On Monday, March 25, Notre Dame published a letter to the editor in their student newspaper, The Observer, that begged female students to stop wearing leggings.
Maryann White, a self-described Catholic mother of four sons, began the letter by stating that she had “a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”
She continues to say that she was “fretting both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you. 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!”
This letter is not going to accomplish the removal of leggings from any young girl’s closet. Instead, the only thing it accomplishes is the perpetuation of rape culture and victim blaming.
In an article titled “The Psychology of Victim-Blaming” published by the Atlantic, victim blaming is defined as “Any time someone defaults to questioning what a victim could have done differently to prevent a crime, he or she is participating, to some degree, in the culture of victim-blaming.”
Leggings aren’t the reason that “guys are looking at you.” Guys are the reason that guys are looking at you.
Telling women that they need to cover up because men can’t control their actions is telling every woman who is a survivor of sexual assault she could have been asking for it because of how she was dressed.
We need to start holding men and women equally accountable for their choices.
Choosing to wear a certain article of clothing is not an act of violence; it isn’t hurting anyone. The only thing that can lead to an act of violence is the person actually committing the act of violence.
Victim blaming occurs for many reasons. In part, we victim blame to cope with hearing about a traumatic event. If we blame the victim for something they were doing, it seems less likely that that same thing could happen to us.
It also occurs because we are still trying to un-learn, as a society, that women are responsible for the actions of men. That they should be docile and unassuming and do what they’re told.
As we are now in the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month, it’s important to recognize rape culture and call it out when we see it.
RSO’s like F.L.A.M.E. are kicking off this week with demonstrations like The Clothesline Project to remind people that it’s not about what you were wearing, and to give survivors the chance to “air their dirty laundry.”
So, girls, wear your leggings. And to all the Catholic mothers of four sons who may be reading this, there is a problem that only you can help solve: teach your children to respect women.