For a few hours on Saturday, March 1, 100 red quilts covered in words lay over the west lawn of the US Capitol. Together, the bright squares formed the first public display of a project called The Monument Quilt, a crowd-sourced story collection and art project about sexual violence.
“I will read, believe and be transformed by every story here,” one anonymous visitor wrote on a blank swatch of fabric. “I so badly needed an ally to be there for me when I came forward with my own story.”
For a few hours yesterday, I thought Playboy had undergone a culture change. A friend forwarded me a link to a website, Party With Playboy, that proclaimed itself to be Playboy's back-to-school "Top Ten Party Commandments" guide. The difference between the 2013 guide and all previous party tip sheets, though, is that this year, Playboy was all about consent.
"This has been blowing up all over my facebook," my friend wrote. I was surprised and excited—how cool of Playboy to admit some role in rape culture and put consent front-and-center for bros heading to college!
It turns out Playboy got pranked. Baltimore-based artist collective FORCE and students at 25 colleges pulled off the impressive hoax that duped news outlets and thousands of readers. Instead of backing up the call for consent, Playboy is now working to shut down the site.
This past year, rape has dominated the headlines. From front-page coverage of the Penn State trials to Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment to international outcry about gang rape in India to national focus on Steubenville, talking about rape—a long-silenced topic—is finally a mainstream conversation. We are in a unique cultural moment where the ever-present epidemic of sexual violence is being recognized.
We need to not only recognize the reality of rape, but work to end it. We need a platform to honor survivors that will forever change the way the American public responds to their experiences. We need to create a national monument to survivors of rape and abuse.
The National Mall got a new memorial yesterday, if only briefly. As part of One Billion Rising, Baltimore-based feminist group FORCE installed a temporary memorial recognizing survivors of sexual assault. The group greated giant letters out of a statement from a rape survivor and floated the eight-foot-tall words onto the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Baltimore feminist group FORCE took the world by surprise last December when they launched a line of fake Victoria's Secret, dropping underwear emblazoned with phrases like "Consent is Sexy" and "Ask First" at Victoria's Secrets around the US and promoting the fake Pink Loves Consent line on the internet. The spoof came off brilliantly, using a well-coordinated "feminist Facebook army" to hijack Victoria Secret's social media and broadcast the a discussion of consent to millions of mainstream shoppers. Last week, I talked with FORCE organizers Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato about what they learned from the Pink Loves Consent campaign, how Facebook and Twitter have censored their spoof, and the details on their next action, a Valentine's Day protest that will install a temporary monument to rape survivors in Washington DC.
BITCH: What choices did you make while planning Pink Loves Consent that made it so wildly successful?
HANNAH BRANCATO: The big decision was that we couldn't sell the underwear. This is a spoof, we're using Victoria's Secret's trademark, so we couldn't legally sell anything. There was all of this intense energy around the project when it first launched but the only thing people could think of doing was buying the underwear.
REBECCA NAGLE: The first thing they asked was, 'Where can I buy this?" And I think it was powerful to come back and say, "You can't buy it, it's an idea." Instead of sending people to a checkout cart, we're sending people to resources, to saying, "Here's a zine you can make."