Women have been wearing leggings for a very long time. Particularly now that athleisure is such a huge trend outside of simply gym wear, girls and women wear them in situations other than just working out. This mother, however, does not agree. She wrote an open letter called “The Legging Problem”, in which she said that women in leggings are to blame for temping men. She is worried about her sons and how to navigate that temptation. (1)
Mom Blames Women In Leggings For Tempting Young Men
Maryann White is a Catholic mother of four sons. She claims she’s not trying to infringe on anyone’s rights or offend anyone. That being said, she says women in leggings are to blame for young male temptation.
“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.
She claims that leggings are far too revealing and cause young men to be tempted and think thoughts about women they shouldn’t be thinking. With four young men at home, she is worried about what leggings might “cause” them to do.
“Legging Are Slave Girl Outfits”
First, White made reference to the outfit that Princess Leia was forced to wear in the Star Wars movie where Jabba the Hut made her his slave. She said the gold bikini was meant to make her body the focus and nothing else and likened leggings to this.
“Leggings are hardly slave girl outfits. And no one is forcing them on the countless young women who wear them. But 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.”
She then went on to liken wearing leggings to nakedness. We don’t walk around naked, so why walk around wearing leggings?
“Leggings are so naked, so form-fitting, so exposing,” she wrote. “I’m fretting both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you. 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!”
What Is She Really Teaching?
White thinks that she is teaching young people about modesty, what she is really teaching is that women are wholly responsible for unwanted attention they get from men. Essentially, she is doing what is called “slut-shaming”. (2)
Slut-shaming is the practice of punishing or making character judgments about people, usually females, based on assumptions about their sexual activity. These are usually based on what they wear, what they look like, or rumors that may be circulating. Essentially, women who have sex, rumored to have had sex, dress like, or look too “sexy” are called derogatory names such as “slut”. They are put down, ridiculed, barred from school, and made to feel like they are somehow a bad person.
Slut-shaming can happen in person, though now more than ever it occurs online as a form of cyberbullying. The American Association of University Women found that slut-shaming is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment that middle and high school girls experience. (3)
What Causes Slut-Shaming?
Slut-shaming comes down to the societal norm that girls and women aren’t allowed to be “sexual” in any way, shape, or form. It comes down to women being told that they are to blame for any of the bad sexual experiences that they have: Because of their clothes or makeup, because of a photo they took, or because of things they did or didn’t do in a relationship.
One of the items that feed into this culture the most is sexist school dress code policies. Read through any school’s dress code policy and you’ll realize that most of the rules are for girls, not boys. Girls are told that if they show “too much skin”, aka a spaghetti strap tank top, for example, they will distract boys from their learning. So while girls are being taught that their bodies and their sexuality are shameful, boys are being completely let off the hook for their own behavior.
The experience of being pulled out of class and being told what she is wearing is inappropriate is a very embarrassing and harmful experience for a young girl. She went to school innocently wearing a tank top and is now subtly being told by her superiors that she is overtly trying to use her body to undermine her male peers’ school experience. It’s a subtle message delivered to all the students that because of how this girl was dressed, she was asking to be called out and deserves whatever punishment it requires. Fast forward a few years, and those boys are now young men who have now learned that a woman’s clothes dictate whether or not she wants to have sex and that she deserves whatever is coming to her.
Talk To Your Teens About Slut-Shaming
Obviously, it would be one thing if a student (male or female) showed up to school in a bikini. Most of the dress code rules, however, are simply ridiculous. Girls who are dressed perfectly fine are being pulled out of class for ridiculous reasons. This not only undermines their learning far more than their clothes will undermine their male classmates, but it increases their suicide risk.
Unlike this mother slut-shaming women in leggings, it is important to talk to your children about this kind of bullying and why they shouldn’t do it. Teach all of your children, both boys, and girls, that how someone is dressed is never an invitation for anything. Talk to them about how bullying of any kind is never okay and about the dangers of sexting. This goes both for cautioning against sending explicit photos as well as how it is never okay to share received photos with anyone else.
Letters like the one written by this “concerned” mother are not part of the solution to slut-shaming and sexual violence against women. In fact, they are quite the opposite: They are part of the problem. Let’s change focus and make our world safer for women and girls.