Of Lingerie & Feminism

I get asked a lot about how I consider myself a feminist and a lingerie loving fool of a woman. The truth is, I don’t find them mutually exclusive parts of me; but people ask. Yet when you have two such seemingly polarized attitudes which comprise yourself, it can be difficult to articulate how you reconcile such dichotomy. For back up, I did some reading.

In Feminist Perspectives on Dress and the Body: An Analysis of Ms. Magazine, 1972 to 2002 (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2007, a publication of The International Textile & Apparel Association, Inc.), I found some help. But the work by Keila Tyner & Jennifer Paff Ogle, as you’ll see, doesn’t quite seem to wrap it up neatly either.

This interpretive analysis examined fashion as presented in Ms. magazine published between the magazine’s inception in 1972 and 2002 and revealed “two overarching and somewhat disparate themes: (a) experiences of oppression through dress and (b) experiences of empowerment and self-realization through dress.”

It all boiled down to this:

Across all decades analyzed, Ms. contributors provided critiques of cultural discourses offering prescriptive fashion advice, promoting the modification or control of the natural body, and linking a woman’s appearance to her value and success. Typically, these articles are underpinned by the rational oppressor versus oppressed ideology in which constrictive women’s fashion norms and discourses promoting the docile body were identified as tangible evidence of men’s domination over women (cf. Faludie, 1991; Wolf, 1991a). Authors rarely provided tidy solutions to this brand of domination, instead situation their arguments within a discussion of the cultural politics and/or posting difficult questions in a seeming attempt at consciousness raising.

…In stark contrast to this brand of rhetoric, in which Ms. contributors launched seething condemnations against the (presumably male) arbiters of restrictive cultural appearance norms, a limited number of Ms. features–particularly those published in the 1980s and related to business dress–actually provide readers with rather prescriptive guidelines for fashion and self-care regimens. This, Ms content simultaneously problematizes and (to a lesser extent) contributes to discourses that could presumably leave readers feeling stitched up, an observation that is consistent with Wilson’s (2003) argument that the modern feminist movement has at times imposed rather rigid appearance expectations on its followers while at the same time critiquing contemporary consumer culture on a similar charge (i.e., for constructing narrow appearance ideals).

See how thinking about it all can only make it worse — more confusing?

At the risk of being too simplistic, let me try to make it easier:

When I choose to wear what I wish, including being as girly (i.e. sexually attractive to patriarchal males) as I want, I feel empowered. When I am forced, coerced, or even expected to do so, I bristle.

Feminism, like lingerie, is a choice. I embrace what works for me, examine what makes me uncomfortable, and toss-out what is a bad fit. There is no one-size-fits-all for either article, yet when one uses the broad categories of “feminism” and “lingerie” I approve of and participate in both. However, what chafes and rubs the wrong way is deemed not suitable for this user. If I can tailor it, I do. If not, I just choose not to don that particular piece.

Place and role dictate often. If I want to be taken seriously — if I don’t want to be viewed as TnA — then I dress the part. But there are times when I want to be TnA, and then I dress that part (those parts) too.

If Ms. seems confused about what a proper feminist should wear it’s because there isn’t an assigned uniform, there shouldn’t even be attempts to do so because they are equally restrictive. Liberation in the case of patriarchal oppression is not to get rid of men &/or what men like; it’s the freedom to choose what you like. And feminism is made up of many women — more so than the number of lingerie styles in the intimates department at most stores.

If Ms. seems loudest on “what’s wrong” as opposed to “what to do” it’s because it’s easiest (and more fun) to rant on what’s not acceptable than it is appropriate to try to prescribe what is empowering to a set of individuals.

That said, perhaps Ms. should make some “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” panties. They could match the cami shown here — but then again, mix and match, might be most appropriate way to go; then they could also make some glorious nylon panties with the sentiment embroidered on them… Maybe a peignoir set… I’m happy to send sketches.

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