Skarlet and the Bunny go to the Mall, wherein they find much ado about nothing

[ed note: like everything prior to 2006 on this site, this one dates back to, as you probably guessed from the title. Quoted articles are from the Washington Post but I’m having trouble finding the links again. The post goes on an excessive length because a linkback from had provoked an exciting series of exchanges between readers in the comments – sadly now lost]

Victoria’s Secret renovated their storefronts and placed provocative mannequins in the windows. Outrage ensued and a protest, boycott and picketline were announced for the day. This made the Bunny and I….really want to go shopping.

So today the Bunny and I spent 5 hours at Tyson’s Corner Mall, without a single incident. Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Our plan was to meet for coffee before the mall opened, scope out Victoria’s Secret and then prowl the mall. When I first arrived a woman in the parking lot asked me, “What time do you open?”

Having sex on the brain, I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of her question. It seemed rather presumptuous. I stared at her for a moment and then asked for clarification. Turns out, she wasn’t propositioning me at all. She thought I was a MAC cosmetics counter girl and she wanted to know what time the store opened. It was odd. Odder still, since there isn’t a MAC at Tyson’s.

At any rate, we wandered the whole mall and saw many, many luridly dressed mannequins in “suggestive” poses. No one seemed to have a problem with any of those. Not even the ones at the stores specifically targeted at teen and pre-teen girls. Not even at the department store (was it Nordie’s or Lord and Taylor?) where the lingerie section and children’s sections were 3 feet apart (I measured while the Bunny took photos of the mannequin in the thigh-highs and thong thrusting her hips at the children’s mannequins across the aisle).

The window displays of teen/preteen-oriented retailers like Wet Seal (all g-strings on sale!) or Delias (nothing sexual about preteen lowrider jeans with the crotch bleached out!) may not be displayed in a manner that mimics the suburban ideal of a sex shop, but they’re not selling little girls images of ice cream and puppies.

The forbidden is appealling and sex sells. In the case of Victoria’s Secret – sex and a little safe controversy? That’s just got to just be a shareholders (wet) dream.

So far there’s been only a marginal stockprice increase today, and I doubt that’s about this one isolated incident. Limited sales overall are down 2% from last year at this time (even excluding the stores impacted by the hurricanes). If they can fan the flames of this a bit by taking the controversy nationwide, maybe get a boycott going in time for the Christmas shopping season, they could turn things around in no time.

At least for the Tyson’s store, a shot of cheap loud publicity has worked in the short term. There was a long line (52 people when I counted, again while the Bunny took pics) behind a velvet rope of shoppers anxious to enter the store. There was one protestor that I saw. She was holding an index card sized sign that read, Smut Peddlars.

Smut peddlars? They sell underwear. Just like the store directly across the hall from them, Gap Body. And just like at least 2 dozen other stores in that same mall. Abercrombie and Fitch, which has been targeted for years for selling thongs for pre-teens, is also right across the hall – next door to Baby Gap.

Since the initial fracas, the mannequins at VS have now been reposed, but the window displays themselves are not contextually especially racy. The interpretation of the clean, minimalistic, windows at VS as anything like a redlight district is truly in the eye of very imaginative beholders.

The store itself isn’t really even very eyecatching. Had there not been such a crowd they needed a security guard, it would have blended in with the rest of the stores. The store is actually in an area of the mall with a narrow hallway, since the center of that hall is open-air (a railed off opening looking downstairs). Across from the store and on the other side of that opening, the store isn’t really that noticeable. In the bright lights of the mall, the neon isn’t all that eye-catching.

Yes, the windows look more Fredericks than “traditional” Victoria’s Secret – but why isn’t there an outcry about the racy window displays in the Pentagon City Frederick’s store? It’s been there forever and those windows are clearly visible from their prominent corner location and often feature mannequins in highly suggestive poses. The problem at Tyson’s seems to be that they hit a nerve – negative attitudes about the suggestion of girl-girl action with no male participant or viewer as presented in the original displays. Remember, lesbian sex for male voyeuristic pleasure is good.

Lesbians running loose on their own are bad, bad, bad.

Write that down, it will be on the quiz.

As we wandered the mall I made the Bunny stop and eavesdrop on the most promising debate I overheard but the women expressing their outrage were refusing to even go see the windows. Their minds were made up. It turned out to be a boring conversation so we moved on. They’d been told that the window displays heralded the end of civilization and that was good enough for them.

The “what about the children!” hysteria, whether concious or not, sounds mor like a cover. If it offends you personally, say so. Hiding behind “the children” is ridiculous. If they’re too young to be out on their own, then you control where they go and what they see. Those windows only become “dirty” to children when someone tells them they are. You don’t have to take psychology to figure that out. What’s the surest way to spark a child’s interest in something? Tell them it’s bad or wrong or evil and make a production over it. Come to think of it, this is the best way to spread hysteria among adults, to boot. There must be a hundred things a day that society pours into your child’s brain that are confusing or strange to their little minds. And what you tell them how you react, makes much more of an impression than the initial object or image.

If they’re old enough to be at the mall on their own, well, then there’s nothing at the mall they haven’t seen on network TV.

Still don’t like it? Vote with your dollars. Take your business elsewhere. Ban your children from the property. It’s a mall, not the (direct) product of your tax dollars. Hell, if you want to make a ruckus, knock yourselves out, but don’t claim to speak for everyone. Be honest, admit that you personally are offended, that’s your right. Just like it’s my right not to be offended.

Can you imagine what great publicity huge protests would be? The Victoria’s Secret image was getting a bit stodgy and dull. The “fashion show?” A bit of a non-issue these days. The catalog? Costing them a fortune to print and not really boosting their sales much, apparently. A boycott would be a real shot in the arm. Make the place hip and sexy and (safely) transgressive again. You can’t buy rebranding like that. A boycott would be akin to the RIAA slapping warning labels on record albums – which made any album with a parental warning sticker automatically better in the eyes of your average kid.

The show’s over folks.

Time for everyone to go find a new way to teach their kids that female sexuality is bad.

That is, when all is said and done, what’s at stake here: an image of women’s sexuality that is threatening to the straight and narrow. Unless you’re threatened by women, insecure about your own sexuality, or think women are by nature dirty there’s not a lot left to say.

I am not defending the Limited. In fact, I think that the warped body images the Victoria’s Secret catalog pushes are, well, warped and unhealthy. It pains me to defend this company in any way shape or form. But think about it – it’s interesting that when they present women as fluffy pink sex kittens or angels clearly meant for male pleasure it’s a-okay. But make the mannequins lifelike and, quite frankly, powerful and aggressive looking, and it’s suddenly a problem. The problem isn’t the company’s, it’s the viewers.

Tyson’s boosted their traffic (and branded themselves as being highly moral and sensitive to the public), Victoria’s Secret gets tons of free advertising, and capitalism trundled forward. Everybody wins.

I can’t believe I’m defending Victoria’s Secret’s image of women, gender, and sexuality.

The world has turned inside out and the apocalypse is certainly nigh.

I need a drink.

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