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Letter to the editor on clothing choices sparks protest

| Wednesday, March 27, 2019

An uproar has taken over campus after a Catholic mother of four sons shared her opinion on leggings in a Monday letter to the editor.

In “The legging problem,” Maryann White pleads with Notre Dame women to be “the first to turn their back(sides)” on this popular garment — as by wearing it, she feels they attract inappropriate attention from both “unsavory guys” and “nice guys” alike.

Maria Paul Rangel

In protest of the views expressed in a letter to the editor published in The Observer on Monday, people across campus wore leggings.

White’s letter to the editor soon began trending on The Observer website as many members of the Notre Dame community found the message behind it controversial. Another group of students saw this as the perfect opportunity to spark action and change.

Such is the case of senior Kaitlyn Wong, who came across the column as she was making her way to her “American Conspiracies” class, where they were discussing the topic of women paranoia. For this reason, the content of the column particularly struck her and made her understand the problem behind the harmful narrative created by female norms, Wong said.

“So in this class, we actually had a whole discussion about it,” Wong said. “As an American Studies major, we talk a lot about changing this narrative that really marginalizes a lot of people, and everyone in my class was so upset about it. I was just like, ‘Well, I can’t sit around and not do anything about it’, so I created a Facebook event.”

Approximately 1,300 participants marked they were attending Wong’s event, titled “The Leggings Protest.” Though participants will not meet at a designated time and place to express their views, the protest is an invitation to engage in conversations regarding the topics of gender relations and female equality and to stand in solidarity by wearing leggings.

“Maryann attacks women for living the way that they do, living casually in leggings … I wanted to stir conversation about like why this is a problem,” she said. “You know, we were having these conversations in my class, but I wanted this to be a more widespread conversation. Even if it’s not a ‘protest,’ having people talk about it is better than sitting around and doing nothing.”

Wong’s protest, scheduled for Wednesday, is not the only event that arose in response to White’s column, as students and groups alike invited women to wear leggings during the day in order to make a statement.

Irish 4 Reproductive Health (I4RH) hosted “Leggings Pride Day” on Tuesday. Junior Anne Jarrett, a member of I4RH, said the group organized the event because they felt White’s statement perpetuated the idea that women are the causers of sexual assault and harassment.

“Regardless of how we necessarily feel about that column, there were several pieces of the author’s argument that we think are not great,” 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.”

Like Jarrett, several male members of the Notre Dame community believe men were misrepresented in White’s letter.

“I was raised to respect women no matter what they are wearing. So, I think women should be able to wear leggings if they want to,” sophomore Steve Ayers said.

Similar to Ayers, freshman Kyle Dorshorst said women should be respected regardless of their choice of clothing.

“In my opinion, I would never tell someone else how they can or cannot dress, because that is a personal choice, and it doesn’t affect me,” Dorshorst said. “So, why should I tell other people what to do?”

Though many students challenged White’s letter, others argued her intentions were probably not malicious.

“Ladies shouldn’t bring down ladies,” sophomore Katie Fuetter said. “So, good for her. She saw something that she thought was causing harm, and was bold enough to say something. But I do not agree with the topic she was talking about.”

Consequently, Fuetter decided to create a Facebook event titled “Love Your Leggings Day!” with her friends while having dinner. With it, she hopes to inspire body positivity and provide a fun twist on the topic she said was souring campus’ environment.

Sophomore Tatiana Pernetti highlighted another issue she found with White’s opinion: an old-fashioned perspective.

“It’s crazy to me that some people are still so stuck in the past,” Pernetti said. “[White is] entitled to her own opinion, but I think some people need to consider the root cause of their concerns more — especially societal norms — before putting the blame on individuals or an entire gender.”

Whether one agrees or disagrees with White’s ideas, Wong saw the spontaneity of the movement as something that should extend to other social justice issues on campus.

“Keep going, keep pushing. Push for social activism, and if you think that something’s wrong, do something about it, say something about it, and have a conversation about it,” Wong said. “Anything you can do is better than sitting idly and accepting it. It’s important to have these conversations about why something is a problem and recognizing that there are people who might think way differently than you.” 

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