Despite being a vaguely anti-corporation socialist (can I say that on the internet or…), I love working at Victoria’s Secret. Boobs are fun, and helping women discover that boobs are fun is fun. I like working in a place where a lot of women are comfortable telling me that they’re looking for something sexy, where they allow themselves to dismantle and reject the shame women are told to feel when they enjoy wearing a push up bra, or making their boobs look two cup sizes bigger, or wearing low-cut t-shirts. I like working with lingerie because to many people like myself, a pro-sex feminist who believes that the physical, external self can be used as a means of self-empowerment, wearing a sexy bra or cute panties can be a form of self-expression. And self-expression, as we know, is a good thing.
Making women feel great about their bodies is definitely my favorite part of my job, though assisting male customers is a close second. Watching men shop at VS is the Funniest. Thing. Ever. Grown men who self-present very masculinely walk into the store and seem to lose all composure – I’ve actually seen a man sweat PROFUSELY while shopping for his wife. Suffice to say, they’re nervous, and I won’t argue that there’s anything wrong about feeling a little nervous in an unfamiliar environment. The typical responses when I ask “did you finding everything okay today?” are “I have no way of knowing,” “don’t worry, my wife will send me back if I didn’t,” and *shrug.* This is their way for of reasserting their masculinity by letting me know that they don’t understand the store not only because they’re not women, but also they’re not feminine.
There is a second type of male customer, one who’s not buying sexy lingerie for his girlfriend or running a bra-related errand for his wife. This customer is, of course, Teenage Girl’s Dad, perhaps the most problematic (and not to mention annoying) customer I encounter at work.
The glaring problem with the quote above is the TGDs casual usage of the word whore. In case you aren’t aware, calling a woman a whore is synonymous with calling her slut, which perpetuates the idea that a cis man is allowed to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable regarding the performance of other genders, and thereby shame people who don’t fall within the “proper guidelines.”
In turn, this behavior pits women against women. If a young girl is indoctrinated to believe that wearing lacy, sparkly thongs panties will make her a whore, she is much more likely to negatively characterize women who do wear them. If a young girl is cautioned against experimenting with dating, sex, or sexuality on a basis of morality, she’ll undoubtedly look down on the moral character of women who do. If a young girl is told that there’s something shameful or embarrassing or inappropriate about going into a Victoria’s Secret, not only will she feel guilty about doing it, but yes, you guessed it, she’ll look down on women who don’t feel that shame.
This TGD behavior also reinforces the idea that sex, the desire to be sexy, and sexuality, is shameful, completely eliminating an opportunity for parental education about sex-positivity, non-abstinence protection methods, and consent. Isis Magazine has spent a lot of time discussing why it’s important to not only teach your kids to say NO in uncomfortable sexual situations, but also to say YES. If you’re truly looking out for your little girl, you’ll allow her to question you and engage in a discussion that will allow her to make healthy, well-informed, and, at the very least, safe choices without feeling shame. She’s not going to be teen girl forever.
The bigger problem here is the double standard where dads are encouraged to say no’s for their girls, but loud, enthusiastic YES’s for their sons. The same way “protective dad” is a trope for daughter-dad relationships, “dad bro” is a trope for son-dad relationships. In this case, the dad will often encourage his son to have sex, flirt with girls, and find a lady (or a lot of ladies). In fact, if his son isn’t having sex, it’s a thing of shame.
Does all this mean that every woman should have a lot of sex, experiment with sexuality, and feel comfortable expressing herself with her body? Absolutely not – she can choose to abstain from any of those things and still be empowered. The point is, however, that the abstinence is her choice, the same way choosing to express her sexuality and defining sexuality should be her autonomous experience. Not her dad’s. Not Victoria’s Secret’s. Not mine.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from working in retail is that people aren’t just buying the product or the brand – people are buying what the brand stands for. And from where I’m standing, I can clearly see that grown women are buying lingerie, and lacy panties, and satin robes. Grown women are telling me they want to look sexy for their partners or even sexy for themselves. They do value the experience and the intimacy of sexiness, and if a young women is growing into herself and her sexuality, and is showing a propensity for sexual experimentation, who is her father to take that value away from her.
Mehak Anwar is a Seattleite/bitter Pakistani/radical feminist/pierced femme/Miley lover/Sagittarius. She's a member of the Class of 2016 at Emerson, where she's studying Writing, Literature and Publishing with minors in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Journalism.
Images: fashionbrandwall.com, http://www.celebquote.com