A Republican lawmaker in Montana wants to prevent women from wearing leggings as pants, and he hopes that his proposed bill to strengthen the state’s indecent exposure law will be a step in that direction.
This week, State Rep. David Moore (R) introduced House Bill 365, which would outlaw “any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region.” Under that legislative language, “tight-fitting beige clothing” would likely be banned, according to the local lawmaker.
The Billings Gazette reports that Moore would have preferred to ban yoga pants of all colors; he favors giving the cops the power to arrest people for wearing “provocative” clothing. But HB 365 stops short of that because Moore wasn’t sure whether it would be possible for police to enforce a broader ban.
Moore drafted the proposed measure along with Walt Hill, a retired professor, after a bicycle event last summer that involved naked cyclists riding through downtown Missoula. The “Bare As You Dare” event — just one of many similar naked rides that are held in cities around the world — outraged the two men.
“I want Montana to be known as a decent state where people can live within the security of laws and protect their children and associates from degrading and indecent practices,” Hill said this week to explain why he wanted to help spearhead HB 365. “I believe this bill is written preserving that reputation.”
Under the proposed bill, a Montana resident who is convicted three times under the expanded definition of “indecent exposure” could be sentenced to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Moore and Hill’s concerns about tight-fitting pants are shared by public school officials across the country. Schools in states ranging from Illinois, Oklahoma, California, and Massachusetts have moved to ban leggings and yoga pants, saying they “distract” boys who should be paying attention in class. Over the past year, an increasing number of middle school and high school girls have started to fight back, protesting what they see as sexist dress codes targeting female students.
This type of policy links girls’ clothing to boys’ inability to control themselves. “It’s a lot like saying that if guys do something to harass us, it’s our fault for that,” Sophie Hasty, a 13-year-old who protested her middle school’s ban on leggings last spring, told Slate. “We’re the ones being punished for what guys do.”
The Montana legislature is no stranger to these type of gender-based complaints. At the end of last year, Republican leaders approved new dress code guidelines for lawmakers that stipulated “leggings are not considered dress pants” and women should be “sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.” Female politicians in the state pushed back, saying the new rules created “this ability to scrutinize women” and were “totally sexist and bizarre and unnecessary.”
“The code crosses a line. It singles women out for admonishment and suggests they can’t be trusted to get up in the morning and dress appropriately,” House Minority Whip Jenny Eck (D) said at the time.
Even beyond that, making specific rules to prohibit “provocative” women’s clothing furthers implicit societal assumptions about the way men and women should interact. It ultimately sends the message that women’s bodies are an invitation for sexual aggression unless they properly cover up. It also furthers a gendered double standard, as women are simultaneously encouraged to strive to present themselves as objects of men’s desire and criticized when they look or behave in a way that’s deemed too “promiscuous.”
Local lawmakers have gone after pants at the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Cities in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, and Illinois have attempted to crack down on so-called “saggy pants,” seeking to target a different group — in this case, young men of color — for wearing their clothing in a way that’s deemed “indecent.”