A few weeks ago, PhDork, Pilgrim Soul and I met fellow fem-blogger Amanda Marcotte for some drinks and a mountain of fries at a local bar. Amanda happened to walk in right as Tha Dork and I were chatting gaily about how, as kids, we received conflicting messages about whether we should wear panties or not, and when and what kind, etc. This is a fairly typical conversation in Harpyland, and bless Amanda, she rolled with it, even though she had never met us before and probably wondered WTF was up with these women talking about their panties in public.
It was a lighthearted conversation, but the wearing of underwear, like so many things involving women’s clothing and women’s private parts, is fraught with socio-cultural bullshit. Some are just plain ridiculous, but some can be pretty damaging. Join me and PhDork as we discuss feminism and the politics of panties.
Full disclosure: I’m not wearing any as I write this (but I am wearing a sweatsuit, since it’s cold in my apartment.)
BeckySharper: I distinctly remember MamaSharper saying when I was very young that I didn’t need to wear panties to bed at night. I don’t remember exactly how it was phrased, but it was something like “your vagina doesn’t like to be covered all the time.” Heh. True on so many levels!
PhDork: I don’t remember hearing anything from my mom about not wearing knickers, and I pretty much always had them on, unless I had a swimsuit on, which was a lot of the time when I was a kid (I was on teams from ages 5-12). She did seem to be concerned about that, and about wearing cotton panties. I remember hearing from her that synthetic fibers would give me “infections.” I had no idea what she was talking about.
BeckySharper: I still pledge allegiance to the cotton briefs, myself. Your mom was right–synthetics are just asking for trouble, particularly if one is prone to yeast. And thongs are…well, we know how I feel about thongs. They’re only as a last resort if I can’t go commando.
PhDork: Definitely commando rather than a thong. And whenever you feel like it. Snug jeans = panties, fer shure, though. I mostly have microfiber, since they’re stretchy and comfy and aren’t likely to show under anything drapy or clingy. Also good to travel with, since you can wash them out in a sink and they’ll dry overnight.
BeckySharper: As a kid, going commando was totally acceptable at my house. My very proper grandma was not happy when she found this out–I think she was getting me ready for bed one night and I picked out a nightgown to wear but no panties, and then explained that “Mommy said I shouldn’t wear panties at night.” My mother and I still joke about the consternation that ensued when Grandma realized that I had been running around the house with no panties under my (floor length flannel) nightgown. Grandma and Mama had a Big Discussion about this and it was decided that I would wear panties at Grandma’s house at all times–even under the long nighties–but could take them off at bedtime.
PhDork: I did have a grade school friend, Lisa, who was like you–no panties at night. The first time I slept over at her house and her mother came in and asked “Lisa, did you take your panties off?” I was shocked. Why would you need to take off your panties at night?
BeckySharper: That happened to me in college, when the nice Southern Baptist girls in my dorm learned that not only did I not wear underwear at night, but I walked down the hall to the showers in my calf-length fuzzy bathrobe with no panties on. I mean, the robe was about as concealing as a wool overcoat, but somehow the knowledge that my ladyflower was just breezin’ around, uncovered, underneath it was horrifying to them. It was like they expected it to leap out and attack passers-by.
PhDork: Well, it does have nasty pointy teeth.
BeckySharper: True. And it doesn’t like Southern Baptists! I think our popular culture really does believe that a woman’s privates must be wrapped at all times or bad things will happen. Remember when Sharon Stone uncrossed her legs in “Basic Instinct?” The audience knew immediately that she must be a crazed, stabby nymphomaniac because she wasn’t wearing any panties! QED!
PhDork: There is a weird double-standard about going without undies. For dudes, “commando,” and “free-ballin” means you’re kinda badass-adventure-y or XTREEM! A woman sans undies is a tuh-ramp, askin’ fer it, or “dirty.”
BeckySharper: So true about the “asking for it.” I confess, I’ve had times where I felt paranoid and worried that if I were the victim of a sex crime, some sleazy defense attorney would undoubtedly cross-examine me by asking “Well, you weren’t wearing panties, were you?” And some jurors might actually buy it: Oh, well, she went out of the house without her cotton-and-elastic chastity belt, so she must have been asking for it!
Ladies, do you go commando? What kind of messages did you get about underwear as a child? Do those messages still rattle around in your mind as adults?