The leggings "problem"

The leggings "problem"

A mother whose sons attend Notre Dame penned a letter addressing a grievous problem facing not just the campus, but society.

Sexual assault? No.

Gender and racial discrimination? Pish posh.

Lack of student power? Don’t be absurd.

No, leggings.

Yes, she wrote a letter to the campus newspaper excoriating the lovely lasses of Notre Dame for parading about like little sluts in form-fitting leggings and yoga pants.

According to Aunt Lydia, I mean, Maryann White:

White wrote that while attending Mass at Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart during her last campus visit, she and her sons sat behind “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).”

She described the young women as looking like “the leggings had been painted on” their “blackly naked rear ends.”

“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,” she wrote, imploring the female students to cover their “nakedness” so that “unsavory” men wouldn’t ogle them and upstanding men like her sons wouldn’t be forced to avoid looking at their nether regions.

“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.”

There you have it. If “unsavory men” ogle these women DRESSED LIKE WHORES, then it’s their own problem. For their own goods, they should wear jeans instead. (Methinks she hasn’t seen the jeans popular among young people. They’re not exactly potato sacks.)

Patriarchal structures and ideologies get able assists from women like Mrs. White. In a patriarchal society, the male gaze is all that matters. Any woman who does anything to attract the unwanted male gaze is at fault for provoking it. Rape and sexual assault are never the man’s fault.

As many others have said before, this removes all agency from men. Men are just base creatures whose naked needs can’t be controlled. And exposing them to the female form in anything other than a burka will cause them to act on those uncontrollable impulses, for which they are in no way responsible.

That this is a pile of puffery barely needs to be said. What Mrs. White is doing is infantilizing her sons, positing that they have no control over any urges or desires which women wearing leggings might raise up in them. What does that say about what she thinks of them? That they’re just one legging away from being a rapist? Why would a mother think that of her sons and other mothers’ sons? And her solution for this is not to teach her sons how to treat women like equal human beings who have bodily and sexual autonomy, but instead scolding women for being teases who just egg on men to behave badly, as they inevitably will.

Of course, Mrs. White’s views are perfectly suited for a patriarchal culture. They absolve men of all responsibility, and give them carte blanche to police women’s bodies, in the interests of the broader society’s moral “health”. Patriarchy in all its forms and in all cultures wouldn’t be able to exist without the able assists from women like Mrs. White.

The women (and many men) of Notre Dame were having none of it. They’re not to blame if parents like the Whites teach their sons that women are temptresses and they have no control over their own actions. They’re not to blame that a patriarchy under threat wishes to coerce women into behaving the way that it wants them to. Women and their male allies have grown up in a culture where bodily autonomy is the norm, a norm now under peril. And like we’ve seen countless times in this Age of Trump, they’re fighting back, and fighting back hard.

Mrs. White: The problem isn’t the leggings. It’s the lessons which you teach your sons. You deprive them of the gift of moral agency. These are not men I would want around any woman. I’ve seen the story play out before, millions of times, down the millennia.



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