Are You A Good Or Bad Feminist? Ask Your Underwear

When you think of Spanx and other tight, butt-lifting undergarments, do you think about who they're for? Well, yeah, they're for women, but are they for women to feel better about themselves? For women to look better to men? For women to look better to other women? For Zoe Williams at The Guardian, stretchy unmentionables have her contemplating what they mean for feminism! She writes, "Magic pants? You can say that again, not only are they slimming, they are also an amazing contraceptive. You won't want to take your clothes off, and if you ever did, only an inveterate drunk would shag you. There is something wrong with this picture — when did we become a civilisation that dressed for the crowd and not for the individual? That's not about sex — that's about looking sexy to get attention."

So I think in some skewed way, the girdle is a feminist statement, if only in so far as we are not dressing to please men, we are dressing, if not to please ourselves, at least to taunt one another. Your original, first-wave feminist did not dress for the easy access of promiscuous men. So arguably, that makes anyone dressing for zero-access a de facto feminist. But it just doesn't work, does it? True feminism is not about batting men off as irrelevant gnats in the greater endgame of competing with other women. It's about being able to make sexual choices on an equal footing with men, and if internecine rivalry surrounding body shape has become so feverish that we've forgotten that sex was ever even the point of it, then that's not feminism at all. That's craziness.
Whoah! But Williams makes a good point — can your clothes be feminist or anti-feminist? Can an outfit (or the stuff underneath) define feminism? Isn't feminism about the ability to make choices? And can all choices — including ones about the way you choose to cover your own body — be inherently feminist? And is it wrong, as Williams also writes, to choose purposeful body distortion and deception?

Oh, you say, but Spanx (or tight jeans, or whatever) make me feel good! Well, here's the conclusion Williams has reached: "In short, just because you're a woman, and something makes you feel good, that doesn't necessarily add up to feminism — like pretty much every ideological structure apart from hedonism, feminism is slightly harder work than that. And you have to consider, while we're here, whether it really does improve your sense of self-worth to be wearing something so tight that every waking moment is just another reminder of how inadequate you are... Now I feel like I've betrayed the sisterhood with my jeans, my cycling-alike too-tight shorts and my bra. I'm going to end up going out with no support at all. It ain't gonna be pretty." A most problematic, albeit rhetorically well-created, conclusion! Are the options to sag and be a feminist or suck in and be a "bad" feminist? Ouch! That hurts even worse than those damn Spanx do.

In This We Truss [Guardian]