The Consent Revolution, One V-String Thong at a Time

By now, you have probably heard about the Pink Loves Consent prank. And if not, here’s the rundown…

Last week, Baltimore based feminists hi-jacked Victoria’s Secret’s brand to promote something very different from panties and push-up bras. The panty prank promoted the website where hundreds of thousands of people saw Victoria’s Secret’s image “promoting consent to fight rape.”

Consent is a verbal agreement about how and when people are comfortable having sex.  The fake site sports panties reading consent slogans, such as “Ask First” or “No means No.” On the “Then and Now” page, the parody says “Then we loves styles that were all about rape culture.  Now we love styles that are all about consent.  Catch changes hitting stores this holiday season!”

The organizers of PINK loves CONSENT are none other than FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture , who believe the idea of consent should  be as mainstream and common as wearing a condom. Just like pausing to put on a condom prevents STD’s, pausing to check in with your partner prevents unwanted sexual experiences. The project was designed to create a culture where the sexual empowerment of women is more pervasive than the sexual violation.  Our hope is for the practice of consent show up in the bedroom just as much as ‘V-string’ thongs.

Photo by Philip Laubner

The rationale was this: when promoting sexual health and social justice, the audience can become small. If we artists and activists aren’t strategic, we wind up preaching to the choir. So, if consent needs to be a mainstream idea, we thought, how better to make it that way than to talk directly to the mainstream, through Victoria’s Secret?

Photo by Philip Laubner

The panty prank got an overwhelmingly positive response.  In two days, this site had over 200,000 hits. The stunt was written up in the Huffington Post, Jezebel, The Daily Beast, New York Daily News, New York Magazine and BUST to name a few. EVERYONE was talking about it on social media.  High school and college aged students blogged and reblogged the story like crazy. International consent enthusiasts tweeted positive declarations about why they #loveconsent.  And during the broadcast of the annual Fashion Show the #victoriassecret hashtag was successfully hi-jacked to promote #loveconsent more than the #vsfashionshow.

When the national Panty Drop was announced, our Facebook “likes” tipped over 5,000.

The most exciting part was that all of the attention was, and still is, generating a real conversation about consent. A festive photo posted on the Love Consent Facebook wall stating “Mistletoe Loves Consent” has been shared, liked, and viewed by hundreds of people. Users are posting questions and answers about sex and consent, and having debates about what consent is. One facebook user posted “If a gal gives you a bj, is that consent for going all the way?”.  Immediately others responded with the message “no. consent to oral sex is not consent to vaginal penetration! always ask!”

How did this project go THIS viral? And why?

When the project was first launched, people found it perfectly believable that Victoria’s Secret would design a socially-responsive and responsible line of undies like these, and even that they would use real models.

Photo by Philip Laubner

And why shouldn’t they? After commercial campaigns like Dove Real Beauty, activist efforts like Slutwalk, and the outpouring of outraged responses to Republican comments about legitimate and forcible rape, it is clear that there is a public demand, and a need, for a different attitude about rape culture and sexuality. Right now, there is a market for consent.

Even after we released who was behind the spoof, people on social media were wishing the campaign was real. They quickly picked up on the fact that when Victoria’s Secret fights PINK Loves Consent, they are literally resisting the awesome consent revolution that sprouted up around the project.

Since everyone wanted to know how to get their own, we made this DIY Guide to making Consent Panties , this Consent Pocket Guide, and shared the stencils we used to make our underwear.

Colleges and anti-violence organizations are in the process of making their own consent undies as we speak. Sexual Health Innovations will be giving their spin on the panties as a reward for their Indiegogo Campaign (going on now!)

A few bloggers are speculating whether, in fact, Victoria’s Secret that is behind PINK Loves Consent. After all, how could a couple of feminists do a project like this with no money and no corporate support? With all volunteers? And a budget of a few hundred dollars?

How can a few people with little money make such a large impact?  The answer to that reveals the other reason that the consent internet revolution has been so inspiring to so many people.

The images we see on TV, in magazines, and in the marginal-google-ads are so common we’ve stopped picking up on what’s wrong. We’re so inundated with a pop culture that is not responsive to the needs and health of our bodies we have long forgotten the disconnect.  The catalogue of air-brushed angels is not an image to revolt against, but rather feels like something that always has been and always will be.  It is easy to feel intimidated by a large corporation like Victoria’s Secret.  They have so much power, so much money, so much persuasion who are we to knock at their door?  But, remember, they need us more than we need them.  Pink Loves Consent shows that popular culture is not always the same as popular support.  That people want something different and deeper than what they are being sold.  And, more importantly, they are ready for it!

It is our job as people with ideas, as artists, and as activists, to find ways to share information as strategically as we can. If culture is going to change, our message has to reach beyond our supporters.  It has to reach people it has not reached yet.  No one will hand over the oppurtunity to do that. We have to take the opportunity. More than that we have to create it. Small groups can upset the dominant culture.  We can change the conversation.  Pink love Consent started with a handful of artist/ activists and grew from there.  And, it would have been nothing without the hundreds of thousands of clicks, the rush of Facebook users, the outpouring about #loveconsent on twitter and the overwhelming number of posts and reposts on Tumblr.

This project relied on social media, visual culture, and the internet to make a conversation about consent go viral. The systems we are using are flawed (you can read more about how our social media has been handled by Facebook, twitter, and Pinterest here) – but there always ways to hack your way in.

Wherever the project winds up next, consent won. We got #loveconsent in the top tweets during the #vsfashion show. We created a viral and long conversation about consent. We got hundreds of thousands of people talking about sex and empowerment on the internet.

For Pink Loves Consent, the question remains.. where should consent go next? How can we keep it in the mainstream? Send where you’d like to see consent to, tweet about it #loveconsent, and post on our facebook wall: