Maryann White is a good mom.
White, the mother of four sons, sent Notre Dame University’s’ pro-abortion club “Irish 4 Reproductive Health” and other students in a tizzy when she wrote a letter to the student newspaper asking Domer girls to consider trading in their leggings for jeans.
In the beautifully written apologia for women’s dignity, White argues that the world constantly tries to reduce women to “babes,” subverting her attempts to teach her sons that women are people worthy of respect. White believes that by wearing skin-tight leggings and tiny T-shirts, young women are overemphasizing their feminine bottoms, attracting male attention even at church.
“I was at Mass at the Basilica [at NDU] with my family,” she wrote. “In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug-fitting leggings and all wearing short-waisted tops (so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings). Some of them truly looked as though the leggings had been painted on them.”
As White couldn’t help noticing the “blackly naked rear ends”, she imagines the young men who go to Mass at the University of Notre Dame have an even harder time ignoring them. The mother is now being excoriated by large numbers of people, including young Catholics, for having asked her fellow women to stop wearing clothes that overemphasize their sexual characteristics.
Rather cleverly, I thought, White pointed to the universally beloved sci-fi character Princess Leia. She recalled how Jabba the Hutt sought to “steal” Leia’s “personhood” by forcing her into a leather bikini that “made her body the focus.” I know exactly what she meant. When I first saw Return of the Jedi, I was shocked and horrified that the heroic Leia had been uncovered in this unseemly way. (It was 1983; women wore more clothing then.)
Nevertheless, White is unable or unwilling to hide the primary reason she wants girls to cover their bottoms, and that is what has caused the inevitable feminist outcry. White suggests that young women have a responsibility to men not to distract them with their bottoms. I would go even farther and say young women owe young men a gentleness not unrelated to the gentleness men owe them.
Men are, on average, stronger than women physically, and good men are trained from babyhood not to hit girls, women or, indeed, anyone smaller than themselves. With their physical power comes physical responsibility. Not only do men have to avoid hitting or no-holds-barred roughhousing with women–as in family football games–they have to be careful not to hurt us on the dance floor or anywhere else men and women mingle.
Women are, on average, stronger than men sexually, by which I mean young women do not move as quickly to sexual arousal as men do. Women are “not as sensitive to visual cues”, to quote Leon F. Seltzer of Psychology Today. He also points out that online porn sites for men “zero in” on female body parts. Porn sites are evil, of course, but that men are instantly turned on by female bottoms is neither good nor bad. It’s just innate. It’s the way the majority of men are.
Women are less likely to be entranced by disembodied or overemphasized body parts, which may be why we have such a hard time understanding why or how they have such an effect on men. Erotic romance novels for women, of course, focus on emotionally complex relationships. Erotic novels are evil, of course, but that women are slowly turned on by relationships is neither good nor bad. It’s just innate. It’s the way the majority of women are.
But vision-based sexual distraction is so obvious to men, many men have a hard time understanding that women aren’t intentionally trying to attract them. Some feel encouraged and need to be rebuffed. Some feel resentful and need to be told that many women are honestly clueless about male desire. When Kaitlyn Wong of Notre Dame defended her choice to wear leggings, she didn’t argue that she was trying to attract a mate. She said that she was “just a Catholic woman who feels the need for one specific type of pant that provides utmost comfort: leggings.” In other words, it’s all about Kaitlyn.
I’m going to presume that Kaitlyn Wong wears a big comfortable sweatshirt over her leggings, 1980s style, and I have no problem with Kaitlyn feeling comfortable. However, I do have a problem with Kaitlyn or anyone else feeling comfortable at someone else’s expense. After all, women expect men to be careful with our comparative fragility. Why shouldn’t we be careful with theirs? If our brothers-in-Christ want to pray at Mass without being distracted by sexual stimuli, shouldn’t we be helping them? Would it be just too hard to pull on a skirt?
We have a word for men who are careful with women and use their strength to help us: gentlemen. We used to have a word for women who were gentle with men and used our feminine gifts to help them: ladies. Maybe it’s time we resurrected the concept of the lady. She might be a little different from who she was in the past, but I know one thing for sure: the lady won’t insist on her right to show the contours of her bottom in church.
I encourage everyone to read Maryann White’s letter in a fair-minded way, and notice that she cares just as much for the girls she addresses as she does for boys like her own sons. She’s a good mother. The next generation would do well to listen to her.