Yesterday I decided to participate in the No Pants Subway Ride. Now in it's 13th year, it is literally what it sounds like: riding the subway... without pants (followed by a kick-ass, pants-free after party).
From the Improv Everywhere website:
The No Pants Subway Ride is an annual event staged by Improv Everywhere every January in New York City. The mission started as a small prank with seven guys and has grown into an international celebration of silliness, with dozens of cities around the world participating each year. The idea behind No Pants is simple: Random passengers board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants. The participants do not behave as if they know each other, and they all wear winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. The only unusual thing is their lack of pants.I have a pretty decent level of self esteem. Despite having gained about 15 pounds (okay, probably more like 20) in the past year or two, I'm actually okay with my body for the most part. I'd much rather sit on the couch eating pizza than diet or exercise, so I don't mind that I am currently at my heaviest weight ever (except for when I was pregnant with my daughter). But wearing my underwear in front of everyone in Manhattan... that's not something I ever thought I would do.
A few days ago, when my friend sent me a message that said "Hey bro, this Sunday is the No pants Subway Ride" (yes, he calls me "bro") I was hesitant at first. He scolded me for being stupid and here we are...
After 13 years, at this size and this level of notoriety, it's not exactly "performance art" anymore so much as just an excuse to be silly on the subway. But that's okay. The day of the event I saw a lot of people posting on Facebook about how it's stupid and just an excuse for attention-seeking hipsters to be risque. I can't really say they're that wrong. It's hardly still a "prank" when the news is reporting about it beforehand. However, it's become a part of the crazy city that is New York (although it does take place all over the world). One of the things I love so much about New York is that there are people who come up with bizarre ideas like this and then even more people (thousands) who actually participate in it. I'm not going to defend the event as being "important" or "meaningful" because although I found my own personal meaning in it, the only actual purpose of the event is to just be silly and have fun.
What I did find myself defending though, was the right for women to wear their underwear in the subway without being subjected to harassment. In the midst of a lighthearted conversation online about whether the event was performance art or just hipster stupidity, a few people made some comments that really pissed me off. It was suggested that the same women who participate in this event will probably claim sexual harassment sometime this year and that stunts like this trigger harassment.
That logic makes no sense to me at all. If I wear my underwear on the subway on January 12, I'm not allowed to feel sexually harassed by something else later in the year? I replied that it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing, she still shouldn't be harassed. I should be allowed to walk around in my underwear every day and not be harassed. As a woman, I unfortunately don't have the privilege of wearing what I want in public without being harassed or raped with the excuse that I was "asking for it". Joining in with a large coed group, I benefited from their collective privilege and protection.
If someone is "triggered" by seeing someone in their underwear then that's their problem. Do I have to be fully clothed on the beach for fear of harassment? Am I not allowed to wear short skirts? I've been harassed on the street/subway/etc in a t-shirt and sweatpants. Did that trigger people? It basically amounts to "don't be female in public" which is offensive because it puts the responsibility on women to live their lives in constant fear, instead of where it belongs: on harassers and rapists. Taking your pants off on the subway is stupid for sure, but if you can't handle seeing a woman in her underwear then that's your problem, not hers.
There was also a lot of criticism of the event, that suggested that it's inappropriate for children to see people in their underwear on the subway. OMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN! I call bullshit. Are you afraid to take your kids to the beach or pool? Most of the people I saw were way more covered up than they would be there. I don't understand the hysteria that people have in response to a little skin. I feel sorry for anyone who is teaching their children that their bodies are shameful. I'm sure there were some people behaving inappropriately in their undies, but I sure didn't see it and that wasn't the point of the event. (There are always going to be a few people who use any excuse to act like assholes, but those are the people who are usually assholes no matter what they're doing so you can't blame the event.)
I certainly never expected to find myself defending whether or not the event was feminist. Truthfully, it most certainly isn't. It was organized by men as a prank and never had any feminist intentions. In fact, you can even argue that it's sexually exploitative. However, I realized that roaming around the city in your underwear can be a feminist act. It was a feminist act when we did it for SlutWalk NYC a few years back. (Although technically I wasn't one of them. I wore an Evil Slutopia t-shirt.) Sending the message that it's okay to wear what I want to wear is important, even in this stupid context. It's also worth reminding people that it is legal go without pants in New York. In fact, it's legal to go topless in public places too, but I probably won't be trying that one out this year.
More importantly, having the guts to show off your imperfections in public is definitely feminist. It's scary, but pushing through that fear is empowering. I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the participants on the subway. Such a range of ages, races, orientations, and sizes. At first I was really uneasy about going out of my comfort zone to do this, but seeing so many men and women much larger than me walk around with pride made me realize I was being stupid.
I've been participating in the #365feministselfie challenge this year because loving yourself, flaws and all, is a feminist act. It's scary to put yourself out there like that but self-love and celebrating who you are - even your imperfections - is worth it. Yesterday's selfie was possibly the hardest one to post yet... but here it is...
I went to the No Pants Subway Ride partly as personal challenge and partly as an excuse to have fun with my friends. I ended up finding deeper meaning in this, despite how frivolous and stupid the event is on the surface. I had a great time... especially at the after party, where I danced the night away with old friends and new friends... in my underwear.