People were reblogging a photoset titled "Pink Loves Consent," which featured pictures of "regular-looking" girls (not super-thin, Photoshopped supermodels) wearing panties that had the words "Let's Talk About Sex," "No Means No," "I Love My Body" and "Consent Is Sexy" on them. The photos were accompanied by this statement:
PINK loves CONSENT is more than a style. It's a revolution. PINK loves CONSENT is our newest collection of flirty, sexy and powerful statements that remind PINK panty-wearers and their partners to practice CONSENT.
As a woman, I have always been hyper-aware of the scrutiny I get from... well, everyone. Women are watched by men on the street, by other women on the street, and we're targeted in magazines, advertisements, movies, television for beauty products, fashion trends and health (mostly weight-loss) advice. Sexiness has also always been something to strive for. I remember waiting every year for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show because I loved watching models like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks strut their oh-so-very-toned stuff on the runway.
While watching these women, I wished I was like them -- and I always compared their very tall, very thin bodies to mine. As I got older, I realized that although those models can be seen as a symbol of women's liberation (I'm hot and no one can stop me!) a lot has to change in our culture in order for them to not also be seen as purely sexualized forms of womanhood that girls and young women should try to emulate. Feeling sexy and looking sexy are two different things, and in order for women to feel sexy, sex needs to be talked about and negotiated between partners and genders.
I immediately reblogged the photoset and added my own comments, saying how much I loved that Victoria's Secret was promoting a healthy approach to sexuality and body image. After checking out the Pink Loves Consent website and reaching out to them by email (I was really excited), I tweeted about the campaign, shared it on Facebook and told my fellow Women and The Media classmates at NYU about it.
The campaign was going viral. The Tumblr post had 600 notes and counting and on Twitter the hashtags: #PinkLovesConsent and #LoveConsent were yielding a host of opinions, from delighted tweets about how awesome VS is for promoting the campaign to empowering tweets about women's bodies.
— Arielle (@erielleatchells) December 4, 2012
— Priti(@strawbehry0186) December 3, 2012
I soon received an email from Rebecca Nagle from FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a feminist activism effort that promotes awareness about rape culture, informing me that Pink Loves Consent is not an official Victoria's Secret PINK line, but rather an effort by FORCE to promote awareness about rape culture.
Even though I was disappointed that Victoria's Secret wasn't actually promoting this positive image, I was very happy to realize that I had been tricked. I was so impressed that an activist group was able to reach so many people and garner such a positive reaction to a campaign that has to do with women's bodies and sexuality. After an election year in which women's bodies became a figurative stage for what has now been dubbed a "War On Women," it was really encouraging to see women successfully reaching out to other women about how our culture's perception of female sexuality must change.
I got the opportunity to chat with Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato (the duo behind FORCE) and ask them about the Pink Loves Consent campaign:
How did the Pink Loves Consent campaign start?
Nagle: Upsetting Rape Culture actually started as an art exhibition in Baltimore in 2010. After we did that, we wanted to keep working, so the next thing we did is we made a line of underwear called "Consent Is Sexy." We came up with this three-pack of underwear with a set of "No" underwear, "Yes" underwear and "Maybe" underwear, which we thought was a cute way of wearing what you were in the mood for. About a month later, Victoria's Secret came out with this underwear that said "Yes, No, Maybe," but it was all on the same underwear. Instead of saying yes, no or maybe and "I get to decide about what happens to my body," it's like, yes, no, maybe, I don't know.
So instead of "No" being a way for young women to set a boundary, it is a way for them to flirt, which I think is part of this understanding we have in our culture that creates and perpetuates rape. So we were like, wow, this is crazy problematic. So the idea started to do a knock-off of Victoria's Secret PINK line and we decided to time it with the fashion show."
What is rape culture and do you think that VS/Pink promotes it?
Brancato: Rape Culture is all the things that allow rape to seem normal and prevent survivors from being able to speak up and out. Rape Culture is silencing. In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. It includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as "just the way things are."
PINK is specifically marketed towards younger and younger girls, and like the rest of Victoria's Secret, PINK is selling a specific brand of sexuality. VS PINK has co-opted the idea of sexual freedom and twisted it into an image of sexuality in which the woman (or girl) is not really in control. The "Sure Thing" and "Yes, No, Maybe" and "NO peeking" underwear promote the idea of limitless availability, or on the other hand, leaving the choice up to the (presumably male) partner. The brand teaches girls to be coy instead of vocal and makes it seem uncool and unsexy to say no and mean it. By re-enforcing that sex is about an image, that looking good is more important than feeling good, PINK promotes rape culture."
Nagle: What is promoted as sexy, what it means to be a sexy woman is an image. The Victoria's Secret model is the quintessential image that comes to mind, like an Angel in a pushup bra. What does this have to do with my sexuality and pleasure? What does this image have to do with my relationships? Nothing.
Rape culture is complicated. When you see it, you don't always recognize it. For example, women are supposed to say no, are supposed to resist men's sexual advances, and that's their role in the flirtation game. And men are always supposed to get what they can. It's interesting, we did a consent workshop in a college recently and one of the men in the room had a really interesting comment about consent. He said, "I'm told as a man that if a woman says no to me, I'm supposed to keep asking her, instead of just hearing the no." We've created an environment in which women aren't supposed to own their sexuality in that way. It's more for the taking than for the having.
What were some of your favorite reactions to the Pink Loves Campaign?
Brancato: I was excited about the employees of VS that were proud to be part of the company when they found out about the campaign. I was excited about the teenage girls that were exuberant about the idea that VS would promote such a positive idea. I was glad to provide a counter to the negative Tweets about body image during the fashion show, and that the #loveconsent army was tweeting back at people about how different kinds of bodies are beautiful. People were ready for the conversation and just seeing the string of comments about why people love consent -- a substantial conversation about sex and sexuality on Twitter -- has been really exciting.
One reason why the Pink Loves Consent campaign caught my -- and many other people's -- attention was because of the diverse models that were part of the project. One model, Brittany Elizabeth, is featured on the front page of the campaign's website and Twitter.
"Pink Loves Consent holds a special place in my heart," Elizabeth says. "This year -- when they decided to set up the Loves Consent website -- it was really exciting for me."
Elizabeth says that seeing her picture and the campaign go viral was overwhelming. Although she had her reservations about being online in her underwear, she says that she was happy to be a part of it. "It's so much bigger than me," Elizabeth explains. "I'm extremely ecstatic that it happened. People of different body types should be able to be proud of their bodies. It was really empowering."
See photos of the awesome women in the Pink Loves Consent campaign below and learn more about rape culture and FORCE here.
Follow Erica Cheung on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nakedartichokes