Empowering Underpants


How we’re losing our true freedoms

I’ve been sitting on the fence for so long when it comes to women’s undergarments that my derrière is numb.

So today’s New York Times story about knickers made by women for women without a hint of consent from the male persona feels like feminist heaven.

Feminist vernacular has been seized in service to marketing ploys where women are sold girdles to give them control over their destinies, as Andi Zeisler notes in We Were Feminists Once.

Zeisler offers a critique of advertising that uses feminist ideology to sell stuff:

Lacy underpants empower you.

Push-up bras promote confidence.

Stiletto heels heighten your gravitas.

When I tell younger women the mid-century feminist movement gave us permission to wear tennis shoes rather than high-heels to work, they roll their eyes.

Women in the fourth-wave of sisterhood counter they have what we didn’t have: freedom to choose.

That is: they can choose to be a Carrie Bradshaw in Manolo Blahnik stilts or Ellen DeGeneres in her signature sneakers.

But the argument of choice is hidden in the persuasive ruse.

Choice offers a seamless and sneaky channel that taps into our desire for control in the face of very few options.

But when we think power is in our hands rather than Madison Avenue’s, we get goofy.

And that’s the brilliance of persuasive propaganda.

Persuasion tugs at our guts rather than our mental synapses: we want to feel empowered.

And presto: we feel better because we exercise our power through a plastic card that lets us buy our freedom.

Reporter Caroline Tell says the new underwear products in her Times story are “changing the message behind lingerie from one of oversexualized fantasy to empowerment, confidence and comfort.”

But the message hasn’t changed: advertisers simply shifted the focus from pink lace to your power as a consumer.

“We want to celebrate [women’s] flaws and see the beauty in our differences. It’s so important and empowering for women to celebrate their shape.”

But the power lies in how you spend your dough.

8 December 2016






Since the United States’ political elections in November, I have felt powerless on hearing that some members of our country’s leadership are making critical decisions that affect us, our children and our children’s children, based on their gut-feelings rather than incontrovertible facts and evidence.

The feeling of powerlessness is shared among my family and friends who hold dear core values of kindness, fairness, intelligent decision-making, equality, ethics, honesty and mindfulness.

Viewing and reading the news—my window on the outside world–demonstrate our values are being shredded without regard for individuals and communities in favor of those who will benefit from the loss of our healthcare, voting privileges, quality education and honest work.

I despair for the loss which has been propagandized like underwear: we have been sold this state-of-affairs as our choice.

But the choice to honor outright lying, bullying, divisiveness, hatred, malice, hate, greed and fear is one I doubt most reasonable beings would endorse.

We would never teach our children to behave with such malevolence.

Let us hold our leaders to our standards.

As a crawl out of my despair I will write postscripts on my blog with an aim toward hopefulness, despite the sense that our values are being torn asunder in a malignant storm of hatred.

It is the least I can do.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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1 Response to Empowering Underpants

  1. saraannon says:

    I’ve been thinking of Trump supporters as ‘Trumpettes’… gives me a variety of mental images that help me to maintain some humor and perspective….

    Liked by 1 person

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