Pants in the Pulpit Pt. I: A Mother’s Act of Resistance

There weren’t too many things my mother hid from me. From a very early age, I knew her views on the world, modern medicine, faith, and more. My mother played the congas in our nondenominational Christian church each Sunday, serving in music ministry. In many ways, she was an extension of “the pulpit.”

The pulpit, in many such traditions, is an honored and sacred space. It is the site through which revelatory words flow for the healing of the people. One Sunday, our pastor pulled my mother aside: “He told me it’s not proper for women to wear pants in the pulpit.”

Our pastor was loving, intense, and well-meaning, but like many, had not escaped implicit & problematic ideologies. From that Sunday forward, the expectation was set: no pants (for women) in the pulpit. I was a child at this time, around 7 years old, and what would follow after that Sunday was a lesson I could never forget.

Scholar, Rose Weitz (2001) breaks it down like this:

“As Michel Foucault (1979, 1980) described, to carry out the tasks of modern economic and social life, societies require “docile bodies,” such as regimented soldiers, factory workers who perform their tasks mechanically, and students who sit quietly. To create such bodies, “disciplinary practices” have evolved through which individuals both internalize and act on the ideologies that underlie their own subordination. In turn, these disciplinary practices have made the body a site for power struggles and, potentially, for resistance, as individual choices about the body become laden with political meanings.

For millennia, women’s subordinate position has been justified by an ideology that labeled their bodies and brains as inferior (Weitz 1998) and has been reinforced by a unique set of disciplinary practices aimed at creating a submissive and “feminine” body…” p. 668

What women do with their bodies in sacred spaces, the ways they conform, their choices to resist, holds weight and has a ripple effect from one generation to the next.

My mother is a very practical woman. She isn’t one for navel-gazing and she prefers action to ideas. For her, wearing pants in the pulpit was simply the most logical thing to do. “I’m playing the congas, and that involves my whole body. I need to feel free while I’m playing. So that means I’m wearing pants.” Each week, I watched her wear pants. Each week, for about a month, she got pulled to the side. Until one day, no one said anything.

Shortly after, I noticed that more women were beginning to wear pants. In my mind’s eye, I remember the conversations happening in hushed corners – the realization that they could choose what they wore. They could reject the assertion that proper women did not wear pants in the pulpit… without saying a word. 

Words are not necessarily my mother’s “thing”. They are mine. What she has done with her body, I now do with my pen. At an early age, I saw that there was a middle – a gray area – a space that would be uniquely mine to navigate as a woman of color in a sacred space. The choices of how I would navigate that would be up to me… and it wouldn’t always be easy…

Resources
WEITZ, R. (10/2001). “WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686.

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Pants in the Pulpit Pt. I: A Mother’s Act of Resistance by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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