On Underwear, Feminism, and Underwear-Feminism

sick pantsuit wantThe highbrow magazine The Baffler made its Internets redesign debut today with — among other things, including an out-of-nowhere slam of “This American Life” — a thoughtful blog entry about feminist underwear. As you may have discovered if you have looked for ethical alternatives to Hanes, prestige panties are expensive. And what do you really get for your money? A misguided sense of righteousness?

The problem with symbolic acts is rarely with the acts themselves, which range from mildly laudable to mostly harmless. Rather, the problem lies with an inability or refusal to move past the symbols to address the system. It mimics the shortsightedness people show when they congratulate themselves for buying an organic apple grown halfway around the world. Our well-intentioned discontent with globalization has never been resolved through more shopping, or even better shopping. … “feminist underwear” and other products like it are ultimately not so much game changers as they are status indicators.

I’m surprised that the author didn’t mention THINX, “underwear with built-in technology just for that time of the month.” At around $20-$40 a pair, “smart” underwear isn’t cheap, but it is more than usually functional: it’s anti-microbial, stain-resistant, leak-proof and absorbent. Also their business model is reminiscent of Toms, where the company rewards each purchase with investment in the developing world.

THINX underwear screenshotIt might not be a total game changer, but it’s a partial one. I’m moved/convinced, I think! (“I can’t promise to try, but I’ll try to try.” –Bart Simpson.) What about you? Can shopping be a solution, or are products like this, however useful and even however philanthropic, just distractions from the Real And Ongoing Struggle?

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