Of Panties and Politics: You've Got the Whole World in Your Pants
by Sami Rosenblatt
To comment on the gendered divide in products is passé. The “pink tax,” is a bilateral concept referring to both the undue burden on those who buy menstrual products and the upcharge on products intended for sales to women despite only their negligible differences from the intended male “counterpart” product. The phenomenon demonstrates how capitalism enforces the gender binary and why the powers that be may queerbait or market themselves in rainbows all they want, but they will never abandon the binary conception of gender if they wish to continue to profit off of women’s societal oppression. Gender presentation is enmeshed within capitalism, one sustains the other in a chicken-egg co-dependence. However, this wouldn’t be any philosophical project of mine without a lens of critical considerations and sustainability– oftentimes an unfortunate opponent of the laissez-faire attitude of capitalism that looks unfavorably upon corporate moral responsibility. How these seemingly disparate themes of the pink tax, neo-liberalism, and the environment came together thematically to me, was in one of the most unlikely places- my underwear drawer.
The underwear traditionally marketed to women are mindfully constructed to sexualize the body rather than simply serve the utilitarian function of a barrier between genitalia and potentially rough or uncomfortable clothing. The concept of self-empowerment through the choice to dress the body in any way to explore one’s sexuality aside, the reason behind this objectification is the market. Everything related to underwear is related to sexuality because, in heteronormative patriarchy, sex sells. As a structure of thought and ideology, the heteronormative patriarchal gaze and the desire to conform to it for social “survival” influences our conscious and subconscious choices as an invisible hand shaping our culture, body politics, beauty standards, and what we hold dear. Since these values and standards are so deeply entrenched in our culture and visual culture, the fact that most undergarments are constructed for form over function is overlooked to the point that is often unrecognized or dismissed as ubiquitous.
Many vaginal health problems can be traced back to something as simple as the products marketed to women. Lace underwear, thongs, scented tampons, douches, and pH wipes or washes are on every gynecologist’s hit list. These products, marketed to young, vulnerable women to make them believe their anatomy as it exists must be altered for a more favorable presentation in a man’s world are not only unnecessary but actually harmful. These products are known to cause anything from mild complications like Trichinosis, vaginosis, or yeast infections, to life-threatening conditions like urinary tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and even cervical cancer. It is difficult to accept the body for what it is, and how it exists naturally in a world inundated with artificial images, social media marketing campaigns, and photoshop. In an image-conscious society, we don’t simply buy products for the function they serve, but for how they look, and for how they make us look. Clearly, the undergarment industry falls prey to this.
It was a slow train coming in terms of my personal realization that the composition of my underwear drawer more influenced by the pages of magazines and Victoria’s Secret models than my personal needs or comfort. However, as I got more interested in sustainable fashion, it only seemed obvious to extend the requirements for ethical production to my negligees. Organic cotton is a strong choice in terms of sustainable production, but also from a health perspective, its breathable nature facilitates proper sweat circulation. This is actually a crucial detail when it comes to underwear design, as it prevents the trapping of harmful bacteria that lace, nylon, spandex, or other popular materials collect in concerning proportions.
When it comes to sustainable shopping, the easiest way to ensure a minimum carbon footprint is to buy vintage or repurpose things you already own. Clearly, this doesn’t apply to the undergarment market- so you can take pleasure in buying something new for yourself and in knowing that it’s the best choice for the planet and your bodily health when you choose to buy organic cotton. It doesn’t have to be so clinical, with so many new brands with ethical production considerations popping up every day, it can be exciting to begin the search for the perfect pair. And just because the material is commercially associated with children’s underwear or traditionally marketed as men’s “tighty-whities,” explore the possibility of freedom that this material offers for gender-neutral styles, in addition to sexy styles and styles specifically designed for menstruation. So- now that you clearly hopped on the Parade/Oddobody/Pansy/Negative Underwear train- whatever to do with all of those leftover spandex/lace/nylon pairs?
Please, I beg of you, don’t throw them out! They’re not doing the earth any favors by sitting in landfills, and sadly the microplastics in their fabrics contribute to further pollution and contamination concerns. The best thing to do is repurpose them- and hold on, I’m not suggesting what you think I’m suggesting [although, hey… get your dollar, gxrl ;) ] I’ve done lots of nutty things in the name of living a more sustainable lifestyle, but most recently something that actually raised a few eyebrows from my roommates and Instagram close-friends list, was when I used my old, non-organic cotton, underwear to make a shirt! If you can sew, power to you, you can cut and re-sew to create whatever you want… For the rest of us, it’s more about being inventive. Old underwear tops look great for twitch concerts, backyard tanning, Among Us discord chats, Netflix binges, and all of your 2020 needs.