Through crits in college, the idea of using underwear to communicate something related to the gender binary was suggested. After experimenting with photographing clothing, this idea became more appealing. So, I decided that I would combine half of women’s pants with half of men’s, and see what responses I would receive.
Here are some of my ideas; I tried to think of ways that I could use photography and film too, as these are my typical mediums to work in:
I went into town and searched both charity shops and high street stores, focusing on reduced pairs. I wanted the female pants to look very effeminate and the male pants to look very masculine. However I looked for similar-looking ones as well. It was difficult because of the sizes varying and the cost.
It took me longer than I had preferred to attach the pants, mainly due to the pinning process and figuring out whether I should attach them at the crotch or waistband. I decided on the crotch because it meant connecting them would be better and easier, and I thought it would be interesting to see how high the waistband is on the boxers compared to the top of the knickers.
I tried to make the bow overlap a little, to make the garment seem more like a whole piece rather than just two separates. I wanted to communicate the binary visually, yet connect them to show a kind of genderfluidity/otherness to the binary. I also chose to have the patterns reflect their respective feminity/masculinity, though also to have the colours match a little. I wanted this comparison but also jointness, to show that it is not simply ‘two’ but ‘one’.
I had other pairs that I wanted to sew together but I lacked the time, so the weekend after creating one pair I showed them to my friends and asked for their responses on what they first of all identified, and what they thought the message was that they were trying to convey…
Below are the majority of their responses, and ideas once I told them about my own ideas and thoughts…
The responses were focused mainly on binary genders, so looking at the pants as a comparison, or/and man & woman. The fact that the pants are joined in the centre and so are side-by-side in this way no doubt contributes to how they are viewed as a comparative piece. Responses received were ones such as ‘marriage’ and comparisons of how ladies’ are laced and decorated whereas mens’ are plainer. So although the subject of ‘gender’ was uncovered, it still wasn’t quite what I wanted to communicate, so I knew I needed to do something different, to give them less of a comparative message.
My friends pointed out that they were only 1 specific age group, young adults, and so that I might want to question younger/older people. I had wanted to question my grandmother, but did not get the opportunity to. However I showed the pants to my mother, father and younger sister; my sister pretty much got the message, although she is 15 and knows that gender is something I am passionate about. My mother and father arguably do also, but understand it to a lesser extent. My mother thought that it was more of a comparison, but still thought that it would be about somebody who doesn’t want to wear just male or female underwear/clothing. My father simply said “Men and women”, which also wasn’t completely incorrect but wasn’t close enough to the actual message.
I thought of further ideas for if I didn’t think that the pants would work: a set of posters featuring photography, with the following kinds of statements in order to get the viewer to question this ‘other’…
I then had a tutorial with David, which gave me the chance to get another opinion on the pants I had made and receive suggestions on what to change. Prior to this I showed my classmates who already knew what my essay subject was, and they suggested that I could create some gender-neutral packaging for the pants. The problem with this idea was the lack of time remaining.
The tutorial was extremely helpful, as we came to the conclusion that taking an effeminate element and then placing that on to a masculine pair of pants could work well, as it is less of a comparison and more of a direct blend, creating something which has both masculine and feminine qualities. Arguably it could look more effeminate, due to masculinity blending so much into neutrality, which is why I wanted to use male pants that look especially male. Boxers are slightly more neutral than y-fronts, but I figured if I chose a pattern which were more masculine, boxers could work.
Here are some of my designs to help me visualise the possibilities…
I started by drawing out male and female underwear, which then served as a reference for me to base further design ideas from. I thought about changing the button on boxers to a flower, to changing it to a bow, adding lace to the hems etc. The bottom 3 were what I narrowed down to.
I created a black pair with a small white bow attached, as I figured the simpler the addition of something effeminate the more effective the pants would then be as gender-neutral, rather than female with a boyish look. I also placed the bow on the waistband, as this looked better to me and my mother than placed slightly above or on top of the button. However, I wasn’t sure of the final design. I consulted my mother about them and she felt that they reminded her of girl’s P.E. shorts. I showed her my alternative pair of boxers, which had a different pattern, and she said that they “reminded her much more of men’s boxers, because my dad had a pair like them”. So I decided to not only use this other pair, but to take a bolder coloured bow, which stood out more and was a bit bigger. It was pink, but not a soft baby pink, so I thought this might help with the gender-neutral message.
I presented this on Facebook, and awaited replies. I felt that this pair were much stronger than the black pair, but I presented them both and asked what people thought they meant, and which one they thought was better at communicating..
People got the gist of what the pants were saying before I felt that I had to point out how I had created them, but moreso once I did. I would like to gain more responses from different people, and may present them to my grandmother for instance to see what she thinks. But from these responses, I feel much more confident that they do communicate what I want them to. Perhaps non-binary packaging could give them an extra oomph, but I would need to spend more time doing this in order to test the theory, which I don’t have (due to disability/illness).
Whilst wanting to mainly convey the message of non-binary genders existing, it is also good for the pants to communicate males and females going against binary expectations- especially males, as most male clothing can be seen as gender-neutral, whereas female clothing generally is not seen this way. Until this is made equal, non-binary people will continue to struggle to be seen as something other than a binary gender – e.g. male-bodied seen as trans women, female-bodied seen as female/tomboys. Also the fact that they are undergarments means they are generally not going to be seen by other people, so they are hidden from view just as a gender identity is, and are closer to the body which can be seen as them being a part of the person, generally only removed by the owner or somebody especially close to said person.