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Girls, Don’t Let Your Underwear Do Your Talking for You

Back in the bad old days that are always threatening to repeat on us, it was alleged that rape victims were “asking for it.”  We were supposed to know that the woman was asking for it—even when she obviously wasn’t, and even when she was saying no— because of how she was dressed:  Too “provocatively,” suggestively, sensually, flirtatiously, or sluttily. Or, because she was wearing too much make-up. These sartorial and fashion decisions made a woman’s lack of consent mute, and meaningless. Her clothes spoke for her, and asked for it.

Now, Victoria’s Secret is marketing underwear to teenage girls that is, literally, asking for it.

In their latest ill-conceived campaign, “Bright Young Things,” they’re marketing underwear to teenage girls with phrases like call me, wild, and feel lucky? emblazoned across the front, such as a front exists. Victoria’s Secret explains that 15 and 16 year olds want to feel older (or, perhaps that’s what adults want from younger girls, because plenty of teenagers are happy to be whatever age they are, if only adults would let them be it). The underwear appeals to this desire to be like a college student.

A few parents (and Miss Representation) have started petitions against this campaign. I can understand why. The underwear is designed from the point of view of an outsider’s lusty gaze on their daughter’s crotch. Many a parent of a 15-year-old hopes that her daughter’s underwear won’t have a “readership” until they’re older, even if the message on the thong is, “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny,” the Pythagorean Theorem, or an excerpt from Beowulf.

And the gaze is entirely male—or, if not male, then it’s the imagined gaze of a lover, although let’s be real, Victoria’s Secret isn’t attempting to tap in to the adolescent lesbian demographic, here. An adolescent girl who’s exploring her sexuality sees this small message in the store, and she aggregates it with a million other small messages in other places, that her intimate life and body is read and defined visually (and not by any other of the five senses, or experiences), by a male, and is in that sense something apart from her.

The wearer is invited to let her underwear do her talking, or presume her desire.  What if you’re fooling around in some adolescent way, and your underwear is at cross purposes with what your mouth is saying?

Just imagine saying no, or let’s stop, while your underwear reads, “feel lucky?” In this scenario, your own underwear would be mocking you. It’s the sexual equivalent of having a Kick Me Hard sign on your back, but you don’t know it.

I’m only partially joking, here. With such coy messaging, courtesy of Victoria’s Secret, would something like this ever be taken as such an obvious act of sartorial provocation, of asking for it, that it would undermine the victim by showing just how “sexualized” or sexually intentional she was, or, more likely, mire the victim in second-guessing about herself? I can hear a teenage girl’s inner monologue now: “I didn’t really want to have sex… but I was wearing that underwear, and that outfit…”

It’s the nature of teenagers to stumble in over their heads. It’s the responsibility of adults to make it as safe and as easy as possible for them stumble back out, unharmed—not to sell them products that further confuse them.

Here’s an illuminating hypothetical:  Would we ever see the same thing with 15-year old boys’ underwear? Maybe there’s a manufacturer somewhere that’s written “Call Me” across the crotch of underwear marketed to teenage boys. But I just can’t imagine that, at all. A young man would be the laughingstock if he wore something like that around his friends.

Actually, I can totally see The Onion doing it, as satire. They’d sell men’s underwear with, “this beautiful cock can be yours for the asking,” or “feeling lucky?”—as a joke.  

Why is it a gag gift, or idiocy, for boys and an actual, sincere product for girls? 

For one thing, because men enjoy the status of being sexual subjects, which means that we assume that if a man wants sex, or feels sexy, then he’s going to use his voice and ask for sex, and is permitted, nay, expected, to do so. He’s not going to entrust that all-important expression of sexuality to his coy underwear.

A man’s desire isn’t assumed to be vague, hidden, or ambivalent. Worn on his body, and in his life, the undie message would look preposterous and emasculating, not at all sexy, provocative, or cute.

 It seems plausible as a serious product line for a 15-year-old girl only because of lingering assumptions that females are coy, sexually disingenuous, and duplicitous. That’s the unstated logic of products like this, the logic that makes them seem interesting, or cute, in the first place. Women won’t really say that they want sex, so it’s charming to see it suggestively implied on their underwear. They don’t really mean no. Just read their underwear. 

And men’s bodies don’t principally exist to satisfy the female sexual appetite. “Feel Lucky” boxer shorts would demean a man into an act of self-objectification in a life that isn’t otherwise sexually objectified. Maybe in a long-term relationship, the message would elicit a mild, amused chuckle from his lover or spouse, but that’s about it.  

This frivolous little underwear is such an elegantly tacky, disturbing artifact of our culture’s sexual derangement. Maybe it belongs in a time capsule. Whatever the case, I agree with Miss Representation:  “not buying it.”

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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