Women have started pissing people off again by talking about violence against women. How dare they? The latest was an ingenious hoax by FORCE, a feminist organization out of Baltimore. They created a website that included Victoria's Secret teenager-targeted clothing line, Pink — seemingly starting a new campaign called Pink Loves Consent. The launch of the website coincided with the Victoria's Secret fashion show, and promoted a fake line of panties called "Consent is Sexy." The idea was to counter several pieces of Victoria's Secret underwear that seem to not only promote promiscuity, but also to disempower women with words like "Sure thing" printed across the crotch.
For the first several hours, social media responses to the site were overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) positive. Numerous women voiced appreciation for the company, which has long been viewed as promoting women as sex objects, finally taking on a women's issue. And there was significant disappointment when the site was outed as merely a prank.
Victoria's Secret, however, responded very negatively by contacting the web server and demanding that the site be taken down (incidentally, FORCE was within its fair use rights as it was not actually selling anything under the Pink brand, and the website remains online).
Regardless, the question remains why Victoria's Secret feels so threatened by this type of campaign, and did not jump on the opportunity to get on board. It brings to light an issue — rape — that directly afflicts twice as many women as breast cancer. And in bringing this to light, it seeks to empower women and their voice of consent. Victoria's Secret's business model, on the other hand, seems to be geared more towards promoting the sexual availability of the women wearing its underwear rather than their humanity and freedom of choice. And it rejects anything that contradicts that model.
Twitter and Facebook also responded negatively to the campaign. The Facebook page was removed from search results, and #loveconsent was disabled by Twitter. It is unclear what exactly persuaded the social network giants to censor (although it was likely a bit of strong-arming on Victoria Secret's part), but it is not the first time Facebook has taken a stance against feminism. There are several examples in which feminist-oriented content was removed while the sexist postings that prompted them were allowed to remain online.
These companies' antagonistic responses to a campaign that is trying to mitigate violence towards women are part of a greater trend. The problem is not necessarily that saying "rape is bad" is controversial (although comedian Jamie Kilstein faced a backlash on Twitter for saying as much), but it has become a taboo subject whose mere discussion is often met with the above antagonism. Openly discussing violence against women perpetrated by men not only reveals an insidious imbalance of power, but threatens to undermine it. And until we react positively toward these types of conversations, nothing will change.