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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Featured, Women | 29 comments

The War on Victoria’s Secret

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Mothers and fathers across America are declaring war on Victoria’s Secret. Cindy Chafin, leader of the Mommy Lobby said, “We really want [our daughters] to be innocent and young as long as possible… and [Victoria’s Secret is] not helping that.” Last week a the internet was ablaze with an open letter written by a pastor who fears that a new line of undergarments from Victoria’s Secret will corrupt his vestal daughter:

The line will be called “Bright Young Things” and will feature ” lace black cheeksters with the word “Wild” emblazoned on them, green and white polka-dot hipsters screen printed with “Feeling Lucky?” and a lace trim thong with the words, “Call me” on the front.”

Of course, I am no fan of large corporations, nor their products, nor their advertising, but it’s hard not to read the words of Rev. Evan Dolive (or the post he links to) and Cindy Chafin and not be disturbed by the attitude toward sexuality. Sexuality is not something that should be controlled by parents, nor should fathers be overly concerned with the undergarments his daughter wears. I’m reminded of the treatment of women in theocratic cultures, and it’s hard not to see the parallel when noted Conservative anti-feminist Wendy Shalit writes in support of what she calls “Modestynicks,”

A modestynik is my word for a modern single young woman raised in a secular home, who had hitherto seemed perfectly normal but who, inexplicably and without any prior notice, starts wearing very long skirts and issuing spontaneous announcements that she is now shomer negiah, which means that she isn’t going to have physical contact with men before marriage, and that she is now dressing according to the standards of Jewish modesty.

We learn later that these modestynicks were usually abused; as, Shalit wishes us to believe, will any woman not properly covered. The mindset pervades her book, like when she writes,

I propose that the woes besetting the modern woman–sexual harassment, stalking, rape, even ‘whirlpooling’ (when a group of guys surround a girl who is swimming, and then sexually assault her)–are all expressions of a society which has lost its respect for female modesty.

In reality, however, “immodesty” is not why most women are raped; rather, rape is motivated by a perverse sense of entitlement, of domination, on the part of men. The best rape prevention method is an enlightenment attitude among the male population and strict laws, not long dresses.

The absurdity of the traditionalist mentality is visible when you replace the a sample sentence (from Mr. Dolive’s letter) with the male adjective:

I want my [son] (and every [boy]) to be faced with tough decisions in his formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young men should be asking themselves… not will a girl (or boy) like me if I wear a “call me” thong?

I want my son to know that he is perfect the way he is; I want my son to know that no matter what underwear he is wearing it does not define him.

Can’t we see how trite and condescending this archaic vision of sex is? Who would say that a man can’t have a loving relationship and a job? Who would suggest that a man was so frail that his Calvin Kleins could devalue him? Who would suggest that a man’s identity is tied up in his sexuality?

It’s clear that the religious attitude toward sex and procreation isn’t doing our society any good. A recent study finds that teen pregnancy is correlated with religious Conservatism. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world, along with the most robust abstinence-only sexual education program. Another study finds that religion decreases sexual pleasure. Of course, these studies show no causal link, and may be debunked (or some alternative cause, like poverty, might drive both trends). Most religious women are beginning to ignore their church’s doctrines on sex.

I’m reminded of the Marlene Dietrich quote, “In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact.” The quote could use a slight change though; not all of America is sex-obsessed, just though who proclaim so often not to be. And that’s what should have us worried. The religious attitude towards sex is patriarchal; it comes from a time when women were property and we should leave it there.

Postscript: I looked over some of the (generally inarticulate) protests comments on Victoria’s Secret’s Facebook page. Many are making a comparison to Steubenville, a particularly contemptible sentiment for two reasons. First, there’s certainly a “blame the victim” mentality (how could those young men resist a woman dressed so immodestly). Second, I think the causation is reversed: I think a cultural mentality in which men control women’s bodies (how they are dressed, whether they have access to contraception, etc.) will be much more likely to foster men who believe that they can force women to have intercourse against their will.

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  • dduck

    What, no: “Hi I’m Bunny, Wanna Hop On?”

  • ShannonLeee

    Free mustache rides!

    I hope these folks enjoy their 15 minutes.

  • adelinesdad

    It should be noted that the controversy about this is not partisan, from what I’ve seen. I learned about this, and also become aware of the anti-teen-sexualization movement from Peggy Orenstein, who is definitely no right-winger. There are also many books written from all sides of the spectrum (including left-wing and/or feminist) regarding the sexualization of our culture and its negative effects of young girls and boys. There are many clubs to choose from, but I don’t think we can use this one to beat up on one side or the other.

    Apart from that, as a parent who is concerned about the over-sexualization of our culture, particularly as it impacts kids and teenagers, I object to a lot of this post, but let’s start with this:

    “Sexuality is not something that should be controlled by parents.”

    I think we’d need to define what age of kids we’re talking about here. Assuming teenagers, I completely disagree. Though, of course “control” is a loaded word that, taken literally and completely, probably couldn’t and shouldn’t apply to any subject of parenting of teenagers. But, I think sexuality clearly falls into the realm of subjects which parents should concern themselves with. And I hardly think being concerned about the message that our culture sends our kids, whether it be through the media, fashion, or any other industry, should be construed as controlling and, even, implied to be associated with abuse.

  • roro80

    This is a more complicated issue than it seems on its surface. There certainly is a lot to unpack as far as the sexualization of girls and young women happening earlier and earlier, and how it points to a culture that thinks of women as existing primarily for their ability to please men. The madonna/whore dichotomy is as strong a force as ever, and both parts are harmful. Expecting young women (even teenagers!) to wrap up and protect their virginity as though it is the total of their worth, going to purity balls or wearing virginity rings that pledge their nether regions to their fathers until they can be safely handed off to their husbands is damaging and downright gross. Treating sex as a commodity that men want and women give up in exchange for love is not only confusing to both genders, but it also goes hand-in-hand with 12-year-old girls feeling they need to wear porn-compliant underwear from Victoria’s Secret every day.

    In other words, I don’t agree with the modesty police or the virginity protectors by any means, but I also don’t think it’s cool to sell teenagers on the idea of always needing to be sexy. They’re two sides of the same coin. Pushing the idea that women always always need to be sexy and sexually available, while also telling them that actually having sex makes them slutty and dirty and worthless, is just another way in which women just can’t win these days.

  • ShannonLeee

    blah, you see boobies on public tv here in Germany… naked people at the swimming pool or sauna. Heck, I watched a movie on a Lufthansa flight that showed two grow men having sex…then a threesome.

    Americans live in their little puritan bubble believing that sex is the root of all evil. Sex is sex. Bodies are bodies. Get over it.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Read this earlier and needed time to think about it… came back and find that thoughtful brother from the Right and a wise sister from the Left had already said pretty much my thoughts on this topic…

    Truly do not see this as a Right or Left issue for parenting… I truly hold that it is the responsibility of parenting to help their children move into a maturity that celebrates a healthy sexuality, yet our pop culture is all to often distorts and pimps sexuality for the most base of reasons and instincts…

    Shannon Lee glad i do not live in Germany ….for some of us sex is linked with a cherished private sharing of love and holds a sacredness that that is more intimate and meaningful than thrusting, advertising sexuality or performing for other peeps…. that is a value we want to pass to your children… And yes, us Left folks do have personal, family, and spiritual values, that honor the intimate sharing of the body, heart, and soul and whole heartedly enjoy the sensual and sexual. No problem with those that swim nude…

    And because of the honor of the deeper levels of intimacy, if i had tweens and teens mamma’s money will not be buying ” Feeling Lucky” and ” Call Me “….

    just my few chirps!…the birds are chirping outside the window as i write this…

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    I’d say that in a perfect world, where each person had control of their own appetites, one can set out lambs. But it isn’t that world. For an underaged child or young person, I’d support their families to bring them into the teeming culture of constant and overt sexual cues when their parents think they are educated about others’ motives, know the signs and dangers of certain activities, understand the difference between a liar and a sincere person, have clear thinking and strong boundaries about being the ‘fantasy’ of others.

    There are far and away plenty of ‘girls gone wild’ images, enough to overfill and stuff to the gills, each person who so desires to feast on such. And some truly are bloated with it all. But also, from where I stand, i see that kind of glut dulls the senses and the appetite, makes ho -hum from what was once wonder. What passes for wonder often, looks only like oh wow look at that– turned ultimately toward one’s own body only.

    Sexuality is an enormous journey–and often enrapt and enwrapped with another soul, not a mere paragraph of self, and essentially the same paragraph over and over again. There’s a huge difference between the two. One that perseverates, is not the other. It is only running in place, maybe even shuffling in place.

    I believe, some yet understand sexuality as gift and as journey. To each her own, to each his own. My .02 only. There’s much more to say from all points…

  • roro80

    ShannonLee, I’m not sure if your most recent comment was meant for me. Maybe I didn’t explain my point well enough. I think that the shame around sexuality is extremely harmful, and part and parcel to the phenomenon of younger and younger sexualization of girls. The madonna/whore thing cuts both ways — we simultaneously enforce sexualization and chastity, and both parts work together to create a sexually hostile environment where the whole construction of sex in our collective minds becomes toxic. I think sex should and can be a really positive and fun thing, even outside of marriage, even outside of love.

  • KP

    I lend my support to the thoughtful comments from some very wise people. As someone who raised (with my wife and their mother) my 22 and 26 year old daughters, I would add this: most of the work and character building was done by the time the girls were entering their teens. If I had failed them in elementary school, underwear, or the lack of it, would have been the least of my problems. I never gave their underwear much of a thought other than not to damage it when I did the laundry.

  • ShannonLeee

    Not you roro 🙂

    Tonight, one of the biggest tv shows in Germany was on the tube. Must have seen about 20 penises, shower scene. I live in a different culture.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    Um ShannonLee, many women have seen 20 penises too , some possibly more…. [just not all at once usually] and so have men… it’s called for the men mostly, locker room. It’s no biggie. And I’m not making a pun.

    Same for both genders, if you work out, live in a co ed dorm, go to the beach, etc.

    ok, so much for the one moment comedy.

    KP, agreed. Many daughters and sons, both reg and grand. By early teens, you’re right on. Earlier also. Hope to give the boundaries to them to be discerning and temperate/tolerant in all things, not gourmands as the culture would have us all fall into in order for culture to make its zillions of dollars while not giving full weight. I know you know what I mean about ‘full weight’ …. remember those weird barbells that are as big as a manhole cover, but only weight 2.2 pounds each. Looks like a lot. Isnt.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    It’s no biggie. And I’m not making a pun.

    Good one, Dr. E.

    Might as well join in, but — for self-respect reasons — won’t tell you whether it is an April Fools story or not:

    Many years ago, I had a thorough physical exam by a female doctor.

    On the way home, I decided to look at her report while I was driving.

    I was very pleased and proud to read that the doctor had written that I was “a well-endowed young man.”

    When I got home, I proudly announced the doctor’s findings to my wife.

    Let me see, she (incredulously) said. I handed her the report.

    It says here that you are a “well-nourished young man,” my wife said.

    Talk about a let-down…

  • ordinarysparrow

    My freshman year in college we had an exhibitionist that frightened a number of young women on campus, leaving a sense of fear for many women. One day his intended target was a group of women sitting around a library table but the elderly librarian in her seventies was the first to see his exposed penis. She was the stereo-typical ‘old maid’ librarian … With a calm clear voice she said; ” Sonny, you can run along now for all of us girls have seen one of those things before.” He ran out of the library and we never saw him on campus again…

    As a young woman hearing her response it was an amazing and unexpected response from an elder woman. I loved it…

    I understand and appreciate children needing to see what is there, but what is sexy about displaying it? Not prude for me, i just don’t get it!

  • ordinarysparrow

    Dorian that is a funny story…

  • KP

    dr e, it’s no biggie, but you are a very funny person 🙂

    DDW, yer killin’ me!

  • adelinesdad

    Not to interrupt the lightened mood, but I do want to point out that nudity isn’t the primary issue here. There’s a big difference between Michelangelo’s David and porn, for example. Context, intent, purpose matter a lot. Not being familiar with German TV, I don’t know to which side it leans (no pun intended).

    Roro, I agree with what you said, for the most part, though I suspect we might disagree on where to strike that balance between prudishness and over-sexualization. I’m not sure if they really are two sides to the same coin, as you suggest. I’d say maybe they are reactions to each other, and maybe over-reactions in some cases. I suspect my views are more conservative than yours, but my point in this thread is to hopefully reach some common understanding that there is some middle ground between controlling, oppressive, abusing parenting and just going with the flow and letting pop culture dictate our kids’ standards. I agree with your statement especially that it is a complex topic. There are many different points to consider, and any good advice on the topic can be taken too far or have unintended negative consequences in individual circumstances. All good reasons for parents to be attentive and involved with their kids on this issue and others.

    Dr E: “I’d say that in a perfect world, where each person had control of their own appetites…” I appreciate this insight as well. The OP suggests that any effort by parents to urge restraint with regards to sexualization is controlling and perhaps related to abuse. This ignores the fact that the media and fashion industries feed off of, manipulate, and distort irrational teenage hormones (and adult hormones too). I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to learn to be cautious, exercise some restraint, and (if I dare use the word) develop a sense of morality, to protect against these influences. I don’t believe this is mutually exclusive with teaching them to have a healthy view of sex. In fact, I think it’s essential to that goal, and certainly I don’t think promoting underwear with provocative statements on it furthers that goal. Why should we believe that pop culture has their best interest at heart, more than their parents?

    In the end, I see it like this: historically women have been objectified–seen as possessions of men. This was perpetuated through institutions. Then the women’s lib movement freed them, for the most part, from this objectification. Women began to be seen as people first, not as objects. Now, women are being objectified again, not by government or institutions, but by cultural norms. The media bombards us with images of women whose value is derived from their ability to satisfy men, and I believe this negatively effects women and men’s attitudes towards each other, and ultimate, regrettably, girls and boys also. A healthy view of sex I believe starts with this: see each other first as people to love, not objects to consume.

  • KP

    I remember underwear in the late 60s or early 70s having the days of the week on them. At the time I thought that was about as wild as anything I had seen, besides no underwear. Today, days of the week undies are a standard comic tag line. And the beat goes on.

    Key, is the work we do in our kids hearts before they care about their choners. Once we do that good work, it’s easier and maybe even advisable to roll with less important issues like underwear.

    On a separate note, thank goodness my girls finally influenced my wife’s choices.

  • petew

    I would like to consider myself at least partially, enlightened when it comes to my attitudes about sexuality. I would like to think that were I a parent, I would not pass a long list of sexual hangups to my progeny. But I think some of our liberal attitudes are analogous to the old adage that, “There are no atheists in fox holes.” I’ve heard many people, who might have been considered completely hip and liberated by their peers, talk about how that all goes out the window, once their daughter returns home from a date at 2AM. Their once, cool attitudes, vanish, and they become more like police detectives willing to do extensive back-ground checks of whoever threatens their daughters innocence. To me this change in attitude is completely understandable.

    I think we all want to become enlightened when it comes to sex, but companies like Victoria’s Secret, often seem to want to blow the lid off all of our inhibitions and senses of modesty. A business like theirs definitely succeeded in programing young women to advertise themselves as sexual objects—not just liberated young women. None of us would want such a horribly repressive and male authority dominated culture like the one the Taliban shoves down its followers throats, but we shouldn’t go to the other extremes also.

    When a man wins the heart of young woman, he should consider her acceptance of him as a lover, as being a precious gift or reward, one not given lightly. But its is hard to think of a young lady whose underwear says “lucky” with presenting that attitude. But to quote Avril Lavigne, “every woman is a princess and would like to be treated like one.”

    Sexual fun and experimentation is one thing, but let’s not become so permissive that we hide the beauty of sexual love, under a mountain of cheap and trivial come-ons (such as) we love the beauty of your models victoria, but, REALLY! COME ON!!!

  • petew

    The observation many commenters have made about our culture giving women the simultaneous impression that they must be sexy and available to men, but that this availability make them whores, is probably only another manifestation of the victorian attitude we are all waking up from. I think the whole “whore” thing has to do with the old “it’s so good to be so bad,” kind of mentality, and this type of sexual expression is not an enlightened attitude. Its one thing to lets our sexuality be freely expressed, but why do so many people need that sense of “badness” to enhance their experience? What about saying instead, “It feels so good, to feel so good?” How can we consider ourselves enlightened while seeing much of sex as a demonstration of dirtiness, or whoring? I’m not saying that anyone should be denied that type of mentality , but lets quit thinking of it as some sort of freedom or liberated form of sexuality.

    If anyone has witnessed some of today’s pornography, to someone from my generation, so much of it just seems gross, excessively and extreme, in ways that are not at all a turn on! Too much slapping, choking, gagging, and anal displays—I don’t need to go any further with my descriptions to know that many of you also get my point. An industry that makes a fortune out of exploiting taboo behaviors, represents only one more by-product of our victorian hang-ups, not any form of sexual liberation. In too many ways, we still view sex as merely creating excitement out of our taboos.

    I heard a comedian put it well on a talk show like, “The Tonight show with Jay Leno,” or one of the other major ones. He said something like, “sure sex is a wonderful and exciting thing, but, who needs iron masks or whips and chains? What is all that anyway?!

    The American porn industry is generally an expression of unenlightened and distorted sexual attitudes, and, many of us are beginning to question if Victoria’s sexy underwear line, is just one more step towards trivializing sexuality in a similarly obscene way—a natural question to pose, and a good one to discuss!

  • zusa1

    So if a girl wants to wear this type of underwear, is it a sign that she has not sufficiently matured, and if a woman has sufficiently matured, would she still want to wear them?

    It reminds me of my niece. I told my mother that the way I new she had matured was by the fact that she stopped telling people how mature she was.

  • adelinesdad


    I take your point about the character-building work needing to be done earlier. My counterpoint would be that the over-sexualization of our culture reaches the pre-teens as well, whether intentionally or by the inevitable spill-over (pre-teens aren’t oblivious to what the older cohort is doing), which makes the character building years more perilous. I recently saw an advertisement for a sex-charged show while watching a childrens movie with my daughter. They got an email from me, but I do wonder how many others they got.

    Regarding the beat going on, the assumption is that change is inevitably good or, at least, not harmful. It’s inevitable that each generation will think themselves more enlightened than the last (ie. “Can you remember when people were concerned about writing days of the week on underwear? How silly.”), but I don’t think it is inevitably true. And even if we are more enlightened than the last generation, it’s not inevitable that the next generation, while thinking themselves more enlightened (ie. “Can you remember when people were worried about teens promoting themselves as sex object? How silly.”), will be right.

  • dduck

    Remember hot pants? Well some were so skimpy that we called them quackers (you figure it out).
    This stuff goes through phases as many of you flappers will recall. Young girls and boys are struggling to establish identities and are prone to be lemmings. Many even survive to semi-adulthood.

  • KP

    adelinesdad – well said.

    There does seem to be a pendulum that swings back and forth. Thin ties, fat ties, back to thin ties. Tats, no tats. Hairstyles. Recall, no bra was pretty common in the 60s and 70s in SoCal where I lived. Some of them run ten years and some a hundred years.

    I sure do appreciate your concern. I remember it well. Your daughter is fortunate to have you as a parent and guide.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    ditto what KP said to Adelinesdad. And Zusai, great insight. There’s a saying, that if you have to say it, advertise it, you might not ‘got it.’ At the gym, I cant begin to tell you how true that is for some few. lol. I know you know what I mean KP.

  • petew

    I don’t know if one generation is ever completely inferior or superior to one that went before. Many of the basic issues are present in different ways and in different contexts, and often it takes two steps forward to overcome one step backwards.

    I once asked a friend of mine if he thought our generation was more moral or more wise than those before. He stated simply, “in some ways we are better off, and in some ways we are not.” of course this may be overly simplistic, but so may be our notion that we are gradually becoming more wise and more enlightened than our grandparents—and of course many specific instances might reveal a completely opposite conclusion. Does anyone share my admiration of the song, “Teach your Children Well,” by Crosby Stills and Nash?

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    I do, PeteW. Also, Turn, Turn, Turn/ For Everything There is a Season. Wisdom song based on holy words.

    Thanks Sean for giving our commenters opportunity to have such a wide ranging discussion. It has been interesting from all points.

  • adelinesdad

    Thanks KP and Dr. E.

  • zusa1

    Sean, I agree with Dr. E that this has been an interesting thread. Thank you.

  • KP

    petew: “Does anyone share my admiration of the song, “Teach your Children Well,” by Crosby Stills and Nash?”

    That song, and even more, the entire 1970 album by CSNY, “Deja Vu” is a favorite.

    Other tracks: Carry On // Woodstock // Almost Cut My Hair // Our House // Helpless …

    Great pull.

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