Another day, another person trying to dictate what women should and should not wear. On March 25, University of Notre Dame's student newspaper The Observer published a letter from the mother of a student, who was upset about female students wearing leggings to Mass on the school's campus, in which she asked the women to stop wearing the stretchy pants. But it probably didn't get the response she was hoping for. Instead, Notre Dame students are wearing leggings in an awesome protest against body shaming.
Maryann White, who identified herself as the mother of a Notre Dame student, wrote in the letter that while attending Mass, she noticed a group of girls wearing leggings as pants, and was "ashamed" for the girls. She wrote that while she was "not trying to infringe on anyone's right," it made it harder for her to teach her sons not to "ogle" women and treat them respectfully. Elite Daily was unable to reach White for comment. She wrote,
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.
White also framed the issue in terms of feminism, talking about how she had spoken to her sons about respecting women by referencing Star Wars' Princess Leia. "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," she wrote. "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."
By the end of her letter, White asks women to "consider the mothers of sons" and opt for jeans instead of leggings next time — adding that the women of Notre Dame should lead the way.
White wasn't exactly successful in getting the female students of Notre Dame to lead the way and turn their "backs(ides)" on leggings. Instead, more than 1,000 students decided to wear leggings to class on March 26, according to The Washington Post. Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a student group on campus, declared Tuesday as "Leggings Pride Day" on Facebook, inviting people of all genders to “make a conscious choice to wear leggings and thus affirm your right and ability to do so," according to the event page on Facebook. The group explained on Facebook that despite being well-intentioned, White's letter "perpetuates a narrative central to rape culture" that blames women and girls for the negative attention and actions from others. The groups asked that people instead think about what effect such a narrative has on these women. The post says,
We ask White and others offended by leggings to consider the harmful effects of telling people that they bear responsibility for others’ moral choices because of the way they are dressed. This logic undergirds cultural attitudes about cis-men's inability to control their behavior while rehearsing age-old sexist tropes that characterize women as unchaste temptresses. Survivors of sexual assault can be [re-traumatized] by receiving blame, directly or indirectly, for 'asking for it' based on what they were wearing. We ask you to, in affirmation that policing [women's] bodies is wrong and that clothing is never justification for sexual abuse, make a conscious choice to wear leggings and thus affirm your right and ability to do so.
The Facebook post also asked those who wear leggings on March 26 to share pictures... and that they did.
White is not the first person to try and mandate some sort of moral dress code for female students. According to Newsweek, more than a few schools have banned leggings, claiming they are "distracting" to male students. For example, In 2013, Kenilworth Junior High School in Petaluma, California, banned leggings, and the principal told ABC News at the time it was because "when girls bend in leggings, the threads spread, and that’s really when it becomes a problem." Elite Daily reached out to Kenilworth Junior High for comment, but did not immediately hear back. Then there was also the United Airlines controversy in 2017, when they stopped two teenage girls from boarding the flight after deciding the leggings they were wearing were inappropriate. In response to Elite Daily's request for comment, a spokesperson for United Airlines said, "Our customers are welcome to wear leggings on our flights."
Putting these types of dress codes on women is a form of victim blaming and sexualizes them at a very young age. The Everyday Sexism Project, which allows people from all over the world to share their experience with sexism, had an outpouring from young girls talking about their experience with dress codes, according to a 2015 TIME piece written by the project's founder, Laura Bates. In one instance, a young girl pointed out that her school's dress code "dictates everything about a girls outfit" from skirt and short lengths to not even being allowed to wear flip flops. However, the men don't face the same. "There's no dress code for men, and the reasoning? Girls can’t dress ' '[provocatively]' because it could distract and excite the boys.”
It shouldn't need to be said, but policies, dress codes, or public judgments that put the responsibility on women to police the thoughts and behavior of men are inherently sexist. Women have the right to exist in the world — comfortably — without having their attire or body judged based on how it makes someone else feel. And if men can't control themselves, that sounds like a "them" problem.
I don't know about you, but I just grabbed all the leggings.