Can a Catholic wear leggings to Mass?

10 April 2019

4.8 MINS

Why do those on the left feel like they have to keep imposing their own values—or possibly lack thereof—upon everybody else? Just take the recent furor flowing out of Notre Dame University. Maryann White—a Catholic mother of four boys—wrote an articulate and gracious letter to the editor urging the young women on campus to consider the appropriateness as to how they dress, especially when attending Mass. The essence of her reasoning was as follows:

…I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights. I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.

The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me. They’re such an unforgiving garment. Last fall, they obtruded painfully on my landscape. I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family. In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug-fitting leggings and all wearing short-waisted tops (so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings). Some of them truly looked as though the leggings had been painted on them.

A world in which women continue to be depicted as “babes” by movies, video games, music videos, etc. makes it hard on Catholic mothers to teach their sons that women are someone’s daughters and sisters. That women should be viewed first as people — and all people should be considered with respect.

Now, you may or may not agree with what she is saying, but as a father to five sons and one teenage daughter I think she has a valid point. What’s more, it’s something similar to what my wife and I have tried to instill in each of our own children because we are convicted by Biblical truth (i.e. 1 Tim. 2:9-10). I don’t want my sons to sexualise women and I definitely don’t want other men to objectify my daughter.

Because as most parents rightly perceive, the way that someone chooses to dress has a significant effect as to how they are perceived. Just note how one student—Anne Jarrett—decided to present herself in ‘protest’ and then read how many men sexualised her in their comments…

However, when Ms Jarret was subsequently interviewed by CNN I started to realise that maybe there was more to this story than first appeared. You see, according to the article:

Anne Jarrett, a junior majoring in philosophy and gender studies, is also an activist at Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a campus advocacy group for reproductive rights. She helped create the protest and a Facebook event called Leggings Pride Day.

As soon as I read ‘gender studies’ I knew something was sus, but the reference to “Irish 4 Reproductive Health” as well as a “campus advocacy group for reproductive rights” really piqued my interest. Because, as their own website outlines, this is a group that has dedicated itself to undermining the values of the religious institution they have chosen to attend. Under the section ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ they state:

What does “independent” mean?
Our membership is composed of individuals in the Notre Dame community. In order to preserve our autonomy and ability to speak freely about the issues that matter to us, we are not seeking institutional affiliation or funding from the University of Notre Dame. We have 501(c)(4) non-profit status, so I4RH is its own legal entity. We are work alongside organizations in Michiana doing fantastic work to advance reproductive justice, such as Pro Choice South Bend and the Feminist Federation of South Bend. We also work with several national organizations, such as Catholics for Choice, Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

What is sex-positive feminism?
Sex positivity is the view that consensual sexual activity is a beneficial and even enriching human experience, one that people should be free to explore without stigma and shame should they wish to do so. “Virtues” like modesty and chastity that treat sex (or sex outside of marriage) as morally wrong have historically functioned to police women’s bodies and sexualities, thus reinforcing power hierarchies along gendered lines. Sex-positivity does not proclaim that people need or ought to be having sex, but rather that individuals should be free to determine what role they want sex to play in their lives without fear of social reprobation, coercion, shame, or guilt. Sex-positivity values bodily autonomy and body-positivity, and is grounded in respect and consent between individuals.

What is intersectional feminism?
Intersectional feminism takes into account the multiple and overlapping oppressions that exist in society in order to promote a diverse and inclusive feminism. Recognizing that oppression and privilege looks different for everyone depending on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, physical/mental ability, religion, socioeconomic status, etc., intersectional feminism strives to understand how systems of oppression like racism, sexism, or transphobia may support one another. It also recognizes that the struggle for gender equality must not only include and support people of color, the Trans community, and other vulnerable or marginalized groups, but must also must make their struggles its own. An inclusive and diverse feminism is a stronger feminism.

Are you “pro-choice”?
Access to safe and legal abortion is a right and we believe it is a necessity for gender equality. We prefer to describe ourselves as advocates for reproductive justice rather than as “pro-choice”; the discourse of “choice” carries with it an implicit assumption -– often arising from a perspective of race and class privilege -– that perfectly free choices about parenting, pregnancy termination, and birth control methods are possible. Unfortunately, not all people have equal access to reproductive healthcare resources, services, or information.

Fighting for reproductive justice means believing in people’s rights to control if and when they become pregnant, as well as people’s inherent right to raise their families in a safe and supportive environment. In organizing for reproductive justice, we are advocating for a person’s right to become a parent as well as a person’s right not to. Reproductive justice transcends the question of abortion, encompassing instead the full spectrum of decisions and healthcare access related to reproductive health that people need over the course of their lives to keep themselves well.

How does your group fit in with Notre Dame’s Catholic identity?
I4RH is neither a Catholic organization nor an official student group at Notre Dame. We are making space for the many voices at Notre Dame that do not subscribe to conservative Catholic doctrine on human sexuality. In fact, the majority of U.S. Catholics agree with I4RH on the importance of access to reproductive healthcare and consider the use of contraception to be a matter of personal conscience. As current members of the Notre Dame community, we believe human dignity means affording respect to all people to make moral choices about their own lives. Thus, the goals of I4RH are consonant with education of free human beings, a central task of institutions of higher learning, including Catholic universities.

So, effectively, this whole thing is a media beat-up. A piece of confected outrage to rail about the virtues of a venerable tertiary institution. My question is, if you know that this is what they stand for, then why decide to go in the first place? If you don’t hold to the beliefs of a certain religious group, then go to a secular university. Or if you do, stop trying to impose what you don’t believe on everyone else.

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  1. John Wynter 12 April 2019 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Thanks, Mark. We are truly at war. But we know who our Champion is! God bless you and yours.

  2. […] Originally published at The Daily Declaration. […]

  3. Kathy 16 May 2019 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Good article

  4. Therese Armstrong 20 May 2019 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Thank you Mark. I am disappointed by the standard of dress that I witness at Catholic Mass, I’m referring to everyone, not just young women, but older people who should know better.

    • Lisa 8 December 2019 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      I am too, Therese. I converted and people usually dressed up to go to Mass or church when I was young.

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