Leggings or Lives: What Drives the News Cycle?

This weekend, my husband and I took off for a much-needed week away. As we were waiting at our gate, I witnessed a bizarre situation: a gate agent was barring two girls in their early teens from boarding a United Airlines flight Sunday morning from Denver to the Twin Cities because the leggings they were wearing were considered “improper.” Another girl, roughly 10 years old, also was singled out for having on leggings, but she put on a dress from her backpack and was allowed to board.

Looking for answers to determine whether this was a new standard practice, I took to Twitter to find out more.

United Airlines tweeted back quickly. Instead providing clarity, the tone deaf response from United’s twitter account unleashed the sort of flurry of attention only Twitter can produce: celebrities, reporters, the whole Twitterverse suddenly became enthralled in leggings-gate.

As a frequent traveler and a mother of four daughters who live and work in yoga pants, I couldn’t help but wonder why the father — who was wearing shorts — was allowed to board the plane showing so much leg. How many times has United stopped young boys or men for “improper” clothing?

We all know the answer here: it’s no surprise. Whether it’s more sweeping issues like health care, fair pay, family leave, boardroom behavior or something as buried in the fine print like an airline boarding policy, this country has a huge problem with inherently disadvantaging women and girls. Policies are laced with words and phrases that easily conform to — and are manipulated by — a misogynistic society.

This United Airlines policy — whether intentional or not — is sexist and sexualizes young girls. Not to mention the added travel stress to these fliers who were suddenly mortified and inconvenienced by a policy that makes no sense. Especially coming from a company that tweeted this on International Yoga Day recently:

Was this yogi forced to put on a dress before she boarded?

As the press requests started to flood my inbox, everyone from the New York Times to CBS Morning News wanted my first hand account of the showdown. Here is my breakdown:

As a former corporate public relations executive, I was outraged and disappointed by the lack of respect and customer-oriented strategy from United Airlines. Of course, company policy is important and choosing to draw a strict line on certain issues is often necessary. But when that policy is going to sexualize teenage girls and place an undue burden on your female customers, do not default to reinforcing a policy (multiple times on twitter) that uses the vaguely worded “properly clothed” as justification for unnecessary enforcement.

And if you can’t do that, then at least understand your market better. Women make 80 percent of the spending decision for our families and there is no doubt that includes which airline our families choose to fly on. In 2017, corporate social responsibility matters and so do optics. Do better.

As a woman and a mother, I was uncomfortable and angered by what unfolded at the Denver airport. I saw young girls confronted head-on with the disturbing reality that everyone — even an airline gate agent — is scrutinizing your body at all times. That what you were wearing for your vacation travel sent a message to someone that you were not appropriate, and that in order to participate in society, you are literally going to have to change. Even if you’re only 10-years-old.

But more than anything, even more outrageous than leggings discrimination and lousy corporate policy, is the fact that there was a shooting in Cincinnati and a shooting in Las Vegas this weekend and so many more shootings this week and weekend in which people were killed and injured. Not to mention, a serious issue with missing black women and girls in our nation’s capitol. But here we are talking about leggings.

Why isn’t my inbox flooded with requests from the New York Times and CBS This Morning about these issues that are not just costing Americans their seats on airplanes but their lives?

Don’t get me wrong — discrimination against young women for what they wear on airplanes is not OK. But neither is the fact that people were killed by gun violence this weekend — as they are every day in our country — and newsrooms are by and large not on the case.