Please don’t advertise Thinx period underwear as “pussy-grabbing-proof.”

Dear Thinx: Please Don’t Advertise Your Period Underwear as “Pussy-Grabbing-Proof”

Dear Thinx: Please Don’t Advertise Your Period Underwear as “Pussy-Grabbing-Proof”

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 3 2016 4:07 PM

Dear Thinx: Please Don’t Advertise Your Period Underwear as “Pussy-Grabbing-Proof”

thinx_ad
There’s no need to try to capitalize on Donald Trump’s misogyny.

Thinx

Thinx, the pseudo-feminist company that makes period-absorbing underwear and plasters subway cars in beautiful euphemisms, is fighting to get the phrase pussy-grabbing into San Francisco public transit stations.

Christina Cauterucci Christina Cauterucci

Christina Cauterucci is a Slate staff writer.

According to an email Thinx PR head Chelsea Leibow sent to reporters yesterday, the company submitted a new set of ads for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. The campaign plays on the Thinx tagline “period-proof underwear,” advertising “patriarchy-proof,” “glass-ceiling-proof,” and “pussy-grabbing-proof” underthings. BART’s media agency, Intersection, rejected the ad that contained the word pussy, claiming it didn’t meet the advertising guideline that prohibits “words recognized by the community as vulgar, indecent, or profane for display in a public setting that includes minors.”

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Because the word pussy has gotten a lot of play in mainstream media in the weeks since Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” recording was released, Thinx is arguing that it shouldn’t count as lewd language.

“‘Pussy’ is not a profanity,” Thinx’s brand director, Veronica del Rosario, told BART’s media agency in an email,

as not only has it been seen in popular culture in movies or shows like Josie and the Pussycats, in band names like the Pussycat Dolls, in children’s books such as The Owl and the Pussycat (I would thus imagine that children in the presence of the ad would only think of cats), in nature as Pussy Willows ... but it has also been uncensored, printed, and spoken aloud in every major news outlet and network over the past few weeks. Moreover, in this particular scenario, “Pussy-Grabbing” is a colloquialism for sexual assault, which we stand firmly against as an organization.

There’s a lot to unpack in this defense of pasting pussy-grabbing all over the BART system. First of all, pussy-grabbing is fundamentally different from any of the other uses del Rosario presents, because the pussy refers to a vagina, not an animal or a twig covered in fuzzy gray jellybeans, and the grabbing suggests sexual contact. Just because an uncensored phrase has been printed and spoken in news outlets doesn’t mean it’s an OK phrase to broadcast across public transit. I’m more than cool with kids learning and speaking about vaginas, but a derogatory term for vagina and the phrase pussy-grabbing in particular should not be their BART-condoned introduction to the topic.

It also seems like bombarding hundreds of thousands of people with the phrase pussy-grabbing runs counter to the anti–sexual assault message Thinx wants to send. Listening to Donald Trump and reading (or, for some of us, writing) endless stories about his diminishment of sexual assault is emotionally taxing enough; why should we have to see that phrase staring back at us five times in a single commute? Advertising underwear as “pussy-grabbing-proof” implies that there’s something about clothing that can prevent sexual assault, that wearing a certain pair of underwear can—what? Empower a woman enough to fight off a man who tries to grope her? That’s not how underwear or sexual victimization work. Subways are already conspicuous sites of sexual harassment and assault. No one needs that reminder every time they step on a train.

In Thinx’s PR email, CEO Miki Agrawal writes,

for a transit system to deny us usage of a term that has been recycled over & over again this election cycle, on the nightly news, and in countless internet headlines, is a gender issue. … There is power and agency that comes with reclaiming derogatory words aimed at disenfranchised groups. We are only seeking to reclaim a term spoken from a vile misogynist in an effort to give agency to women whom have felt emotionally leveled during this particularly disturbing presidential election.

Here, and in the scuttled ad campaign, Agrawal is using the rhetoric of feminism without fully internalizing its meaning or context. (That seems to be her M.O.) There is no need to reclaim the phrase pussy-grabbing, an irredeemable invocation of sexual violence, in the same way that women have reclaimed cunt or bitch. Internet headlines aren’t using pussy-grabbing to demean women; they’re quoting a bad man to, in most cases, critique the way he’s demeaned women. Like the ill-advised Grab Her by the Brain women’s empowerment organization that sprung up in the wake of the Trump recording, Agrawal is trying to capitalize on a wave of Trump-induced feminist outrage. In doing so, she’s completely undermined its aims.