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Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Women | 15 comments

The War on Victoria’s Secret, A Rejoinder

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My post yesterday received some constructive responses. I feel the need to clarify my position and crystallize my rebuttal of what I will call the “traditionalist” view of sexuality. To begin, I am no defender of Victoria’s Secret; I don’t hide my disdain for corporate advertising. Corporations aren’t concerned with what’s right, they want to make profits and therefore appeal to the irrational appetites, the animal spirits, the vulgar. However, the comment that, “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,” is patently untrue. I find that many of those who oppose Victoria’s Secret do so for reasons I find far more distasteful than the product itself. One such strain of opposition is the traditionalist argument. Consider the quote I began my last piece with: “We really want [our daughters] to be innocent and young as long as possible… and [Victoria’s Secret is] not helping that.” This argument doesn’t help young women, it hurts them. It’s the same argument that keeps sex education out of the schools, it’s the same argument that keeps birth control inaccessible to young women, the same one that leaves young women vulnerable. Similarly, the arguments of Rev. Dolive echos the “Feminine Mystique” Friedan warned of in the early 60s. It never left.

Some feminists, mainly to combat pornography, have formed and unholy alliance with the traditionalists. One father writes:

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.

However, I don’t think the way to combat Victoria’s Secret is to boycott it and force the product off the market (out of sight, out of mind). Rather, I propose what Neil Postman does in his 1985 Amusing Ourselves to Death: media awareness. The traditionalist seeks to limit information, I, following in the footsteps of Mill and other Enlightenment thinkers, prefer to make it more abundant. Prepare teenagers for the media bombard by helping them understand it, not by sheltering them from it. If anything we’ve learned in the past decades psychology is correct (I draw from Pinker on this point) this will be much more successful than control.

Roro80’s writes that:

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.

I don’t subscribe to a particularly numinous view of sex, but I do worry that “commodification” generally hurts women on the lower socioeconomic rungs. However, casual sex may well be a boon to many women and I hardly see myself fit to adjudicate the bedroom. I am skeptical of the claim that sexual encounters are happening any earlier, and I think perpetuating a dichotomy between women in pornography and “real” women is degrading.

There has certainly been a reaction from both the left and right, and factions within both. My article targets one faction, the traditionalists, for opprobrium. I won’t sacrifice Enlightenment values simply because the traditionalists happened to be on the right “side” on one issue. Traditionalists will look for nearly any excuse to roll back the advances of feminism and tell women they have a choice: career or family, boyfriend or school, abstinence or commodification. The traditionalist views are the ones that are truly destructive to women – because they perpetuate the “blame the victim” mindset of rape and sexual violence. That’s the thrust of my article – traditionalists may appear to be on the same side of an issue as feminists, but they never will be.