News: The Case of the Missing Men's Underwear: Is Steampunk Sexist?

The Case of the Missing Men's Underwear: Is Steampunk Sexist?

I recently set out to do a roundup post on the state of Steampunk underwear, but what I found surprised me: There wasn't any men's underwear! Did I accidentally stumble onto sexism in Steampunk?

Before we move on to men's clothing, let's, ahem, cover women.

There was an absolute glut of ridiculous "Steampunk" underwear for women, many of which could only qualify as Steampunk if you squint and wish. For example, this little number is Steampunk because... it has leather straps?

Image via

I don't think they're really made of leather, either... I think they're faux leather. However, there were plenty of examples of underwear that felt a little more Steampunk both in concept and design. For example, this little combination:

It's a sexy blend of Victorian and modern styles, and does a pretty good job of hitting the "Steampunk" button, so to speak. There are even more modern, practical styles for women who want a little Steampunk flair, but don't want to sacrifice comfort.

And then don't forget the recent Victorian-inspired line from Victoria's Secret! That show made huge waves in the Steampunk community a few years ago and, while it looked like a lot of fun, it wasn't exactly underwear. More like outerwear.

Try to fit huge clockwork wings under your clothes, I dare you.

In far less abundance is underwear inspired by the actual Victorian era, such as the ones worn by the lady below. It's modest, cute, and will probably look good on nearly anyone.

Look at the wonderful range of underwear available to Steampunk women! There's a style to fit everyone, from folks who want to show off their bodies, to people who prefer a more modest approach. It's great to have such diversity available, isn't it?

Which is why I was so sad when it came time to search for men's underwear. When I did a Google search for "Steampunk men's underwear", I got pages and pages of women's underwear, and exactly one picture of men's underwear. This was it:

Yup. It's a completely modern pair of boxers that say "I heart Steampunk". It wasn't until I started doing searches for really specific things like, "Steampunk boxers" that I got any other results.

For example, apparently there's a company that will screen print a mechanical owl on any underwear that you want, as there were several examples of boxers and boxer-briefs with the same owl printed on them. No gears or anything, just owls.

Well, okay. We're getting there, I suppose.

Unfortunately, that was all I could find. Where was all the sexy Steampunk underwear for men? Where were the men in sexy poses in their underwear? Nowhere, that's where. Not even a single sock garter to be seen.

So what went wrong, here? Why is there such a lack of men's underwear in Steampunk? There's plenty of regularly sexy underwear for men, such as bikini briefs and even thongs. Men's underwear in general is rife with sexy-looking men. When I go underwear shopping in the department store, every single package of underwear has ridiculously muscular men rocking a pair of underwear with more sex appeal than I could ever hope to muster. Why can't I find that in Steampunk?

To try to answer that question, let's first take a look at Victorian underwear for men.

During the Victorian era, women had a plethora of underwear, most of it they were required to wear all at the same time. Still, it was often frilly and feminine. Men had pretty much one option, depending on when in the Victorian era we're talking about.

In the first half of the 19th century, when we talk about men's underwear we're generally talking about loose boxers that would have been tied with a drawstring. They usually had a hole in the crotch, too, for easy access. In fact, they weren't all that different from the boxers of today, except that they had no elastic. So I'm a little surprised that I didn't see any photos of Steampunk men wearing drawstring boxers, but okay. I'm willing to let that one slide, considering how close that underwear was to regular boxers.

However, in the second half of the 19th century we saw the rise of the union suit. Yes, the humble union suit. It was called "union" because it was all one piece, joining the top and bottom halves into one glorious whole. In fact, here's a picture of Victorian men wearing union suits:

Sure, it looks vaguely like the above gentlemen are about to be shot out of a cannon, or fly through their air with the greatest of ease on a trapeze, but at least we're getting somewhere, right? In addition, when I did a Google search for union suits, I finally, for the first time, found sexy man underwear!

Granted, it was coupled by a ton of men looking utterly ridiculous in their union suits, but at least it was something! Interestingly, the union suit started out as women's underwear, but gained popularity among men until it was the most common form of men's underwear for many decades.

Union suits also have a buttoned flap in the back, so that you don't have to take the whole damned thing off in order to poop. Now we sort of look at union suits as silly or comedic, but they were all the rage during the Victorian era.

And yet I didn't find a single one when I did a search for "Steampunk underwear". Even Gentleman's Emporium, which has the name Gentleman in the title, features a nice selection of women's underwear, but none for men.

What gives, Steampunk? I'd like to say that this is just a representation of the larger inequality between the sexes, but as I mentioned earlier, there's plenty of sexy underwear for men available in mainstream stores.

So is Steampunk sexist? Unfortunately, I have to say yes. That isn't to say that Steampunks discriminate against women; quite the opposite. Every group has a few bad apples, but on the whole, I've never met a nicer, more considerate group, and active sexism is, pardon the pun, a thing of the past.

That said, women are clearly sexualized in Steampunk. Do a search anywhere for "Steampunk woman", and the vast majority of images that come up will be highly sexualized, even if they aren't showing off all the goods, so to speak. For example, this is what comes up when you do a Google image search for Steampunk woman:

It's a large image, feel free to click on it and look more closely. It may not even look very sexualized to you, depending on your perspective.

Now look at what comes up when you do an image search for "Steampunk man". I challenge you to find a single photo in this picture that could even remotely be construed as sexualized:

These are both the first sets of results, and are both pretty radically different. Just look at the differences in poses, and in how men and women hold their bodies differently. Look at what parts of each photo are accentuated, and what the focus is.

One of the very first things you should notice is how many photos of men are from the waist up or higher, whereas nearly every single photo of a woman is at least from the thighs up. In fact, let's do some quick metrics based on these photos.

  • Total image results on first page of "Steampunk woman" search: 64
  • Total images results on first page of "Steampunk man" search: 57
  • Full-body pictures of women: 38
  • Full-body pictures of men: 22 (several were robots, but I counted them anyway)
  • 3/4-length pictures of women (thighs up): 15
  • 3/4-length pictures of men (thighs up): 9
  • Half-body pictures of women (waist up): 4
  • Half-body pictures of men (waist up): 5
  • Portrait pictures of women (chest up): 3
  • Portrait pictures of men (chest up): 9
  • Exposed chests of women: 16
  • Exposed chests of men: 0
  • Rear shots of women (or with visible buttocks): 8
  • Rear shots of men (or with visible buttocks): 3

I hope that this quick look at the metrics of the Google results tells a better story than my non-numerical assertions. Of particular note is that there are three times as many portrait shots of men as there are of women (because clearly a woman's worth isn't in her face). I also hope you found the numbers of chests and butts instructive, too, for those of you who didn't see anything sexist about the above collection of pictures of women.

You can blame this on mainstream media all you'd like, but as a countercultural movement, we should be better than this. I used Google because it was the easiest, most visual example, but you'll find more or less the same distribution across any image sites out there.

So is Steampunk sexist? Sadly, yes. Is it worse than any other variety of fandom? Maybe, but probably not. Does that make it okay? Absolutely not.

If you're offended by this, good. You should be, because it's offensive. Let's turn that anger into action, okay?

The first thing women can do is to stop emulating Hollywood movie posters and book covers, and not pose like a ridiculous, contorted wreck. Author Jim Hines does a great job of drawing attention to this practice:

The first thing men can do is to be more sexy! Don't be afraid to embrace your sexiness and show off your butt, or your chest, or whatever. It won't suddenly make you gay, I promise. If you take pictures showing your (clothed) butt and suddenly find yourself having sex with another man, you can call me and complain. Unless you enjoy it, in which case, you're welcome.

Let's all work together to try to make things a little bit more even!

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Photos by Chrisst Complex, SailorFran, FAF Lingerie, Brasky, Proxima, Cafe Press, Phoenix Compost, Briefly Sited, and Karl'sfriend.

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So, Austin, shall we start planning the SteamHunk calendar?

I'm for it! We should equally sexualize men, if we want to be fair. Where's the "Men of Steampunk" paraphernalia?

Though I think that the name Steamhunk is copyrighted by Matt Silva.

I think it is a marvelous idea. I'll see if I can talk my Wife into a photo shoot this afternoon. Look out Internet, here comes some glamour shots of a portly, middle-aged, spotty man wearing little more than goggles and a smile!

My regrets, but the Wife has passed on the project. Her exact words were "Haven't people suffered enough?"

Actually, we started this calendar project two years ago. It's called Gentlemen of Steampunk. The gal behind the project, Adrianna Von Frisque, has been going through some personal issues, so the project is on hiatus. However, if you are interested in getting the project up off the ground, then please feel free to contact her via myself, or directly via Facebook.

I'd like to see that project come to fruition. What could I do, beyond simply offering encouragement?

I agree. However, might there be room for more than one? Austin, I was thinking about us less than fit, but still hunky older gents....

Of course there's room for more than one! I'm also a less-than-fit older gent, so I wouldn't want to see us get ignored! ;)

Gearhearts Steampunk Glamour Revue Issue #5 was "The Man Issue" (supposedly to reward all those ladies of steam who had been sharing their charms to that point), but sadly, the very same phenom existed therein as well. Every man, to the last, was FULLY clothed, neck to ankle!

Sure they looked damned good, but their level of exposure was nowhere as bare or saucy as that of the lasses that are featured the rest of the time...

I don't understand it, alas...

Image via

Haha, love the Jim Hines photo! I'd really enjoy seeing some more sexy male steampunk too... ;) I feel like this is an encompassing problem as it's seen in the video game industry also. All the main characters seem to be buff men and/or over-sexualized females. Why can't the main characters be equally sexualized? Would make them less flat and more interesting to say the least!

Agreed! Now, granted, this is actually a fairly serious issue that I've made light of, but I believe that even in jest, it's important to bring these things to people's attention. You're more likely to catch flies with honey than with vinegar!

I usually end up shirtless and in a kilt towards the later hours at most steampunk events. Not entirely sure how it happens, but it does.

Shirtless? not for this guy - wasn't bad 10 years ago, not good for nobody today! Working on it, of course but these things take time. Kilted? Always! Me legs are pretty damn good, If I say so myself.

I'ma gonna see what I can fire up as some non model steamboys.

I think it is because much more women sew and weare costumes than man. Also a pretty steampunk lady is much more decorative than a man. If more men would create outfits, you could see more pictures...

So keep on working guys!

here is one more male picture... ;)

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