Why does #leggingsgate matter?

After hearing about nothing but leggings all day yesterday, my husband asked me what the big deal was. The facts commonly agreed on are that two girls were not allowed to get on a United plane because they were wearing leggings, but they were flying on a free pass so they had to meet a dress code. Dave said, “If they’re flying on a free pass, what’s the big deal about meeting the dress code?” Because, as I pointed out, Dad was allowed to wear shorts. Whether or not he was paying for his ticket (which is also what I gather), how is he allowed to go bare but the children are not? Why are the girls held to a company standard of dress (a company that recently used a woman clad in leggings in an ad) while dad can go casual?

Here’s the message those girls received: you can either put more clothes on or pay your way. It doesn’t matter what choice you make, there are restrictions on your behavior.

Daddy’s skin is acceptable, because he’s a man. You, on the other hand, can’t be comfortable in your skin. For the rest of your life, btw. You’ll be told you’re too fat, too short, too tall, too skinny. You must remove all body hair – even in the most painful places – because it is unattractive. Your breasts are too small unless you have back problems from carrying their weight. But if you breastfeed in public you have a 50/50 chance of being asked to leave. Let’s not even talk about your hips – they’ll never be right. Your skin is too dry and you’ll never look young enough, unless you’re too young to wear leggings. Or is it too old? Your fingernails are too plain, your face needs makeup before you even leave the house, your ears should be pierced, your teeth aren’t white enough – and yes, there’s even a procedure called “anal bleaching” because God knows, even that part of you that never sees the light of day – it’s not good enough either. And soon you’ll be able to get pregnant, honey, so you should hear this. If there’s a baby in your belly we own it, but once it’s out don’t you dare ask for help supporting it. In fact, your healthcare, your very right to see a well-informed doctor, will be debated and legislated endlessly by men who can head on over to CVS and pick up their Viagra for free.

Reporting of this story, not surprisingly, has missed the point. There were three girls involved, and one who happened to have a dress in her carry-on bag was allowed to board. The other two were turned away. Imagine being those girls, singled out in front of the dozens of people waiting at the gate. One of them was a ten year old girl. A child. Which led my husband to this conclusion: “So they are sexualizing the ten year old girl. In that case, it’s equally as sexist toward men, because apparently men who see ten year old girls in leggings can’t control themselves.” (Which led me to point out that a man who can’t control himself around women and openly admitted to committing sexual assault is leading the country, but that’s another story.)

If you are still shaking your head wondering what the uproar is about, here it is. Women truly aren’t free in our culture and they learn this from a very, very young age. Simply put, your body is governed by the sexual purposes, needs, or opinions of men. Not only will you receive all the messages listed above about your body, but you’ll also be told how to dress and what your intentions were when you chose that outfit. You will be harassed, with a 20% chance of that turning into assault. You will be walking alone one night and suddenly realize you’re afraid. You may choose not to take part in activities such as taking a walk in the woods alone because you won’t feel safe. You may wake up behind a dumpster after being raped but hear about how the man who did this to you has a future that is more important than yours because of his swimming career. He will serve three months but you’ll get a lifetime sentence. Our culture subverts and perverts the very existence of women’s bodies and sexuality until we have to keep ten year old children from wearing tight-fitting pants. That’s the bottom line of this story. Dad, your skin is perfectly acceptable because, well, you’re a guy. Ten year old, sweet child of a girl – your skin is not acceptable, even though it’s covered. Get used to it.