Victoria's Secret, Shabbos Walks, and Interrogating Rape Cultures
I love guerilla feminism. And I love that this group of feminists from Baltimore used online guerilla feminism to critique Victoria's Secret and promote consent. And I’m not the only one who loves this stuff! I love the celebration of consent. I love the celebration of bodies. I love the way in which the campaign directly connects the concept of consent to our bodies—by putting it on underwear—showing that to touch my body, you need my consent.
In a Q&A with local Baltimore press, the activists said, “We feel that the PINK Loves Consent campaign is just one of the ways that we are working to end rape culture — we want to pursue other projects to upset and disrupt the culture of rape from other angles as well.”
So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how to “upset and disrupt” rape culture from other angles. Their creative critique of VS serves to disrupt rape culture from the angle of mainstream, dominant culture, as VS is a prominently visible company and widely used clothing line. But to deeply disrupt rape culture and transform it into a culture of consent, we need to do much more than simply advertise consent, especially within the Jewish community. VS phrases like “Sure Thing” printed on their underwear objectify women and erase the value of consent. That is rape culture. And rape culture shows up differently in different places. It has layers, so to speak.
What is the manifestation of rape culture in our own communities? What does it look like? What can we do about it? Within the Jewish communities where I live and teach, rape culture looks quite different than it does in a VS store.
The Jewish teenagers and young adults I work with know about consent. They believe that consent is important. Last summer, I asked a group of Jewish teens, “Can hookups be holy?” and we discussed the role of consent in bringing holiness to any sexual experience, whether casual or committed. What I found is that while most of them know and respect the concept of consent, they vary widely on (1) their knowledge regarding how consent is defined and (2) their skills regarding how to negotiate consent.
A great example is the Shabbos walk. At youth group, summer camp, and other Shabbaton programs, Jewish teens are prone to invite each other for one-on-one walks on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. They tell me that it’s “common knowledge” that Shabbos walk = hooking up. Therefore, once you’ve asked someone to go on a Shabbos walk, you don’t need to ask that person for consent because they should know what’s about to happen.
You still need to ask them for consent.
“No Means No,” as one of the Love Consent pieces of underwear proclaims, is not enough. Celebratory sex-positivity is not enough. Cute, sassy, underwear-based advertising of consent is not enough. We need to move beyond convincing people that consent is important, and we need to move towards teaching the nitty-gritty complexity that is the negotiation of consent. Is it possible to negotiate consent nonverbally? Am I allowed to turn down one kind of sexual activity but ask for another kind? How can I tell when it’s the right time to ask for what I want?
I can’t have these conversations through catch-phrases printed on my panties.
So let’s think about how to disrupt rape culture from other angles, angles that allow us to take a critical look at how to disrupt rape culture locally, in our own cultures, in our own communities, in our own lives.
I’m totally enjoying this critical and creative response to the systematic violence perpetrated through VS clothing lines. And we also need campaigns that address the specific rape cultures that fester closer to home. We need to talk with Jewish teens about how to check in with each other about what they do and do not want to happen on a Shabbos walk. We need to talk with Jewish young adults in our 20s and 30s trying to negotiate expectations with people we just met on JDate or trying to establish, maintain, and adjust boundaries within committed relationships. We need to talk about alcohol use in our communities—nay, within our tradition—and how that impacts our ability to give and get consent in various situations. We can’t stop at “Love Consent” and “Ask First”—we need to interrogate what consent means, what skills we do and do not have for negotiating consent, and the myriad ways in which our specific communities uphold distinct but connected rape cultures.