The thing about defiance is that it’s never quiet.
I don’t mean that it’s never whispered down the line with a quick “pass it on” tacked to the end, because it often is. I don’t mean that it’s never silent, because it often is. I don’t mean that it’s never written, because it often is, or conveyed through color and shape on a canvas rather than fists and demonstrations. It often is.
When I say that defiance is never quiet, I mean that defiance always affects someone. It makes their mind race and keeps them up at night. It fills pages with poetry, canvases with color; defiance is a preamble to creation. Defiance never sleeps. Defiance spreads quickly and noticeably. And defiance is never quiet.
I was six when I asked my mother why only the men in our church could talk to God.
She was in the kitchen, cooking, and I was coming out of the adjacent bathroom. As soon as the words left my mouth, I heard the click of the stove being turned off, the padding of my mother’s slippers on the tile floor. She appeared beside me and tugged on my hand, pulling me to the carpeted ground. It was quiet for a long moment as my mother chose her words.
“The Church says it’s because women can have babies,” she told me. “That’s our way of being close to God. It’s our way of serving Him.”
I furrowed my brow. “I don’t want babies. I want to talk to God.”
My mother looked at me with emotion in her eyes. “I know. I want to talk to Him, too. It isn’t fair, Erica. It isn’t fair.” I could tell there was more she wanted to say, but she simply hugged me and stood up to finish dinner.
It felt strange to me that she didn’t have an answer. My mother always had the answer.
The Pants Quilt is a beautiful patchwork of color. In the foreground, striking black trees stand tall upon gray mountains. They are backed by a stunning purple sky. The sun sets behind a silver mountain—or maybe rises, it’s hard to tell. A river connects the two scenes. I know very little about art, and even less about quilting, but the Pants Quilt has always amazed me. That amazement has come partly from the breathtaking scene it depicts, but I think the really poignant part of the Pants Quilt is what it is made of.
It is made of defiance.
I was six when, on a chilly December Sunday morning, my mother came out of her bedroom before church dressed in a purple blouse and gray slacks.
This was odd for me to see. On Sunday mornings, my mother always wore skirts. My sister and I picked our best dresses from our closets. It was just the way it was. Women didn’t wear pants to church. But it was ten minutes before we were to leave, and my mother seemed to have no intention of changing.
My hands found my own long skirt, and I felt the fabric, smooth under my fingers. My mother seemed to think that nothing was out of the ordinary, and no one dared to mention the pants. The determination and defiance in her eyes warned us away from that.
We loaded into the car and drove the mile to the church building. As we walked in, I was overwhelmingly aware of the eyes on us. Though no one said a word, it was obvious that everyone had seen my mother’s pants. I couldn’t tell whether their prying eyes were full of contempt or admiration.
I didn’t find out about the backlash my mother received for wearing pants on that day until much later. We’d left the Church a year or so back. I’d just gotten a Facebook page and I was stalking my mother’s timeline.
My eyes slid over the page, not really digesting the words, but they caught on a photo attached to a post. It was a photo of a beautiful piece of art. I couldn’t tell what medium it was, but the vibrant purples and the black trees popped out at me. I clicked on it.
It was a quilt. Upon further research, I discovered that the quilt was created by my mother’s friend. It was made entirely of pants, donated after a December 2012 campaign that called for women to wear pants to church.
There were comments on the post, and despite my good judgement, I clicked on them. They were hostile. There were angry men, who seemed to think that women wearing pants in church was a personal attack on their masculinity. There were passive-aggressive women who described my mother and her friends as “selfish” for focusing on such a “non-issue” when there were so many crucial problems to think of.
I thought back to my mother and the defiance in her eyes on that cold day as I read comment after comment. The anger was loud, but the truth is that support was there too. There were personal stories of women who felt seen, women who wished they’d seen this campaign earlier so they could've contributed, women who wanted to make more quilts. And I smiled, because my mother’s defiance had touched me.
Defiance is never quiet, even when it isn’t spoken. No, defiance is deafening. It’s the determination in my mother’s eyes. It’s the question asked by the socially-aware six-year-old. It’s a purple quilt made of donated pants. Defiance is a voice that speaks into the silence. Defiance gives a voice to those who are afraid to use their own. Defiance is connection. Defiance connected me to my mother, connected my mother to her friends, my mother's friends to women halfway across the country who wanted to make a change.
Defiance is a preamble to creation, and defiance is a preamble to change.