The other day, @msmagazine received this response (left) to a tweet about sexual assault on college campuses–a topic we've been covering a lot lately [...] So, naturally, we clicked. And what we found was a frilly pink website devoted to selling underwear.
What Would Your Mother Do? Conversation Underwear sells panties and t-shirts in stereotypically girly colors such as white, "pale mint" and "lavender pink," adorned with the phrases "Not tonight," "Zip it!" and "Dream on!"
Suggestive pose, sans face... to show that she's NOT a sex object?
My first thought (well, after "I can't believe they topped the anti-abortion thongs") was that the name of the company, What Would Your Mother Do?, is a loaded and bizarre one. Most mothers have probably had sex. Just... logically speaking. Is "mothers" supposed to be shorthand for an older generation of women, playing into the tired assumption that the unmarried never played around until these last few decades (say, when Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out)? Are they just hoping their customers will think of their parents mid-makeout and not be able to shake the ick factor?
Then again, the name is an obvious play off of the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets and their cousins. Although WWYMD? is strategically evasive about their agenda, the name and the panties' literal messages give a pretty good clue as to what "family morals" they're eager to "reinforce" (a word that, again, implies that young people have gone off their rightful rails): the no-sex-is-good-sex ones. All of which becomes more confusing when WWYMD? describes itself as "One part Victorian (who are we kidding?), three parts frisky" and adds that they chose boy shorts because they're "hot right now." The blog even describes their water bottles as "elegant, curvy, and sexy." While abstinence is a legitimate choice, something is fundamentally wrong with sexualizing it. (Are you listening, Candies?) It promotes the dehumanizing idea that women, and girls, are only desirable due to what they can offer sexually, be it now or post-marriage. How is reducing a woman to her fetishized chastity any better than telling her she needs to be promiscuous to be loved?
While "Not tonight" pushes the delayed-gratification message especially hard, I'm even more disturbed by "Dream on," which explicitly encourages sexual fantasies about the chaste. This design, though, takes the problematic cake:
How... why... I don't even. Even has left the building.
The subtitle "conversation underwear" begs the question: conversations with whom? You'd think, given the name, that the answer would be "their mothers," but the ads repeatedly show panty-clad young women posing with a fully-clothed man. Yes, that's a fully-clothed man, as in, always the same one, while there are six different female models posing around him, sometimes with his hand hovering millimeters away from their WWYMD? undies. (All appear to be white, only one is non-blonde, and the panties themselves only come in one small size, if you weren't sure who WWYMD? considers the proper virgin.) Skivvy-sparked conversations about non-sex are apparently supposed to take place with the wearers' heterosexual love interests, because there's no mom in sight, unless you count WWYMD?'s age-ambiguous logo:
No, it's not the latest cover for Fascinating Womanhood. It's the latest in insulting pseudo-religious fashion!
We get no explanation as to how the products make these "conversations" happen with, as the song in some of the promotional videos says, "No kiss, no touch, no makin' out." The waistband placement of the messages makes me wonder if they're meant to show above pants or skirts, but we can't really know considering that WWYMD?'s models never get that far dressed. From the pastel colors to the pithy declarations, the undies recall Conversation Hearts candies, which are meant to be picked up, read and consumed rather than provoking much of a discussion at all.
Perhaps most interestingly, WWYMD? quickly commented on Shields' piece to tell her they were "afraid [she'd] missed the message" and point out that the word "abstinence" does not appear on the site. Shields astutely responded:
You can't just say that the message on a pair of panties is open for interpretation when the message is "Not Tonight." That's not open for interpretation. No means no. If these aren't necessarily meant to promote abstaining from sex, then they shouldn't say "Not Tonight." [...] If these are just supposed to remind girls to make wise choices, then they should say "Make Wise Choices!" But they don't, they say things like "Zip It!"
Hear, hear. For underwear that purports to be comfortable, WWYMD? leaves me awfully uneasy.
"New Line of Tween Panties Promotes... Abstinence?" [Ms.]