10/22/15

Essential?

 I am slightly terrified to write this. I struggle with feelings of doubt, and fear being misunderstood. I worry about seeming petty and blind to the "bigger picture." But after a lot of consideration, I feel my perspective is important enough to take on the risks associated with writing this post. Perhaps more significantly, I've learned that you cannot rely on other people to write your story for you. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught us in Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, time is not kind to those who do not record their own history.

People who I consider friends and role models recently published a book- Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. According to the introduction by Joanna Brooks, the book "offers and introduction to the Mormon Feminist movement through the words of the women who have lived and built it. It includes writings that capture key ideas, questions, concerns, and events in Mormon feminist experience from the movement's organizing movements in the early 1970s to the present." The book is an important resource for the Mormon feminist movement, and I am happy that so many excellent resources are available in one place.

The book is visually stunning. Cover artwork features the "Pants Quilt," Sunday Morning, created by Nikki Matthews Hunter, and made from pieces of pants worn by women to church in December 2012. I've seen the quilt in person, and it is a beautiful and important piece of artwork. The quilt is also being used as part of the promotional tour for Mormon Feminism, so that other women can see the results of their activism while learning about the key events in Mormon feminist history included in the book.

So it was surprising, and yes, very heart-breaking personally, to realize that there is no other mention of Wear Pants to Church Day in the book itself (outside a single reference regarding the cover and once in the introductory timeline.) A book of "essential" writings on "key events" in the Mormon feminist experience, a book featuring the visual representation of that event on its cover, yet no words from the people who lived and built the internationally recognized event and played a key role in inspiring future Mormon feminist activism.

There is no pain quite like the pain of feeling marginalized within an already marginalized community. It feels like infection in an already deep wound.

And as beautiful and inspiring as the cover artwork is, and as necessary and important each essay may be, it does not replace the erroneous and deliberate erasure of "Pants" from this version of Mormon history. I have no theories as to why this event was not included, or why, of the myriad of both academic and personal essays about the event, none were published in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. 

I do know it is a gross disservice to people who helped organize the event, future Mormon feminist scholars, and church members alike.

In 2012, Joanna Brooks described Wear Pants to Church Day as "the largest concerted Mormon feminist action in history. Thousands of Mormon women from the South Pacific to Europe to North America bucked convention and wore pants to church meetings on Sunday to manifest their support for greater dialogue on the status of women within the LDS Church, and Mormon men wore purple in solidarity. 

For Mormon feminists and allies, the event was a chance to step out of silence and fear and wordlessly say, “We are here. This faith matters to us. And gender inequality weighs on us too.”

Organized by a new Mormon feminist group called “All Enlisted,” the event set off strong positive and negative reactions within the world of Mormonism—including threats of violence and intimidation directed at organizers and would-be participants.”

And yet, just three years later, the book, edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright, contains no mention of the event’s founders, or even “All Enlisted,” the Facebook group I created to brainstorm ideas for potential activism. (Although, strangely, the group is mentioned for later activist action in 2013.) According to the sole reference in the timeline, the event occurred almost miraculously. Somehow, somewhere, women decided to wear pants to church. We all apparently received notification to do so through osmosis. Somehow, “the largest concerted Mormon feminist action in history” is now summarized in the following way: “first Wear Pants to Church Day” (December 16).

Readers unfamiliar with the event are never given any context for the causes, results, or influence of “Pants” in Mormon Feminism- information included in either the introduction or individual essays for every other significant act of feminist activism, including the creation of WAVE and Ordain Women, both organizations created before and after the creation of All Enlisted and Wear Pants to Church Day.

Though I do not have a pending book deal in order to create my own history of Mormon Feminism, and despite the obvious fact that I am not a significant player in the eyes of my Mormon feminist sisters, I will tell you a little bit about Wear Pants to Church Day, and why it deserves a fair place in history.


  • 1. It was not an event developed, or even initially supported, by “established” Mormon feminists. Despite being written about on nearly every Mormon feminist thought-blog, and by several Mormon feminist scholars, the event was created by a 26- year- old woman with no other influence than a vaguely popular blog. That itself is pretty remarkable, because it democratized the occasionally insular world Mormon feminism. You did not need to be a “veteran” Mormon Feminist to have influence or power in All Enlisted.


  • 2.     In fact, the “admins” for All Enlisted were all volunteers. If you volunteered, you could help. This caused some pretty significant problems with leadership, and created a lot of messes, but I still think it speaks to the core values of participants and admins, we wanted everyone, and we truly were “all enlisted” in creating a meaningful form of thoughtful activism.

  • 3.       It was a world-wide movement, with a low socio-economic barrier for participation and wide international and cross-cultural platform. Anyone could participate simply by attending their local ward. This eliminated the need for “proxy” participation, and allowed all interested parties the chance to be included. (I am not criticizing activist movements which included proxy alternatives, or actions which required participants to travel to one location, just noting an advantage of Wear Pants to Church Day) We provided a near universal opportunity to practice one’s faith as an activist, and it is something organizers did right.



  • 4.       It broadened the scope of Mormon feminism to include everyone. An admittedly accurate criticism regarding the event involves the lack of clear message or “branding” for what “Pants” symbolized. Was this about ordination? Or just wanting women to be including in Priesthood Executive Meetings? Could you be a faithful Mormon and still want to see changes at church? Could women who did not seek ordination find common ground with those who did? While it was definitely confusing to have different answers for these questions, I think it was also a source of power. Just as there was no socio-economic barrier to pants, there was no faith requirement. Inactive women (like me) participated. Active women participated. Ex and Post Mormons who wanted a chance to honor their former selves participated. That was beautiful.



  • 5.       It evolved to encompass other, equally important issues within Mormonism. By 2013, Mormon feminism had already evolved significantly. Under the leadership of Nancy Ross and Jerilyn Hassell Pool, “Pants” became an event dedicated to inclusion of all marginalized groups in Mormonism, and I think these changes and evolution helped make church safer for many members.



  • 6.       All Enlisted was created on December 6, 2012. Wear Pants to Church Day occurred on December 16. In 10 Days, All Enlisted significantly altered the landscape of Mormon feminism. I remember Kate Kelly talking to me on the phone after the event, and telling me that if “Pants” was such a big deal, Mormon Feminists might as well ask for real, significant changes. The stakes were already high, the rewards ought to be high as well. I’m not taking credit for Ordain Women, or their work, or even claiming I inspired Kate Kelly to found her organization. But I do think “Pants” helped create an eager and motivated population of activist Mormons, ready to tackle the challenges of gender inequality in the church.

There were lots of flaws in “Pants.” It wasn’t a perfect movement. When I say it ought to have been included more thoroughly in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, it isn’t because I believe I personally needed to submit an essay, or because I need personal validation for the event. It ought to have been included simply because it was the first large-scale mainstream act of Mormon feminist activism outside the literary or online realm in several years, possibly decades. That alone should merit its inclusion in any book proclaiming to be a “comprehensive” and “essential” guide to the movement.

But because the personal is political, I will confess to feeling a bit appropriated by the book. The results of my history, the image of the quilt made by the pants I encouraged women to wear, is being sold for profit, while my name remains absent from the history I helped create. If the adage “for most of history, anonymous was a woman” is true, then Mormon Feminism: Essential History, like the Mormon Church before, has given me a new name. I don’t think I like it.

 I am not anonymous. My name is Stephanie Lauritzen. In 2012 I organized All Enlisted.We organized “Wear Pants to Church Day.” It was essential to Mormonism. It was essential to me.








UPDATE: I didn't include the names of the All Enlisted admins, and I ought to have. I wasn't sure they wanted to be included in this part of the story. I shouldn't have made an assumption, and inadvertently continued the erasure of Wear Pants to Church Day from history. Each one of these individuals did just as much work as I did, and sometimes more, for Pants. They helped make the group and event successful. I recently spoke about Pants at the Ex-Mormon Foundation Conference, and I was very open in recognizing that everything good, thoughtful,and meaningful about PANTS was the result of the good, thoughtful, and meaningful people who helped. Admins were Sandra Durkin Ford, Emilie Holmes Wheeler, Jenne Erigero Alderks, Hannah Pritchett Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks, and Kimberly Brinkerhoff, with special help from Meli Curtis Penford and Chelsea Robarge Fife who helped with PR and media. 











In addition to the news and media coverage, (Pants was covered in several national and local news outlets, including The New York Times, LA Times, NPR, and Huffington Post, many people wrote beautiful essays and papers on the significance of Wear Pants to Church Day. Some other “Essential Writings” about Wear Pants to Church Day include but are certainly not limited to the following sources:

Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan published a paper in the Interdisciplinary Journal ofResearch on Religion titled “I’m a Mormon Feminist”: How Social Media Revitalizedand Enlarged a Movement. The paper, but not the events mentioned within, is recognized as a footnote in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. This paper provides a good history on the significance of “Pants” and activism via social media. 

All Enlisted member Curtis Penford wrote about the positive and negative reaction to Wear Pants to Church Day at Young Mormon Feminists. (pantsgate 2012)

Sandra Ford, All Enlisted administrator and creator/manager of the Wear Pants to Church Day Facebook page wrote an essay on Feminist Mormon Housewives advocating for Mormon feminists to wear pants. (Mormon Feminists in Whoville and Why You Should Wear Pants to Church this Sunday)

Writers from The Exponent blog shared their experiences on Wear Pants to Church Day (Our Experience with Wear Pants to Church Day)

SunstoneMagazine essay on the long-term impact Wear Pants to Church Day. ("Wear Pants to Church" Sunday Brings Attention to Women's Issues)
By Common Consent  blog compares Wear Pants to Church Day to secular silencing of female activists online.  (How to Silence an (LDS) Woman: You're Doing it Wrong.)

Princeton graduate Emmy Williams submitted her paper, "Apostates, Heretics, Tools of the Patriarchy: Defining the Spectrum of Contemporary Mormon Feminism" to the Department of Religion as part of her senior thesis capstone. 

Zelophehad's Daughters post on the politics of "Pants." (The Politics (say it ain't so) of Pants)

My good friend Courtney wrote an essay on her blog on the process of deciding to wear pants (or not.) (The Worst Thing is Pants)

The Juvenile Instructor post on PANTS. (Joan in Armor, Zone Leaders in Skirts, and Mormon Women in Pants.)