“Rape Culture” Will End When Consent Becomes Sexy

Rape Culture Will End by Kickstarter

Look out rape culture, this 22-year-old entrepreneur’s gonna take you down, one thong at a time.

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Just over a year ago, The Good Men Project ran an article titled, “So You’re Tired of Hearing About ‘Rape Culture’?” by Lauren Nelson. In it the author discusses the Steubenville rape case at length and laments our collective response, which included silence, excuses, coverups, victim blaming, and public vilification of political analyst Zerlina Maxwell, who was labeled an idiot for suggesting that instead of women arming themselves, they “just tell men not to rape women.”

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Now, as we begin Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) , organized by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), Maxwell is in the news again, with a searing piece in Time called “Rape Culture Is Real”—a response to an earlier Time article by Caroline Kitchens, in which Kitchens called rape culture “a theory over-hyped by ‘hysterical’ feminists.” Maxwell calls out Kitchens for downplaying the problem of sexual violence in her statement, “Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm.” Writes Maxwell:

Is 1 in 5 American women surviving rape or attempted rape considered a cultural norm? Is 1 in 6 men being abused before the age of 18 a cultural norm? These statistics are not just shocking, they represent real people. Yet, these millions of survivors and allies don’t raise their collective voices to educate America about our culture of rape because of fear. Rape culture is a real and serious, and we need to talk about it. Simply put, feminists want equality for everyone and that begins with physical safety.

Maxwell also took to Twitter, creating the #rapecultureiswhen hashtag, and an article last week on ThinkProgress listed some of her tweets and sympathetic responses.

Rape Culture Will End by ThinkProgress2.jpg

Maxwell strikes at the heart of rape culture’s most successful defense, convincing the world it isn’t real.

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Speaking of real, you may also remember that a while back, Pink Loves Consent pranked Victoria’s Secret by pretending to launch a line of lingerie featuring what HuffPo called “flirty, sexy and powerful statements that remind people to practice CONSENT.” The problem was real, but the products weren’t.

Her plan is to “leverage the consumerist aspect of our society to create social change and sell products that target sexism to promote gender equality.”

Enter Amulya Sanagavarapu, a 22-year-old student in her last semester at the University of Waterloo. Sanagavarapu, profiled earlier this year on ThinkProgress, has created and successfully Kickstarted (fully funded as of today) an actual line of consent-friendly undergarments. She’s calling her company Feminist Style, and her idea is to provide advertisers with an alternative to fueling sexism and produce feminist advertising to challenge the status quo, which encourages boys to build and create and prepare themselves for meaningful work and girls to adorn and decorate themselves as objects for men’s consumption. Her plan is to “leverage the consumerist aspect of our society to create social change and sell products that target sexism to promote gender equality.”

I’ve always believed that to defeat a belief system, it’s not enough to attack it; it’s necessary to create a compelling alternative. Sanagavarapu is doing exactly that, by putting on, dare I say, her big-girl panties, taking on the culture of sexism that is rampant in our mass media, and making consent sexy.

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Look out rape culture, you’ve got a brilliant 22-year-old on your ass who’s raised $25K and is using asymmetrical warfare to bring you down.

 

Top photo—Kickstarter.com

Bottom photo—ThinkProgress.com

 

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About Thomas G. Fiffer

Thomas G. Fiffer, Executive Editor at The Good Men Project, is a graduate of Yale and holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He posts regularly on his blog, Tom Aplomb, and serves as Editor of Westport's HamletHub, a local online news and information service. He is also a featured storyteller with MouseMuse Productions and is working on his first novel.

Comments

  1. You Do Know This Don’t You?
    “Rape culture is a concept of unknown origin and of uncertain definition; yet it has made its way into everyday vocabulary and is assumed to be commonly understood. The award-winning documentary film Rape Culture made by Margaret Lazarus in 1975 takes credit for first defining the concept.”

    Blackwell Encyclopaedia Of Sociology, 2007, Page 3791 – http://goo.gl/9sEkWi

    Film is YouTubed at http://youtu.be/RwdVENIVaJY

    Men get raped and sexually assaulted too – so when there is consent boxers lectures can commence! Oddly that point has been raised directly with Amulya Sanagavarapu (I did it) and it’s been pointed out that she is missing a large market segment and revenue stream – but it seems that bias and ideology trample business sense and profits. Not such a good business to promote or invest any form of capitol in – is it?

    • Men do get raped and sexually assaulted in substantial numbers, and consent boxers would be welcome. But that doesn’t take away from this young woman’s effort or make it less valid.

    • TicklishQuill, If you look at her Kickstarter page, you’ll see that she has boxers, too!

      • I wonder why the conversation is not happening around parity of consent due to myopic views of a distorted subject? Oh so she did listen then – pity she didn’t acknowledge it, but then again she probably feared loosing credit and maybe having to do a profit share. lol.

        However that does not address why you first wrote from the perspective that only women are victims. Studies of students produce amazing results:

        “23.3% of men and 34% of women related being pressed into kissing and fondling, while 18.3% of men and 21.1% of women said they were strong-armed into intercourse and 5.8% of men and 4.2% of women complained of being cajoled into oral sex.” http://www.webcitation.org/6OUOsOXFn

        If you are going to address an end to rape culture (no scary quotes required) by focusing upon consent – use two lenses in your spectacles not just one that is near sighted and even astigmatic.

        • Tom Brechlin says:

          Rape Culture = men/boys rape. So this feminist wants to use her $ to advertise on feminist sites. All I’ve heard for years is that modern day feminism works for men as well as women. Sure aren’t seeing that with this campaign.

          John Anderson posted this link in a response to another article. (sorry John if I’m taking some of your thunder)

          http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/maryland-girls-tortured-autistic-boy-sheriff-office-article-1.1718983

          • Stop Press, Yet another study – Published March 2014 – American Psychological Association:

            “43 percent of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor”

            “Sexual Coercion Context and Psychosocial Correlates Among Diverse Males,” Bryana H. French, PhD, Jasmine D. Tilghman, MEd, and Dominique A. Malebranche, BS, University of Missouri; Psychology of Men & Masculinity; online March, 2014. – http://www.webcitation.org/6OZz5JiGj

            Writers Really Should Do Homework and Not Just Meme – Historically that conduct has had a very adverse affect round here. It’s fatal when your readers are better educated and more insightful and even use google to check basic facts. Some Come – Some Go – and Some leave in a hurry.

  2. Theorema Egregium says:

    Now I will not go so far as to call it racism, but isn’t it rather mean to introduce this young lady by pointing out that she has one of those “unpronouncable” foreign names? (Which in fact is very pronouncable – it rolls of the tongue nicely.)

  3. “Rape culture” needs to be in quotes.

  4. Wes Carr says:

    It seems hypocritical to talk about rape culture then promote a line of lingerie for profit. She is making
    money off the misfortune of others.

    • Wes, Amulya notes on her Kickstarter page: “We will sell products that target sexism to promote gender equality, and use the proceeds to produce feminist advertising, which in turn helps us reach more people, sell more products, and produce more feminist advertising. This creates a beautiful cycle.” It appears not to be about profit but about funding the message of gender equality.

  5. I think this is a great idea. Our culture is not yet at a point where we can collectively tackle the complex issues surrounding rape culture. This gets on to a level that pretty much everyone can understand and provides a healthier alternative to some of the stuff PINK is constantly coming out with as well as offering alternatives to men (the picture of a squirrel with a quip about nuts on the boxers…pretty old).

    And I don’t think there is anything hypocritical about this. She’s providing a specific alternative to a specific market to start, and people buy underwear anyways. For some women (such as myself), it’s nice to have underwear that makes you feel like you look good because it increases confidence. Combine that increased confidence with a healthy message, and the effect it can have on the wearer is very positive. It’s entirely mental, but it is there. And that feeling of positivity doesn’t come solely from the idea that we women are decking ourselves out with fancy underwear because we want to present and decorate, but a lot of us also have monthly weight fluctuations. When you are feeling bloated and gross, it’s nice to have a pair of undies that allow you to look in the mirror and say “I may feel bloated today, but I don’t actually look it.”

    • Kelsey, I love your point about increased confidence, because confidence increases empowerment, and empowerment decreases the chances that someone can violate your boundaries.

  6. I think her business idea is just fine. Consent is essential, and sexy. But I read the piece in Time magazine by Caroline Kitchens that was referenced in the 2nd paragraph of this article, and I agreed with most of it. When it comes to the idea that our society promotes “rape culture,” I find most of the voices to be just wrong, though not because I don’t believe “rape culture” exists, but because I believe the approach is misguided and naive, and borne out of frustration, fear, and anger, rather than logic.

    Take the tweets by Zerlina Maxwell “#Rapecultureiswhen you go to your friends for support and they ask you what you were wearing,” and “#Rapecultureiswhen you report your rape and the nurse at the hospital asks you why it took you so long to report.” So, yeah, I get how being concerned and delicate with questions is appropriate, but that doesn’t make the questions, at least in the right context, unwarranted. Zerlina Maxwell, and those of her frame of mind, must hear “…because if you were wearing slutty clothes, it’s your own fault,” and “..because it must not have been real rape if you weren’t concerned enough to get yourself checked out immediately.” Thinking that’s what people really mean is a bit of an assumption. I think outside of the courtroom, people are generally concerned with rape as a sociological issue, how it might affect them, how they can avoid it, how it can be that seemingly normal guys can be accused of it. And inside of a courtroom, asking difficult questions is necessary to establish the facts. But activists seem to want to reduce every case to the victim’s testimony being both correct and sufficient, and the accused to get convicted. It’s wrong because it sets up a witch hunt mentality, presuming both that the accused are guilty until proven innocent and that there is a systemic permission of rape. Society isn’t out there telling boys it’s OK to rape girls. Everybody considers rape to be serious and wrong. Society contributes, for sure, especially in the form of media advertisements and consumerism. They exacerbate the problem by using sex to make money, and the glut of images does have a numbing effect on how we view others. But as much as this might be crass, I think it’s only playing on a problem that is culturally based, and deeper.

    In a nutshell, society is telling boys they have to have sex with (many) girls for their own self respect, while at the same time telling girls if they have sex with (too many, or any?) boys, then they don’t have (or deserve) self respect. It sets up an unnecessary and unnatural dichotomy that creates tension, fear, and misunderstanding, and it plays out in a grand game of questionable morality and dangerously nuanced communication. It ends up in mistrust and disrespect between men and women both. Some women come to believe that boys/men are all just lustful, dangerous, two-timing, emotionless jerks, and only good for buying stuff and making them feel special. Some men come to believe that all girls/women are petty, self-righteous princesses, manipulative, gold-digging bitches, who are only good for a “good time.” Actually, many women and men come to believe that about their own sex, and even of themselves. I think most people have some claim to these thoughts, and even in believing in their legitimacy.

    In a sense, I think, the “up-in-arms about rape culture” crowd has a negative impact on gender equality. It furthers the notion that women are helpless victims who need to be protected from men because they are bad.

    • Wes Carr says:

      I would suggest reading Men On Strike by Helen Smith. One of the things she points out is that more and more men are avoiding marriage, relationships and college partly due to the messages that we are all potential rapists or abusers.

    • Paul, You make some excellent points, and your summary of the cultural prompts is eloquent and accurate. I think it would help to separate the term “rape culture” from rape. Society indeed does not encourage rape, at least rape as most people perceive and define it—a violent attack in a dark alley by a male predator unknown to his female victim. But society does encourage a culture in which pushing over someone’s boundaries to “score” is OK, in which women are sold clothing designed to make them look sexy, and in which boys are not trained to understand that “I’m sexy” doesn’t mean “I want to have sex with you.” As I mentioned in another comment on the GMP Facebook page, I prefer positive messaging and would like to see us move towards “consent culture” or “respect culture.”

  7. OirishM says:

    It’s really not as simply as putting on some boyshorts with a spangly slogan. And FYI – the Kitchens article was posted in support of RAINN’s comments on the concept of rape culture – which is big news, IMO – and many of the criticisms are things that critics of rape culture as a concept have been saying for some time.

    Not to single her out, but to use her words as an illustration – I was quite struck when I came across this enorsement of a statement by Mindy Kaling from quite an ardent proponent of enthusiastic consent, Jill Filipovic:

    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/10/05/straight-to-the-heart/

    Jill:

    Mindy Kaling, are you eavesdropping on my life?

    Mindy Kaling (emphasis mine):

    Until I was 30, I dated only boys. I’ll tell you why: Men scared the sh*t out of me. Men know what they want. Men own alarm clocks. Men sleep on a mattress that isn’t on the floor. Men buy new shampoo instead of adding water to a nearly empty bottle of shampoo. Men make reservations. Men go in for a kiss without giving you some long preamble about how they’re thinking of kissing you. Men wear clothes that have never been worn by anyone else before.

    Leaving aside the problem of using man vs. boy to shame – I find it really quite surprising that even a strong advocate for enthusiastic consent will still come out in agreement with something like this. If men are going to be bombarded with memes like Schrodinger’s Rapist, how they can’t be trusted to NOT be a rapist until arbitrary decision by the woman they’re with* – sorry, that kind of environment IS going to produce a lot of guys who are scared to even go in for a kiss.

    And the response? MOAR SHAME! It’s clearly their fault they’re just not manly enough to decipher when they’re no longer being viewed as a potential rapist. And a (male) commenter who pointed this out didn’t exactly get the smoothest of responses.

    *And I’m not being cynical here as I am referring to the original text of Schrodinger’s Rapist, which I advise people to recheck. It doesn’t actually specify any criterion to resolve the uncertainty (there is the obvious one of raping her, but what’s the option for, you know, the vast majority of men who AREN’T rapists?)

    http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

    • To me, the Kitchens article displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how culture influences society. Culture doesn’t cause rape. Culture doesn’t cause anything. But culture condones, encourages, promotes, glorifies, and absolves, all of which constitute serious correlative factors in people’s actions. Yes, we are responsible as individuals for what we choose to do. But who is responsible for the set of choices we’re presented with, and the way those choices are labeled, treated, explained, accepted, rejected, and addressed? The third prong of RAINN’s suggested effort is “clearer education on where the ‘consent line’ is.” What could be clearer than putting that line right below a young woman’s navel? Further, it’s a truism to say that some people are always going to be immune to prevention messages. Look at all the smokers in the world. The key is to educate both men and women on respectful behavior.

  8. John Anderson says:

    How many men have sex with women who haven’t consented at least in their minds? How many men would stop if they were planning on having sex with her consent or not? Rape culture actually is real so is anti-rape culture. There are aspects of society that facilitate or normalize rape and there are aspects of society that prevent rape like promise rings (virginity pledges). If you’re playing on being a virgin before marriage, you’re unlikely to rape at least not PIV.

    The problem with Zerlina Maxwell’s take on rape culture and where RAINN has it correct is in the extent that “rape culture” contributes to rape. Most people who are going to rape will rape even if you’re wearing under pants with a stop sign on them. We’d probably be better served educating people on consent and what it is, but we at GMP know precisely how Maxwell’s feministing crew reacted when someone tries to start the conversation.

  9. Wes Carr says:

    She is using a picture of a woman’s butt to sell a product while decrying rape culture. That’s like putting Michael Jackson’s name on a kids clothing line. Or am I missing something?

  10. FlyingKal says:

    Sanagavarapu is doing exactly that, by putting on, dare I say, her big-girl panties, taking on the culture of sexism that is rampant in our mass media, and making consent sexy.

    Judging by the picture, I wouldn’t say that Sanagavarapu is so much “taking on the culture of sexism” as she seems to be relying on it for advertising effect…

    And also, am I missing something or wouldn’t the text be better on the front side?

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