was why women felt they needed to make such a statement. She also pointed out that other churches, such as Pentecostal denominations, require even stricter dress codes for women.
“I can’t really speak to how [the LDS] church does things, what they’re doing or why, but I think you have to ask yourself why these women felt it necessary to protest in this way,” she said. “Maybe they were overreacting, maybe they were going about it the right way, or maybe this was the only avenue they have to get their needs addressed.”
Daniel Sparks, a senior English major from St. George, said congregants should evaluate their personal reasons for attending church.
“I think personally, when you go to church, the main focus would be worship,” he said. “When I go to church, I want to show reverence and respect for what I believe, which will affect the way that I dress. I want to create an environment where people don’t feel they would be negatively impacted by my dress.”
Hise agreed and said standards set forward by any church’s authorities are meant to promote respect and modesty. She also said church should not be a stage for fashion nor a place where people feel the need to judge others’ clothing choices.
“You have the other side where [religious authorities] are not there to be fashion police,” she said. “That’s not their function. Their function is to provide instruction and [guide] worship.”
Hise said the issue can become complicated because everybody has his or her own definition of respectful dressing.
“What’s common sense to me is not necessarily common sense to others,” she said. “I’ve seen people go to church in spaghetti straps, and I thought that was incredibly disrespectful, but they didn’t.”
Some students, like Michelle Huise, a freshman art major from Salt Lake City, said women should wear pants to church for practical reasons.
“As long as it’s nice clothes—it’s appropriate, it’s modest—there shouldn’t be any restrictions, especially in dealing with the kind of climate we do in Utah,” she said. “It’s really cold in winter, and it’d be really nice to be able to wear long pants when it’s cold.”
Other students, however, disagreed with the movement. Sara Syphus, a sophomore general education major from St. George, said women and men should be equal but that political statements didn’t belong in church.
“I wasn’t in favor of it; I didn’t do it,” she said. “Some people wear casual clothes to church, but in the LDS culture, we make it a point to wear our Sunday best as a show of respect. It’s not at all to make women inferior that they wear dresses.”
Syphus said that while pants can be formal, tradition in the LDS church means dresses and skirts as women’s formal wear.
“I’d say it’s more to point out men and women’s differences,” she said. “Everybody is different; it doesn’t mean they’re unequal. I think we focus on it mostly because that’s the culture. It’s what we’re raised to do.”
Syphus also said she respects the choice to wear what one wants, but that neither she nor her friends chose to wear pants.
“I wouldn’t have told them, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t wear pants,’ because they have a right to, but to me, it’s a little outlandish,” she said.
Jared Buist, a sophomore CIT major from Hurricane, said he didn’t care as long as the pants were formal.
“I don’t see any problems, just as long as they’re still in nice clothes,” he said. “Just as long as they feel comfortable and it’s not messing with anyone else, that’s just fine.”
Lindsay Snow, a junior math major from St. George, said she didn’t know the motives of the women behind the movement, but for her, Sunday dress meant a skirt. She also said she didn’t necessarily judge others on their Sunday clothing choices.
“It’s not even a requirement,” she said. “It’s not like we take anyone out whose wearing pants if they’re a girl.”
Sparks said the controversy may stem from misconceptions about gender roles within the LDS Church.
“In the LDS church, women, just like men, are encouraged to get educations,” he said. “They’re by no means limited.”
Sparks said that ultimately, church should be about one’s personal relationship with God, not his or her neighbor’s relationship with God and not what his or her neighbor is wearing.
“You go to church, what are you doing?” he asked. “You’re worshiping, so you do your best to show respect for that.”
All-Enlisted has now begun efforts to lobby for women praying in General Conference, the semiannual, worldwide conference where LDS church authorities give guidance and instruction on church doctrine. For further information, find the group on Facebook under “Let Women Pray in General Conference.”