I Am, in Fact, Saying No to WWYMD?'s Abstinence-Promoting Underwear

I read about Ms. blogger Annie Shields' strange online experience last week with a combination of amusement and horror:

WWYMD Ms. tweetThe other day, @msmagazine received this response (left) to a tweet about sexual assault on college campuses–a topic we've been covering a lot lately [...] So, naturally, we clicked. And what we found was a frilly pink website devoted to selling underwear.

 

 

What Would Your Mother Do? Conversation Underwear sells panties and t-shirts in stereotypically girly colors such as white, "pale mint" and "lavender pink," adorned with the phrases "Not tonight," "Zip it!" and "Dream on!"

WWYMD Not tonight

Suggestive pose, sans face... to show that she's NOT a sex object?

My first thought (well, after "I can't believe they topped the anti-abortion thongs") was that the name of the company, What Would Your Mother Do?, is a loaded and bizarre one. Most mothers have probably had sex. Just... logically speaking. Is "mothers" supposed to be shorthand for an older generation of women, playing into the tired assumption that the unmarried never played around until these last few decades (say, when Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out)? Are they just hoping their customers will think of their parents mid-makeout and not be able to shake the ick factor?

Then again, the name is an obvious play off of the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets and their cousins. Although WWYMD? is strategically evasive about their agenda, the name and the panties' literal messages give a pretty good clue as to what "family morals" they're eager to "reinforce" (a word that, again, implies that young people have gone off their rightful rails): the no-sex-is-good-sex ones. All of which becomes more confusing when WWYMD? describes itself as "One part Victorian (who are we kidding?), three parts frisky" and adds that they chose boy shorts because they're "hot right now." The blog even describes their water bottles as "elegant, curvy, and sexy." While abstinence is a legitimate choice, something is fundamentally wrong with sexualizing it. (Are you listening, Candies?) It promotes the dehumanizing idea that women, and girls, are only desirable due to what they can offer sexually, be it now or post-marriage. How is reducing a woman to her fetishized chastity any better than telling her she needs to be promiscuous to be loved?

While "Not tonight" pushes the delayed-gratification message especially hard, I'm even more disturbed by "Dream on," which explicitly encourages sexual fantasies about the chaste. This design, though, takes the problematic cake:

WWYMD Zip it

How... why... I don't even. Even has left the building.

The subtitle "conversation underwear" begs the question: conversations with whom? You'd think, given the name, that the answer would be "their mothers," but the ads repeatedly show panty-clad young women posing with a fully-clothed man. Yes, that's a fully-clothed man, as in, always the same one, while there are six different female models posing around him, sometimes with his hand hovering millimeters away from their WWYMD? undies. (All appear to be white, only one is non-blonde, and the panties themselves only come in one small size, if you weren't sure who WWYMD? considers the proper virgin.) Skivvy-sparked conversations about non-sex are apparently supposed to take place with the wearers' heterosexual love interests, because there's no mom in sight, unless you count WWYMD?'s age-ambiguous logo:

WWYMD logo

No, it's not the latest cover for Fascinating Womanhood. It's the latest in insulting pseudo-religious fashion!

We get no explanation as to how the products make these "conversations" happen with, as the song in some of the promotional videos says, "No kiss, no touch, no makin' out." The waistband placement of the messages makes me wonder if they're meant to show above pants or skirts, but we can't really know considering that WWYMD?'s models never get that far dressed. From the pastel colors to the pithy declarations, the undies recall Conversation Hearts candies, which are meant to be picked up, read and consumed rather than provoking much of a discussion at all.

Perhaps most interestingly, WWYMD? quickly commented on Shields' piece to tell her they were "afraid [she'd] missed the message" and point out that the word "abstinence" does not appear on the site. Shields astutely responded:

You can't just say that the message on a pair of panties is open for interpretation when the message is "Not Tonight." That's not open for interpretation. No means no. If these aren't necessarily meant to promote abstaining from sex, then they shouldn't say "Not Tonight." [...] If these are just supposed to remind girls to make wise choices, then they should say "Make Wise Choices!" But they don't, they say things like "Zip It!"

Hear, hear. For underwear that purports to be comfortable, WWYMD? leaves me awfully uneasy.

 

Read more:

"New Line of Tween Panties Promotes... Abstinence?" [Ms.]

What Would Your Mother Do?'s promotional videos are here and here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Comments

23 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Zip it...

The image of a zipper with zip it is reminding me of the idea that some societies have of "zipping"... Literally closing a girls genitals to prevent her from having premarital sex. I don't know if I'm the only one who thought of that but it really bothers me that the image seems to go along those lines of extreme need to keep a girl "pure".

i thought the same thing

i thought the same thing instantly.

I think the Zipper reference

I think the Zipper reference is meant to be towards men. Since it is commonly used as a reference for guys that are wanting to engage in sex, "keep it zipped". It could have different meanings in different parts of the world but don't mean it is meant as a subliminal message to keep girls pure. Other wise they wouldn't have a "not tonight" option. Just my 2 cents.

Seemed to me like it meant

Seemed to me like it meant "zip my pants back up", since you'd have to unzip her pants to read her underwear.

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Ah, yes...

Once again, consumerism takes the place of dialogue and personal responsibility.

"Be comfortable with who you are....and enjoy being a girl!" So being a girl implicitly means having to advertise your sexuality, or your professed aversion thereto? On your underwear? Last I checked, my underpants were None Of Yer Damn Business, just like my personal views on responsible sexuality happen to be. I'll print some NOYDB panties, for anyone who wants them, but in the meantime, you know what my mom WOULDN'T do? Spend $13 on one pair of shoddily made, gimmicky undies. So I won't either, Mom.

lol

This had me lol'ing.I like the idea of NOYDB undies.

NOYDB Panties? Yes!

I second the printing of NOYDB panties! And I think they could be in reference to sex, pro-choice/pro-woman and well, just about EVERYTHING. ;)

Love the "Zip It" t-shirt

Love the "Zip It" t-shirt design. Cleavage, anyone?

That's what I immediately

That's what I immediately thought of! So many problems. If you need your undergarments to remind you not to have sex then... you probably shouldn't be having sex anyway, but forreal, get these kids a real sex ed course. That's what MY mother would do.

On the other hand....

While I agree with the sentiments of the article, without reservation, I may have an answer to the question, "The subtitle 'conversation underwear' begs the question: conversations with whom?" -- The conversation is between the manufacturer and the customer. I have known a lot of straight women who don't feel empowered to say no. Even a lot of self-identified feminists feel it's not sex-positive to say no. (My mother, who came up in the 60s, knew a lot of women who were liberated by the Pill, but faced a lot of so-called feminist men who shamed women who didn't sleep around, mistaking choosiness for being uptight.)

Either way, I think the marketing is cynical, and I'm not feeling it. I hope it's not the next level in diva/princess branding. But I can see how it might appeal to someone who doesn't feel like competing with females whose power stake over men, or bargaining chip with them, is sexual aggressiveness.

The fact that the underwear

The fact that the underwear have to say what you want to communicate is horribly wrong. First, a woman should be able to stand up for herself if she doesn't want to do something. Using her own voice, not her mother's-or her undie's-is what will make herself powerful enough to not do a sex act if she decides not to. And the fact that she has to be basically stripped in order to say no is degrading and disheartening.

"...the fact that she has to

"...the fact that she has to be basically stripped in order to say no is degrading and disheartening." My thought exactly! What guy is going to take the message on her undies seriously? He'll just assume she's being coy and playing hard to get, and interpret the message as "work harder to get into my pants."

That's exactly what I

That's exactly what I thought. I've seen underwear (and outerwear, too) with coy messages on it that usually automatically make the reader think of sex. Phrases like "Dream On" and "Not Tonight" make me think not of abstinence but of the old "playing hard to get," which obviously has some troubling undertones. If I saw these in a store, I would assume they were some sort of cheesy gag gift. I'm waiting for them to come out with a pair that reads, "You'd Better Buy Me Something First."

Oh yeah, and as far for what my mother would do, she'd tell me to get some damn birth control. In fact, that's what she DID do. These people are warping the sexualities and of women of all ages!

Those Promos!

Why the sexy R&B vocals on these videos? I'm confused! should or shouldn't I have sex?

I actually commented on the

I actually commented on the original Ms. Magazine article saying that I could logically understand 'conversation starting t-shirts,' but after seeing the zip-it one, I whole-heartedly take that back :-S Even if they are doing this with the best of intentions, they are working from a dangerous set of presuppositions, none of which promote women being comfortable with their sexuality. In addition, it promotes the message that women alone are responsible for sexuality; that men should not have to bear equal responsibility. We must constantly regulate OUR behavior, make sure we dress 'properly,' and ensure at all times that we do not 'send the wrong message.' Where have we heard that before?

Because rapists respond to 'no'...

Although I didn't see the original tweet that generated these articles, there seems to be something mightily wrong with the way WWYMD is advertising here. Sexual assault is a big problem on college campuses, one that's not going to be solved by encouraging women to just say no. This sounds like some good ol' fashioned victim blaming to me.

Now if there were a line of Consent is Sexy underwear, that might a product I could get behind (or get my behind in).

"Reply" button

The fact that WWYMD? tweeted their site at Ms. in response to a tweet about sexual assault is indeed disturbing. In their comment on Ms.'s article, they open with "By no means was our tweet intended to be 'connected' to sexual assault. Our tweet puts the focus on media bombardment of sexual messages aimed at teens." I'm guessing that's supposed to mean they either sent it as a reply by mistake or consider coverage of assault a "sexual message"... neither of which makes much sense, but then, little about these products does.

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Sex Postivity Underwear Ani D.

"Media Bombardment of Sexual Images"?

You mean like how your models are dressed and posed? WWYMD?'s own ads are MORE bombardment of sexual images!

So wait, they want MORE sexual messages? About not having sex? Or just not having it tonight? Or posing suggestively in your underwear?

Maybe a better marketing tactic would be t-shirts that say "I choose abstinence." Empowerment, check. Personal choice, check. Less sexualization, check!

Figuring out the logic behind WWYMD? would take longer than giving these poor girls a decent sex ed class!

I would figure they'd make

I would figure they'd make girls want to show off their underwear.

On the front: "Not Tonight"

On the back: "Maybe Tomorrow"

I think its pretty silly that

I think its pretty silly that the message is written on underwear. So they think its ok for the girl to take off her pants and hang out with her boyfriend in her panties, but not have sex... yea, that'll happen.