The problem with Mia Freedman’s ‘leggings are not pants’ column

As I see it, the bigger problem with Mia Freedman’s “leggings are not pants” column is not what she said in the column, but what she didn’t say afterwards. She was using what she believed to be a light-hearted point about clothing to introduce bigger issues around political attitudes, and I get that. And for many in her audience (judging by the comments on her blog), they get that too. But when it was pointed out by some readers that there are classism, ableism and sizeism judgements in the leggings as pants conversation, any good points that Freedman’s column made were immediately erased by her response: that they were wrong. Instead of admitting that she’d never thought about those issues before, she told people their views were not legitimate. Readers on her blog responded the same way, telling people to “get over it” and that they were “getting upset about nothing”. Critics were silenced.

I highly recommend reading Fat Heffalump‘s post on the isms around leggings: Cut the snarky fashion judgement crap.

The leggings as pants conversation is one we had here last year. I made a joke about it, but it wasn’t a very funny joke and I offended my readers. I relied on people knowing that I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell others what to wear so it must be a joke, which is not good enough when you have a public blog. So I apologised and updated my post. I had never considered the issues around leggings, but now I know better.

I also offended people with a remark about bullying in my Kyle Sandilands post, and updated that one too. I guess it’s about what kind of person you want to be: someone who can’t see their privilege, or someone who is willing to acknowledge how their privilege shapes the way they see the world. (My privilege: white, middle-class, able-bodied, in a heterosexual relationship. It’s almost the Western privilege jackpot, right there.)

And since I’m sharing the times I’ve offended people through my ignorance, I used to say things were “lame” until it was pointed out that I was using ableist language. From FWD:

“Lame” is an ableist word. It’s an ableist word because it assumes that having difficulty walking is objectively bad, and that therefore, a word which is used to describe difficulty walking can be safely used as a pejorative to mean “this is bad.” Using “lame” reinforces ableism in our culture by reminding people that disability is bad, and that it’s so bad that it can be used as a shorthand code to talk about bad things in general.

(And before you say “oh, it’s political correctness gone mad”, I’d like to point out that in my experience, people who complain about political correctness are just annoyed that when they use someone’s race/religion/ability/gender as an insult, someone will call them on it.)

Freedman is, of course, free to hold any view she likes. And she’s free to write about her views, just as people are free to disagree with them. But it’s disappointing that when informed of the world outside Freedman’s privilege, and about how her comments have offended others, she put her fingers in her ears and shouted “LALALALALALALALALALA”.

59 responses to “The problem with Mia Freedman’s ‘leggings are not pants’ column

  1. But it’s disappointing that when informed of the world outside Freedman’s privilege, and about how her comments have offended others, she put her fingers in her ears and shouted “LALALALALALALALALALA”.

    That seems to be a bit of a trend for her.

  2. I think that’s what bugs me too, along with the fact that all the good stuff Mia talks about and the great articles commissioned get lost in the constant drama that swirls around this stuff.

    Even if she stands by what she says, surely a better response would be to say “okay, I hear you. I don’t agree, but there’ll be a piece tomorrow by someone examining those issues that are so important to a lot of you”

    Disagreeing with a point of view is one thing. Dismissing it does no one credit, least of all Mia.

  3. Frances said the very same thing I would have – that reaction is par for the course for Mia. She usually accuses people of being angry or having “OTT” (over the top) reactions, using her words for their own agenda, or just complaining that everyone is “picking on” her. She cannot understand the exasperation so many of us feel at having to explain over and over and over again that as the highly visible head of a large online publication, her words carry extra weight.

    I vowed some time ago that I would never engage with her or her work again, but in the meantime MamaMia have requested (and I declined politely) that I write for them. I thought perhaps she was ready to listen, but alas, no.

    Thanks for the link love, it is most appreciated.

    • It’s a tough call to make: one the one hand, you’ll have the chance to talk directly to their readers, but on the other hand, your work will be surrounded by opinions you find offensive.

      Welcome to the News with Nipples.

      • Thank you – I am actually a long time reader first time commenter (how cheesy does that sound!?)

        I really agonised over that decision, and in the end asked advice from a woman whom I greatly admire – Marilyn Wann. Her advice to always listen to ones gut and and only give my time and talent to those people and organisations who are willing to at least support me from behind was something I will always remember. A lesson in valuing oneself that I was very, very fortunate to receive.

        • It’s good advice. The Punch once approached me to write something for them and I immediately said no. I didn’t want to have their fucking awful readers telling me that I’m a stupid little girl and clearly need a good deep dicking – and we all know those comments would be published. I moderate the comments here and there are only a few that don’t get published. People are polite. And that’s the kind of space I want this to be.

  4. Mia should stick to editing. Some of the articles that have been on MamaMia lately have been great. But not one of them was written by Mia. I think that says a lot.

    • Yes, I agree. Some are good. Although sometimes I wonder if they are good because the snark aligns with my accepted snark, rather than being opposed to it, and so I don’t *notice*.

  5. It’s probably best that I don’t share my thoughts on Mia Freedman …

  6. There seems to be a strange assumption that because someone has put forward a related but different POV about a topic, it means they’ve missed the point – yes, everyone gets that Mia’s not focusing on leggings and that she was talking about other more important issues. Less time needs to be spent redirecting the flow of the comments people have posted on Mia’s column and more time participating in the thread – isn’t that what it’s there for? The days of the one-way conversation between a newspaper and its audience are gone.

    • This is a good point, Gem. Blogs (which is what Freedman’s column becomes once it’s online) should be about discussion, and the column itself is just the starting point. If people want to talk about one part of the column, then that’s where things go. Welcome to the News with Nipples.

      • Absolutely, openly dismissing comments is a very quick way to lose readers. PS Thanks for the welcome! I’m a long time reader, first time commenter 🙂

    • The problem with commenting on Mama Mia is that it is heavily censored and a very, very hostile environment for anyone who dares to disagree with Mia. Mia herself has referred to one blogger’s comment on one of her pieces as “a load of fucking tripe” even though the blogger was polite, to the point and didn’t engage in ad hominem attacks. I can’t describe what that kind of response from Mia incites – hate attacks on Twitter, personal blogs… you name it. Many of us who have tried to engage in discussion on Mama Mia have been subjected to that repeatedly.

      Nobody should feel that they have to open themselves up to that kind of abuse, and besides, she simply dismisses people with “You’re so angry”.

  7. I don’t read her blog but always read her newspaper column and I agree with everything said here. I was somewhat dismayed when Rudd appointed her as one of the women who would reassure young women about body image. That appointment just screamed “wrong” to me and I am yet to be convinced that she (along with Mrs Murdoch) were the best women to fulfill that role.

    • Oh yes to all of this. I’m still baffled about the body image stuff. Yes, I get that Freedman and Murdoch will get more MSM coverage for the issue, but neither of them actually get the problem, so it’s a waste.

  8. Comments that disagree with the author (Mia or others) tend to get deleted. There have been some great articles on Mamamia but there’s a whole lot there that gives me the raving eye-twitchies. To be honest I rarely read the articles written by Mia Freedman herself because so often they are highly emotive, personal soapbox issues. Like any website, I’m happy to pick and choose the content I want to read and there’s been a lot on there I’ve liked… but the comment “policy” leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. I haven’t seen Mia’s piece but aren’t leggings old hat now? I finally needed to buy a pair last weekend to hide my thighs in a gymnastic type demonstration I had to do. I looked all around my shopping mall but apart from nasty polyester heavy duty black leggings there were no others to be found (and those I found were simply vile so I didn’t get them). It kind of indicated to me that things have moved on in leg wear….to white opaques I think if the young women around my neighborhood are anything to go by….and yes I bought white opaques to hide my thighs in the demonstration.

  10. As an actually disabled person (thanks to that stroke I had two years ago), I’d just like to say I have no problems with the word “lame” being used as a synonym for “crap”, Probably I’ve done it myself. Also that anyone who wants to try and tell my disability isn’t a bad thing can go to hell with my full permission and the utmost haste,

    • James, as another actually disabled person, who actually is lame, by its original definition, your experience is not my experience, and your “permission” for people to use lame pejoratively isn’t granted on my behalf. And that’s exactly the point: because experience is not universal, it isn’t acceptable to presume disability as universally negative or positive and to use disability descriptors in a universally negative or positive way.

      See also: use of “gay” as a slang way of saying that it’s bad, calling anything that’s unusual or strange “crazy” or using “blind” or “dumb” as insults for people who hold different perspectives from our own.

      • To me, it comes down to politeness. I don’t know what it’s like to be someone else, so I try to ensure my language doesn’t use someone else’s life experience as an insult.

      • I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t put words in my mouth and instead read the ones I actually wrote. I said *I* probably use the word “lame” pejoratively, not that other people could necessarily do the same; and I objected to FWD’s comment about ableist language reinforcing disability as a “bad thing” as if it could/should only be viewed as a “good thing” in some way. I’d like to think I’m not so presumptuous as to imply there’s only one way a person should feel about their health.

    • James R, I still think I’m too polite to use it as an insult. (Now that I know about it, of course.)

      • I don’t use the word as it has never been part of my language but the debate has certainly got me thinking. If it is ok for the homosexual community to take the words gay and Rainbow and change their use why is it not ok to take the word lame and change it’s use? Anytime someone objects to the change of use they are told to harden up and get with the times…that language changes.

        • I don’t know that the gay community changed the use of the word – it used to mean promiscuous or rakish or having-lax-morals and I think that may well have been imposed rather than chosen? Like queen, queer, fag, dyke…it seems to have been claimed after use as an insult rather than deliberately picked. However I don’t actually know for sure and am just thinking out loud.

        • The Homosexual Community? Right, cos we’re a hive mind – oh, and we steal words from nice straight folks.

          Great goddesses.

  11. I feel like it’s confession time: I used to judge people’s clothings (and when it comes to a professional work place I’m still trying to get out of the “strapless tops are not appropriate mindset”, coz really, who cares?)

    I read Freedman’s post and I see some of what she means – as adults (I’m not a parent) we instill our values on those around us, children included. But when did leggings become part of a values set, next to not judging someone’s race, religion, or gender?

    I always try to like Freedman’s writing… I try to buy into her feminist, pro-healthy body image stance, but ultimately she falls short – all the time. It is disappointing, because whilst it is her opinion, it’s an opinion that is widely read and her readers do buy into, and recycle, it.

    And really… If we can’t wear leggings as pants (or home made strapless dresses made out of towels if the case may be) when we’re five, the world is in a lot of trouble…

    • This is my objection too – that her opinion is widely read and her readers recycle what she says. And this becomes particularly problematic when she refuses to engage with people who disagree with her.

      Kat Anderson, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  12. Mia is now, what I fear Miranda and Janet might have been once upon a time.
    Once the policing of women of any type without the ability to consider that that is in fact what one is doing creeps into the stories…that’s when I switch off…it’s only a matter of time before the connection to the hive mind is completed.

  13. I don’t read her. I’m over her surveying her friends. And really, if she writes about herself everyday, and has the staff to enable her to exercise and write everyday, how much domestic work/parenting/hanging around school is she really doing? She’s much more privileged than the readers she’s trying to cosy up to.

    I’ve moved on to The Hoopla (Wendy Harmer).

  14. I did finally go and read the piece. Not having had a daughter I don’t know how I would have behaved in this instance. But I suspect it is rather like the battles my sister has had with a daughter who refused to wear clothes. In the end you do whatever you can to get some on and throw out any beliefs about clothes you previously held. Even with boys you have to accept the exposed buttocks look if that is what fashion demands and pray that one day soon they will start to wear waist high pants. But I doubt it, once it feels comfortable to dress a certain way it is not easy to change.

    I might rail against the propensity of young women to reveal so much of their bodies in the clothes which are fashionable just now but the truth is that I am envious of their abilty to do so and very proud of them for being so easy with their flesh.

  15. What I meant was ‘for being at ease with their flesh.’

    • I’m also envious of that. When I was young I thought I was fat and ugly and generally hid my body. Youth is wasted on the young and all that.

      I don’t have a huge problem with passing on general clothing preferences. If I have children and if I have a daughter (the second is unlikely since the first is unlikely), I will certainly pass on my belief that you need good bras. I spent my teens and early twenties in ill-fitting bras that had lost most of the elastic. Now I know that my girls deserve a good home.

      The problem I do have with Freedman’s piece is her response when her ableism, classism and sizeism was pointed out to her.

    • Hehheeehee.
      /juvenile moment.

  16. Yep, yep, yeppers. I also felt that the piece itself was a bit mickey mouse, as Kat Anderson suggests. Reading about Mia’s trifling leggings dilemma and how she made the connection with the “values” we impart to our children was a little cringeworthy.

    Then again Mia Freedman is kind of, um, Ms Journaliste Lite (meow, but true). I’m disappointed that her brand of blogging is so popular.

  17. What a wonderful irony.
    I have stumbled upon you site through the piece on the Hoopla.
    I started reading The Hoopla as I couldn’t stand any more of Mia Freedman’s web site. The elitist judgmental commentary, the snarky comments of her readers- many of whom act like disciples, the lack of “substance” in the writing.
    I appreciate that it is a magazine style site, however, there is too much fluff and nonsense over there for me.
    Wendy’s Hoopla is a thinking persons site.
    now I will take some time to have a look around here too

    • There does seem to be a direct correlation between the lack of substance in the writing and the number of rabid fans who attack anyone who disagrees. See also, Sam de Brito.

      Dramaqueen, welcome to the News with Nipples. I hope you stick around.

  18. I haven’t read anything of Freedman’s since her first or second column where she wrote about the “throws of passion”.

  19. Ah but people are not free to disagree with Queen Mia! Why, your comments just disappear into the pesky spam filter if they contradict her in any way. No wonder the responses are so low on their articles now.
    MM is hopefully, imploding. Awful site.
    Great post!

  20. Pingback: The 44th Down Under Feminists Carnival – Hoyden About Town

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