Opinion: Catholic woman's plea for young women to ditch leggings is not OK

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A Catholic mother has penned an impassioned letter to a student newspaper about what she considers the most pressing issue for young women today: leggings.

In a letter written to The Observer, the student-run print and online newsletter for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, Maryann White has a bone to pick with young women and their fitness-inspired fashions.

“I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights,” White wrote. “I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”

As a mother, White said she’s grown tired of women tempting her sons with their “snug-fitting leggings” which “voluntarily expose their nether regions.”

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For White, it all began last fall, when she and her brood were seated behind a row of young women wearing leggings that “looked as though they had been painted on” and “short waisted tops.”

After ruminating on the incident, White said she felt as though leggings are just another way women are being objectified.

“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,” she explained of her plight to raise sensible men. “That women should be viewed first as people — and all people should be considered with respect.”

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White said she 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 … They didn’t stare, and they didn’t comment afterwards. But you couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to see them — but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.”

Although trendy, White doesn’t buy the argument that women wear leggings out of comfort, and argues that they should not be worn in public out of respect for others and for Catholic mothers who want to “protect” their sons from the women who wear them.

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“Leggings are so naked, so form fitting, so exposing,” she said. “Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?”

Here we go.

It’s not OK to police women’s clothing or suggest that the way a woman dresses invites or warrants male attention of any kind. Whether a woman wears leggings, jeans, shorts or a mini-skirt, the onus for any man’s behaviour rests 100 per cent on the man. If you don’t like the look of leggings, don’t wear them. It’s that simple.

I’ll extend White the courtesy of saying that her letter came from a “good place,” although the lens through which she expresses her feelings is flawed and most definitely anti-feminist. However, what irks me more is the perpetuation of the idea that a person’s faith somehow prohibits them from being a feminist.

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By looping her identity as a “Catholic mom” into her letter, White does herself and her religious community a disservice. The moral high-ground White infers in her dislike for leggings shows the pitfalls of her faith, and suggests that her willingness to accept women’s right to wear whatever they want extends only so far as the church pew come Sunday morning.

Even the Bible says it’s not a person’s responsibility to please their fellow man.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

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There’s also multiple references to looking past how someone appears (although no mention of leggings) including, 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

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White’s letter is really, just one woman’s opinion about the fashion choices of another generation - but it raises an important issue that is plaguing the conversation about religion and equality.

I’m no expert or guide, but I fully believe it’s possible for people to be faithful servants of whatever religion they choose, while accepting the rights and choices of other people. Navigating the religious life isn’t meant to be easy, but neither is being a feminist. There are constantly moments of reflection on intersection, privilege and opportunities for education.

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White has an opportunity now to humble herself and the ease in which she passes judgement and do some serious soul-searching for where her own ego and prejudice has taken liberties with her identity as a Catholic.

Work on yourself and what you believe. The rest of us will happily be wearing leggings, and be comfortable AF.

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