You’ve got to draw the line somewhere
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 28, 2019
It is widely agreed that if a student came to class naked, it would be distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate.
It is widely agreed that if a student came to class with a single square inch of fabric over their genitals, it would be distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate.
It is also widely agreed that if a student comes to class in jeans and a t-shirt, it’s completely fine.
Therefore, somewhere between nakedness and jeans is “the line” of acceptable dress. This line is primarily socially constructed; there are tribes where men and women are mostly naked their entire lives, while in other cultures multiple loose layers are the norm. But if you believe that it would be inappropriate to wear a speedo to class, you are acknowledging that there exist legitimate restrictions to dress and that the only question is where the line should be drawn.
In her now-infamous letter, “The Legging Problem,” Maryann White argues that the line should be higher than it currently is, namely that women should choose less form-fitting leg-wear. A middle-aged woman suggesting girls should dress more modestly is nothing new, but the letter’s emphasis on the male gaze of White’s four sons, religious undertones and bizarre Princess Leia paragraph have provoked ridicule and dismissal.
There’s a reasonable case to be made that White’s views are silly, her crusade quixotic. Women revealing ankle was previously scandalously sexual, but now we’re all used to it and it ceases to titillate. The vast majority of men and women are not made uncomfortable by leggings the same way they would be by full nudity, suggesting that leggings are at this point firmly on the right side of the acceptable fashion line.
Unfortunately, among the pro-leggings comments and letters which have been written in The Observer and elsewhere, no one seems to be making this reasonable case. What should have been a straightforward, intergenerational fashion complaint has now become an emblem of misogyny and rape culture.
Some have suggested that White’s letter perpetuates the idea that women are at fault for sexual harassment if they dress provocatively. While blaming sexual assault on what a woman was wearing is a terrible thing that really does happen, nowhere in White’s letter does she explicitly or implicitly suggest anything of the sort.
She does suggest that men might ogle women’s behinds when they’re wearing leggings. It should be uncontroversial that some men do, in fact, ogle women’s behinds. But she doesn’t blame this on the girls; rather she claims that she has raised her four sons not do to this, implying that they are the ones ultimately responsible for the custody of their eyes. It is more than reasonable to believe that women who wear more revealing clothing might be ogled, but also that the ultimate responsibility to not ogle is the man’s.
So yes, the luster and not the lustee is most certainly the one who sins against chastity. But consider Romans 14:20: “It is wrong for anyone to make another stumble.” Custody of the eyes and chastity of thought are difficult to accomplish for any man. We members of the Notre Dame community have obligations of love to one another, which includes being our brothers’ keepers. It is no assault on women’s rights to suggest that we ought to dress modestly to help our brothers out, just as we should consider what we eat around our Muslim friends when they are fasting for Ramadan. Are leggings immodest? Do they cross the line? These are the questions the Notre Dame student body should be grappling with, not overblown consternation about Maryann White’s supposed perpetuation of rape culture.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.