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."