Alan Sorrentino had no idea his letter to the editor of his local Rhode Island newspaper would turn him into an international headline. In his letter Sorrentino wrote,
“Yoga pants can be adorable on children and young women who have the benefit of nature’s blessing of youth. However, on mature, adult women there is something bizarre and disturbing about the appearance they make in public.”
In one of the strangest protests of the year, around 300-400 yoga pants wearing women paraded in front of Sorrentino’s home to protest his letter. One of the paraders stated that, “I’m all for a woman’s right, or anyone’s right really to choose what they want to wear without feeling like they’re being critiqued or policed on their personal preference.”
What are you to do when values of letting people run their own lives conflict with values of socially acceptable behavior. To be clear, nobody (or at least nobody of relevance) is threatening to use the force of the government to outlaw yoga pants.
On the one hand, Sorrentino went too far when he criticized the idea of women over the age of 20 wearing yoga pants in public. Women wearing yoga pants outside a yoga studio is not a pressing cultural problem. While he did not intend to, Sorrentino came across as type of man who yells at the kids to get off his lawn.
On the other hand, wearing yoga pants is not exactly the civil rights question of our time. The absurdity of that claim can be explained in remembering back in high school when the administration tried to ban yoga pants back in high school and all the teenage males suddenly became champions of “freedom of expression.” Even if poorly articulated, Sorrentino made a good point: that one should dress their age. This goes for men too. The are somethings that should not be worn in public by certain people. That is not judgmental; it is common sense. While he may have come across as a busybody who wants to tell women what to do, his underlying point was correct.
Is it possible to believe that both Sorrentino and those who dissented from his letter are right? Sorrentino should let the women of America where yoga pants if they choose, while everyone else (men included) should use good judgement in what they wear in public. While the protest provided some good humor, it also revealed a key lesson.
If values you have (individual autonomy vs. appropriate social behavior) conflict, it is important not to take those views to the extreme. Both Sorrentino and the protesters fell into this trap. Sorrentino was right in saying that at a certain age, you should not wear certain things in public. He went to far in saying that twenty years old should be the socially acceptable age limit to wearing yoga pants, thus coming across the stereotypical “angry old man.”
His critics did the same thing. Sometimes certain things should not be worn in public and social norms and morals should be respected. Not everyone who criticizes your fashion choices is a sexist troglodyte who wants to deny women their individual autonomy. Sending hundreds of people to parade in front of a private citizen’s house because he dared to write a letter to the editor is too overzealous.
When making a judgement when your values seem to conflict with one another, it is likely that both are correct, each in their own way. Just as Sorrentino and his critics were both right in their own ways.