Twitter

Follow me on Twitter (@DCThome) and Facebook.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No panties, my ass

I have been informed that it would be unwise to use the word “panties” in Fast Lane.

Panties.

First, a female editor I work with told me:

One of the things that I never liked about some of John Updike’s writing is that he tried to write as a woman. I don’t think it worked very well for him. In fact, I remember talking about Updike in a lit class in college and most of the men liked the book and the women didn’t (I think it was “S.”). The reason? One of the women said that when Updike called women’s underwear “panties,” it gave him away cuz that’s a decidedly male term. We all agreed that women never use the word “panties” and just call it underwear or underpants.

Then I asked my other editor, my wife, for a second opinion, and she told me “panties” is juvenile: “It’s what little girls wear.”

That sent me directly to my most recent Victoria Secret catalog. (Yes, VC sends me several of these a year, and it’s not a bad investment on their part.) I turned to my favorite spread—the one where they show mostly panties—and saw words like “brief,” “V-string,” “bikini” and, of course, “thong.”

And “panties.”

You’ve got your Hipster Panties, your Stretch Mesh Panties, your Signature Cotton Panties, your Secret Pink Panties and your ever-popular (I’m sure) Brazilian String Panties.

In fact, “panties” was the most common term for women’s underwear—and there was not a single depiction of anyone who might be confused for a “little girl.”

I was subsequently informed that this is because VC is aimed not at women, but at men.

What to conclude, then, when a Google search for “panties on sale” produces a Shopzilla screen that promises “great deals on panties,” followed by links not only to VC’s Sexy Little Things Satin Lace-up Hiphuggers, but also to Elle Macpherson Momamia Bikini Panties, Stretch Cotton Hicut Panties from Sears, Vanity Fair Caress Cotton Hi-Cut Brief—a smooth hi-cut panty, Regular Nylon Hi-Cut Panties from Land’s End and Hanes Women's Perfect Panty Opaque Hi-Cuts, 2-Pack?

I don't know about those Sexy Little Things and Elle Macphersons, but I guarantee you the target audience for the others was definitely not men.

None of the five women in my writer’s group objected to “panties” in the hottest of Fast Lane’s sex scenes, but if it’s not cool to use it, the word dies. A search found it lurking six times in the manuscript, including one in which Lara is being sarcastic.

And so I have some decisions to make. Just what kind of panties are Lara—and other women—taking off when they're about to get it on? I’ll have to do more research—lots more research, in fact—but I can tell you one thing: Those Vanity Fair and Land’s End briefs, comfortable though they may be, are not in the running

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just shows that some women can get their panties in a wad over nothing.

Donna McDonald said...

I read John Updike. Trust me, it was not the word "panties" that put women off. It was his horrendous descriptions of having sex. My literature professor called romance novels "heaving bosoms books" and was extremely degrading about their value. Yet Updike and his "fat folds" was better? Please. If I had his address today, I would send him a box of my romance novels and copies of my reviews.

"Panties" is delicate name for the clothing which is why VS uses it and why women have "panty drawers" in their dressers. But it also is what JC Penney and WalMart calls them. And it is what little girls most usually call their underwear because you have to go through the "boys wear briefs with a hole in the front" and "girls wear panties to cover their..." with every three or four-year old.

"Underwear" is not a delicate. Underwear can be shed, discarded, stripped off, etc. Panties would more likely be removed and folded. A delicate woman would wear panties and a man would remove them or destroy them in the removing process. Underwear has less importance and just becomes something in the way of meeting a larger need. Most adult women do use both terms, but the connotation is different and dependent upon circumstances.

Best of luck.

Anna J. McIntyre said...

Your post got me to thinking...I used the word "panties" - and I'm a woman writer.

The word stays in.....yet the panties eventually come off. ;)

Kat Sheridan said...

People get their panties in a bunch over the dangdest things. They need to just pull up their big-girl panties and deal with it.

I think "underwear" calls to mind something boring and utilitarian. UGH! Why not be more specific than "panties"? A pink scrap of lace no bigger than his hand. Red silk barely covering her [whatever level of explictness you use, from "secret garden" to "pudenda" to "crotch"]. A barely-there blue thong that slid easily down her thighs. Be more specific and avoid the word altogehter.

And it depends on the POV you're writing in. SHE might think underwear, but HE'S going to think panties, and your editor should know that.

Makes me glad I write historicals. I just say "unmentionables" and leave it at that.

originaloflaura said...

I think the objection is to the way in which the term "panties" is being used. When women are talking about getting dressed, they will probably say "Let me at least put on some underwear!" if someone is rushing them, for instance. It's used with regards to the utility of the piece of clothing, not with regard to its sex appeal (or lack thereof). If, however, a woman is going shopping (as per your Victoria's Secret catalog, for instance), she might prefer the term "panties," as it helps to designate the type of underwear she is looking for. Panties are definitely going to conjure up more of an image of frilly, frivolous undergarments than "underwear," which is a much more generic term. And, yes, panties come in many varieties, too, which is also why some women may prefer to use a more specific term like "thong" or "hipster" instead of "panties." If you've read any women's fiction, you will probably notice that women are very particular about the articles of clothing they wear; this is probably also why "panties" outs you as a male writer, since it implies there is no difference between thongs you'd wear on a hot date and the old, holey comfortable pair you rock when you're alone in your apartment eating ice cream and watching trashy TV!

Tara Mills said...

I vote for panties. I love the word. It sounds prettier than simply underwear. Underwear is utilitarian, boring cotton for those unpleasant days of the month. It's nice to retire those and go back to sexy panties again. Which would a woman want to be caught wearing when they undress for a man? Panties, of course.

Dave Thome said...

Thanks, Tara. Of course a man is going to focus on the "undressing" part more than what the undergarments are called. But the woman has to be in
the mood, too!