If you’re someone who looks at a lot of lingerie on the internet, you’ve probably seen this meme. It’s popular and I often see women repost it with laughing agreement. What I want to talk about all the ways that this statement emphasizes the problematic aspects of lingerie and a power imbalance that we cannot separate from the image of lingerie.
Whether or not you looked at this, nodded and reblogged, or just scrolled past it, what stuck out to me was this popular meme says about the power dynamics of men’s and women’s attractiveness.
In lingerie circles, I often hear that lingerie is empowering. I’ve probably even said a variation of that myself. But the necessary caveat is that lingerie isn’t necessarily empowering and can often make the wearer intensely vulnerable.
Clothes are not just pieces of fabric on our bodies– they have different meanings and applications depending on context. Both the context of a piece of clothing in society and the particular context of a situation determines how it can and should be understood.
What is a man in a suit? He is dressed for a formal occasion; his clothing is associated with money, class and business. In society, a man in a suit is powerful and a decision maker: if you look at the President, the members of Congress or Fortune 500 CEOs, you will likely seem them in suits. It’s also attire you wear in public, signaling that you are someone who is deserves respect. It’s impossible, then, to separate the sex appeal of suits mentioned in this meme from the connotation of power and formality.
What then is associated with lingerie? Firstly, it’s not appropriate to show in public. It’s meant to be worn under your clothes, for yourself or shared only with a partner. As powerful as lingerie might make you feel, it’s not appropriate to be worn in a boardroom or to most jobs. Wearing lingerie for your job or in public is seen as attention-seeking or morally bankrupt. It’s so inappropriate that people often report it on Pinterest and Facebook. Lingerie cannot be disentangled from private parts of yourself, whether it be tied to gender, sexuality or practical considerations, which makes it a very vulnerable piece of clothing.
What is lingerie’s power? The power of secrecy? Is it the power of seduction? Whatever it is to you, it’s a personal power, and one that loses all meaning when wearing lingerie is attached solely to the desire of a lover. Lingerie is powerful in context– when detached from the knowledge of choice and agency, it is still a question. Whatever sexual appeal comes from lingerie, it comes from knowledge of a glimpse of something private, someone undressed and even sexually available.
So, when you think about sexiness, must a man be strong and a woman vulnerable? When I look at the meme that says “A well-tailored suit is to women what lingerie is to men,” as much as I love it, I can’t pretend that lingerie not a difficult subject when tied to desire; and one that often leaves women at a disadvantage.
What do you think? How does this comparison sit with you?