How Underwear Is Being Used To Subvert Rape Culture

By Arika Wade TW: rape I remember being on twitter when Pink, the Victoria’s Secret line primarily aimed at college aged women, released “consent panties” to the world. I,...

By Arika Wade

TW: rape

I remember being on twitter when Pink, the Victoria’s Secret line primarily aimed at college aged women, released “consent panties” to the world. I, like many other people in my twitter timeline, got really excited at the prospect and clicked on, fully expecting to buy the amazing underwear and take a little stand against the patriarchal rape culture we live in. As has been widely reported, it turned out to be a prank headed by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, intended to do that just that with one of the world’s largest and most popular lingerie brands. Disappointment that the panties could not actually be purchased aside, the very idea behind the site was nothing short of genius. What was even more promising is that young Facebook users hijacked the social media outlets of Victoria’s Secret to in order to support the project. People had a desire to buy what they were selling.

The demand for the panties is what inspired Amulya Sanagavarapu, a college student from Canada, to start a Kickstarter campaign to launch her own line of consent panties.  According to her kickstarter page, where she introduces her new business, “Feminist Style 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.”

“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, where do we get them? It was a completely new way of marketing.”

Feminist Style has designed underwear for women and men that promote consent, body acceptance, and communicating in a consensual sexual encounter.  They come in many different designs from thongs and cheekies to boyshorts and boxer briefs and feature quotes such as “I’m A Size Awesome,” “No is Not For Flirting,” and “Only Yes Means Yes.”

If the $150,000 goal is met by Sun. Feb. 16, they intend to sell the underwear and more in order to fund advertising that is an alternative to sexism. It’s a cycle that Sanagavarapu calls “beautiful.”

This is important because most companies rely on sexual objectification and body shame to sell their products. Companies like Victoria’s Secret do little to promote consent and have panties in their Pink department (largely bought by high school and college-aged women) that imply that no is only used for flirtation. It’s a misconception widely held on college campuses, since 1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted on campus and 67% of those rapes are committed by someone that they know.  It is startling to realize that by the time boys are old enough to walk, they have already learned to “chase” a girl who says no as if it were game, and it is only a matter of time before the girl gives in and he wins. (See evidence of this in this tumblr gifset.) What this means is that boys grow into men who never stop playing that “game.” This coupled with advertising objectifying women is internalized to mean that women are not to be taken seriously when they say “no.”

Amulya Sanagavarapu started her kickstarter on the heels of President Obama launching an initiative to tackle the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Progressive organizations are praising the President for rightfully putting the fault on rapists and not blaming the victim.

“I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure, in terms of how they’re supposed to behave and treat women,” Obama said on Wednesday. “That starts before they get to college. Those of us who are fathers have an obligation to transmit that information. We can do more to make sure that every man out there — in junior high, high school, and college — understands what’s expected of them, and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see someone else acting inappropriately.”

The phrase “consent is sexy” has become popular and is also one of the phrases adorning Sanagavarapu’s new underwear designs. Some see making the idea of consent sexy as problematic. As one person anonymously told me as I was discussing this start up project with them, “[The] whole consent is sexy BS is packaged to make dudes comfortable. [Putting] it on sexy underwear to me is like saying consent is sexy.”

It is possible that the phrase is so popular because most people use consent to mean “talking in bed.” Sanagavarapu’s designs include phrases that support this notion such as “Ask Me What I Like ;).” Women have been taught not to be sexual beings from the get-go, so learning to communicate what one likes in bed, can be empowering and arousing. Take this one queer woman’s take on why she learned to “find her voice in bed.” Finding the voice to communicate what it is one does or does not want to do intimately is a facet of consent.

Getting consent is first and foremost in any sexual encounter, however.  I hope that most people, especially men, are aware that it is necessary to have consent before getting near the realm of being “sexy.” Sanagavarapu is fully aware of this too since she also has designs that say “No Means No,” and “No Does Not Mean Convince Me.”

I believe, like Sanagavarapu, that ’Feminist Style both identifies a relevant problem in our society and offers a part of the solution to it.” The underwear won’t stop rapists, but since we are inundated with advertising objecting and sexualizing women all around, and messages of no meaning yes, it can be a tool to counter those messages through advertising. It smartly uses consumerism to subvert rape culture. If feminist underwear is what is needed to catch the attention of people, then businesses like Feminist Style is a good place to start.

You can learn more about Amulya Sanagavarapu (who is my personal hero for this) and support her kickstarter here:

Arika is a femme lesbian from Texas who is addicted to media. She likes to call watching TV and movies “work” as she aspires to be a screenwriter someday. She also has an obsession with books that is borderline unhealthy.