The legging problem—that’s the title of a recent letter to the editor published in the University of Notre Dame’s student newspaper The Observer. That’s right, a concerned mother thinks young women at the university are causing a major problem with their choice of attire.
The woman, Maryann White, says she’s not trying to “insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights” but that she’s simply “a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.” That’s right, ladies—your choice of pants is a problem for all the boys of the world, in her opinion.
“I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family,” she writes. “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.”
“A world in which women continue to be depicted as ‘babes’ by movies, video games, music videos, etc. makes it hard on Catholic mothers to teach their sons that women are someone’s daughters and sisters,” she continued. “That women should be viewed first as people—and all people should be considered with respect.”
Instead, she says she doesn’t understand why women would choose to wear a garment that exposes “their nether regions” and that she was “ashamed” for the women she saw wearing them to Mass. “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),” she explained. “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.” White then makes the leap to comparing the wearing of leggings to nakedness that she wants to “throw a blanket over” in hopes of protecting the poor boys who won’t be able to help themselves.
Oh man, that’s a lot to unpack. But let me, an avid legging-as-pants wearer, say that my choice of clothing should in no way—ever—affect whether or not another person can keep themselves from respecting me and my personal boundaries. That’s true for every woman whether she’s wearing a skirt somebody deems too short, her favorite pair of leggings, or skintight jeans. It’s low-key victim blaming and my comfy pants and I want no part of it. Debating what is and is not appropriate for women to wear is certainly nothing new—but it is exhausting and, frankly, annoying considering it’s 2019.
Many female students at Notre Dame agreed.
The Washington Post reports that more than 1000 students had plans to participate in a protest by wearing leggings to class this week. “Participating in #LeggingsDayND with @Irish4RepHealth and thousands of other ND community members in defiance of those who feel entitled to police womxn’s appearance & shift the blame for impropriety,” grad student Kate Bermingham wrote on Twitter.
Another woman at the university wrote about the protests on Facebook announcing Leggings Pride Day: “Hello legging lovers of the Notre Dame Community! Don’t leave your leggings behind(s) tomorrow and join in our legging wearing hedonism! (Or not because what you wear is completely your own choice!) Love your leggings, love your body, love yourself!”
The students then showed off their leggings on social media.
Others off-campus also showed their support.
Turns out many of the male students White is so worried about are a little more evolved, and also thought White’s letter was problematic. “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?”
It’s not clear exactly how many students participated in the protests, but I think the organizers made their point—and started a real conversation on campus about how people try to police and judge women’s bodies and choices. Maryann White is probably horrified. I’m just proud.