DEBORAH: When I wrote my last post on the new missionary dress code, I had only the public announcement made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a comment, an SQ reader supplied the official wording, as it landed in the hands of our female missionaries. I’d like to say that the additional information demonstrated a greater mindfulness and care for the young women who serve. However, what it did was confirm that sexism—an inconsideration for the additional burdens the formal Church places on women—is alive and well.
The reader made this comment on SQ’s last post, excerpting the relevant passage from the information provided the sister missionaries:
“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.
What this means is that the Brethren are commanding women to carry a change of clothing to and from the events listed or to wear a skirt all day, in spite of the health risks our leaders are so worried about. I’m wondering where the Brethren expect our young women to change before all these meetings? In tight, toilet-occupied bathroom stalls? In the Mother’s Room, which, during meetings with the local general population, are already insufficient for the needs of mothers and nursing babies? Of course most ward buildings in developed areas have a changing area associated with the bathroom nearest the baptismal font. You know, the small space that is designed for one person, a baptismal candidate, who just might have need of it before and after their baptismal service?
Some resourceful person will probably suggest that a classroom be designated as a changing room, at least at events where the number of sister missionaries will be high, like at a zone conference. This person might even think ahead and put up a partition inside the door to protect any peeping Elder Thomases from catching a glance and having an impure thought.
It may seem like a small sacrifice to change before and after meetings. I wonder, though, if it’d seem like such a small sacrifice after the men in authority start hearing confessions of impure thoughts from the touch-starved, hormonal 18- to 20-year-old men who know a cluster of young, attractive women are stripping behind a door in their proximity.
Let me me lay it out for you, as plainly as I can, what the result of this dress code mandate and its caveat will be:
There will be an increase of resentment toward the sister missionaries, who are well-known to receive the brunt of the blame for problems in the mission already. The sisters will be holding up meetings. The sisters will be making the men stay longer in the buildings. The sisters will (rightly) complain about the extra burden. The sisters will be pressured to wear dresses all day and will be emotionally challenged by the disingenuous claims of concern for them by the men in authority over them. The sisters will have to confront, daily, an attire choice that will lead their strong, intelligent minds to grapple with all the hypocrisy that is wound up tightly in the new dress code rules and caveats. They will come to see themselves as the small sacrifice, and then to see themselves as small in the eyes of men who preside.
Of course, there’s a strong probability that last sad result will grow into a positive: The Church will aid in the creation of a strong, theologically well-versed generation of new Mormon feminists. From my point of view, the quicker our young women see the hypocrisy in our patriarchal system, the better it will be for the Church, for both its organization and culture.
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