A letter to the editor from a Catholic mother titled “The Legging Problem” was printed in The Observer. In it, she called on women to stop wearing leggings to protect their own dignity and help the men who can’t do anything but ogle them.
Unsurprisingly, the suggestion is causing a lot of controversy.
Maryann White begins her letter very directly.
“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.”
Her letter continues, talking about how socially uncomfortable the garment is, and compared women wearing leggings to the famously skimpy outfit Princess Leia is forced to wear by a villain in Star Wars.
White’s biggest concern, however, are the wandering thoughts and eyes of her four sons. When the fashion “obtruded painfully” on her and her family, she could no longer remain silent.
“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.”
Her feelings on the girls continued a little later in the letter.
“..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.”
The problem here is the focus on how it’s the women who have to change to make others more comfortable.
Stop blaming women's clothes for men's actions! https://t.co/mxBIxzablP
— Amanda Marie (@beingamanda) March 27, 2019
— Ally Jones (@allyson1of3) March 26, 2019
Women don’t need to be ashamed of their bodies for the sake of shielding men.https://t.co/zDdoYqigXI
— Natalie Chevalier (@natchevs) March 26, 2019
there are a lot of things i miss about working at the observer, but having to edit things like this is not one of them lmaohttps://t.co/k8eLXX2pH6
— alex carson (@_alexcarson) March 26, 2019
The letter drew the ire of the student body.
The Observer is the student-run newspaper for the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College in Indiana. After the letter was printed, the students organized a demonstration on campus, with around 1300 students attending “The Legging Protest.”
Others protested in a different way, purposefully choosing to wear leggings and tops that showed their midriffs.
Either way, the letter evoked some very strong reactions.
guess who’s still going to wear leggings to class tomorrow: ????????♀️ https://t.co/0UULUCrdWV
— Ashley Sullivan (@aesully98) March 25, 2019
Not only do I love leggings,I love that big women have embraced form fitting clothes.
On top of THAT, I think they look confident and sexy in them.
Your mileage my vary. https://t.co/wka6YpAYxK
— Marsha Warfield (@MarshaWarfield) March 26, 2019
Y’all…I have SO MANY thoughts on this ????????????https://t.co/mqzti9NOF2
— Rachel (@rachel_charney) March 27, 2019
— gabbs (@gabbiexterese__) March 26, 2019
The letter has also led to written responses.
The first, titled “The legging problem: A response” acknowledges that White’s comments were “likely intended to be innocuous.”
However, it also pointed out that they contribute to a society that punishes and blames women for the actions of men:
“The notion that women should not wear something because men can’t control themselves shifts blame away from the onlooker to the wearer, i.e., that it is the woman’s fault for wearing said clothing but not men’s fault for having these impulses.
“This is the same justification that is used in sexual assault cases — “if only” the wearer wore different and less-revealing clothes, the assault would not have happened. It is this shifting of blame to the wearer that only furthers rape culture and continues the objectification and sexualization of young bodies.”
Another letter, creatively titled “Response to ‘The legging problem’” argued from the perspective of a young man who attends the school.
As he points out, if someone were to disrespect his sisters, the idea of asking what they were wearing would never even enter his mind:
“In the course of a regular day on campus, especially in the colder months, I might see literally several hundred of our female students wearing leggings. Not a single one of them ought to be seen as shamefully exposing themselves for voluntarily wearing whatever they find most comfortable or functional.
“The men here ought to know by now how to behave towards their female classmates. For the fleeting few that might not, the fault is entirely their own. No woman should be responsible to alter her dress so men might be aided in behaving appropriately.”
Lastly, a letter more sympathetic to White’s position, titled “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.” was joint written by first year students of different genders.
They argue that while the infamous first letter drew the scorn and taunting of the masses, there is a conversation to be had about how far we’re willing to go in how much or how little we dress:
“Therefore, somewhere between nakedness and jeans is “the line” of acceptable dress. This line is primarily socially constructed; there are tribes where men and women are mostly naked their entire lives, while in other cultures multiple loose layers are the norm.
“But if you believe that it would be inappropriate to wear a speedo to class, you are acknowledging that there exist legitimate restrictions to dress and that the only question is where the line should be drawn.”
There is an appropriate way for both men and women to dress based on where they are going or what they are doing.
However, there is no world in which it is acceptable to fault a girl for the inappropriate behavior of men because of the way she is dressed, nor should it be her responsibility to make sure the inappropriate behavior does not happen.
Wear all the leggings you like, ladies; they’re comfortable and versatile; the men can learn to take care of themselves.