Balancing Act: Dear Outraged Notre Dame Leggings Mom: Let’s Think About Your Sons, Actually

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens takes on the controversey of a mother who called out female students for wearing leggings to mass at Notre Dame.

Chicago Tribune

We can always count on leggings to change the subject for us.

For most of Thursday, March 28, the only headline that shared space with Jussie Smollett on the Chicago Tribune’s “most read stories” list was, “Notre Dame mom begs female students to stop wearing leggings, sparking protests: ‘Think of the mothers of sons.’ ”

Maryann White, a self-described Catholic mother of four sons, wrote a letter to the editor published by the Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, imploring Notre Dame women to start an anti-leggings trend. She was upset, in particular, by seeing young women wearing leggings to Mass recently.

“I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds,” White wrote. “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.

“Leggings are so naked, so form fitting, so exposing,” she continued. “Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?”

Let’s think about the sons, rather than their mothers, for a moment.

Young men, I’m fairly certain, have been getting turned on by young women since the beginning of time. Since long before leggings were invented. Even at Mass.

Is that such a bad thing?

Not really. Not if they learn and remember that they’re only one half of any intimate equation. Not if they think of young women as their equals, deserving of every bit as much latitude as young men have to turn down an advance, no questions asked. Or, if they’re so inclined, to accept one.

Why portray young women and their bodies, and young men and their reaction to them, as so shameful?

I wonder about what kind of pressure these four sons feel to “ignore” the young women around them. How do they handle swimming pools? Beaches? The checkout line at Target when Women’s Health magazine is on display?

Do they feel like failures, on some level, if they experience a sexual urge? Are they ashamed when they feel attracted to someone? Have they let down their mom, who’s working so hard to protect them from the temptations of female flesh that she’d write an open letter to the female half of Notre Dame, a university of more than 12,000 students?

That seems like a mess of emotions for a young man to untangle. Maybe even when he’s not so young anymore.

What if, instead of asking young women to base their clothing decisions on her own comfort, this mother of sons acknowledged that sexual attraction is a normal, healthy part of adolescence and adulthood? That sometimes it doesn’t take much to bring it on? That you might even experience it at unexpected times or in unexpected places? That what you do with it is the important part?

What you do with it, she could say, always, always, always has the other person’s needs and wants and comfort level smack dab in the center. Nothing happens unless both people want it to. Every step of the way.

Nothing wrong with young men being attracted to young women. The species sort of depends on it, actually. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

(Nothing wrong either, of course, with adding “In our faith, we believe you don’t act on those urges until marriage,” if you’re so inclined.)

Wouldn’t that be easier (and more effective) than asking a few thousand young women to start an anti-leggings revolution? (Which, as it turns out, backfired. Notre Dame students declared Tuesday as Leggings Pride Day and organized a Leggings Protest on Wednesday.)

I sort of love how Shane Combs, a Notre Dame senior, put it in a letter to the editor published Wednesday.

“To my female classmates, wear what you want,” he wrote. “How you dress for Mass is not a reflection of your character, nor does it disqualify you from dignified and respectful treatment from the rest of us.”

Round of applause for Shane Combs. I hope Maryann White read his letter.
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