It was a stunning realisation and it came to me like a repressed flashback. I must have read the word 'underpants' combined with the word 'shopping' somewhere — perhaps on Twitter or Facebook — and like an involuntary reflex I asked myself: when was the last time you bought yourself a pair of underpants.
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My mind drew a blank. A terrifying blank. Then, an understanding so terrifying that I almost said it aloud, just to make it real. It can't be. Surely.
"I... don't think... I've ever bought myself a pair of underpants before."
Please allow me to introduce myself: my name is Mark Serrels and I'm 32 years old. I lived at home with my parents until the age of 20. Then I moved out for my fourth year of university. Shortly before my graduation a junkie broke into my house and set the place on fire so I was forced to move back home until six months later, when I moved to Japan where I lived for almost two years. During that period I met the woman who would, three years later, become my wife. We've been together ever since.
That was an 'establishing paragraph' and this is what I wanted to establish: I am not a mummy's boy who lived at home until he got married and swapped a doting mother for a wife. I lived alone, in the world, for a very long period of time. The transition was not seamless. It was clunky. I lived life, I travelled; I experienced things.
I just never, for some god-forsaken reason, took it upon myself to personally walk into a store and buy myself a pair of underpants.
How did it come to this point?
I made the underpants admission on Facebook last night and the response was, for the most part, one of complete disbelief. How was this possible? How does someone spend 32 years on this planet without purchasing a pair of underpants for himself?
But there was a rogue element. A small percentage of men who started to delve deep into their own souls. They looked inside themselves, they grimaced as they filtered through decades of memories. Soon they made the same realisation.
I was not alone.
Some men buy underpants. They drive to Westfield, they park their cars. They go shopping and on their to-do list is a note that says 'buy underpants' — so of course underpants are often bought by men.
But, for some reason, underpants are something that are often bought for men. They are bought by parents when you're a child and (possibly) a teenager. Then later they are often bought as gifts. Buying a man a three-pack of Bonds or Calvins as a stocking filler is actually quite common. Giving a woman underwear as a gift is a sexualised taboo — in the wrong context it's beyond creepy — but buying underwear for men is as common and harmless as arriving to a house-warming party with a box of chocolates.
Also: for some reason, after a period of time, my girlfriend began buying underpants for me. Not in a sexy kind of way. I'm talking about your bog-standard, functional underpants. She'd come home from the shops and underpants would be nestled in the bag next to whatever other household goods she had acquired during that particular trip. I'm trying to refrain from making any generalisations here, but this was something she clearly saw as her role in the relationship. I have no idea why but, in my own particular pairing, my wife took it upon herself to buy me underwear. It is simply the way it is and has been for the past six years.
No-one likes to think of themselves as a consciously sexist person — including me — but it's difficult to see this situation as anything but a weird piece of institutional sexism in action. Why did my girlfriend subconsciously decide it was her role to replace my mother as 'underwear buyer-in-chief'? Why did I let it happen without protest? Why did it never occur to me to buy purely functional underwear for my wife? In a strange way we are both victims of some weird sexist structures.
Well, I'm not really a victim. I guess I'm a beneficiary. And the benefit is... underpants. Underpants for all! But only if you're a dude.
But here's the thing. Now that I've made myself fully aware of the situation, all I want to do is run to the nearest store and buy some underwear. I want break free of these (under)shackles, I want this world to push forward towards a new horizon of underwear equality.
And hopefully that equals progress. Underpants progress.
Anyone else want to make underwear shopping confessions? We're all ears in the comments.