What Lingerie Isn't About: Why I Hate Compulsory Femininity

Illustration for article titled What Lingerie Isnt About: Why I Hate Compulsory Femininity

The genesis of this post is not one thing in particular, but a many, many things I've seen and read and heard all rolled up like an avalanche that finally needs to be addressed.

One thing that annoys me to no end is the way that mainstream media treats lingerie and femininity, as if one cannot live without the other and that lingerie is a necessity for perfect womanhood.

Every time I read an article about lingerie in a fashion or women's magazine, it seems to have an undertone that says, "You really should be wearing lingerie. Lingerie makes you feminine. Lingerie makes you a desirable woman." And this drives me mad. I call it ‘compulsory femininity' because it creates a frame of mind in which womanhood is a specific, prescribed path that must be followed a certain way.


Firstly, being a "real woman" has nothing to do with the way I choose to wear lingerie. I have no desire to become the best possible woman according to some arbitrary standard of correct femininity. Whether I choose to dress in a feminine or masculine manner is just that: a choice. And the attributes of "feminine" and "masculine" are arbitrary anyway — I use them as a shorthand because we are all inculcated enough in our culture to know what I am talking about.

But this isn't just about lingerie– it's also about how having the "right" body (and the lingerie to get you there) is so tied up in femininity that the body shape to be a "real woman" is all about being a feminine woman. I hate when people assume that everyone has the same goals and want the same body because it makes others believes that they should have the same goals and want the same body. I know that when I still thought I was straight, I would have that deep, unstoppable fear that I would never be attractive enough for a guy to like me, that I would never check all the right boxes.

Illustration for article titled What Lingerie Isnt About: Why I Hate Compulsory Femininity

I just hate this woman vs. woman imagery so much

The "Real Women Have Curves" meme is problematic not only in its suggestion that certain types of bodies are better than others in their size and shape, but also in their suggestion that "real women" should want curves. It goes without saying that curves do not make a woman, but it does need saying that these curves that are so associated with "real" womanhood (and in this situation, an explicitly feminine version of womanhood) can bring an unwanted femininity especially because they are associated with this idea of the classically beautiful (read: classically feminine) woman. I hate when we act like beauty and femininity and curvy bodies are somehow synonymous.


Femininity is so often tied up with breasts, so it's no wonder that bras (and by extension, lingerie) have become such an important part of how sexual difference is embraced. As a marker of sex difference, breasts have become a fetishized object of extreme femininity, which is another reason that everyone is so obsessed with bras– beyond the simple mechanics necessary to keep breasts in place.

Illustration for article titled What Lingerie Isnt About: Why I Hate Compulsory Femininity

Chantal Thomass SS13

To say something that should not surprise any of you (but would shock the writers of every piece I've ever read that prescribes feminine behavior), some women do not desire to emphasize femininity. Desiring a more androgynous or masculine appearance is not strange or unusual– and yet the first insult I hear so often is that some person "looks like a man." And what exactly is "looking like a woman" in this day and age? I am not the best person to be talking about masculinity– there are plenty of other eloquent people out there who can do it. But it also, and secondarily, affects my femininity and makes me sometimes feel like it's got me in a stranglehold that I can't seem to wiggle my way out of.


In writing about lingerie, I so often see this emphasis on femininity that can sometimes feel stifling. I fear that the words that I'm writing aren't mine but have been prewritten by someone else, that loving pink is a cultural norm that I have been hypnotized into believing. One thing I love about lingerie is the way it can transform and control your body– but that control becomes constriction when it doesn't feel like you have the power to dress yourself.

I'm never going to write a post that tells you what the "right" lingerie to where is or why you "should" be wearing lingerie. When the onus of need or responsibility falls on lingerie, it looses all of its enjoyment. Truth to be told, I have a contrarian streak in me that hates to follow the pack (a streak that had me hating the Spice Girls and the color pink for most of my childhood). If a color is associated with traditional femininity, is it oppressive? There is a toxicity sometimes feels like it runs through the frilly girliness that I love so much, infecting every bow and rosette and piece of lace. If femininity is compulsive, it starts to become a competition. And that's a competition I never want to be a part of.


All I want is to love my panties in peace, but people tell me how and why I need them is just making that harder.

How do you feel about lingerie's femininity? Do you embrace it or fight it?

This piece originally appeared on The Lingerie Lesbian. Republished with permission.


The Lingerie Lesbian is a 23-year-old recent college graduate who works in PR in ‘real' life and spends the rest of her time thinking about knickers. You can see what she's up to on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr and if you have any pressing questions, you can email her at lingerielesbian@gmail.com.

Previously: Why I Love Lingerie
What It's Like to Be a Lesbian in the Lingerie Industry


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I embrace excellent fitting bras.