July 25, 2017

What’s the problem with leggings?



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This past March, there was a fuss of the month having to do with three girls who were prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight because of what they were wearing, to wit, leggings, or yoga pants, or whatever they are called. The items in question are form-fitting and revealing: Thomas', the English-muffin company, could use the material to wrap their products and still promote the nooks and crannies.

The girls were traveling on United passes, which come with certain provisions, and those provisions include a few words about attire that United may consider inappropriate. Nevertheless, because we live in the world as it has become, there is much outrage over United's decision, all having to do with claims of discrimination (of course), sexism, sexualizing "young women," and so on. The usual stuff, all tending to trivialize the sexuality of the girls and sex in general.

Commentators who are not members of the Outrage of the Week Club wrote to defend United and to ask questions such as, "Are we to be demonized for thinking some kinds of clothing are inappropriate for certain occasions?"

(I interrupt my line of thought here to comment on the word "demonize." It is one of those words that have popped up in the last few decades to convey a certain kind of behavior, words that earlier writers seem have to been able to do without, though the behavior in question was not unknown to them. Just try to find the word in Dickens, for instance. Try to imagine the aristocrats in A Tale of Two Cities complaining that Robespierre or Marat had demonized them. For that matter, try to imagine the real Robespierre or Marat complaining that French aristocrats had demonized them.)

I have to think that it's rather late in the day to be objecting to leggings in any context. Any father who observes teen girls on a beach (but not too closely, lest he come under scrutiny) would probably breathe a sigh of relief if his daughter put on a pair.

The simple fact of the matter is that men, in particular fathers, have long ago relinquished any power over what their daughters wear. (This loss of power was, in many cases, a predictable outcome of an alliance between daughters and their mothers who might say, "Oh, John, don't make such a fuss. She looks nice in it.")

I remember when I was teenager I had to wait in my date's living room on one occasion while she made some adjustment in what she was going to wear. As she complained to me later, her father, looking at her before I arrived, had said to her, "You have to wear a slip with that." I doubt that there is one father in a thousand who would even think to say such a thing to his teenage daughter today.

What, indeed, can any man say when it is already socially acceptable for women to nurse their babies in public? or when the authorities of Ocean City, Md., are reluctant to object to women who wish to lie on their beaches topless?

Looking for "case zero" of this development ("case zero" is another expression Dickens could do without in writings that contain approximately 3.9 million words) — and setting aside beach wear, of which the less said the better — my suspicions fall on the burgeoning popularity of wearing sports clothing in public, especially when the jogging craze got rolling in the 1970s. Ordinary folks strolling along the sidewalks or pathways had to make way for people who seemed to think that their comfort and performance somehow justified imposing their immodest appearance on the rest of us.

Of course, the so-called sexual revolution carries its share of blame. After all, most men enjoyed watching young women jog. It seems that the prurient enjoyment of watching them was sufficiently great that it undermined their ability (or willingness) to insist on higher standards when their daughters wanted to emulate the women their fathers had been leering at. Were they afraid to be called hypocrites? What a trade-off!

The connection to sports can be seen also in competitive events. The change in what is considered appropriate is truly startling. If you get an opportunity to see some old videos of ice dancers from the 1950s or even 1960s, I think you will be shocked at how demure they appear in comparison with those who skate today. In those days, skaters (and gymnasts) did not have to worry about "wardrobe malfunctions." Are we really supposed to believe that women athletes can perform better when their costumes sometimes slip and expose their breasts or pudenda on national TV?

How young women and girls dress today could almost serve as an argument against Muslim immigration. If Muslim fathers don't want their daughters wearing jeans and sneaking out at night to go drinking with their friends, listening to rock "music," and meeting boys, they would be wise not to bring them here. The message is simple: "Mohammed, Ali, and Sayed ... if your culture is important to you, don't come here. Don't bring your daughters here, or you will lose them to what Americans have permitted their culture to become." This photograph of a beach may seem pretty tame to you, until you realize that it was taken at a beach in a Muslim country (Kyrgyzstan).

We in the West are used to being warned that the Muslim birthrate will destroy our culture. Muslims may wish to consider the possibility that Western culture has been equally vigorous in corrupting their culture.

There are so many replies to my remarks that I can scarcely be expected to meet all of them. But let's consider two: that none of this would be a problem if men didn't look at women inappropriately and that it's all a matter of culture. "Why, there are certain cultures where women can walk around topless and it causes no stir whatever," one sometimes hears, though I am not aware that those cultures are celebrated for their sexual restraint.

In fact, I agree with both points. And that is my point. Women may say that they do not dress to allure men, that they dress to be noticed by other women, that they are not thinking of sex when they allow their bodies to be more and more exposed in public. All that may be, though why some women who "dress for other women" are dressed immodestly and others are not remains unexplained. In any case, it is a certainty that the designers of what they wear are thinking of sex, and do not give a tinker's damn for the modesty or sexualizing of the women to whom they are marketing. The latitude in what is considered appropriate for men and women to wear in public is a marker of an effort (deliberate? Let's not get into that) to change our culture. And it has been successful.

And be sure of this: It's not going to stop with wearing leggings in public. Not here, and not in Muslim countries. Ω

July 25, 2017

© 2017 Paul LeMoyne
Published in 2017 by WTM Enterprises.

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