“Pearl-clutching” is the internet’s favorite way to describe the online gasping of anyone with delicate sensibilities. And today that pearl-clutcher is a Maryann White from Indiana.
Although the ghastly incident in question actually took place last fall, leggings-clad Notre Dame students are protesting her sexism this week in a campus-wide “Love Your Leggings Day.”¹
White is a mother of four sons who wrote a letter to the editor of the Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, after fuming for months. It ran this Monday and described four young women wearing “snug-fitting leggings” and “short-waisted tops”.
She is quoted as saying, “I wonder why no one thinks it’s strange that the fashion industry has caused women to voluntarily expose their nether regions in this way. I was ashamed for the young women at Mass. I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds. My sons know better than to ogle a woman’s body — certainly when I’m around (and hopefully, also when I’m not). They didn’t stare, and they didn’t comment afterwards. But 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.”²
I’ll admit it, I was already stretching my hams, getting ready to jump on the ridicule bandwagon until I read that critical detail — they were at mass, at the Basilica of Notre Dame.
So I need to pause my regularly scheduled programming here to clutch my own pearls. I have to say I agree with White. Not to prevent her sons’ hair-trigger erections but because everyone, male and female, generally follows a modest dress code while attending mass, likely more so at a church like Notre Dame. We self-regulate, tending not to wear anything so short, low-cut or form-fitting that our fellow parishioners are exposed to our functional nudity. We wear what would also be considered business casual. The formality of our attire varies but typically mirrors the architecture of the church we’re attending.
There are exceptions, of course, but people of any gender don’t usually wear short shorts, crop tops, anything see-through, ripped jeans, t-shirts with offensive language, etc. So if you’re wearing something so tight and see-through that it functionally just changes your skin color maybe that’s not the most appropriate choice for church.
But in rereading her letter to the editor it becomes clear that her complaint is women wearing leggings anytime, anywhere. Her concern was not that a perfectly comfortable clothing choice was simply worn on an errant occasion.
“Think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead,” she said in her letter. Now if her concern were what were most appropriate at mass she likely would’ve suggested dresses, skirts below the knee or slacks. But her concern is apparently the omnipresent threat of leggings anywhere. Side note — if I’m considering a man when buying clothes I’m damn sure not considering his mother. Mothers and sons need not be a package deal, thanks.
“Let Notre Dame girls be the first to turn their backs(ides) on leggings.”²
“The legging problem”, the title of White’s letter, in which she also makes a bizarre Star Wars analogy, is something she describes as “a problem that only girls can solve.” And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.
When I learned the Spanish word for ‘cleavage’ I was teaching English at a private program in Mexico. On my first day I was directed toward a very long list of rules posted on the wall.
“What does ‘escote’ mean?” I asked the kid who was training me. He was instantly uncomfortable and tried to pantomime it for me. He explained how it was disrespectful and not appropriate in a classroom setting. Because, of course, the female body is inherently offensive. Que bueno, got it.
On my second day a kid came in wearing a t-shirt that said, “Men’s brains: Wings + Beer + Hooter’s Girls” with a crude illustration under each word. He was a good kid, smart. I liked him. But I should’ve told him to go to the bathroom and turn his damn shirt inside out because there’s No Cleavage Allowed in the Classroom! If young women aren’t allowed to show cleavage young men shouldn’t be allowed to literally objectify it and wear illustrated versions of it. But of course rules are different for girls. And boys must be protected from their wiles.
And worse than visible cleavage or feminine wiles, who will protect the boys from see-through spandex? Mothers who stew for months and then write the proverbial sternly worded letter, that’s who.
I don’t know the ages of White’s sons though I suspect they are now mortified to be in the public eye in this context.
The idea that women are responsible for policing and preventing unwanted male sexual aggression is nothing new. But it is disappointing to hear such regressive ideology preached by a woman. An indignant mother of four sons who should’ve been teaching them all along that no matter what a woman wears or where she wears it, no matter how much a woman’s body you can visualize through her clothes, she is not yours for the taking until she says, Take me.
White’s alarmism also completely precludes the possibility that these young men, from a promising new generation, already know that and believe that. And don’t need their mother’s ill-informed and embarrassing “advocacy” on their unwilling behalf. They might instead prefer scarves over their laptops and cellphones until this humiliation passes.
“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!”²
Were Maryann White the mother of four daughters their inevitable rebellion against their C̶a̶t̶h̶o̶l̶i̶̶c Puritanical mother might be far worse than leggings.