Posted with permission from The Washington Times

Two girls needing to change out of their leggings in order to board a United Airlines flight caused quite the kerfuffle on social media, after a "bystander" named Shannon Watts went into a tweetstorm of clueless, self-righteous indignation. In other words, she was a professional liberal activist, something else the legacy media has chosen to not mention.

It was reported as a "PR mess" for United because, according to the activist, they were "policing women's bodies," whatever that means. Yet, this is actually about something else entirely. The left's constant bleating about victimhood and sexism has manifested into the worst sexism of all: treating girls and women like infants while telling them, and everyone else, self-respect is passe.

A family was waiting for their "buddy pass" boarding on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Minneapolis when they arrived wearing what the gate agent considered inappropriate clothing. These seats aren't "free passes," they're courtesies to employees and family members of airline personnel. United considers these flyers "airline representatives," and as Reuters reports, "subject to a dress code that prohibits sleep or swimwear, torn clothing and revealing attire." If you're a paying customer, you can wear pretty much wear what you want.

The girls were fine with the policy, according to news reports, but Ms. Watts, the professional liberal organizer and the founder of the anti-firearms group "Moms Demand Action," overheard what was happening as she waited at a different gate. Then, as all liberal activists do, she interpreted the event through her prism of victimhood and oppression and launched into a tweetstorm without having any idea what was actually happening.

"[The gate agent's] forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can't board," Ms. Watts tweeted. "Since when does @united police women's clothing?"

Eventually, Ms. Watts admitted to Reuters, "that she did not fully grasp the situation when she started tweeting her indignation."

But that didn't stop her. Once realizing United hadn't become sartorial Nazis, sexism became the new accusation, earning Ms. Watts national attention and an opinion piece in Time magazine.

Your friendly columnist appeared on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" to debate a woman who regurgitated Ms. Watts' specious argument that expecting women to dress in something other than glorified long johns was somehow sexist. I was accused of "living in the '80s" when I noted that the feminist movement wasn't about fighting for our right to live in stretch pants. Oh, I was then called "homophobic," which struck many on Twitter as strange because we had no idea leggings were ... gay.

At some point, I'm sure liberals are looking for the Russian connection behind the suggestion that we dress in something other than pajamas when flying.

The notion of appropriate dressing has changed over time in every aspect of our lives, most obviously on flights. But even in New York where going to a Broadway show, the opera or ballet, or to dinner, used to be something for which everyone "dressed." Not so much today.

My first trip to New York was courtesy of an employer when I was 20. I worked for a PR firm, and we were meeting a client. Lunch was at the Pierre Hotel, and as a California girl, I arrived in a pair of kitten heels, blue jeans and a lovely silk blouse. I looked great. For Los Angeles. I was not allowed in the restaurant at the Pierre because I was wearing jeans. I didn't even own a pair of regular slacks.

Being turned away had an impact on me. It was the first time I was faced with an environment that expected something more of me. It was an invaluable experience which, to this day, forms my understanding of the notion that having respect for yourself, your environment and those around you, matters.

For girls and boys, the lesson is even more imperative: Those who learn about standards, especially regarding appearance and behavior in public, will benefit. Those who do not will be disadvantaged. While the left may thrive in chaos, young people do not.

The lowering of standards is about the left's obsession with eliminating competition; for liberals, everyone gets a participation trophy. No one gets graded, no one gets held back in school. Everyone graduates. If this war on standards continues, it guarantees the irreversible decline of our great nation.

The complaints about the United Airlines episode are couched in feminism, but that's a fraud. The feminist movement is about women finding our power, which in part, is manifest through living our lives with self-respect and dignity. Padding around and having lunch at home in leggings is terrific. But when your boss invites you to lunch with a client, do you show up in leggings?

What about for that job interview? A first date? A cocktail party? Your employer invites you to see "Hamilton" on Broadway. Do you show up in stretch pants? No, you don't. As the editor at Conde Nast Traveler Magazine put it in an editorial about attire, "Nothing makes you rethink your wardrobe choice like the embarrassment of shaking hands with five people in suits while you're wearing exercise pants." Exactly.

• Tammy Bruce, author and Fox News contributor, is a radio talk show host.