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Leggings and political polarization

| Friday, March 29, 2019

To the Notre Dame Campus Community:

I’m not wearing leggings today, and I do not plan on wearing leggings tomorrow. Really, I have no problem with leggings, but this is why: Mrs. White is not trying to take away anybody’s ability to wear leggings. She has no power in the government, no power at the University, no power over you or anybody else. She is merely expressing an opinion on an open forum, and she should be met with intelligent conversation and discussion, not immediately disregarded as ridiculous. It is these kind of over-the-top “protests” that lead to the extreme polarization of the country and the ability of people who lean right to demonize people who lean left and vice versa. Organizing a day in which the entire campus wears leggings represents no attempt to understand but rather a quelching of intelligent disagreement. It is far too easy to see someone not wearing leggings today and think, “Ha ha, well, they just aren’t as progressive or enlightened as me.” The act of wearing leggings is a physical statement that does not allow anyone to express the nuances of their opinion, or to develop those nuances in dialogue with others. Additionally, if no one engages Mrs. White in a discussion equal to the effort of discourse she offered, what is she left to think other than, “Those insolent kids?”

The idea of protesting this woman’s point of view is a severe misunderstanding of the word protest. In a democracy founded upon the principles of free discussion — and even, yes, disagreement — protest should be used only in situations in which conversation is impossible. These are situations that often include a larger power that cannot be engaged in productive discussion, such as a company, the government or the University itself. However, meeting a person with protest does not exercise freedom, but threatens it in the same way any excessive political polarization does. It threatens to replace discussion with controversy, with throwing words at either side without the possibility of them being heard. It encourages a mob mentality that denies the importance of forming one’s own opinion and considering others’ carefully formed opinions. Instead, we should be trying to explain to Mrs. White what we feel are the problems of rape culture. We may actually change her mind.

Any way you cut it, the current protest is not the correct way to go about disagreement, and it is a symptom of our culture’s difficulty with disagreeing that a large number of people think it is. Please consider this before you put on your leggings tomorrow, and before participating in any “protest” that could be circumvented through conversation.

Maria Pope 


March 26

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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