A mother of four boys recently wrote an op-ed in which she lamented the leggings trend. She explained how males can’t help but look at legging-clad bodies and think goodness-knows-what thoughts because “nature.” She asked young women to “think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead.” She said “the legging problem” is one that “only girls can solve.”
Here’s where we take a look back at all of the clothing choices that have been considered “problems that only girls can solve” because they cause men to think sexy thoughts:
- wearing skirts above the knee
- wearing skirts above mid-calf
- wearing skirts above the ankle
- wearing shirts that show any cleavage
- wearing shirts that show your shoulders
- wearing shirts that show your collarbone
- etc. etc. etc.
And here’s where we take a look at all of the skin-tight garb that decent men are somehow able to filter and compartmentalize and not use as an excuse to objectify women:
- bobsledding outfits
- speed skating outfits
- downhill ski racing outfits
- basically half of the Winter Olympics outfits
- most of the summer Olympic outfits as well
I mean, we all see these athletes in these outfits in every competition, and I don’t see anyone shaming them for causing men to “stumble” or making teen boys think impure thoughts. Most of the time, these outfits are skin tight all over a woman’s entire body, and yet no one tells them they are “attracting the wrong kind of attention.”
Of course, different outfits are appropriate at different times and women don’t generally walk around town in a speed skating unitard. But the fact that males are perfectly capable of not seeing speed skaters as sex objects while watching the Olympics means that they are capable of choosing how they process seeing a woman in form fitting clothing.
Men are not slaves to their sex drives. They’re really not. But that seems to be a long-standing societal expectation, and this op-ed just perpetuates it. When we tell girls that the thoughts of men and boys are their responsibility, we’re also telling men and boys that they aren’t really responsible for their thoughts. When we tell girls that men and boys can’t help but sexualize them because “nature,” we’re also telling men and boys that their sexual urges are out of their control. That is an incredibly dangerous and extraordinarily outdated message to send.
I personally don’t care for the look of leggings-as-pants, though I’m getting used to it. But the argument that girls and women need to stop wearing them because of what men and boys might think? Nope. Teach your boys to shift their gaze if unwanted thoughts come into their heads when they look at a woman, no matter what she’s wearing. Teach them that those thoughts will come and go under various circumstances throughout their lives and that it’s their responsibility to manage them.
We’re still having to fight the erroneous idea that women and girls “ask” to be raped by the way they dress. The message that women are responsible for men’s thoughts is only one step away from making them responsible for men’s actions. The reality is that if women were to stop wearing everything that might have a chance of turning on a man, we’d be back to the era of neck-high, floor-length dresses—and some men would still objectify women.
I’m all for having thoughtful discussions about clothing choices and how we present ourselves to the world. But not when it becomes about policing women because men can’t control themselves. Please. Let’s expect more from our boys and stop calling girls’ fashion trends “the problem.”