A mother in Indiana wrote a letter to a campus newspaper saying she was “ashamed” for young women who wear leggings. College students responded by doing just that and launching the hashtag #leggingsdayND.

A concerned mother’s plea urging young women at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana to stop wearing leggings because they were too tempting for their male classmates to resist backfired when students showed up on campus en masse clad in the tight Spandex bottoms.

Maryann White, a Catholic mother of four sons, described in a March 25 letter to the editor of The Observer, the school’s student newspaper, a particularly distracting Mass during which she sat behind a group of women wearing dark leggings and short tops. “You couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to see them, but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.”

Though she recognised that many people wear leggings because they are comfortable, White said she felt “ashamed” for the young women she saw at Mass and wanted to shield them, and all others inclined to don the stretchy bottoms, from unwanted ogling. “I’m fretting both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you,” she wrote.

Her letter didn’t exactly work out the way she intended. Students at the private Catholic university organised campus-wide events on March 26 and 27 calling on people of all genders to wear leggings to support women’s right to dress any way they like. On Facebook, “The Legging Protest” and “Leggings Pride Day” drew a combined 2,500 interested users, and participants used the hashtag #leggingsdayND to post pictures of their outfits.

Event organisers criticised White for attempting to police women’s bodies and for placing the responsibility of men’s actions and moral choices on women. In her letter, White wrote that the leggings “problem” was one that “only girls can solve", and asked her readers, “Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?”

Students posted photos of their outfits on the "Legging Protest" Facebook event page.

In response, the student group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, which organised the “Leggings Pride Day” event, wrote that White’s argument “perpetuates a narrative central to rape culture” that aims to hold women accountable for others’ behavior. Kaitlyn Wong, a senior who created the “Leggings Protest” Facebook event, offered a stinging rebuke in the form of a parody of White’s letter.

“The belief that viewing a woman’s bottom is inescapable is the reason that men in our society believe that they have the power and the right to mistreat women,” Wong wrote. “Leggings are so stretchy, so form fitting, so comfortable. Could you think of the women who are simply looking to be comfortable as they walk through the world the next time you talk to your sons about the way that women should be treated?”

This story was written by Jenny Che.