It takes a brave woman to wear leggings. They are thin, form fitting and can very often expose more body flaws than perks. To wear leggings, many women have to have a lot of self confidence in themselves and their own body image. For some it can be an act of protest against female stereotypes, which would have them believe that only women with the perfect body – super models like Gisele Bundchen or a Victoria’s Secret model – should wear such clothes. But one Christian blogger has said that women should not wear leggings, not because of fashion sense, but because they lead to sin.
Christian mommy blogger Veronica Partridge has caused headlines after her post on not wearing leggings went viral. Her post, titled “Why I Chose to No Longer Wear Leggings,” discussed her choice to stop wearing the stretchy pants because they might draw the gaze of men and create “lustful thoughts.” She noted that it was part of her Christian beliefs that a woman should be modest and that she felt “convicted” by God on the matter, so she made a promise to God and her husband not to wear leggings in public any more.
Her post went viral and the Oregon mom soon found herself facing both negative and positive comments, as well as television interviews like one with Good Morning America. She has defended herself both online and on screen. Her reasons for this decision have involved her Christian beliefs in not creating temptation for others, that leggings are “inappropriate” for public wear and that men are hardwired to be attracted to certain points on a woman’s body (she appealed to science to make that argument). To be clear, there is nothing wrong with her personal beliefs. She has every right to them. But after making them a matter of public record in an open forum like a blog where people are invited to comment, her personal beliefs are now a matter of public scrutiny.
And they have been scrutinized. The response to her leggings ban has been both positive and negative, with some people lauding her for sticking to principle and others claiming that she is perpetuating “rape culture.” In fact, some of her arguments do echo the messages of rape culture. including variations of “she was asking for it” and “boys will be boys,” both of which are dangerous to men and women.
There is a lot of blaming women for drawing the attention of men. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress in a way that does not create “lustful thoughts” in a man’s head. As she noted in her first post on the subject, men will probably look anyway, “but why entice them?” She expounded on this notion in her second post, published after all the hoopla had started in the press and elsewhere online. In the second post, she said that “responsible sexuality should be led by both men and women” and explained the Christian teaching of not being a “stumbling block” to others. All the talk of being “community minded” and sharing responsibility sounds great, but is it really what it seems?
This line of thinking assumes two things: first, that women are objects of male perception. Women are objects of male perception, that is true, but Partridge treats women like they are only objects of the male gaze. Because of this, all of a woman’ choices center around men. Whether leggings are comfortable does not matter; only men’s opinions matter when choosing an outfit. Thus, a woman’s decisions, wardrobe choices and entire outlook on life center around men and what they think. Women are subordinates to men in every way in this type of world view.
Which brings up the second problem with her reasoning, the age-old “boys will be boys” argument. Because men cannot help their sexual thoughts, women have to change what they do in order to prevent it. In this line of thought, the onus is on women to safe-guard “appropriate” sexuality. Men are not required to change anything about their behavior at all. So much for her shared responsibility. Not only that, this excuse is so insulting to men, who are reduced to nothing more than their baser instincts, which they are told they cannot control nor change.
These two issues are part of the thinking surrounding rape culture. When a woman is raped, some variation of these arguments is almost always heard. Questions like “what was she wearing?” or “had she been drinking?” and the like put the responsibility for a woman’s assault and abuse on her, not on her attacker. But before any kind of rape or sexual misconduct even happens, thinking like Partridge’s permeates the culture and leads to those extreme examples of victim shaming. By using them so uncritically, Partridge is a part of furthering rape culture, whether she intends to be or not.
And there is every reason to believe that she has not done this intentionally. She wrote in he first post on leggings about wanting to be an example for her daughter. “I want her to know, her value is not in the way her body looks or how she dresses, but in the character and personality God has given her.” That is a wonderful thing to teach any child and a wholly worthy goal that pretty much any person supports. Partridge’s critics are not speaking up because they believe she is teaching something evil, but because they want the same thing for their children and all children in general. The goal is the same; they simply disagree on how to get there.
When Christian blogger from Oregon Veronica Partridge wrote that she was foregoing leggings because they might lead to sin, she probably did not expect to be caught up in the debate about rape culture. Dealing with internet trolls and unkind comments is not easy and she deserves some sympathy for what she is going through on that level. Moreover, it should be remembered that she is not a villain in this story. She is just as much a victim of rape culture as every other woman. Yes, she is perpetuating it, but it is to her own detriment as much as it is to anyone else’s. Now she gets to miss out on the comfort of leggings because she has bought into the lie that women are responsible for men’s actions and that men have no responsibility to control themselves. It really is her loss.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury