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Response to ‘The legging problem’

| Wednesday, March 27, 2019

I am writing in response to Maryann White’s Letter to the Editor, “The legging problem.” In regard to the so-called legging issue, let me share the perspective of a male student coming from a family with two sisters.

A Catholic university, rooted in tradition and family, cannot hope to progress into the future without intense scrutiny upon the values it preaches and the behavior it condones. I defy you to find any rules against leggings or similarly tight garments in du Lac, yet the Catholic way seems to demand a certain modesty from women not imposed upon men. Now, perhaps the American ambivalence towards human sexuality informs this view — we seem obsessed with the female form yet many among us find its display to be shameful. Apparently, wearing leggings in the Basilica is simply too much, too revealing, for the audience of churchgoers.

As a brother of two sisters, I understand the protectiveness many of us feel towards the women in our lives. Nobody should be allowed to see them for less than their full selves, replete with personality and complexity. It is for precisely this reason that we cannot let something as harmless as leggings be manipulated into a vehicle for the suppression of female expression.

In the course of a regular day on campus, especially in the colder months, I might see literally several hundred of our female students wearing leggings. Not a single one of them ought to be seen as shamefully exposing themselves for voluntarily wearing whatever they find most comfortable or functional. The men here ought to know by now how to behave towards their female classmates. For the fleeting few that might not, the fault is entirely their own. No woman should be responsible to alter her dress so men might be aided in behaving appropriately.

I was raised to view any man or woman as my equal, regardless of background or any other single characteristic. My dad, a graduate of Notre Dame himself, taught me to treat women deferentially and always with respect. And I, like my male classmates, know the responsibility to see a person for their whole self is my own. If either of my sisters are ever mistreated or disrespected by a man, at no time will I ask what they were wearing. It is simply not relevant.

For better or worse, finding and expressing one’s sexual identity has become a central piece of the college experience. For the first time, young men and women are left to their own devices in learning how to express one’s sexual self. For a young man to ignore women in leggings would be like asking birds and bees to ignore the blossoming flowers of early spring. In a truly biological sense, nobody can simply not notice. Wearing jeans won’t make a person any more attractive or unattractive in the eyes of their classmates. Thus, just as women should not be shamed for their dress, we can’t posit every man is a misogynist for finding a female classmate attractive. What we can do is be open with one another in our community and demand every individual to treat others with respect and dignity, regardless of dress.

So to you, Ms. White, I ask this: Are you responsible to manage the behavior of unsavory men by altering your dress? And, would you have a daughter of yours be taught her body is to be hidden in shame, lest she be seen by the eyes of unsavory men? I certainly would hope not.

To my female classmates, wear what you want. How you dress for Mass is not a reflection of your character, nor does it disqualify you from dignified and respectful treatment from the rest of us.


Shane Combs


March 25

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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