Yesterday, young facebook users hi-jacked the social media outlets of Victoria’s Secret to promote something very different from panties and push-up bras. Within ten hours, over 50,000 people visited PinkLovesConsent.com, where they saw Victoria’s Secret’s image “promoting consent to fight rape.”
The satirical website was launched at noon on Monday, December 3. According to the site, “PINK loves CONSENT is our newest collection of flirty, sexy and powerful statements that remind people to practice CONSENT. CONSENT is a verbal agreement about how and when people are comfortable having sex.”
Through Victoria’s Secret’s social media, the concept of consent was cropping up in some unexpected places. The Victoria’s Secret facebook pages were flooded with “I heart consent” posts, excited campus reps were retweeting pinklovesconsent.com, and the “pink hearts” at pinknation.com were declaring their love for “open sex talk.” One employee tweeted, “I am so happy to currently have a job for a company that stands for something so beautiful!! @LoveConsent #victoriassecret #loveconsent” Highschool students were tweeting “I’m loving the new @LoveConsent! Victoria’s secret goes feminist!” At the outset, 100 young facebook users were in one the prank. It just went viral from there.
How did customers respond to the prank? Victoria’s Secret fighting rape? Some people were skeptical, some people were confused, and most people LOVED it.
The email@example.com inbox was flooded with fan mail from over-joyed customers.
“Hey, I just wanted to say that I am really incredibly happy about PINK’s consent line. It’s really encouraging to see mainstream clothing that promotes women’s safety and choice while still being fashionable and letting her feel good about her body. I wasn’t a Victoria’s Secret customer before, but I sure as hell am now
“Dear Anyone who made this happen at VS,
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! As a college student, and as someone who is constantly trying to create awareness of consent and body image awareness, I love this. As someone who is a survivor of assault, I love this. I love this times a million. I am floored, and a proud customer. I will flaunt these the minute I am able to buy them.”
Why should Victoria’s Secret (or anyone) promote consent? To end rape. By the time American women graduate from college 1 in 4 will have been raped. Every 21 hours, a rape occurs on an American college campus. Women are twice as likely to be raped in their lifetime than to develop breast cancer.
Turns out feminist duo FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is behind the campaign. Just last month, on the eve of the last presidential election, the same team projected “Rape Is Rape,” along with stories of survivors, onto the US Capitol Building. FORCE says, “We envision a world where sex is empowering and pleasurable rather than coercive and violent.”
Will Victoria’s Secret take a nod from the customer fan mail and change their styles? Fighting rape would be a major shift for the brand. Though they are a woman-focused company, VS has never taken a stand on any women’s issue. In fact, their current designs seem to lean more toward rape culture than consent. Their PINK brand, marketed at high school and college-aged women, sports thongs with the slogan “SURE THING” printed right over the crotch. Young women across the country are wearing underwear with “SURE THING” literally printed over their vaginas. We can think of one circumstance where a vagina is treated like a “SURE THING”: rape.
So if Victoria’s Secret clearly would NEVER promote consent why use their brand for a consent campaign? The organizers say, “We could write a pamphlet about consent. In fact, we have written and distributed pamphlets about consent. But how many people are reading pamphlets about sexual practices and how many people are reading facebook post about Victoria’s Secret? Consent needs to become a mainstream idea. Condoms became a mainstream idea in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Just like pausing to put on a condom prevents the spread of STDs, pausing to check in with you partner prevents unwanted sexual experiences.
Social media is becoming a tool for social change. We have seen the role of social media in revolution in the Arab Spring, but change Victoria’s Secret? “Probably not,” says the organizers. “We’re not about taking Victoria’s Secret down. We are about changing the conversation. The sexiness that is being sold to women by Victoria’s Secret is not actually about sex. It is not how to have sex, relationships or orgasms. It in an IMAGE of what it is to be sexy. So while we are sold cleavage, white teeth, clear skin and perfect hair no one is asking us how our bodies feel and what we desire. Victoria’s Secret owns the image of female sexuality, instead of women owning their own sexuality.”
As the project went viral, some saw right through the shenanigans. Many who knew it was a prank openly wished that it was real. After a first incredulous look and some detective work, Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker said, “If only Victoria’s Secret focused on empowering women rather than objectifying them!” Bloggers wrote about how the Pink Loves Consent project makes women look powerful and strong. Jezebel users commented on the “fiercely real” body types represented on the site. “Too bad they don’t use some models like her for their regular advertising. The girl’s gorgeous and it’s awesome to see a different body style once in awhile.” A frustrated Facebook user commented, “Damn, I wish these were real. I just got paid.” And a savvy Victoria’s Secret customer tweeted, “So I guess the #loveconsent campaign isn’t actually affiliated with Victoria’s Secret but they SHOULD BE I WOULD BUY SO MUCH UNDERWEAR.”
Why do so many women love something they know is not real? FORCE made something that people want, but that a company like Victoria’s Secret can never give them. Imagine how different our lives would be if we put as much time and thought into sharing ideas like consent as we do into selling underwear.
As one high school student eloquently blogged:
“i’m still freaking out over this pink loves consent thing. And people say nothing’s gonna change, that talking and educating doesn’t help. Watch how many people will second-guess their actions when a widely popular company is pushing the issue. This is so fucking cool.”
—a seventeen year-old high school student posted on tumblr
We are so sorry to tell young women that Victoria’s Secret is not using its voice to create the change you need to grow up safe and free from sexual violence. Victoria’s Secret is not using its brand to promote consent. They are not promoting consent to their 4.5 million “PINK nation” members, to the 500,000 facebook fans or the estimated 10 million viewers who will be watching tonight’s fashion show. But what a different world would it be if they did? What if consent and communication showed up in the bedroom as much as push-up bras and seamless thongs? Things WILL change and talking and education DOES help. We can create a culture where the sexual empowerment of women is more common than their sexual assault. But it’s going to take some work to keep on fighting against the messaging from giants like Victoria’s Secret.
While we can’t expect a message that is empowering for women to come from a brand like Victoria’s Secret, we can make it come from their hashtag. This campaign has only begun.
Tonight you can celebrate the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show by joining more than one thousand social media activists who will be posting, pinning and tweeting about consent. Join the CONSENT REVOLUTION! Tweet at #VictoriasSecret why you #loveconsent. Facebook @VictoriasSecret about why @loveconsent is revolutionary. Combat the sickening reality of rape culture by making the culture of consent go viral!
Victoria’s Secret does NOT heart consent. Young customers play prank on lingerie giant.