A mother’s letter published in Notre Dame’s student newspaper urging the university’s young women to stop wearing leggings went viral this week — and students organized pro-leggings protests in response.
In a letter to the editor titled “The Leggings Problem,” printed in the Observer — the student newspaper for Notre Dame and neighboring schools St. Mary’s and Holy Cross — Maryann White lamented the popularity of the tight-fitting garment amongst the women students of these three Catholic colleges.
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.”
This wasn’t the first time leggings were lambasted in a letter to the student paper about appropriate women’s clothing on Notre Dame’s campus. On Friday, an Observer letter to the editor titled “Ladies, Be Decent” — published in April 2011 — was trending on the paper’s website.
But the most recent letter sparked an immediate backlash among the student bodies and alumni networks. On-campus protests were organized via Facebook for women to wear leggings Tuesday and Wednesday. One of the protest organizers talked to the Observer about what motivated more than 1,000 people to RSVP that they would be wearing leggings on those days.
“Regardless of how we necessarily feel about that column, there were several pieces of the author’s argument that we think are not great,” Notre Dame junior Anne Jarrett said. “For example, the idea that it’s a woman’s job to make sure that men don’t fall into sin, or that lust is a not sin of the person committing the lust but of who that person is lusting after. There’s also the idea that men are inherently drawn to sin for whatever reason, and this really denigrates men.”
The student paper was inundated with letters responding to White all week. Some defended her, arguing that a line has to be drawn somewhere in regard to appropriate dress. Others wrote in arguing that men should be held responsible for their own actions and that White’s letter was a troubling display of the prevalence of rape culture.
Female students also posted pictures of themselves wearing leggings to social media with the hashtag #LeggingsDayND to protest the editorial.
On Friday, the Observer published an editorial addressing the leggings letter and the conversation it had sparked across the country. “As the week closes, we want to reiterate that creating these conversations is exactly the purpose of the Viewpoint section,” the editorial said.
“As important as it is to engage in the specific conversation Monday’s letter prompted, we should not shy away from debating the underlying issues — such as the objectification of women — more explicitly. Notre Dame’s campus and the nation have engaged in what seems to be an easy fight in responding to Monday’s letter, which is good,” the editorial read.
“That said, we hope to see a campus discourse that is not afraid to tackle the bigger questions, either.”