Before I came to Salt Lake City, my Dad told me that I might be required to wear skirts and dresses at my new job researching for the Mormon Church. I immediately dismissed this idea because of its ridiculousness; we live in the 21st century after all, how could any workplace not let women wear pants? I even got angry with my Dad for even suggesting such a thing and I made a little scene. When my Dad and I recounted it to my Mom later, my Mom immediately said that of course I could wear pants to my new job. Feeling validated, I let the topic slip.
Once in Salt Lake City, at Sunday family dinner, the topic of pants in the workplace came up again. My relatives toyingly watched me strongly react to the idea of not being allowed to wear pants. However, even among my relatives there was no consensus of whether or not I could wear pants to work. They told me that I might be told to wear my “Sunday best,” which of course for women means no pants. I started to get worried.
I had a plan. I was going to wear pants and a white business-esque shirt. If someone told me that I had to wear my “Sunday best” I would simply tell them that I wear my pants to church (see giant internet battle over the “wear pants to church” campaign in Utah). That would shut them up. Plus, I thought, I would definitely be able to wear pants. In the car ride over to my first day of work, I asked my aunt Laura, “do you really think that I won’t be able to wear pants?” She assured me I could.
The first thing that I noticed when I walked into my first (out of four) orientations that day is that not one of the women was wearing pants. Even all the other new female hires were in dresses and skirts. That’s when it started to sink in that truly, my workplace does not allow women to wear pants. Politics aside I was honestly looking forward to wearing the business look . I thought maybe if I looked formal in my dress pants people wouldn’t immediately think I was an 18 year old like people normally think when they see me. I found it strange that the dresses and skirts that women were wearing were not in the least bit businessy; I realized the objective for women in this workplace was not to emulate a business atmosphere but instead a church one. I can’t say that I have ever started any other of my work orientations off with a prayer, the woman who said the prayer even cried during it.
So a new game begun – when would someone tell me that I wasn’t allowed to be wearing the pants I was wearing? I waited and counted the minutes. Surprisingly, I managed to get through two orientations, which by definition are formal sit downs where the HR teaches the new employees about the workplace. I even began to think that the people around me might be too embarrassed to point out my pants and I might get away with it. At 1:34 exactly, my supervisor, the woman in charge of women’s history told me that I could not wear pants. The irony was not lost on me.
I pretended I was surprised. “Really?”
She told me she tried to complain about it but to no avail.
“Wow.” I tried to let her know through my facial expressions and carefully chosen words how crazy I found this. I said, “I guess I can just throw away all those pants I just bought before coming here.”
I went to my new desk blood boiling and fuming. Just to get something straight, I don’t hate skirts or dresses and I don’t mind wearing them to work. But the notion of women wearing pants is symbolic. In the late 19th Century women fought for the right to wear pants right along with the right to vote (we are talking about the 1800’s here guys!). Sometimes I complain about my church being stuck in the 60’s with how it deals with women’s issues. But in the 60’s both conservative women and feminists wore pants. I want to write a letter to the leaders of the church and tell this how humiliating this rule is, and that as a member of this church I feel embarrassed both for myself and my church. I want to write a letter to the Prophet about how crazy I think this rule is but I can’t quite seem to form an argument in my head that doesn’t sound totally ridiculous. “Dear Church, Why don’t you let women wear pants to work?” just doesn’t seem quite right to me.
Now before anyone starts to try defending the church’s position, let me just say that church dress or not I think that this rule is ridiculous. Women wear pants to church and that is fine. My granny was the firmest believer I ever met and she always wore pants to church. Not to mention that the notion that women must wear dresses and skirts is a North American culturally constructed concept. In South India men wear what look like skirts all the time and no one thinks twice about it. Telling women they can’t wear pants is totally unacceptable, no excuses.
Unfortunately I am not really in the position where I can say or do much about this so I have to bite my tongue and also try to refrain from being rebellious. Nevertheless I have come up with some ideas with how to subvert of this rule. If you haven’t already abandoned this blog post because of my feminist rants please read on and vote for you favourite!
Any other ideas? I want to hear them!