CREDIT: Amulya Sanagavarapu
A little over a year ago, the “Pink Loves Consent” campaign took the internet by storm. It appeared as though Victoria’s Secret had launched a new line of underwear displaying messages like “No Means No” and “Ask First,” and a lot of people were really excited that the company was taking such a strong feminist stance. But the campaign ended up being too good to be true. It was a prank spearheaded by the group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture — a creative tactic to get people talking about sexual assault prevention.
A lot of people were disappointed. The activists behind FORCE — who went on to pull a similar prank on Playboy Magazine — told ThinkProgress last fall that they typically receive a flood of messages from people who wish their fake products were real.
Now, those people are about to get their chance. Consent panties still aren’t available for sale at Victoria’s Secret, but they’re the subject of a new start-up project that’s raising money to launch a very real line.
Amulya Sanagavarapu, a college senior in Canada, is working to raise $150,000 for her line of consent underwear, which includes both women’s and men’s styles. The panties proclaim messages like “Consent Is Bootyful,” “Ask First,” “Talk To Me,” and “Not That Guy.” She was inspired directly by FORCE’s prank.
“I always think about what sorts of products I’d like to see in the market and how I’d want to do it. But it was always sort of hypothetical to me — until I saw the Pink Loves Consent campaign,” Sanagavarapu explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Everyone was saying, we love these products, we want to buy them, were do we get them? It was a completely new way of marketing.”
Sanagavarapu, whose Kickstarter project is called “Feminist Style,” is ultimately interested in a larger effort to subvert the mainstream messages in popular advertising. She points out that most companies rely on objectifying and sexualizing women in order to sell their products, and there’s a big opportunity for feminists to provide alternate options to challenge the status quo. In a video to promote her new effort, Sanagavarapu describes the idea as “leveraging the consumerist aspects of our society to create social change.”
Although Sanagavarapu is studying computer science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, she first started thinking about ways to combat rape culture when she spent time interning in San Francisco. She noticed that American college students were keeping sexual assault in the news by pushing for change on their campuses. She kept reading headlines about the most prestigious schools in the U.S. being investigated for failing to accurately report rape cases.
“I don’t mean to suggest that this is solely an American problem in any way,” Sanagavarapu told ThinkProgress, pointing out that the international “SlutWalk” movement was sparked by a cop in Toronto who suggested that women should dress less provocatively to avoid being raped. “But in the U.S., there’s just been so much speaking out about it…that’s when I started noticing it.”
Over the last several years, college students across the United States have filed dozens of federal complaints against their universities for failing to take rape cases seriously and adequately protect their students from sexual assault. Activists have joined forces to organize across different campuses, pooling their resources to help mobilize other students to fight for change, as well as launching creative campaigns to help encourage a culture of consent. Their efforts to spark a national conversation are paying off. Just this week, President Obama announced the creation of a new task force to specifically address the issue of sexual assault among college students.
Sanagavarapu hopes her line of underwear could help contribute to this growing pushback against rape culture. She pointed out that the “Pink Loves Consent” campaign has already proven how popular this type of underwear can be, and demonstrated the growing market for alternative messages about female sexuality.
One of the biggest criticisms her campaign has received so far is that underwear might be an ineffective vehicle for these messages. People wonder why she didn’t put slogans about consent on T-shirts instead. “They point out that when you’re in that sort of situation, by the time a girl is down to her panties, is there really an issue of consent?” Sanagavarapu said. “This perfectly illustrates the need for this product. There’s a complete lack of understanding of consent in our society. People seem to have this concept that at some point you forfeit your right to say no, because you’re come this far, and you can’t back out now.”
“It’s not that one product is suddenly going to make everyone understand everything,” she continued. “But having it out in the market as a direct alternative to underwear slogans like ‘no peeking’ — which communicates that saying ‘no’ is just a way to flirt — I think that can help take a small step toward shifting that culture…It’s about what’s available, what’s being promoted in our culture, and what that communicates.”