Rasberry: Lingerie straddles the line between empowerment and oppression

Feminist Food for Thought

Satin or lace? Classic black or perhaps a pleasing coral pink? Corsets, camis or fishnets? As titillating as it is to discuss lingerie in all its divine diversity, one of the aspects of lingerie that is often undiscussed and left to assumptions is why we wear lingerie and who we wear it for.

It’s vital to consider history here. Within feminism there were two distinct ‘sides’ pitted against each other in the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Their ideologies about sexuality, and by extension lingerie, have carried on up to today. These sides were eventually called the “Anti-pornography feminists” and the “Pro-sex feminists.”

One of the main issues these groups focused on was sexuality, more specifically in how it was relayed through pornography. The anti-pornography feminists were obviously against pornography. They claimed it was inherently degrading and a prime form of objectifying particularly women and perpetrating misogynistic behavior to the porn industry’s’ audience. The pro-sex feminists argued that pornography was a form of sexual expression. They framed it as every human’s right, that all people have the freedom to be involved in pornography. It would be sexually oppressive and a form of censorship to deny them that freedom.

Most of the stories relayed to the public tend to portray porn stars as victims of abuse, financial instability or unfortunate circumstances, making most perceive it as stigmatized career choice.

In reality many of these stars have come forward with personal accounts of how being involved in the porn industry has actually empowered them more than previous professions. In genuine conversation, they don’t provide the expected horror stories about abuse and slim wages within the porn industry. Many adult entertainers recount how their needs and comfort were taken into account, how they were paid to do something they actually enjoyed doing and most importantly, how their attire or lack thereof made them feel more sexually liberated and in control of their bodies on set. Many expressed how just wearing a dominatrix suit made them feel more powerful or how the opportunity to wear skimpy lingerie allowed them to feel more accepting of their bodies and become more comfortable with their sexuality.

This surprising reaction even carries over to women not involved in pornography. After overcoming the nightmarish hell that is the U.S. sizing system of women’s clothing, many women that purchase lingerie for their private use find themselves feeling more confident, attractive and in tune with their sexuality. This happens regardless of the stigmas that surround women when they try to be more sexual. In fact many of these women wear lingerie to take on those exact stigmas and own them; instead of balking at the stigmas and stereotypes, many women start to think about those hurtful concepts in a more positive manner, entirely changing the intended connotation.

Granted, this type of reaction is not always immediate and many may fall back into the mindset more conservative people have, which is that it is shameful and degrading for women to express their sexuality.

Like traditional persons would assume, many pornstars admit that after their work was edited, they came off as mindless sex machines on video. However, once again, what’s hidden is that pornstars thought the actual experience was far more empowering than most people would think possible within such an industry. This kind of reaction amongst many porn stars is actually logical once the stigma behind porn industry workers is set aside. Many enjoy having sex and the fact that they are being paid to do something they enjoy is the definition of the “dream job.” Because they were able to overcome the label, these performers felt free to safely express their sexuality and expand their interests in this line of work.

This can be applied to a society as a whole. Once the stigmas are removed, lingerie can be allowing. While it is perfectly fine to not want to explore one’s sexuality or to express it in ways that make one uncomfortable, it is more harmful than helpful to fall into this mindset. To avoid lingerie solely because society looks down on women enjoying the clothing piece and expressing their sexuality because it is ‘impure,’ ‘inappropriate’ or ‘too enticing’ is not okay. Instead go out and try on some lingerie to see how it affects you. Think about how you view yourself in lingerie and examine why you think it makes you look a certain way.

Kate Rasberry is a second-year student.