A Catholic mom asked women to stop wearing leggings, showing us all that there's more work to do to end rape culture.
Of all the people who you think would shame women over what they choose to wear and blame them for the actions of men, you would expect that a woman, a mother no less, would not even be on the list. However, the internalized misogyny is so real - especially among mothers of impressionable young sons. In a letter penned by Maryann White, a Catholic mother of four sons, the "legging problem," that is, the idea that women can wear anything they damn well please, was discussed. Maryann, like all members of our patriarchal society, stressed that figure-hugging, butt-defining leggings (and the self-hating women who choose to wear them) were the reason for the male gaze, rape culture, and all of its unsavory implications. Needless to say, many people were rightly pissed off.
"The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me," she wrote. "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." The unwarranted sexualization of women - especially women forced into early maturation at a young age - for simply wearing the clothes they want to is, of course, left unaddressed by Maryann.
She claimed, "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." Maryann, if it's so easy to police other women's clothes, it shouldn't be too difficult for your sons to police their behavior, either. Nonetheless, she continued, "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)... 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."
Now, before we retort, let's look at the "simple" request she concluded with. Maryann asked, "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?" So the short answer is: no. But the long answer, as many readers noted, is more complex and expects Maryann, and others like her - those flag-bearers of patriarchy - to challenge their understanding of the world and power dynamic around them. In a world where women are told to dress, behave, and think in a certain so as to not provoke men misplaces the responsibility in this unfortunate blame game. Where men should be held accountable for their actions, women are questioned and vilified instead. "What were you wearing?" "Were you drunk?" "Did you do something to provoke him?" These are all questions women hear when a man lays his hands on her without her consent. And we can't blame leggings for that. If you teach your son that nobody's bodies, no matter how or if they are covered, belong to them, we wouldn't have to police women in the first place. And just because that's now somehow a hard job to do, doesn't mean we should shift the burden of shame onto someone else.