In the Summer issue of Notre Dame Magazine, I learned that "impassioned students organized a leggings day to protest the notion that women bear responsibility for men's behavior—although in practice it could be difficult to know whether a person was wearing leggings in defiant response to the latter, or simply as everyday attire." Stories about the discontent of Mary Ann White, the Catholic mother of four sons who penned the poison, appeared in the The New York Times and The Washington Post, on the Today Show, BBC Radio 4 and more. The post I included in this blog "The Legging Problem: The Struggle is Real" is one of the most popular for 2019. Amidst the fury, I had to wonder Was this letter and response newsworthy? Is such discontent justifiable?
A reflection on the meaning of Oh Vanity of Vanities by Brian Overland gave me some insight. He writes
The meaning of “vanity” has changed in English over the centuries. In the time of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, “vanity” did not necessarily mean narcissism and excessive pride; rather, “vain” more often meant “meaningless” or “pointless.” And “vanity” was “meaninglessness.”
Modern literal interpretations of the opening phrase from the Book of Ecclesiastes, therefore, do not say “You’re so full of pride!” Instead the literal interpretation reads more like this: Meaningless, meaningless, the Preacher said, everything is meaningless! But that’s not as poetic as the Elizabethan language, is it?
Why, then does the King James Bible say “vanity of vanities”?? The answer is, because this reflects how the original Hebrew doesn’t just say “All in meaningless,” but gives it extra emphasis… something closer to “Meaningless! EVERYTHING is UTTERLY without meaning!”
And here’s the context of the Book of Ecclesiastes: more than any book of the Bible, the Book of Ecclesiastes is a book of grave doubts; it appears to be the rumination of a poet or philosopher who has tried everything and has come to put his trust in nothing. One generation rises, another passes, and the sun also rises — and yet “there is nothing new under the sun”… meaning, “I’ve seen it all.” The battle is not to the strong, because luck and chance seem to decide things as much as anything. And if everything in the end is the result of random chance, then what meaning can anything have? Every generation passes away in turn, and what lasts forever?
It is notable that the Book of Ecclesiastes ends by urging the reader to place his trust in God as the only Eternal Being. But how much this ending was grafted on to make it religiously acceptable has been debated.
The use of “vanity” here is similar to the way it is employed in the Ten Commandments in the King James Bible. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” does not mean “Don’t say the Lord’s name proudly.” Rather, it means do not say the Lord’s name frivolously — that is, without proper respect or seriousness of purpose. Or perhaps: “Don’t use the Lord’s name jokingly.”
But the Old Testament priests felt it was so risky to say the name of God without sufficient seriousness of purpose, it was safer just not to say it at all.Clearly, the question that White raised is not meaningless to the young women urged to reconsider their attire. What we wear, and where we wear it are indeed worth consideration. Time and place, occasion and environment bear reflection. One worthy question today is—do we?
For Ignatius of Loyola wearing leggings put him in the spotlight and in the right social circle. In this way, his vanity WAS a reflection of his pride. He wanted to be seen, noticed and attended to. To what degree is that true among the women who sport leggings today is an interesting one. For MaryAnn White, it's not a question—she believes men cannot not look at "barely naked rear ends" in the Basilica and so forth. However, to many students today, such a claim is an outrage....to which I say, again, Oh Vanity of Vanities!
Regardless of where you stand, or should I say--what you wear, in light of this (potentially meaningless debate) what has fascinated me most is a newsworthy point raised in ND Mag. No one has been able to find Mary Ann White. "She never surfaced to defend her position in any of the news stories that reported the widespread student eye-rolling and nobody on campus admitted to knowing her. Theories about White's identity have made the rounds. Theories abound and some are pretty good. Maybe it was an Ignatius of Loyola in the 21st Century doing what he can to get us to think critically and constructively about what is meaningful and what is not.....Not always easy in our day and age, though it feels like it should be.
ND News Report (see link above)