What is so offensive about underpants?

I’m going to preface this mama-bear rant by saying that I do not at all blame my daughter’s teacher for the situation I am about to describe. She is merely following the rules set before her. It is those rules I am taking issue with, not the teacher.

My daughter is a girly girl. When she was handed a teething ring as a newborn, she’d put it on like a bracelet. She had an opinion about my appearance at 3 months, and she’s the reason I even bother with makeup and jewelry these days. (And I still don’t get it right.) She has been asking for pierced ears and makeup since she could string two words together. Her closet is crammed full of dresses and skirts, and she will almost always pick one of those over pants or shorts. If she had her way, she’d wear heels every day of the week. (All you people who wagged your fingers at Katie Holmes over Suri’s footwear — that probably wasn’t even Mom’s doing. I try to get my kid to wear sneakers. She doesn’t want to. And sometimes I just get tired of fighting about it.)

Anya’s sartorial selections have been a sticking point now that she is in pre-K. Her teacher has sent home several notes about appropriate footwear and the need for shorts or leggings under her skirts. They run and play and sit on the floor a lot, she says. And I get it. I remember pre-K. So I bought Anya sneaker flats and sparkly sneakers and My Little Pony socks (also sparkly) and skirts with shorts in them and little biker shorts to wear under her dresses. I won’t tell her that she can’t girly girl, just that she has to do so within the constraints of the school’s dress code.

I thought all was well, but the other day there was another note about shorts under dresses in her backpack when I picked her up from school. Problem is, she was wearing shorts under her dress. Special shorts, which cost more than her panties, in fact. I went out and bought about 10 pairs of these things after the first note.

So I wrote back. Were the shorts not long enough? Was it not obvious enough that she had on panties beneath them? I mean, what is the criterion we’re looking for here?

What I wanted to say, but didn’t, is what is so freaking offensive about my kid’s underpants, anyway? Why is it so horrible if someone catches a glimpse of her panties? Boy underwear is not offensive. What is so special about girl underwear that I have to cover them up with a second pair of underwear?

Perhaps the problem is that the shorts are not knee length. But most shorts aren’t. Especially on Anya, who is very tall and also very slim. It’s hard to buy her shorts that hit below mid-thigh, spandex or otherwise. And frankly, I don’t see why I have to. What is so offensive about three inches of preschooler thigh?

I will reiterate that we’re talking about 4- and 5-year-old children here, but let’s say for the sake of argument that the issue is a sexual one. The old “seeing female underthings/skin incites lust in certain persons” spiel. I call BS on that one. Someone who would think lewd things about my kid because her underwear/leg was visible would think those things about her regardless. It’s true now, it’ll be true in 10 years. I don’t like it, but I don’t have to like it. It’s just the way things work.

So, again, why must she wear overpants over her underpants when she wears a skirt? What’s wrong with the ones she was wearing? Whose sensibilities are we protecting? And why don’t boys get shamed when their underpants show? (I’d include their legs here, but I have a son. None of his shorts hit above mid-calf. He doesn’t have shorts; he has manpris. As does every other man I know.)

Oh, I could insist she wear pants. But despite what the calendar says, it is still very much summer here. They go outside to play several times a day. She would roast in pants. In a few months, the whole thing will be a nonissue; I’ll simply put leggings or tights under her skirts, and everyone will be happy. But for now? For now it’s all skirts and dresses, and I have to stress out about who can see what up her skirt. Like I don’t have better things to think about.

Again, I don’t fault the teacher here. I know these are not her rules, and she’s just doing her job. But the whole situation is freaking stupid.

The teacher wrote back that the shorts were fine. She hadn’t checked that closely, and assumed the shorts (which were covered in a small, pastel print) were panties. So that’s resolved. But I am not mollified. If the knowledge that they are indeed shorts is enough to exonerate them, then we’re getting into indecency territory. The problem is not what she was or was not wearing, but what she was presumed to be wearing. Which is a hair’s breadth from slut shaming. And that just raises all my mama bear hackles.

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