Biologically Punished: Why Women Are Constantly Being Punished For Being Women

Earlier this week, a letter to the editor was written by a mother, Maryann White, and published in Notre Dame University’s student newspaper, The Observer. The letter described White’s experience at a church service the previous Sunday at Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where she wrote that her and her family were seated behind 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).” She went on to explain that the women’s leggings looked as if they “had been painted on” their “blackly naked rear ends.” White closed her letter by imploring the college-aged women to reconsider their fashion choices saying, “Leggings are so naked, so form fitting, so exposing. Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?” Thus, insinuating that it is difficult for mothers to teach their sons to respect women when they are wearing skin-tight clothing.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that women wearing leggings has been a point of contention amongst members of the Notre Dame community. In 2011, a similar letter to the editor entitled, “Ladies, Be Decent,” was published by The Observer and was trending on the paper’s website. The most recent letter, however, sparked instant backlash among Notre Dame students, as well as the university’s alumni networks. On-campus protests were organized via Facebook, urging women to wear leggings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The events gained almost 1,000 RSVPs, with many members of the community also posting pictures of themselves in their leggings with the hashtag #leggingsdayND.

In a comment to Buzzfeed, Notre Dame junior, Anne Jarrett, said, “Regardless of how we necessarily feel about that column, there were several pieces of the author’s argument that we think are not great. For example, the idea that it’s a woman’s job to make sure that men don’t fall into sin, or that lust is a not sin of the person committing the lust but of who that person is lusting after.”

Another student, senior Shane Combs, wrote in a letter to the editor published by The Observer on Wednesday saying, “To my female classmates, wear what you want. 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 [men].”

Discussions of women’s clothing have been a consistent facet of media conversation in the recent years, with the #MeToo movement and school dress codes that are punishing women for wearing clothing that “distracts” their male classmates. But these are not constructive conversations to be having, as they perpetuate gender-based discriminatory language. And this kind of language is exactly why the #MeToo movement was so widespread amongst survivors of sexual assault, as the phrase “they asked for it because they were wearing…” has been used to justify thousands of sexual assaults for many years.

A woman’s appearance does not justify unwanted action of any kind. And, quite frankly, it’s 2019. It’s about time that women are treated respectfully and not made to feel uncomfortable in their own bodies. Clothing, just as it is for men, is a choice that women should have the ability to make on their own, with no reservation. A woman who chooses to wear leggings is not asking to be ogled at or catcalled. Nor is a student who chooses to not wear a bra doing so purposefully, to distract other students. Women should not be punished for the appearance of their bodies, an aspect of themselves which cannot be changed. And they should not be asked to do so by anyone, especially a self-righteous mother of three boys.