The Scientology Rule asks adherents to ponder how their actions would look if performed by a Scientologist. If they look cultish when others do it, they are cultish when you do it. The point is to escape the bubble and see yourself from the outside. It is not always pretty but generally worth it if you want to try to avoid fundamentalist, kooky, or pernicious behaviour.
Looking at Pantsgate from the outside, one sees nothing of good report. I wish I could dismiss it as a brouhaha only boiling in the Mormon bubble. After all, I am in a faraway ward in which women would wear trousers without much notice, so I ought not to care. But when these things reach the pages of the Daily Mail it is my religion that is being defined for the masses over here, whether I like it or not. So it is my business.
What do we see? Firstly we see a religion that looks like it inhabits a world straight out of Pleasantville. It is normal for religious people to dress modestly but this is not about modesty, it is about the sacralisation of 1950s clothing norms. Normal people do not want to return to the misogyny of the 1950s — however pretty the dresses — and so Mormonism comes across as a petty throwback to a somewhat discredited age. This is the news as reported by the gentile press. That this passes as a feminist protest in Mormonism looks kind of cute and harmless to me as an insider — this is a very well behaved, very Mormon protest! — but from the outside it’s a red flag of weirdness.
The second thing we see is even worse. The Pants Day Facebook page was shut down because, as I understand it, the nastiness spiralled out of control. One expects bad behaviour on the internet but that this was undertaken by Mormons is embarrassing. There is a lot of religious sparring on blogs and message boards but the Facebookers were mostly just your average member, checking in to spew their disgust in an occasionally misogynistic and violent manner and very often dismissive and Pharisaical. If this is what lurks under the surface when we are confronted by a harmless display of non-conformity such as this then we should be worried. This second story has not yet been picked by the media and I hope it won’t be.
I am disheartened. I have made efforts to counter media disdain of Mormonism over here but I think it may be a losing battle. The church itself has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to display the modern face of Mormonism as a religion firmly engaged with the world of 2012 not 1952. I fear that this is a waste. Perhaps the “I am a Mormon” adverts should be removed from taxis and put up at church because here is the message we insiders need to hear: the modest woman wearing pants (and all the other people she symbolises) is a Mormon too. Please, please just leave her (him) alone and stop equating the mild raising of a hand to express concern about gender imbalance as some kind of virulent apostasy.
When this Pants Day thing was announced, the women in my house were kind of meh. Trousers are worn from time to time, but dresses and skirts are nice too. However, now that the naked disdain for women and the passive-aggressive witch-hunt against those who do not wish to conform to arbritary cultural mores has come to the fore, they are now going trouser shopping on Saturday. They feel it imperative to do so. I agree.