Today in another episode of 21st century-sexism, we discover a new article of clothing society says women should NOT wear: leggings.
In Notre Dame, one mother expressed her clear disdain with the stretchy pants in a letter to the editor aptly titled “The Legging Problem” published in the University of Notre Dame’s student newspaper, The Observer. According to Maryann White, she’s not trying to “insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights.” She insists, “I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”
She goes on to say that she was “baffled” at the trend. Fair enough. But that’s the thing about it: To sit out a fashion trend is your choice—to impose it on other people is another thing. In an anecdote, she shares why she found leggings so problematic. “I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family,” she wrote. “In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug-fitting leggings and all wearing short-waisted tops (so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings). Some of them truly looked as though the leggings had been painted on them.” She then said she felt “ashamed” for those young women. “I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds. My sons know better than to ogle a woman’s body—certainly when I’m around (and hopefully, also when I’m not). They didn’t stare, and they didn’t comment afterwards. But you couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends. I didn’t want to see them—but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.”
She then asserts, “These are not just my sons—they’re the fathers and brothers of your friends, the male students in your classes, the men of every variety who visit campus. I’m fretting both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you. For the Catholic mothers who want to find a blanket to lovingly cover your nakedness and protect you—and to find scarves to tie over the eyes of their sons to protect them from you!” Okay, that last line was rich. That her sons need “protecting” from those women, as if they were the victims—Ha. I’d laugh, if only I wasn’t so pissed.
Comparing wearing leggings to being naked, she further wrote, “We don’t go around naked because we respect ourselves—we want to be seen as a person, not a body.” Adding, “We don’t go naked because we respect the other people who must see us, whether they would or not.” Okay, so let’s unpack these statements. First: respect for oneself. I hardly think wearing leggings equates to losing that. See, contrary to what many may think, fashion is actually a way for most women to express themselves—to get oggled at by pervy men was never the intention. In fact, that’s what we’re trying to fight. I don’t know how many times I wanted to wear something only to change because I realize I’m going to commute, and I am well aware it’s just not safe, especially at night. It’s f*cking frustrating.
Second, she talks about respecting other people. If that’s really what she’s worried about, then it’s highly unfair for her to expect women to adjust to men’s “natural” behavior. Like I said, it’s f*cking frustrating. Instead of telling us what to wear, you should teach your sons not to sexualize women’s bodies. If you’re offended, then that’s on you. We recommend you reevaluate your values and ask yourself where you think that feeling is rooted from. Let me give you a hint: Internalized misogyny.
Even the male students of The University of Notre Dame get it. “I was raised to respect women no matter what they are wearing. So I think women should be able to wear leggings if they want to,” one student told The Observer. “In my opinion, I would never tell someone else how they can or cannot dress, because that is a personal choice, and it doesn’t affect me,” another said. “So why should I tell other people what to do?”
This reminds me of a social experiment someone did on Twitter. All she did was “typed out stuff men usually say to women when they slutshame us then I replaced the pronouns and wrote ‘men’ instead of ‘women.’” The reactions to her post show how absurd it is for society to decide what the “appropriate” kind of dressing is for women.
While I get that “as a Catholic mom,” Maryann is worried about the women getting oggled by men, the problem is, as long as we control women in this way, it just means we’re further abetting the harmful mentality of “boys will be boys” and victim-blaming. Like one grad student who participated in #LeggingsDayND, a movement initiated in defiance of the letter, noted, those who feel entitled to police women’s appearance merely “shift the blame for impropriety.” Women wearing leggings shouldn’t be seen as disgusting or inappropriate—but men overtly sexualizing them should be.