Struggle for the Breeches: Pants, Women, and Power

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Fashion #3 of 4. Get Show Notes & a complete transcript at digpodcast.org. Who wears the pants in this relationship? If someone asks you this question, you probably understand what they mean. Who is the dominant one in the relationship? Who holds the power, the influence, the final say? From its earliest utterances, it was intended to challenge women who dared to seize too much autonomy in social relationships, and to shame men who failed to exert their dominance over women per the expectations of ‘manliness.’ Is that what people today are implying when they jokingly ask about pants in a relationship? Probably not. It is certainly possible. This is still a patriarchal world, after all. But seriously… why pants? Why do pants carry such weight? Why not a pocket watch? Or a bowler cap? Why not “who has the penis in this relationship” if that’s what you really mean? Why pants? The answer is a lot of things. Penises and pocket watches might be symbols of manliness as well, but few articles of clothing have so fraught a history as pants, particularly for defining gender, displaying manliness, and indicating dominance. Today we’re talking about pants; we’re barely going to scratch the surface, but in the end, you’ll at least know why pants are such a big deal when discussing relations between men and women.