Maryann White: Notre Dame Mom’s Legging Letter Goes Viral

Comanche-Cheyenne wearing leggings

Creative Commons Comanche-Cheyenne wearing leggings, Ledger Drawing.

Maryann White, a mother of four sons, thought a long time before writing The Legging Problem to The Observer, the school newspaper of the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross Colleges.

“I waited,” White wrote, “hoping that fashions would change and such a letter would be unnecessary — but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights. I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”

White’s letter went viral sparking wide-ranging and far-reaching reactions. Before White’s letter, a substantial, non-religious objection to leggings was well-established.

The Anti-Legging Argument

White writes that she is aware female students at Notre Dame have the choice to wear leggings. She just wishes they would choose clothing less form fitting.

“You have every right to wear them. But you have every right to choose not to,” White wrote.

Earlier in her letter, she wrote about the challenge of raising four sons to avoid gawking at legging-wearers.

“You couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends. I didn’t want to see them — but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them,” White wrote.

The Catholic mother asked female students to stop wearing leggings “because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you.”

In 2014, Devils Lake High School banned leggings.

The Pro-legging Argument

“It took less than 24 hours before Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a campus nonprofit group, organized a clap back to the mad mama’s manifesto. The group declared March 26 ‘Leggings Pride Day,’ and encouraged people of all genders to post pics of themselves wearing their skin-tight garments on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” reports NY Post.

The point in White’s logic where her opponents take issue is the implication that a woman’s choice in clothing can, or should, control male sexual behavior.

“The letter blaming women’s clothes for men’s sexual behavior inspired students at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana to organize a movement and wear leggings to protest White’s views,” according to CNN.

Students protested White’s objections to the women’s legging fashion as an example of what one student referred to as “a double standard for modesty” in Catholic teachings.

“There has been a growing movement to reconsider how girls are held accountable for others’ actions in ways their male classmates are not,” reports Huffington Post.

Various forms of leggings were worn by men in Europe from the 13th to 16th centuries. Some Native Americans wore leggings. Cowboys wore them. The military adopted them in the 19th century. They entered modern women’s fashion in the 1960s, and half a century later men began to wear them more commonly for athletic activities. During the Fall 2007 Fashion Week in Milan, leggings meant for males made headlines.

A 2016 Good Housekeeping article said “Leggings do, in fact, count as pants – provided they are opaque enough that they don’t show your underwear,” but Glamour polled readers the same year and 61% thought leggings were best as a kind of layering accessory.

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