FORCE co-founders Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle asked members of the audience to stand if they had experienced an uncomfortable or unwanted sexual experience.
More than half the audience stood.
The lecturers then asked audience members to stand if they believed victims could avoid rape.
No one stood.
Finally, the speakers asked how many audience members believed rape culture would end.
Only about a quarter of the room stood.
Creative-activist duo and co-founders of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture movement hosted a workshop in Stamp Student Union yesterday as part of this university’s Sex Week. They led a series of exercises and a host of examples of how creativity can positively change the current state of rape culture.
Author of Renovatum: The Poetic Testimony of an Ex-Homosexual Dominique Evans, of College Park, said he was surprised to see how honest participants were during the “stand up and sit down” exercise.
“I feel like you would be scared to stand up in a room full of people,” Evans said. “But if it’s a cause or something that is important to campus, I feel like you would take a stand and say ‘Hey this is a problem,’ or ‘I’ve dealt with this,’ or ‘This is something that I’ve seen.’”
After the exercise, the artists continued their presentation with slides depicting various examples of their work, sparking conversations about consent.
“Consent is a verbal agreement about how and when people are comfortable in engaging in sexual acts with their partner or partners,” Nagle said, who said consent needed to be discussed more concretely.
“We’re used to communicating about other things, but why is sex this magical realm where people have to read each other’s minds? There’s that mythology around sex that we can start to break down and have healthier sexual relationships if we start practicing communication.”
The duo, named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and “Purposeful Pranksters,” tackled consent in their first project by creating an online pseudo-Victoria’s Secret campaign. Their campaign, Pink Loves Consent, began after the founders noticed a pair of Victoria’s Secret panties with the words “NO” in large capital letters followed by “peeking” in nearly illegible small letters.
Brancato said the words made the idea of consent unclear.
“‘No’ is not a way to flirt. ‘No’ is a way to set a boundary,” said Brancato, who later mocked Victoria’s Secret’s Pink brand.
That was when Brancato and Nagle set off on their first project, creating consent panties that read “No Means No,” starting a conversation about consent both online and off.
“Basically, we felt that Victoria’s Secret as a brand, which really owns the idea of sexiness in a lot of ways, was a great example of rape culture to tackle,” Brancato said. “We pretended that the lingerie giant was releasing their own line of consent-themed underwear. We pretended that they were apologizing for their past styles that promoted rape culture.”
Brancato said people figured out pretty quickly they weren’t really Victoria’s Secret, which was all a part of the plan.
The duo’s strategy was to make consumers question the authenticity of the underwear. Brancato said. They wanted the consumers to feel more empowered.
It devastated some that Victoria’s Secret was not behind the consent-themed panties, Brancato said. Others used it to create additional dialogue online through hashtag #loveconsent, which trended during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Brancato and Nagle discussed the International Operation: Panty Drop, during which they mailed consent underwear across the country and to Paris.
Brancato said supporters planted the consent underwear in Victoria’s Secret stores for the public to see.
Brancato and Nagle also interrupted the conversation amongst readers of the men’s magazine Playboy, mocking its “Top 10 Party Schools” list, which ranks universities according to their party profiles and reputations.
Nagel said the article, titled “The Top Ten Party Commandments: The Ultimate Guide to a Consensual Good Time,” with the tagline “Rape is Only a Good Time if You’re a Rapist: Consent is a Good Time For Everyone,” trended on social media and surpassed Playboy’s top ten party schools list in readership.
Today, Brancato and Nagle actively continue their mission to infiltrate rape culture through conversations around the country along with their project the Monument Quilt, an organization created by survivors, which provides a public healing space for survivors of sexual assault.
The Monument Quilt crowd-sources and collects stories of survivors in the form of quilts, and invites survivors to stitch their fabric together in order to display their creations, Brancato said.
Freshman studio art major Elise Nichols said was impressed by the artists efforts, and that she was surprised by how involved the male audience members were.
“I kind of knew that girls would come out, but the people who had the strongest opinion were the guys,” Nichols said. “They didn’t know a lot of what [the girls] knew [about rape culture], and it was a little disappointing that there are a lot of people who don’t know.”
Freshman geographic information science major Josh Haverstick, however, proved he knew the basics – that rape is a problem, and it doesn’t have to be, he said.
“Rape is obviously bad in itself, but just the way people react to it is even worse and that sort of prolongs it,” Haverstick said.
The manner in which Brancato and Nagle addressed rape intrigued Haverstick, he said.
“It opens doors and gives people ideas about things they could do,” Haverstick said. “Some of these things, they [use to] promote consent, I wouldn’t have thought of at all. That gives people creative opportunities.”
Brittany Britto is a graduate student and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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