The Slack in the New Sister Missionary Dress Code

DEBORAH: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released an announcement that all female missionaries may wear pants. Sometimes. Depending. Not in the temple, not at missionary conferences or various other mission- or church-specific meetings, and, of course, not during any Sunday meetings. Online rejoicing abounds. But not me. I can’t rejoice.

Oh, I know, technically, it’s a positive thing that the Brethren have sanctioned a new dress code that permits women serving as missionaries to wear slacks. But the reason they offer for the change is the same old, authoritarian muddle of benevolent misogyny: they want to protect us.

I realize mosquito-borne disease is a serious concern. Female missionaries in the most infested areas were given permission to wear pants a while back. The recent announcement makes the dress code change applicable to all women in every mission. I wish our leaders would just say they want to standardize the dress code rather than assume an air of paternalism.

Maybe they don’t realize how condescending they’re being. But how can they fail to understand that the young women who carry the gospel to every corner of the Earth can figure out, all on their own, that covering their limbs will better protect them from the threat of mosquito bites? It would be so much better if our leaders simply said, “Sisters, take whatever precautions are in your best interest.”

Instead, we get grandiose articulation about better protecting women—followed by the list of times under which the Brethren will not allow these servants of God to protect themselves. The newsroom announcement reads:

Sister missionaries will continue to wear skirts and dresses when attending the temple and during Sunday worship services, mission leadership and zone conferences, and baptismal services.

Without hint of irony, this list of no-noes comes immediately after the assurance by Sister Cordon that the choice to wear pants v. dresses is “truly optional.”

Well, no. They can’t claim this change is made to promote health considerations and then offer a list of occasions in which women must wear skirts. I can’t get past the hypocrisy of saying, “This change is for your protection, sisters,” followed by, “but here’s the list of times protecting yourself is wrong.” A 20-year-old missionary waiting at a bus stop for a ride to church on Sunday is just as likely to be infected with Zika as she is at the same bus stop Monday through Saturday. If the woman is the concern, value her full-time, from Monday through Sunday. The list of exceptions demonstrates quite plainly that the protection claim is both inaccurate and quite possibly intended to celebrate the benevolence of the rule-makers rather than promote the well-being of female missionaries.

And yet here we are, cheering a group of men who have granted women permission to do, in limited settings, what any reasonable human being would see is in their best interest. Here we are, expressing gratitude to them for moderating, ever so slightly, their dominion and authority over our bodies. Here we are, celebrating a move that will, in fact, further marginalize those of us who wear pants to church, all thanks to an apostolic statement suggesting Sabbath day pant-wearing by women is beneath the dignity of certain callings.

To cheer this—to feel grateful for this—is to reinforce the cultural norm that women are best-served when men of God make decisions for us and that such male approval is a gift. Such gifts are too easily retracted.

If I had a missionary name tag, I’d be wearing it with my slacks to church on Sunday.


Click here to read the follow-up post on the new dress code.

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11 Replies to “The Slack in the New Sister Missionary Dress Code”

  1. With permission, I’m copying and pasting a comment from an anonymous reader, who writes:

    To protect us wasn’t the real reason they changed it. They changed it because all of their onsite research indicated Sisters wearing pants were more approachable and were able to teach more often. It makes Sisters look more current and less awkward, according to the research.

    They also had Sisters wear pants in places like Florida and others because of fear of Zika Virus. The release also stated it was to keep women’s legs warm, etc.

    Its a dress code and missionaries like me knew the crappy dress code when we signed up.

    So, I’m glad they made the change and am not offended because of why change happened. Just wish it had happened a long time ago and that they’d been more transparent about the “why.”


  2. Amen. My daughter is currently serving a mission. When we talked to her on Tuesday she said that the changes being announced were making things harder. She found out about the pants thing because an investigator texted her an article link, “See? You can wear pants.” She’s also pretty sure no Sisters were involved in deciding on the stipend amount they will get to buy pants.


  3. Just a note since you specifically mentioned it, the official guidelines do state:

    “When attending Sunday worship services, leadership and zone conferences, and baptismal services in the mission field, you may wear dress slacks to the meeting location and change into dresses or skirts before the meeting begins,” so technically the bus stop is still a safe space on Sundays.

    But yeah, I’m with you on this one.


    1. Thank you, Shelane. I didn’t have that wording when I wrote this. That might’ve been a good thing because, in truth, the caveat doesn’t improve this. I’ll have a few things to say about this in a part II that I’ll hopefully get up tomorrow (12/31/18). I hope you’ll return to read it. I really appreciate your providing the exact wording.


  4. Amen, Sister! Here’s my question… when are we going to start treating missionaries, who, as you say “carry the gospel to every corner of the Earth”, regardless of gender, like rational, critically thinking adults? My son is serving now and my daughter, a bright, independent young woman, would make a fabulous missionary. However, she currently has no interest in serving because the slide into this paternalistic & pharisaic life would slowly suck the life out of her. Our brilliant, capable young women who have been allowed and encouraged to think for themselves and to figure out who they are will ultimstely opt to take their gifts elsewhere.


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