Jan. 19 Flashback: Leggings

Jan. 19 Flashback: Leggings January 19, 2022

A lot of things have gotten worse since 2002. This blog is probably one of them.

This is from January 19, 2015, “Does this patriarchal construct of modesty make me look fat?“:

That first link there is to an earnest, anguished post by a Christian blogger who says that God has been laying a heavy conviction on her heart about … leggings. She is convicted about leggings because of “modesty” — which is the white evangelical euphemism for the idea that women are primarily responsible for male lust. It’s the ideology that would rather put every woman in a burka than put any man in a blindfold — the ideology that blames women for everything from men’s lustful fantasies to men’s infidelity to men’s propensity for rape and violence. …

What struck me about this poor woman agonizing over the potential sin of legging-wearing was the way she had inadvertently framed the whole matter as a variation of a stock scene from 1990s sit-coms: “I went home later that day and shared the convictions I was having with my husband. Was it possible my wearing leggings could cause a man, other than my husband, to think lustfully about my body? I asked my husband his thoughts on the matter when he got home.”

This is a spiritualized, evangelical-jargonized variation of the “Does this make me look fat?” dilemma that stand-up comics have been milking for laughs since before I was born. It’s a yes-or-no question for which neither yes nor no seems like a safe or adequate answer. She is asking him, “Yes or no — could seeing me in leggings cause a man to think lustful thoughts?”

This is well-worn comic territory for a reason. This question, on its surface, suggests a wide array of possible answers that could come across as disastrously insulting. Your kinder variety sit-com husbands (Ray Romano, Ricky Ricardo) will wind up saying something unintentionally awful while your nastier variety sit-com husbands (Al Bundy, Ralph Kramden) will seize the chance to say something deliberately cruel.

But both questions — either “Does this make me look fat?” or “Is it possible my wearing leggings could cause a man … to think lustfully?” — are provocative mainly because there seems to be so much going on beneath the surface. The real peril of such questions comes from trying to answer them at face-value while avoiding the multitude of assumptions, fears and falsehoods that they hint at — whether that be the toxic business of fat-shaming or the evil patriarchal construct of “modesty” ideology.

The surface-level framing of this blogger’s question about leggings is misleading. It makes it seem as though any variation of “No” in response to this yes-or-no question would be tantamount to the husband implying that his wife is unattractive. It makes it seem as though the question requires her husband to evaluate her leggings and her legs.

But look at the question again. Look at what it’s really asking and at the underlying assumptions. It is a question about cause — about agency, control and responsibility: “Is it possible my wearing leggings could cause a man … to think lustfully?”

The objective answer to that question is No. No, she does not control what choices others make. No, she cannot cause or compel others to act by wearing or not wearing any given article of clothing. No, she is not responsible for the thoughts of others. And, no, those others cannot pretend that she or anyone other than themselves is responsible for their own thoughts, choices and actions.

Read the rest here.

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