Emily from Provo, Utah, wrote:
Hello sisters. I am going on a mission in March and just went through the temple a couple of weeks ago. I have some family and friends who aren’t very supportive and warned me all about it but I love the temple and I love my garments.
My problem is that my roommate is about to received her endowments (she is getting married between Christmas and New Year’s) and she is very negative about it. She wants to get married in the temple but she has heard the temple is sexist and she thinks the garments are dowdy and silly.
What can I do to convince her of the truth?
As with many things in life, people experience the temple and garment wearing differently. Much of it also depends on the background of the person and how much they know about the topic before they experience it for themselves. Let’s look at the two issues of going through the temple for the first time and garment wearing separately from each other.
The first time at the temple is a very different experience than what they are used to for most members of the church. Even with temple preparation classes or speaking with someone who has been through the temple, there may be aspects that some may find “different” than what they were expecting. For some, this is even anxiety-producing and confusing. At any rate, it is a day loaded with a lot of deep issues to consider and carries with it a lot of emotion for a lot of people. It is not uncommon for people to need many visits to the temple before they start to feel comfortable, and for some they never do. Others are able to process it quickly and have a beautiful experience from the beginning and never have any concerns with the temple at all.
My best advice for your friend is to focus on each aspect of the temple on its own rather than only focusing on the sealing (which is the anticipated part for your friend). Encourage her to really listen to the blessings given in the initiatory and the covenants that are made in the endowment.
As for garment wearing, for most of us who have been doing that for years it is just second nature and would feel very strange not to wear them. We can hardly remember a time when we didn’t. However, even if you were raised in a home where you are familiar with garments, wearing them yourself takes some getting used to. Your clothing choices might need to be adjusted in some ways, your clothing will “feel” different, some find menstruation to be particularly challenging while wearing garments, etc. The fact of the matter is that women are just not used to wearing this type of underclothing and it takes some time for most to be comfortable with it.
My best advice is to be supportive of your friend and help her to focus on the aspects of the temple that she is comfortable with. Love her and encourage her to be positive about the temple and to look for the symbolism both in the temple and in the garment.
Not knowing if you’ve already tried answering her concerns, or if you just listened as she told them to you, I’ll give a few ideas as to how you can address them, assuming you didn’t already.
Yes, garments are plain and antiquated. And? Does it even matter? They’re worn under the clothes where no one can see them. So why would it matter that they aren’t covered in chevron stripes or have a kitschy crown with the words “Keep calm and be holy”? Do they need to be fashionable and trendy? They’re underwear. Since no one besides her future husband would see them anyway, saying the garments are “dowdy” suggests she has a concern about a lack of “sexiness” for her man.
Sure, women like to “sexy up” for their husbands in the bedroom—and certainly, garments weren’t designed to be “sexy.” But wearing garments doesn’t prevent anyone from donning a negligee when wanting to be intimate. When she wants to have a romantic evening with her husband, she can just take her garments off, put on her pink nightie and bat her eyes to her heart’s content. Why should what her underwear looks like when she’s not being intimate, matter? Has she considered that her husband will be wearing the same thing? And really, all she has to do is look at nearly every married, temple going Mormon on the planet. Look at the size of their families. Temple going Mormons have larger families than most. Evidently, what their underwear looks like isn’t preventing anything from happening in the bedroom.
Sexism in the temple
There is no “sexism” in the temple. Every person, man, woman, Relief Society bulletin board coordinator, Bishop, Sunbeam teacher, and Stake President all wear the same clothing, make the same covenants, receive the same promised blessings and are answerable to the same God for the keeping of those covenants. Period.
Those are all pretty surface level responses to her pretty temporal, surface level concerns, but honestly, there seems to me to be a deeper, spiritual problem.
It’s one thing to think that the garment is “dowdy”—it is, after all, not meant to be colorful or stylish.
But I wonder what she really means by “silly.”.Silly as in “dumb”? Silly as in “what a stupid and pointless thing to wear?” Calling it “silly” makes me wonder if she really has no understanding of their importance, sacred nature, and symbolism. It also concerns me that she seems to be giving more credence to the negative comments of friends calling the temple “sexist,” than she is to everything she’s heard from gospel lessons about the temple. Did she grow up in the church? Did she go through primary? Young Women? Does she regularly attend Sunday School and Relief Society? Does she go to Sacrament meeting? Does she listen to conference? If so, then I’m wondering what is causing her to put more weight on the negative comments of her friends than everything else she’s heard during gospel talks and lessons. Did she go to temple prep classes? She should have. You might want to ask her and suggest to her that she should if she hasn’t.
Lastly, does her bishop know she feels this way? Has she been honest with him about her thoughts? How is she planning on answering temple recommend questions? Is she going to be honest? Or is she going to say what she thinks are the “right” answers? What about her fiancé? Does he know how she feels—that she’s worried her covenants with him will be sexist in nature, somehow making her subservient to him and “less than”? How is her fiancé going to feel six months after the marriage if/when she decides she’s going to stop wearing her garments because she thinks they’re dowdy and silly?
She needs to be honest with both of them. And before she attends the temple, she really needs to spend some time in a temple prep class, in her scriptures, maybe in counsel with her bishop, and definitely on her knees.
Emily, thank you for writing. We haven’t entertained a Circle of Sisters question in years, but maybe this will be the start of something. We appreciate that you entrusted us with your question.
The answer I will give today is much different than the answer I would have given 30 (or 20) years ago. Perspective changes over time and mine has on this issue. First of all, I want to you consider this question: Of what specific truths you are trying to convince your roommate? I don’t know the answer to this (yet), but I’ll try my best anyway.
I used to think that in order to be faithful, I had to respond positively and happily and supportively to every policy and practice in the church. Anything critical of anything related to the church was the equivalent of being critical of God himself. Any concern showed lack of faith, lack of gospel knowledge, lack of testimony, lack of loyalty, etc.
With regard to the temple, that meant I had to love the initiatory, love the endowment, love the sealing, love the garments, love the clothing, love the dressing room, and probably even love the cafeteria food (if applicable).
With regard to gender, that means I cannot: want parity between girls’ and boys’ programs (and budgets); expect the quorums to provide the ward dinner at least a tenth as many times as the Relief Society is expected to provide it; pronounce that it is inappropriate for a middle-aged married man to ask my teenage daughters questions about their possible sexual behavior; voice my concern that so few women pray and speak in general meetings; note that men in leadership are given titles and women are not; explain the problem with having no women designated as “authorities”; and absolutely, positively cannot want the priesthood (even while being required to honor and admire it).
With regard to race, that means I had to whole-heartedly support the exclusion of black men and women from the priesthood and temple ordinances until 1978, agree with various and sundry authoritatively given reasons, rejoice when the policy changed, and (almost) condemn the practice (and blame Brigham Young) when the church published “Race and the Priesthood” earlier this year.
Cognitive dissonance? Yes. Easy to navigate? Ask Randy Bott.
While the race policy changed when I was only 14, I spent years prior to the change asking my parents why it was so. It made no more sense to me to keep someone out of the temple for having a different color of skin than it did for people to hate me because I had a different color of hair, but the policy elevated color to a level of importance that was incomprehensible to me. Even then I couldn’t support something that seemed so wrong, but I was sure there was a missing piece that would clarify the issue. I was sure it was just me, lacking in faith, lacking in spiritual insight, lacking in understanding. (It should also be noted that Jeffrey R. Holland said he prayed for years that it would change…before he was an apostle. Proving, apparently, that my lack of enthusiasm for institutionalized racism wasn’t necessarily evil, even if it did contradict church policy.)
To be clear, I didn’t pull these odd ideas about supposed faithfulness out of the ether. They were, and are, prevalent in our church today. Here are some examples from a post at Wheat & Tares:
you people complaining about the “sexist elements” really are clueless and are completely missing the point of the endowment. Try reading Genesis, Moses, and Abraham lol These films are approved by true apostles of jesus christ……..at least thats what you should know to be true if you are in fact viewing the film in the house of the lord.
As for those thinking the temple ceremony is inherently sexist, it is obvious you simply don’t have a clue what the temple or gospel is all about…..sorry to be blunt, but you are missing the entire point….
The temple isn’t sexist. If you think it is, then you don’t understand God or the temple.
This type of comment is incredibly common. If you “make the church look bad” — even with truth — some throw down the apostate card. And who wants to be labeled an apostate? Suffice it to say that there are any number of people who have been disciplined, sanctioned, and even excommunicated for publishing the material the new church essays are finally acknowledging as fact.
Overburdened Spiritual Shelves
In 2007 I wrote a post titled “The Prayer Thing: Why Women Aren’t Worthy to Open Meetings.” To the best of my recollection, that was the first time I dared write anything publicly that was openly critical of a practice, implementation, or leader. Some might say that was the day I whooshed down the slippery slope. I’d say that was the day I regained my sanity and started working through the truth rather than putting so many things on my crowded “spiritual shelf.”
That’s not to say I still don’t have a shelf. I do. I’m an active member with a temple recommend, so I have to be able to answer all those questions appropriately. Doing so requires a shelf for all those things I still don’t get (or the leaders don’t get or…) But my shelf is no longer loaded down with dusty volumes I’m pretending aren’t there. Rather, it is stuffed with issues I take down on a regular basis to revisit, reevaluate, reconsider in light of any knowledge I have gained and/or authoritative changes since my last perusal.
On the issue of women praying, for example, it’s off my shelf entirely. It is resolved. First the handbook changed to more clearly reflect the intent. Then — yes, after some public pressure — our church leaders corrected the issue by example. When Jean A. Stevens gave the benediction in the Saturday morning session of General Conference, it debunked some of the myth. The next afternoon when Carole M Stephens gave the invocation, the long-held practice was obliterated. No matter how entrenched in tradition, I have not come across a single bishop or stake president since who insists that women can’t say opening prayers in Sacrament Meeting when they can in General Conference, even though before this event my non-scientific evidence says about thirty percent of wards in the US were enforcing this non-policy.
When — after a week of craziness and much public questioning — the General Women’s Meeting finally became an official part of General Conference — instead of an addendum held before but printed after — another volume on my shelf was relegated to the dustbin.
When the church published the polygamy essays the horrendous, bloated polygamy volume came down, was dusted off, and looked at carefully. The only conclusions I could honesty reach were that all the bizarre stuff I (finally) learned from “anti-Mormon” sources in the early 90s was (finally) being acknowledged as fact…and it still makes no sense at all. Back to the shelf, more problematic than ever.
The first time I went through the temple (in 1985, the week before I married) I was startled by many things. Mostly it was the ritual and symbolism that threw me. I wasn’t prepared for how pervasive it is in the temple, when it plays a relatively small part in our day-to-day worship.
I had taken temple prep, but the course (in my experience) doesn’t even mention most of the things that tend to be troubling to people. I told my mother I was scared about the initiatory and surprised that women performed ordinances in the temple, but other than that, I expressed no concern about anything. I thought it would be sinful (or at least faithless) to do so.
I didn’t love it, but I was expected to say I did and expected to say it was the most spiritual thing I’d ever experienced in my entire life. (Not from my parents, to be clear, from LDS culture as I saw it.) But neither was true. The experience was odd and disconcerting and interesting and mystical. There were similarities to rituals I’d experienced in other religions and some that I had never imagined. Mostly, the temple confused me. But I knew any concerns should be worked out internally with prayer and much repetition.
Surprisingly. the sexism in both the endowment and sealing ceremony largely escaped me initially. I did notice some differences, but having grown up not only in a sexist society, but in a church that had enormous gender disparity, not only did it not bother me much, but I expected it to be there. (As noted, one reason the initiatory disturbed me was that it never occurred to me that women could possibly perform ordinances.)
It was only as time went on that the sexism in the temple became more obvious — and more painful — for me to deal with. As I saw it more clearly in the outside world (and say changes being made to alleviate it), I also saw it more clearly in the church — and the temple. It is now profoundly evident to me. As I watch younger women — those who have been raised in a general culture with much less sexism than I did — attend the temple, I am often struck by how difficult it is for them to see the issue so clearly, all at once, from the very start. In some ways, easing into it was probably easier for me.
The “new” endowment films in 1990 were very different and, in my opinion, a huge improvement from those I first saw. Not only were the most relatable for the current culture, but less sexist as well. This made me hopeful that there would/could at least be incremental movement toward more gender equality, consistency, and, most of all, reasonability as time went on.
The newest set of films introduced last year sadly have identical scripts but do make Eve less of an automaton and slightly more human, thoughtful, and involved. In the first of these films Adam looks at Eve for confirmation at a particular point and, while she says nothing, she slightly nods her approval. (In the past films I’d seen, she wasn’t part of the equation at all.) The first time I saw this, I burst into tears. Every time since I have cried with joy. Yes, I understand how problematic it is that Eve’s tiny bit of involvement is still so unusual as to put me over the edge. But I do cling to such inclusion with the understanding that large institutions serving wildly diverse cultures — particularly those lead almost exclusively by men who are (still) a generation or two older that I am — will not move as quickly as I would like toward a gender norm I am comfortable with.
I was endowed nearly 30 years ago. Sometimes I don’t love my garments. Most of the time, I’m completely neutral about them at this point, but sometimes (nursing, pregnancy, periods, clothing choices (and, no I don’t mean tying to be “immodest” — that has never been my thing)) garments have frustrated me just as any other clothing issues can be frustrating. Sometimes more because I am required to wear them, when other problematic clothing could be discarded.
In spite of the new church video‘s claims, women’s garments are not remotely “similar in design to ordinary, modest underclothing.” Given that, it would be helpful if we were honest about this (as if it isn’t patently obvious) and if we would help ease the transition from real ordinary underwear to garments.
Rather than demand that “faithful” people gush about how comfy cozy and perfectly enthralling garments are, let’s just deal with the fact that they are sometimes comfortable and sometimes restrictive. The fit (or lack thereof) can make regular bodily functions hard to deal with. The required layering can make one excessively hot and/or sweaty and/or bulky. (I had three of my pregnancies in subtropical South Florida. I thought I would die.) The various fabrics have different cuts and fits and you have to buy them to figure it all out.
Personally, I would love it if our “outward expression of an inward commitment” were just about anything other than underwear. First, underwear isn’t very “outward.” Second, underwear just cries out to be mocked. Third, I’m not sure the pros outweigh the cons for many, many members as it now stands.
It’s OK Not to Be Ecstatic About Every Church Policy and Practice
We can’t conflate discomfort with particular policies and practices with unfaithfulness or even of something we have to help someone overcome. It’s just part of life. Some things “fit” us (no pun intended) and some things are more difficult for us to deal with.
I loved being the Relief Society president, Gospel Doctrine teacher (three of the four times!), Relief Society teacher, Relief Society counselor, Young Women advisor, and stake choir director. Just about in that order. I do not like anything in Primary, ward/stake camp director (shoot me!), and if I ever get called into scouts you will find me crying on the bathroom floor. Or calling in sick every week for a couple of years. Or something drastic.
That’s OK! We are all unique with different temperaments, opinions, etc. Helping her understand the importance of garments is a good idea, but she still might not love (or even like them). That’s OK. I will probably never like scouts and will still keep hoping the church stops officially sanctioning it. Until that becomes a temple recommend question, I’m not going to worry about that!
A couple of points:
Garments are a policy item and part of our current religious ritual experience. Ritual is very important in binding communities and garments are probably one of the most significant in this regard because they are so peculiar. Still the specifics of garments have changed markedly since the restoration and probably will continue to do so. The specifics aren’t doctrinal and we have not (to my knowledge) ever been told how much about them is changeable. Whether or not we love the particular implementation of garment wearing that is in force today is neither here nor there.
It is the very frustration from members that was voiced that gave rise to the changes in style, fabric, and even policy about how we wear them (such as being allowed to wear bras under garments instead of over due to problems for women with prosthesis). When my husband went on his mission, all garments were one-piece. When I was married there were few fabrics that were tolerable in, say, tropical climates. Military garments (which are khaki colored and have the marks silkscreened inside so they don’t show (only currently available for men last time I checked) are relatively new.
My hope is that your friend is shown love and compassion as she adjusts to the new things she will be experiencing. It’s a lifelong journey for all of us.
Best wishes on your mission, Emily! Sister power!