Maryann White—a self-described Catholic mother of four sons—was horrified to see women wearing leggings at the University of Notre Dame’s campus last fall. White was attending mass when she saw “a group of young women, all clad in clingy Spandex and short tops” sitting in front of her and her family, writes the Washington Post.
She couldn’t believe it.
The mother of four was so distraught that she penned a letter to the Observer, Notre Dame’s student-run publication.
The letter essentially degraded young women who dressed in leggings because, as a mother who is “trying to raise four sons,” it’s near impossible hard to teach them respect when “girls don’t respect themselves.”
I’ve thought about writing this letter for a long time. I waited, hoping that fashions would change and such a letter would be unnecessary — but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights. I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.
The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me. They’re such an unforgiving garment. Last fall, they obtruded painfully on my landscape. I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family. 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. That women should be viewed first as people — and all people should be considered with respect.
I talk to my sons about Princess Leia and how Jabba the Hutt tried to steal her personhood by putting her into a slave girl outfit in which her body became the focus. (That’s the only scene in the whole franchise in which Leia appears in such a way — and it’s forced upon her.)
Leggings are hardly slave girl outfits. And no one is forcing them on the countless young women who wear them. But I wonder why no one thinks it’s strange that the fashion industry has caused women to voluntarily expose their nether regions in this way. I was ashamed for the young women at 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). 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.
I’ve heard women say that they like leggings because they’re “comfortable.” So are pajamas. So is nakedness. And the human body is a beautiful thing. But we don’t go around naked because we respect ourselves — we want to be seen as a person, not a body (like slave-girl Leia). We don’t go naked because we respect the other people who must see us, whether they would or not.
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!
Leggings are so naked, so form fitting, so exposing. Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead? Let Notre Dame girls be the first to turn their backs(ides) on leggings. You have every right to wear them. But you have every right to choose not to. Thanks for listening tothe lecture. Catholic moms are good at those!
Unsurprisingly, White’s letter had the exact opposite response than what she had hoped for: Women were so pissed off, that more than 1,000 students at the private Catholic University in South Bend, Ind., said they’d be donning leggings to class this week.
On social media, women clapped back against White’s shaming letter by hashtagging photos of themselves with #leggingsdayND.
a Catholic mom published an opinion in ND’s newspaper that leggings Lead Men Into Sin so we’re protesting our right to not be responsible for men and to not be constantly policed by morals or femininity #LeggingsDayND pic.twitter.com/bN7oTNheIc
— anne-marie (@anniejarr) March 26, 2019
OMFG, lady. Really? Yes. God forbid your sons see women in leggings. ? Are we REALLY blaming women for men not controlling their sexual thoughts and urges? Gross. #leggingsdayND https://t.co/aoLSOwPjgo
— Fancy Pants (@Smkidd7584) March 27, 2019
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A piece was recently published in the student paper (by a concerned parent) about how it distracts men on campus when women wear leggings. Today I'm joining students and colleagues for Leggings Day, working and teaching in my sparkliest leggings. Not pictured elements of the outfit: my ND gender studies sweatshirt. And a blazer, of course. #leggingsdaynd
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This is what I wore to work today. Because my colleagues and students couldn't care less about what I wear on my legs, as long as I'm an effective and caring educator. Which is exactly what they should be focusing on. #leggingsdayND #sorrynotsorry #leggingsday1 #leggingsprideday #educator #teacherlife #teachersofinstagram https://ndsmcobserver.com/2019/03/the-legging-problem/
— Dani Green (@danigreen41) March 26, 2019
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Sporting my leggings with pride today in support of my fellow Irish ☘️ women at my alma mater.?? No one can tell you how to dress or not. Everyone has the right to dress as they please. Leggings are not the problem! Women & how they dress shouldn’t be blamed for a negative patriarchal mindset. That mentality needs to change. Women should be seen as equals not as objects. If clothing were the issue, women who are fully covered up should face no ogling or harassment. The prevalence of negative behavior against women in countries like India prove that clothing is NOT the issue. We need to address the real issue…not just always place the blame on women’s wear. #LeggingsDayND #LoveMyLeggings #NotreDame #LeggingsAreNotTheProblem #PutYourBestFootForward #Leggings #ProudAlumni
— The Observer (@NDSMCObserver) March 26, 2019
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Yesterday the school newspaper published (another!) letter to the editor that implored "girls" on campus to stop wearing leggings on account of how they incite male lust. (I wish I was joking. The letter also makes terrible use of General Leia Organa as an example of sexual immodesty, which is perhaps its greatest offense.) Anyway, our students immediately recognized the same logics used to produce shame about their bodies and to blame them for their own experiences of harassment and assault. So now everybody's wearing leggings all week in femme protest/solidarity, and the whole thing has inspired some fun discussions in our Gender Studies classes. (Scrawls here are from my students discussing how both the letter and the responses to it reproduce cishetero norms. Leggings are American Apparel c. 2010. Attitude is 100% 2019.) #LeggingsDayND
As Diana Tourjée wrote for Broadly last September, leggings are LITERALLY PANTS.
“Questioning whether you can wear leggings as pants is like asking if you can wear a top hat as a hat,” wrote Tourjée. “This isn’t even a question, as it answers itself: Nothing can stop a top hat from being a hat, and nothing can stop leggings from being, fundamentally, pants.”
She went on to break down the misogynistic brainwashing that has taken place to fool women into believing leggings are not actually pants: “Leggings fit all kinds of bodies, they don’t drastically reshape bodies, and they allow the silhouette of the body to be more visible than it is in most other pants. Isn’t it curious that some of the most comfortable, accessible, and universally wearable pieces of clothing that women love to wear would be subjected to a such a hostile social rejection?”
The last thing women will be doing is thinking of boys—let alone their mothers—next time we go shopping, Maryann.
h/t: The Observer.