“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? (...) Girls be the first to turn their backs(ides) on leggings.”
Yes, a woman, Maryann White, has written this open letter to women. The self identified “Catholic mother” of four sons, wrote this letter for a student newspaper, asking girls to stop wearing leggings, “an unforgiving garment”. The “well-intentioned letter” however drew flak for its problematic reasoning for why women should drop this piece of comfortable garment altogether.
White, recalling an incident in her letter, 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… 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 letter stood for everything women have been fighting for decades- the world’s tendency to take away our autonomy over our own bodies. Rather than choosing to school their sons, mothers find it easier to dictate terms to their daughters and other women.
It is not uncommon for women, especially in India, to be told what and what not to wear in public. Some even get policed on what to wear at home while their fathers and brothers roam around in their boxers. What does this policing stand for? The ‘honour’ of families apparently rests on a woman’s shoulders. What she wears, how she conducts herself and how she dodges the male gaze, all constitute her “character”. If a woman refuses to play by these patriarchal rules, the moral police forces her to do so.
India has on more occasions than one blamed the clothing of women for sexual harassment, with government colleges in Amritsar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan once banning jeans and t-shirts. Politicians have even blamed Chinese food and momos for rape. These are just a few narratives of moral policing and perpetuation of rape culture that we can recall off the top of our heads. Most of the bans were lifted after much deliberation, but why were they even imposed in the first place?
Choice has rarely ever been at the forefront when it comes to women’s bodies. Each suggestion, each rule, each ban, each policy affecting the woman’s body has rarely ever come from women, but rather their self-proclaimed “well-wishers”. In her letter, White writes: “For the Catholic mothers who want to find a blanket to lovingly cover your nakedness and protect you — and to find scarves to tie over the eyes of their sons to protect them from you!”White’s letter is not “protective” as she claims, but downright problematic.
The letter resulted in protests from students in and around Notre Dame, with many of them posing in leggings and sharing it on Twitter, calling out the misogyny in the infamous letter. As long as mothers and societies dictate what a woman can or cannot wear and avoid teaching their sons and men to not objectify women, the problem will continue to persist. The question is, is that the kind of society they want to leave behind for their children.