Monday, March 12, 2007

Well that was a weird experience…
About a week ago I left my first comment on Dead Men Don’t Rape. I initially avoided that particular blog because the name offends me (not going into what the implications of the title are, but come on, it’s not hard to parse), but then AntiPrincess linked to it and I thought well, if it makes her think, why not at least give it a chance?
So I browsed around a bit. Most of the entries I just didn’t feel engaged with at all, but there was one that I did, so I actually read it in detail.
It was about contemplating throwing away one’s bras and frilly underwear. Now, this idea has always perplexed me – I am a woman who would never under any circumstances discard my bras. This is nothing to do with the feminist implications of wearing or not wearing lingerie, this is because I have big boobs and I’m a fairly active person. I do some sports, I walk a lot and walk very fast – without a bra the bounce factor would be most uncomfortable. My wearing a bra is not a political statement, it’s a necessity for my own comfort. If that meets with anyone’s disapproval…well, sorry about that, but I’m not that fond of walking around in pain. I guess I’m just funny that way.
I’ve never understood the idea that undergarments are inherently patriarchal. I can see why one might come to the conclusion that frilly, lacy, overtly sexy undergarments are so (not that I necessarily disapprove of those either, but that’s another post), but what about your basic, boring cotton panties? What about the sports bra, which in my opinion is the best thing to happen to athletically inclined women since the invention of the sneaker? Are sports bras Tools of the Patriarchy too? Even though mine kind of look like they were designed by the Army Corps of Engineers and are about as sexy as the average military fortification?
This is one of those things that I just don’t seem to be able to grasp no matter how I try. The idea that bras = oppression does seem to be out there floating around, though. I suspect that my questioning that assumption was part of what got my comment deleted at DMDR place.
Please note – I’m not saying that Bea does not have the right to run her blog and moderate her comments any way she sees fit. She does, and my getting the boot is my own fault for not reading her comments policy thoroughly enough first. I’m not a radfem, I’m more of a socialist feminist, therefore I am not welcome. And I can live with that, even though honestly I question the wisdom of making spaces that exclusive – how are any of us every going to accomplish anything if we don’t talk to each other? But, again, her blog, her rules.
The basic idea still puzzles me, though. Where did the concept that bras are inherently a bad thing come from, and do most of us really think it makes any sense? How many of us actually believe that idea? I’m betting a very small minority – I always thought that the bra burning feminist idea was a stupid stereotype with very little basis in reality, brought to you by the same charming individuals who coined the term “feminazi”. I don’t really know what everyone else thinks, though, so I’m throwing it out to the rest of you. Does anyone have any strong opinions about feminine undergarments and their relation to and/or ability to uphold or undermine patriarchy? Is this something that most people think about/care about, or is it pretty much a non-issue?
For me it’s a non-issue. I just don’t see how my altering my choice of undergarments would by some mystical process lead to the fall of patriarchy. To me the whole idea sounds, well, kind of dumb. But that’s just me.
I’m also interested in how this ties in to that unwritten feminist dress code that people always say doesn’t exist. It does exist, though, which becomes obvious each time any feminist is open about violating it. At this point I wish the people who seem to be really, really concerned with what other women wear would just be honest about it, because the “we’re not telling you what to do BUT…” is getting really old.
And on that note, thinking of a recent discussion at PFs place…why are long skirts OK, when short skirts are not? Skirts on women as a whole conforms to a gendered dress code, so why are some skirts frowned upon while others are OK? Is the guideline that anything that might conceivably be attractive to men is verboten? Because to me that seems to be making things all about the men (again), and I’m not sure why as feminists we would want to do that. What if I don’t like long skirts? What if I always feel like I’m drowning in fabric when I wear one? What if they feel restrictive to me? Are all those things less important than what some random guy on the street might think?

37 comments:

Veronica said...

I'm in your position with regards to boobage. I wear a bra because that's a lot of weight to be throwing around willy-nilly. Someone could lose an eye. YES, I'm sure that if I quit with the boulder holders they'd either pull their own weight, or they make their way to my waist and I could just throw them over my shoulder and forget about them, but for the time being, I'm just not being oppressed by my bra.

My biggest complaint about bras is the cost for a decent one. Surely, there's something sexist in that. Does a dude have to pay 50 bucks for decent boxers?

Really, though, there's a difference between "underwear" and "lingerie" in my mind. A sports bra is NOT lingerie.

Cassandra Says said...

I'd agree that sports bras and lacy little scraps of sexy nothingness are different garments on many levels, but the post of Bea's that I responded to didn't make any such distinction.
And then there's the issue of underwires. I LIKE underwires. I find underwired bras far more comfortable than those that are elasticated, and I strongly suspect that the reaon people complain about them being uncomfortable is that so many are wearing the wrong size (80% according to one source
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0846/is_8_22/ai_98594235).
I'm with you on the cost issue, but I have to point out that standard boxers are not the most supportive of garments. The SO won't wear them except to sleep in for that reason, and the things he does wear cost about $20-30 a pop.

FoolishOwl said...

Boxer briefs are pretty supportive, and I find them much more comfortable than briefs. I pay about $15 each, when I can find them in my size. I don't think there's much room for doubt that clothing prices are sexist.

Cassandra Says said...

Boxer briefs are my SO's preference, too, due to the lack of support with baggy boxers and the general ugliness of briefs.
Sizing on male clothing in the US had always surprised me. Everything made for men seems to be huge, underwear included.
On pricing - I'm not sure that you can compare bras to male underwear given that the contruction is rather more complex, but in general sexist pricing is a reality. Great idea, huh...charge the gender that makes less money more for their clothes.

Rootietoot said...

Bras are a symbol. I was a teen in the late 70's, and bra-burnings were still going on. It wasn't so much the bra itself, but the idea of women being forced by the culture to wear a garment unique to them. There was a pervasive belief in the feminist community that bras were designed for the sole purpose of making breasts look bigger and sexier for the menfolk to enjoy.(and maybe they were) Can't have that! Coincidentaly, sport bras were just coming out.

Crankshaft said...

I probably wouldn't do well without a bra either :)

And heck, I thought it was only HERE that we pay so much for good looking and supportive bras. Yes, and that was bras I was talking about, not men. :)

antiprincess said...

About a week ago I left my first comment on Dead Men Don’t Rape. I initially avoided that particular blog because the name offends me (not going into what the implications of the title are, but come on, it’s not hard to parse), but then AntiPrincess linked to it and I thought well, if it makes her think, why not at least give it a chance?

oh, sure...blame me... ;)

Trinity said...

I don't get it either, I went through a long period of not wanting to wear bras. I don't know why. I think it had to do more with androgyny/my particular off the wall brand of semi-butchness. I didn't and don't mind having breasts, but I didn't want them to be something special I adorned with their own undergarment. Or in any way made look bigger. So I had the same bras I'd used as a teen for about five years, ratty and worn out and bought when I was not quite done developing.

Then I started to get really nasty aches. Buying bras that looked like women's underwear terrified me and I hated it. But guess what?

I stopped *hurting*.

I've never looked at them as a symbol of femininity since.

Veronica said...

but the post of Bea's that I responded to didn't make any such distinction.

I was studiously avoiding speaking of Bea.

And then there's the issue of underwires. I LIKE underwires. I find underwired bras far more comfortable than those that are elasticated, and I strongly suspect that the reaon people complain about them being uncomfortable is that so many are wearing the wrong size (80% according to one source

Me, too. The non-underwire ones leave red marks on me, because those it takes a powerful piece of elastic to lock and load these suckers. I've been wearing underwires since I was 16.

Zan said...

I don't understand the fixation on a 'feminist uniform' either. People should wear what they like. Of course, I'm the girl who thinks men should be perfectly free to wear dresses and makeup if it makes 'em happy. (And that has nothing, nothing I say, to do with the fact that such men generallly make ME happy. Nope.)

I'd like to go braless, but the fact is I just can't. Not if I want to be comfortable. Being of the buxom tribe, I haven't been able to go braless since I was 8. Whoohoo.

Plus? Well, I kinda like pretty underwear. Not lacy stuff, but bright patterns and fabrics. I grew up wearing boring old white stuff. Dammit, I wanna feel pretty!

Also, if I don't wear a bra I'm in pain. PAIN. Not just back pain, which is bad enough, but my breasts themselves ache. No. No. No. No.

The only time I feel oppressed by my undergarments is when people try to tell me I shouldn't wear them because of some wacked out notion of group identity.

Cassandra Says said...

iRootie - Thanks for the explanation. It makes more sense on a symbolic level, but here's what I still don't get. Bras are unique to women because breasts are unique to women. Men don't wear a similar garment because they don't need to. Right? So why were bras the symbol as opposed to, say, heels?
I'm curious, since I was too young to really be aware of what was going on at the time...did the idea ever filter out into the mainstream, ie were young women who didn't identify as feminists thinking about this issue?

Cassandra Says said...

crank - You have men stores in KL?
I suspect that the female tax in the garment industry is fairly universal. I'm always amazed at how much less my SO's jeans cost.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin - Exactly. I don't get how a garment that has actual practical benefits became the official symbol of patriarchy.
AP - Well, you did tag her...
Veronica - Ditto. I have the elasticated ones. They are not well suited to those who are much blessed in the boob department. I used to have a few and I threw them away. It's not an issue of what looks better, more of a "god dammit this stupid elastic is digging into me and driving me nuts!" issue.

Cassandra Says said...

"The only time I feel oppressed by my undergarments is when people try to tell me I shouldn't wear them because of some wacked out notion of group identity. "
Yep. Except we're all going to pretend that it's not really about group identity, it's about politics. Which I don't think it is. I think that the feminist dress code that supposedly doesn't exist is all about reinforcing group dynamics.

Veronica said...

"If it requires a uniform it's a worthless endeavor."

Sage said...

I have tiny boobs, they never bounced. But now, after breastfeeding, they slap against my ribs when I walk. It's very attractive. (Hold up a wet teabag by the corner to get the idea.) I find the noise distracting, so I bind them up in tools of the patriarchy (new from Playtex).

I do remember once a woman I worked with being sent home to go put on a bra because her bouncing boobs (under an opaque blouse) were too sexy for the office. That bothered me at the time, and I suggested she refuse. But it wasn't my battle.

Arwen said...

Oh, you'll pull my underwires off of my dead, cold chest.
I have breasts that I'd happily chop off, so that I didn't have to heft them around anymore; but failing that, I want them as supported as possible.
If I ever ended up in a small B, which is like, my fantasy breasts, then perhaps I'll be braless.

Fucking breasts.

I really have gotten just sick of them.

Rootietoot said...

So why were bras the symbol as opposed to, say, heels?

Because men wear boots with heels, that would be my guess. (cowboy boots, can you think of a manlier form of footwear?}

"were young women who didn't identify as feminists thinking about this issue? "

Yes! I remember thinking o good! I don't have to wear a bra! Which my father squashed tut suite. Most of the time, us non fem types thought the fem types were strident and silly and would have a hard time getting a man if they kept acting that way. But then I was 13-14 at the time.

antiprincess said...

yeah, I did, didn't I...

did your comment even make it through moderation?

Cassandra Says said...

Arwen - Agreed. If I was small of bust I'd probably walk around in one of those tank top with shelf bra things all summer, but comfort dictates that I not do that, especially if tennis is on the menu.

Cassandra Says said...

Rootie - I always thought of cowboy boots as a great example of how masculine/feminine are completely artifically constructed categories. The actual boots themselves look more "feminine" to me, honestly, in terms of shape, but the connotation is definately "masculine" because of the history attached to them. It's an interesting thought, that - garments mean whatever society says they mean, by themselves they have no meaning at all.
I NEVER wanted to go braless though, never saw it as a freeing thing other than in the summer when it would be nice to wear as little as possible without getting arrested. I think it may be one of those things where you had to be there at the time to get it (I was in Libya when all this was happening so not exactly in the thick of the social ferment).
Wierd side note - I can't remember ever thinking about whether I (or anyone else) could "get a man". I just assumed that when I was of an age to want one there would probably be plenty around. I'm not sure if that's a sign of incipient feminist consciousness of just a sign of being a conceited little brat.

Cassandra Says said...

AP - Nope, I got a little message saying "I think you may heve posted this comment by mistake" e-mail and my comment was removed.
Interesting that it made it throught the filters intially, though.

antiprincess said...

had you commented in error?

Cassandra Says said...

AP - Only in the sense that I hadn't read the posting guidelines and didn't realise that non radfems were not welcome. The comment itself was relevant to the thread.

antiprincess said...

huh. well, that is certainly food for thought.

Cassandra Says said...

"huh. well, that is certainly food for thought. "
In what sense? I feel like I'm missing something here.

antiprincess said...

well, I gotta wonder - what if someone comes to her blog, and goes, all of a sudden, "oh my god! how wrong I was! Thanks, Bea, for setting me straight!"

then can she comment? what about all the non-radfem stuff she wrote previously (if any)? does she have to renounce that publicly? what if our newly minted radfem still hangs out with non-radfems? would she not be allowed to comment until she made new friends? (or would a true radfem not hang out with non-radfems?)

The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

zan--I'll second you on the men wearing makeup and skirts issue; makeup is a luxury in which I daily indulge because it is a privilege of my gender, and I firmly believe it should be a privilege of everyone. I realize this is not an *entirely* ethically tenable justification for engaging in a behavior and displaying a visual signal in keeping with expectations of patriarchy, but a) I've decided to let my enjoyment outweigh the feminist damage it's doing; and b) I haven't found a totally satisfactory answer to the makeup issue.

What do you do with something fabulous you genuinely LIKE when someone else has fucked up the way other people read it?

I wonder if this is the way other people feel about bras, except that, to some, bras are a lot more basic and necessary than makeup. (They are to me: I'm of the achey tribe as well.) Another example of the necessity of being very, very careful when declaring what behavior is or isn't okay for OTHER people based on your own experience.

But yeah, men should totally wear makeup.

Cassandra Says said...

AP - Well, not that I'm suggesting anything, but someone COULD actually go over to her blog and try it. Not me, obviously, since I'm on the bad non-radfem list.

Cassandra Says said...

SP - It occurs to me that I have only ever dated 2 men who have never worn at least eyeliner, and neither of them lasted more than a couple of dates before I got tired of them. In fact my SO looks rather like one of the guys in my photobucket and was going to go as him in costume to our last Halloween party, but he decided that some of his co-workers might be a bit too freaked out.
I think that bodily adornments are something that everyone should feel free to play with or ignore as they see fit.

hedonistic pleasureseeker said...

Weeeeeeeeelll alrighty then, I guess I know where I won't be attempting to comment!

I (literally) have a lingerie collection that I love. The boobies are large, which means underwires! They were expensive, so the RadFeminist Fashion Police can pry them out of my cold dead hands.

Absolutely this is more about group identity than anything else. I hang at the alternative festivals and see the radfems with the henna and the bodypaint and the tatoos and the wild ethnic skirts and jewelry and the . . . HEY!!! WTF????? The brain goes boi-oi-oi-oing and tries reeeely hard not to explode.

belledame222 said...

Oh, CS, I forgot to mention: others have gone before you. (Yes, FF is the same person as Bea).

i find bras somewhat oppressive, if by "oppressive" one means "damn uncomfortable." at least i finally figured out what my real size is & found a couple that i can actually forget i have them on, mostly, but in general: blergh. of course, i am Zaftig and need to wear those ones with like four hooks that look like battle armor in order for them to provide any support at all. meh.

belledame222 said...

...hm. maybe i should give underwire another try. i remember hate hate hating them, but maybe it was ill-fitting + underwire that was the real problem.

i think they burned them because y'know, what's -wrong- with bouncing? and i agree, sometimes it -hurts-, which answers THAT question; but when it doesn't, well, bodies move, y'know. it's sort of like, women were supposed to wear a girdle, because your butt might wiggle and men might see...

i need a new sports bra that actually fits. i used to wear mine all the time, but i finally realized--they -sort of- fit, but they don't really.

ech. fuckin' bras. and of course i'm also fat and have a short little squashed up torso with an "apple shape," and the double/triple-D's hang rather low, so the whole effect is a bit Paleolithic at this point, and it bothers me, and it bothers me that it bothers me. some of it's aesthetic, internalized hooha, yup. some of it really is "this isn't actually always all that comfortable," though, especially when i'm say trying to do certain yoga postures, or wear certain clothes, or...

belledame222 said...

oh, and i hate the STRAPS.

what i'd really like are more tops that have built-in light support, you know like the shelf tanks; but again, hard to find ones that fit.

Cassandra Says said...

HP - I'm in your camp. I LIKE my lingerie, and I'm keeping it. Anyone else doesn't like that? They can kiss my perfectly-clad ass.

Cassandra Says said...

Belle - I honestly think that sizing is a big issue for a lot of people. I'd say that for the zaftig underwires would be better because A more support - the bouncing is more painful the more there is to bounce! and B lack of underwiring tends to mean that most weight is carried by the straps, which hurts.
Random thought - have you ever tried corsets? I don't mean for sexiness so much as that they lift from underneath rather than from above (ie no pressure on the shoulders). I've known a lot of large breasted women who find them more comfortable than bras. The custom made ones (which are the ones that are comfortable) are expensive, though. Add it to the Fairy GothMother list?
And see, I HATE the bouncing. Ouchy. If anything I'd probably be more patriarchy-compliant if I didn't wear a bra, because men tend to like the bouncing, but I don't.
PS I know a company that makes tank tops with a full bra built in if you want one. Not cheap, but very comfortable in the summer.

belledame222 said...

corsets--probably not an option for everyday; but definitely interested in the tank top company.