Concerns about the Zika virus has forced the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to loosen their dress and grooming guidelines for young female missionaries.
Young women make up to almost 30 percent of all Mormon missionaries. Mormon leaders are giving their women missionaries permission to wear pants to protect their legs from mosquitoes while missioning in hotter climates to protect them from mosquito-born diseases such as Zika, chikungunya, and dengue. Women are still expected to wear dresses and skirts to church services and to the Mormon temple.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders also updated their dress and grooming guidelines to allow men and women to wear sun hats and sunglasses.
Don’t expect to be seeing Mormon missionaries donning mirrored Ray Bans and swanky fedoras — the instructions from the top are explicit about being “simple and conservative,” have provided examples on the church website. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that in the 1980s, missionaries wore sunglasses in hotter climates without official permission, which sometimes lead to people confusing them for CIA operatives or FBI agents.
Of the 15 million Mormons worldwide, there are about 74,000 missionaries currently serving, including many in areas such as South America and Africa and island nations such as Tonga.
The rule changes expand on an update last year giving permission for missionaries in hot climates to not wear jackets and just wear a shirt and tie.
Missionaries are prohibited from wearing baseball, cowboy, bucket, fedora and newsboy style hats, and only in beige, gray or straw. The approved styles look more like gardening hats and allow for some color on the band for the women.
The relaxation of dress code for female missionaries comes hot on the heels of calls for a re-think of teachings about rape for women, with some current Mormon believers saying it is wrong to blame women for being raped.
For decades now, Mormon women have been taught that it’s better to die clean than to live an unclean life. Early Mormon teachings also prescribe that a woman will only be considered not “guilty of unchastity” if she resisted an attacker “with all her strength and energy.”
Michael Austin, a Mormon and a graduate of the Brigham Young University (BYU), wrote on a Latter Day Saints blog that Mormon schools should reject outdated teachings that men have a natural sex drive, while women should dress modestly and act appropriately so as not to attract sexual attention. “Some Mormons came right out and blamed women for breaking rules with the clear implication that getting raped is the punishment they deserve because they are, you know, sinners,” Christian Today reported he wrote, and he went on to say that these teachings might prevent Mormon rape victims from coming forward for help rather than be implicated with violating church teachings and being shamed by peers.
The Christian Today article goes on to report the case of Mormon student Meagan Leyva, a first-year student who took months to report a sexual assault for fear of being ostracised. Mormon therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife chimes in that this reaction is common and is causing more problems than it is solving and that the teaching that men are powerless over their sexual desires is a dangerous teaching. “They are the actors in sexual situations, but they are also taught they can’t control it,” she said.
“We want to look away from human cruelty. We want to believe somehow it was deserved or such women had it coming… We want to think a woman like that had more control than she had. That makes us all feel better,” the therapist told Religion News.
Austin believes it may be time for the church to reverse the use of shame, and instead of shaming the victims, shame the men for objectifying women and for refusing to be accountable for their actions. “We’ve made victims feel ashamed and not predators.”
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