“The Leggings Problem” is a disaster and here’s why

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Staff Columnist


I’ve thought about writing this letter for a long time; a whole week. I waited, hoping that others would rake this fool over the coals and such a response would be unnecessary—but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m going to say that I don’t want to attack anyone’s opinions, then do it anyways so that I can say awful things but still feign moral superiority. I’m just an okay amateur journalist with a problem only Donald “Didn’t Really Understand Don Quixote” Trump can solve: leggings.

For the uninitiated: On March 25, Notre Dame’s student newspaper “The Observer” published a letter to the editor titled “The Leggings Problem,” whose introductory paragraph I was just mocking. In it, the author voices her distaste for the trend of wearing leggings as pants (common amongst teenage and young adult women). The letter itself is a garbage fire; built on self-contradictions and false premises, constructed out of nonsense, and is only coherent if you never think about what is being said. You can read it in full over at “The Observer’s” website, but I recommend reading literally any other article. At this point, you might be thinking, “Oh, this is just some liberal college girl crying because someone told her that her clothes aren’t appropriate.” I suggest reading that byline again.

Not who you were expecting, was it? Although the reactions of my colleagues were exactly what you’d expect from a group predominantly consisting of liberal twenty-something college women, the response to this article is being handled by yours truly. Firstly, because I haven’t really done a letter response and I want to see how it goes, and secondly, because I haven’t really seen anyone representing my biggest issue with the letter, and it’s premise specifically. Namely, the fact that the premise of the letter is based on the same line of reasoning as that used by rape apologists.

Now that I have your attention, here’s the tea. The argument presented in the letter goes something like this: women need to stop wearing leggings as pants because it’s “difficult for young guys to ignore them,” as she puts it. She’s concerned about the “damage” that leggings does to both the women who wear them and the men who see them, and repeatedly references the fear of her sons being exposed to women in leggings as a motivation for her disapproval. I put “damage” in quotes because although she implies that the trend of wearing leggings as pants “makes it hard on Catholic mothers to teach their sons… that women should be viewed first as people,” she also states that “[her] sons know better than to ogle a woman’s body” and that when presented with women in leggings, they “didn’t stare, and didn’t comment afterwards.” We’ll file this argument under the “nobody knows how it works, it just does” category, right between ice skates and King Crimson. However, even if the argument wasn’t incompetently constructed, accepting it requires one to make an incredibly dangerous assumption: that women’s clothing choices are responsible for the behavior of men.

You’ve probably heard something along those lines before: “Of course something happened when you go out dressed like that.” “Dude, look at what she’s wearing, she’s just asking for it.” “She didn’t get raped, she was leading him on.” The common thread there is the idea that men are, for whatever reason, incapable of being held accountable for their own behavior when it comes to sexual behavior. It’s the “boys will be boys” mentality; that sexual harassment/assault is anything but a result of men choosing to behave in a way that is disregards the wills of the people they target. There aren’t words (that I’m allowed to print) to describe how I feel about that sentiment. If, as the letter suggests, men don’t have enough self-control to not stare at a woman in leggings, then they certainly wouldn’t have enough self-control to not force themselves on another person.

But luckily for those of us who live in the real world, that isn’t true. Young men do stupid stuff because they’re turned on; I won’t dispute that. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a choice in the matter. Look, I know I tend to bluff authority in these opinion pieces, but the behavior of young men is something I don’t have to stretch the truth on. I spent ten years in the Boy Scouting program, and I’m still active in it as an Eagle Scout; when you’re in a group of all young men for your formative years, you tend to get a lot of experience in learning how they think. I know what it looks like for “boys to be boys.” And it doesn’t look a single thing like this.

To any women reading this: if a man is harassing you, and says he just can’t stop himself, don’t buy it.  He’s a liar and a coward.

To any men reading this: if a woman tells you she doesn’t want your attention, and you don’t stop, then that’s fully on you. Take responsibility for your actions, you cretin.

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