What’s the matter with leggings?
That’s what a group of student protesters are asking after a mom condemned leggings in an open letter to their college newspaper.
The mom, identified as Maryann White, wrote a letter to the editor of The Observer, a student-run publication that serves the University of Notre Dame and nearby colleges.
In the letter, White argued that women and girls should not wear leggings because they are immodest and can attract unwanted male attention.
“I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights,” White wrote. “I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”
She recalled attending church one day last year and seeing a group of young women wearing “snug-fitting” leggings and short tops.
“I was ashamed for the young women at Mass,” she wrote. “I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to see them — but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.”
White implored young women to stop wearing tight-fitting leggings for the sake of their own safety and self respect.
“I’m fretting both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you,” she wrote. “For the Catholic mothers who want to find a blanket to lovingly cover your nakedness and protect you — and to find scarves to tie over the eyes of their sons to protect them from you!”
She added that while women do have “every right” to wear leggings, she thinks they should look into other options.
“Leggings are so naked, so form fitting (sic), so exposing,” she wrote. “Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?”
White’s letter quickly sparked controversy online. Within a day, a student-run nonprofit group, Irish 4 Reproductive Health, organized a Leggings Pride Day on March 26 in response to her message.
The group invited people of all genders to post photos of themselves wearing leggings on social media.
“We wanted … to remind people that leggings are absolutely OK and you’re allowed to dress your body in whatever way you see fit,” Anne Jarrett, who helped organize the protest, told TODAY Style.
People have been sharing photos of their own leggings on Facebook and Twitter in solidarity.
Jarrett, 21, a junior studying philosophy and gender studies at Notre Dame, said that White’s letter “seems to place a lot of of the blame on women for having bodies.”
With this social media protest, she and her colleagues “wanted to reframe the conversation and make sure that not only is this not about women taking responsibility (for) making men not sin, but also making sure that this doesn’t fall into the rhetoric of survivors who are ‘asking for it’ because of what they are wearing.”
Others pushed back against White’s letter in the same newspaper, including Heather Piccone, a mother whose daughter attends Notre Dame.
“If nakedness is wrong, then this woman’s sons better have been fully clothed at the beach at all times,” Piccone wrote in another letter to the editor of The Observer. “By her own definition and logic, any male out playing on a sunny day at the park with his friends should be ashamed of himself, and as a mother she should have properly raised her son not to tempt my daughter with his body.”
Conrad Palor, a sophomore at Notre Dame, also wrote a letter to the editor pushing back against White’s message.
“While White’s comments were likely intended to be innocuous, they contribute to and further the narrative that women need to dress in order to not distract their male peers, which only furthers the sexualization and subsequent subjugation of women’s bodies,” he wrote.
So far, more than 1,200 people have expressed interest in Leggings Pride Day on Facebook, and people have been tweeting about it under the hashtag #LeggingsDayND.
“I think the responses have been really incredible,” Jarrett told TODAY Style. “I really appreciated that other mom saying, ‘It is our job to tell our sons not to do this.’”
Jarrett is hoping that Leggings Pride Day will remind people that what they wear doesn’t define their worth.
“Let’s remind ourselves that we are not just bodies, we are also people, and we can be people regardless of what we’re wearing,” she said.