missionary-pants1It’s in my nature to laugh at things that aren’t funny. Like when one of my children falls face-first onto the floor while doing the forbidden dance on the coffee table. Or when my husband misses the giant escape hole conveniently built into our garage and damages the side-view mirror of my car. Or when, in the wake of accusations it doesn’t understand rape culture, my beloved church announces female missionaries must cover more of their bodies as a protection against the flesh-hungry buggers [read as mosquitoes] they encounter in daily living. I mean, this stuff is funny.

In case you missed it, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that, for the sake of their personal health, female missionaries must, under certain conditions and in certain locations, forsake their previously mandated below-the-knee rompers and skirts for pants. It seems mosquitoes are getting world-wide press for their uninvited advances, which means, of course, a Church that claims it loves us all equally (but especially loves its women) must act with urgency against the kind of mosquito-borne diseases that have been around since, well, before the days the Savior walked the earth. The good news, Sisters, is that Jesus has your back! No more scarred legs, which should up your marriageability factor once you return with honor.Sister-Missionary-pants

In a nutshell, the new mandate says that, if you are a woman and you serve in a mosquito-ridden country (most of which are third world sorts of places, but not all), your best line of defense is clothing that basically covers all but your hands and head, namely long pants and (preferably, though not necessarily) long sleeves. Oddly enough, I suppose feministy LDS women will consider this an advance in the cause, but I wonder …

After all, the advance doesn’t come without conditions. Yes, slacks may be worn by female missionaries, but only during mosquito season, and only while proselyting or performing other acts of service. And never at the more sacred events like baptisms, mission conferences, or Sunday worship services.  For these things, mosquitoes be darned! Women are expected to don those skirts and sacrifice their health on the altar of 1950’s femininity.

Okay, sure, sister missionaries can wear their maxi-length skirts and dresses to these events. I’m waiting for the press release that allows them to carry an additional suitcase so they can have both a mosquito-season and non-mosquito season wardrobe, which would correspond to the Sunday/non-Sunday aspects of their daily living. Because if an announcement increasing luggage space doesn’t come, what the church has effectively done is guarantee that sister missionaries are now walking around, year-round, in nearly full-body coverage, long dresses. For their protection. From those who desire access to their bodies.

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But what confuses me most is that I was pretty sure the church had made it pretty clear it’s perfectly acceptable for women to wear “best dress” pants (ironic, right?) to Sunday services. Why, then, can’t sister missionaries wear their best slacks on Sundays? Or to mission conferences? Or to the baptisms? It seems this particular missionary rule about dress for Sunday services belies the church’s actual feeling about the sanctity of the skirt.

Here’s what I really think. The church will submit the sister missionaries to the cultural norms of societies that frown on—even criminalize–the wearing of pants by women. The precise wording from the Church is: “In areas where it is not acceptable for women (including sister missionaries) to wear dress slacks, they are encouraged to wear long skirts to protect themselves from mosquito bites.” We offer these cultures respect by observing their norms. But when the cultural norm is that women wear pants—including in areas of the world that are dangerously cold—we ignore those customs, even when the forced wearing of dresses is considered not only sexist, but domineering, by those cultures.

Here’s what I say. Guys, stop managing all the littles. Require missionaries to wear attire that reflects the sacred nature of the gospel they preach. Leave it at that. Let them decide for themselves if they need sunglasses and a hat, or if dress slacks are more conducive to their daily labors than a dress. Allow mission presidents to modify standards according to local custom. Jesus didn’t dress up to teach his gospel. He joined the people. So if you want our missionaries to become as the Good Shepherd, let them first be their own steward.

Yeah, I know. Aint gonna happen. And yes, the Church, like all private enterprises, has the right to set a dress standard. No argument there.  (Insert heavy sigh.) I suppose, like all the good girls, I should say, “Thank you for the bone,” and try to bite into it without breaking my teeth. Maybe I can suck some marrow out if I just get right with the Lord.

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. D&C 58:26

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