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Jan 31 2014

The ensloganed crotch

Consent underwearConsent underwear: it was a pretty amusing idea when it was a consciousness-raising prank perpetrated by arty feminist activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. The fake Victoria’s Secret website they created purported to hawk undies emblazoned with anti-rape slogans. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter thought it was real for a little while, and the outpouring of support was huge.

This prank was pretty nice, because the idea that a misogynormous corporate purveyor of rape culture like Victoria’s Secret should actually be on women’s side for a change, using its far-reaching brand recognition to (putatively) advance human rights instead of exclusively profiteering on women’s oppression, was nothing short of astonishing. FORCE’s prank parlayed the popularity of a traditionally antifeminist brand into a crap-ton of publicity for the feminist cause of consent awareness. Demand for the non-existent underwear — and conversations about consent — skyrocketed. Success!

Of course, as we are all now aware, Victoria’s Secret not only sells no such thing, the company continues to actively promote rape culture with both its porn-infused line of objectification-wear and its pukeceous, overhyped dude-fantasy TV “fashion show.” What a let-down, right? So, Amulya Sanagavarapu, a Canadian college student who believes that, to balance things out, the world needs actual real-life thongs printed with “NO MEANS NO,” has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to produce her own version of the hypothetical FORCE product.

[Just a little sidebar here: when did the female crotch turn into a sloganizable commodity? A hundred and forty-seven years ago, when I was someone whose undies were, with any frequency, in a position to be scrutinized by a second party, the days of the week scrawled in laundry marker were about the only words likely to be legible thereupon. Furthermore, the second party would likely have been too drunk to read'em.]

Meanwhile, from an article at Think Progress:

Sanagavarapu, whose Kickstarter project is called “Feminist Style,” is ultimately interested in a larger effort to subvert the mainstream messages in popular advertising. She points out that most companies rely on objectifying and sexualizing women in order to sell their products, and there’s a big opportunity for feminists to provide alternate options to challenge the status quo. In a video to promote her new effort, Sanagavarapu describes the idea as “leveraging the consumerist aspects of our society to create social change.”

Sanagavarapu’s Kickstarter page says that she will use the proceeds from the sale of the feminist panties (is it just me, or is “panties” a creepy word?) to buy “feminist advertising.” This, in turn, will generate more consent-panties sales, which will generate more consent-panties, then more advertising, then back to more panties, and so forth. It remains to be seen if, or for how long, consent-panties can support this cycle of feminist capitalism.

Feminist capitalism! Dear lord.

I don’t wish to be overly critical. There certainly are worse messages Sanagavarapu could be trying to sell. Besides, anytime a gal can scrape out a living in this world without actively slut-shaming anyone she totally gets a hell-yeah from Savage Death Island. As for the product’s potential to effect social change, I suppose it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that a “CONSENT IS BOOTYFUL” bikini could, given a sufficiently receptive audience, provoke a contemplative interlude at a traditionally non-contemplative moment, or at the very least, introduce a bit of political levity into an otherwise unremarkable PBR-fueled hookup. However, as a world-renowned expert on political lingerie, I posit that the chief value in donning a consent thong would be the garment’s modest potential to reinforce within the wearer a certain sense of don’t-fuck-with-me personal sovereignty.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that a line of consent-themed underwear marketed for profit by an unknown college student could have quite the cachet of the FORCE prank. The beauty of the original prank was its Victoria’s Secret connection and the ensuing hilarious, improbable fantasy: what if this large, influential company suddenly decided to give up misogyny? But without the conceptual artsiness of the improbable corporate juxtaposition, the underwear itself becomes kind of secondary and banal, particularly when you consider that a lot of it looks to be the same old skimpy, lacy, thongy knickers specifically designed to emulate an enpornulated heteronormative aesthetic. “Leveraging consumerism” to market feminism as a Porn2K-compliant, girlie lifestyle accessory simply is, at its core, problematic. Not entirely the “feminist alternative” to Victoria’s Secret the designer seems to be going for.

What I’m trying to say, in my usual, dependent-clausical way, is this: on the Patriarch-O-Meter this consent underwear registers inoffensive-to-benign,* but shopping is not, and should not be mistaken for, feminist activism.

Consent thong, Savage Death Island-style

Consent thong, Savage Death Island-style

Another sidebar: I don’t know what “real” feminist underwear would look like, so don’t even ask me. I have struggled for years with the concept of gender-, sex-, class-, and politically-neutral clothing, but it turns out that every garment ever invented either alludes to or connotes or evokes or specifies the wearer’s position on one or more of the aforementioned continua (continuums?). Flowing robes were a candidate for a while, but even those will elicit unintended reactions from people who mistake you for a New Age navel-gazing doofus or who are cheesed-off that you seem to be coopting some ancient tribal tradition or other for your own culturally tone-deaf honky ends. Just another little data point supporting the thesis that you cannot opt out of patriarchy. Participation is compulsory, and it starts with your knickers.

Oh, and remember: stopping rape requires men to stop raping, not women to wear slogans on their crotches.

__________________
* Assuming it isn’t made by indentured slave women in a Bangladeshi firetrap or similar; I was unable to determine the product’s sweatshop status from the website.

Consent underwear pic from Feminist Style Kickstarter page.
“I will cut you” boxers from the author’s private collection.

__________________

29 comments

1 ping

  1. Nolabelfits

    Its not just you. Panties is a creepy word. I have always thought it was a creepy word and have felt so alone. I can now proceed with my day feeling validated!

  2. Twisty

    And now so can I! Thanks.

  3. ChariD

    I’d like to place an advance order for 7 pair of the Savage Death Island consent thongs, please. With regard to the word ‘panties”, the only way I’m comfortable using it is by prefacing it with the word “gigantic” (spoken with a fake British accent, of course).

  4. Jessie

    I don’t know what feminist underwear would look like either, but it wouldn’t look like the garments being marketed here. They all look uncomfortable and intended to titillate men, despite the slogans on them.

  5. Comradde PhysioProffe

    I have struggled for years with the concept of gender-, sex-, class-, and politically-neutral clothing, but it turns out that every garment ever invented either alludes to or connotes or evokes or specifies the wearer’s position on one or more of the aforementioned continua (continuums?).

    I vote for capris.

  6. Rae

    “Panties” is TOTALLY a creepy word. It has so many pedophiliac overtones and undertones that they merge and become tones.

    Except, of course, in the context of “granny panties” — a phrase used to mock women who don’t consider 2-inch strips of lace to be suitable underthings.

    The best part of the FORCE article was seeing how many women loved the idea! That and $6 will get you a cup of coffee, but at least it’s one more data point showing we don’t actually like the Hollywood BS mentioned in your recent “The Arm” post.

    Glad to have you back for a while, Twisty.

  7. tinfoil hattie

    Capris and Danskos, physio. Capris and Danskos.

    Count me among those who hate, hate, HATE the word, “panties.” Diminutive word assigned to the undergarments of the sex class. We’re too delicate? precious? to wear UNDERPANTS. No doubt in the listener’s mind who wears “panties,” right? The word itself connotes squeals, waxed “bikini lines,” and empowerful pink lace.

    “Panties” and “baby doll pajamas.” Bleccch (shudder). Gimme “I will cut you” undershorts any day of the week!

  8. Unree

    If panties were a benign word, why wouldn’t dudes apply it to their own underwear? It’s just little pants, right? How could they mind? And yet they don’t even like “underpants,” perhaps because women use that word for what they wear.

  9. Gertrude Strine

    Hello stranger!

    Feminist underwear.
    That’s like army intelligence.

    I haven’t worn any layers on the crotchal area since I stopped menstruating.
    And before that, only during periods to hold the pads.
    And during medical exams so as to coddle the sensitivities of medicos who can’t reconcile the sight of crotch and tits with the command “remove your dress/pants and top and lie down on the couch”.

    The vulva doesn’t like close company all the time.

  10. Lidon

    Yay! Add me to the anti-panty group. And I thought I was the only one who hated that word too! As usual, great analysis. If I wanted to convince myself that I was being truly subversive by changing my underwear, I’d take the SDI stye over the others any day.

  11. Comradde PhysioProffe

    Capris and Danskos, physio. Capris and Danskos.

    Preach on!

  12. Twisty

    Capris and Danksos? In winter? Don’t your ankles get cold?

    Meanwhile, it’s always hilarious to me that I can write this whole wordy-ass post on this and that and the other thing, and what do people want to talk about? “Panties”! It’s like when you give a toddler a really awesome Stuffed Unicorn Shiny Lemonade Playhouse, and they have more fun playing with the box.

    Did that come out wrong?

  13. tinfoil hattie

    “Did that come out wrong?”

    Ya just just a noive, twisteroo. That’s all. Who knew?

    More on point (I think): the entire idea of “consent thongs” or “consent panties” is so absurd, I had to lie down with a cold towel for a while after reading your beautiful post, Nobody, but NOBODY says it like you do.

    As for cold ankles, just wear knee socks under the capris. But then we might start looking like Benjamin Franklin, so there ya go. Can’t win, no matter what.

  14. Keri

    Maybe we should appropriate and re-purpose temple garments from the Mormons. Put a popular saying on them like, “I need feminism because the patriarchy won’t go fuck itself” and wear them to grocery shop like the youths in their jammies.

  15. josquin

    Okay,I too am playing with the empty box, but I have to chime in about “panties”. This is first time I’ve heard people state how offensive a word it is, and I am extremely gratified. I hate that word. And the next person who claims that thongs are “comfortable” should know that they facilitate the spread of bacteria contained in feces to other parts of the body. Sexaaaayyyyyyy!!!

  16. Rae

    Not fair to chide us, Twisty. Readers should consider the other points, yes, but they are fresh and require time to mull over. Whereas that WORD has been lobbed at us since we graduated from diapers, so there have been decades for indignation and resentment to build up! Only makes sense to outpour it when a sympathetic ear arises.

    And in all fairness, I did devote a paragraph to the FORCE article. *wink-y punctuation glob would go here on other sites*

  17. Shopstewardess

    Feminist underwear is any underwear men don’t get to see. No need for any slogans if men don’t see the underwear in the first place.

    Every day a man doesn’t see my underwear is a good one.

  18. Ashley

    I just want a pair of underwear that says “no, fuck YOU” and maybe some sharp studs sticking outwards. I know it’s not feasible, but that would be cool.

  19. KMTBERRY

    I, too, would like to pre-order six pairs of Savage Death Island Consent Thongs. Size XL.

    I have noticed that a LOT of words HATED by ladeez are lady-linked words such as Panties and the word MOIST and also Pussy and Every Word there is for Lady Genitalia (including Genitalia).

    I think that what we hate isn’t the word, it is the Contempt which with it is usually said. We want to distance ourselves from the contempt and the Inferiority and the Gross that is often linked to these words.

    But much like eschewing “Femininity”, we are buying into the idea that our bodies and Underclothing ARE Gross and Inferior and Contemptible.

    Goodness, why should we buy the tripe THEY are peddling? About our bodies and clothing?

    I had to have a Big Ol’ think session with myself about this when I started noticing that even I myself had spent a lifetime distancing myself from the Feminine because the Masculine is (clearly) so superior! HOLY SHIT i thought, I am just BUYING their LINE !!

    I still haven’t sorted it all out. But Internalized Misogyny isn’t cool.

  20. H

    @KMTBERRY

    Well that’s just silly. I have no objection to the word ‘knickers’ (and actually think it sounds comically silly), also fanny is much better than pussy. what makes those particular words so abhorrent is the creep factor. Panties sounds like something a paedophile would say to a little girl, and pussy is just soooo… I don’t know, slimy. As for moist, well. To me it carries more connotations of sweaty hands and things that have gone a bit mouldy from extended dampness… I would never use it to describe vagina juices.

    Also, practices of ‘femininity’ are behaviours exclusively for the purposes of demonstrating submission to men. They have nothing to do with our authentic selves and bodies. Rejecting femininity doesn’t mean adopting ‘masculinity’ in a knee jerk way either, it’s about rejecting both.

  21. c2t2

    I realize I am far too late to the party for anyone to see this, but for hierarchy-free garments I submit –

    Electrified chainmaille over a rubber undersuit.

    The slogan painted on the back can have all kinds of fun variety: “Grope at your own risk” “Don’t touch me” “Go away” or a simple “NO” would all suffice.

  22. Mildred

    My thoughts exactly: I still would not be caught dead in a pair of those knickers!
    I wear men’s underwear. Not the y-front variety but the tight cotton shorts type and they are oh so comfortable AND! In a side note – that ‘visible panty line’ that is supposedly worse than death, that is CREATED by those flimsy ‘panties’ because they sit on the hips and cut into the butt cheeks (because only grannies who wear designated granny panties are allowed to have their whole butt cheeks covered) so to remedy this we must wear even smaller, MORE uncomfortable underwear: THE G-STRING.
    Women’s undergarments are a cruel joke. The muffin top does not exist without women’s clothes or underwear that cut into the area where almost all women carry normal fat. I might add that I cut a figure like Twisty, tall and rather birdlike, around 125lbs. I stopped wearing women’s jeans or women’s underwear and lo and behold VPL, muffin tops, saddlebags, add whatever degrading moniker you want to add to noncompliant hipsthighs&butts DISAPPEARED, no degrading bootcamp weightloss journey required. Gee, is it a conspiracy??
    I know its not the most enlightening subject, but I think about this a lot, if men had breasts ALL bras would be sportsbras. All the hetero women I know, even celibate ones, even those aged well beyond fuckability range and single for over 10 years own several g-strings and frilly crotch-doileys. I’m not being a creep or anything, I’m basing this on room mates and several lady-talks on the matter. Even the most sensible cotton undies for women of fuckable age is substantially smaller and more flimsy and wedgy-making.
    IBTP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Redpeachmoon

    “I need feminism because the patriarchy won’t go fuck itself”
    Thanks for this Keri!
    I just discovered long legged cotton underpants in Mexico. Perfect under skirts for the chafing factor.
    Twisty, so glad you’re back!

  24. Swanhilde

    “All the hetero women I know, even celibate ones, even those aged well beyond fuckability range and single for over 10 years own several g-strings and frilly crotch-doileys.”

    Mildred, this quote made my night!

    You know, I had an Ex who used to shower me with lacy frilly crotch-doiley lingerie for my birthday and at Christmas, sometimes to the exclusion of other gifts…and it took me years to figure out what a selfish, assholish, unloving thing that was to do on his part.

    Recently, I was out of a relationship and single again for a YEAR before I asked myself, “Wait…why the hell am I wearing this painfully tight thong that I’m self-conscious could be causing what men grotesquely refer to as ‘camel-toe’?”

    For weeks I’ve been in high-waisted bikini briefs, and oh, it’s pure bliss.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around, but when your “romantic” nigel gives you crotch-doileys for your birthday, you know where that buck stops…

  25. JRoth

    I’m keeping this post in my RSS reader forever so I can laugh every time I see the SDI consent thong.

  26. Mildred

    Hey Swanhilde! Glad you liked ‘crotch-doiley’ I just closed my eyes and it just came to me.

    I have noticed that men’s underwear is a lot more expensive than women’s. I’m not talking your high end variety, of course that’s always going to be exorbitant, but I mean like Target/KMart range, but observe the fact that they get more material and its much better quality.

    Nigel calls g-strings ‘pirates eye patch’. Don’t feel guilty for wearing one! I used to own an ENTIRE DRESSING TABLE full of costumes and lingerie in my fun fem days *vom* Strangely it was my Nigel who pointed out that they’re silly and I eventually stopped buying them. See! Not even a single Nigel bought me a single doiley, I went out and spent my own hard-earned cash on all of it. Visiting my mum’s house I went through some old boxes of stuff and found the most ridiculous things, padded bra’s, fetish nurse & oppressed maid costumes, all postcards from my 23-year-old self.

    When we move to Savage Death Island I’ll bring along my fish-net stockings for those who are not vegan and would like to use them in their namesake.

  27. Morag

    Mildred, I didn’t realize that you made up “crotch-doiley” on the spot. Brilliant! In fact, your entire rant on female underwear and clothing was great.

    It’s so true, what you say about female body “trouble spots,” like the dreaded muffin-top, being CREATED by fashions. It IS a conspiracy. Stupid, anti-intuitive fashions that make women feel intrinsically flawed or ugly manufacture a need for even more pieces of underwear and clothing, such as tummy-control garments, to “correct” her figure. Not unlike one medication causing side-effects severe enough to necessitate another medication, and on and on.

    Fashion designers, I must conclude, hate our bodies the way they are, and punish us accordingly. We know who to blame.

  28. Serial Cereal

    Fashion designers seem to be mostly dudes in dresses. Much essplained.

  29. pearlsbeforeswine

    Fashion designers are mostly gay men. And in my experience with overhearing horrifying misogyny from pretty much every gender and sexuality imaginable, the most horrific stuff I have ever heard has come from fashion obsessed gay men. Quite typically, the three times I have challenged these gay men on their nastiness, these are the three comments I’ve received: 1. “Someone’s having her period” 2. “You’re just jealous because you’re a foot too short and thirty pounds too fat to be a model, and definitely too much of a bitch to get laid” 3. “Can you close your mouth and your legs? I smell pussy”. I wish I was better at comebacks, but I just skulked away each time to giggles from their peanut gallery.

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