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FORCE – Artfully and Brilliantly Upsetting Rape Culture

16 Feb

Recently I’ve began following the efforts of FORCE – a feminist activist group that is “upsetting rape culture.” Their mission statement reads:

Upsetting Rape Culture is an artistic effort to agitate the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent. The curators of this project are employing a variety of tactics to disrupt the silence that surrounds sexual violence and call attention to the images that perpetuate the culture of rape. We envision a world where sex is empowering and pleasurable rather than coercive and violent.

Pink Loves ConsentOne of their most recent elaborate schemes involved launching a faux Victoria’s Secret line of underwear, juxtaposing phrases like “Consent is sexy,” “Ask first,” and “No means no” against the typical VS lines like “Unwrap me.” They released press statements, launched a website, and even did brief interviews all under the guise of being actual VS representatives before the big “launch” which involved tons of members discreetly dropping the revised underwear into store bins in over a dozen stores throughout North America and Europe. VS lawyers have been called onto the scene to investigate the matter and see what legal standing they have in stopping the movement, but since FORCE never attempted to sell the underwear or to make any profit using the VS brand name, they don’t seem to have a lot of power, for now, in shutting down this brilliant plan.

Most of the criticism they have received for the remodeled VS line is that no one can actually purchase the underwear, but they’ve encouraged interested parties to create their own. However, some people argue that FORCE is just contributing to the problem by using a woman’s sexuality as their only form of activism. In an interview with Bitch Magazine, organizers stated:

 It’s this argument of, “Why does feminism always need to be fuckable? You got all this attention because you’re using women’s bodies, using sex appeal.” I think what’s happened in feminism is sex has become this very polarizing position where both options are limiting. You have option A, where you’re an enlightened feminist that would never let yourself be objectified and option B, which is like being an ignorant bimbo with your tits out. And both those options are limiting! We’ve had people say, “If you really want to be taken seriously, you need to be in business suits, not your underwear.” And we’re like, ‘Whoa. Actually, I should be able to be in my underwear and be respected. The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.” It’s important for us to move beyond the point where our culture is stuck. I don’t think it’s just feminists who do this. When you look at images of women who are sexualized and smart, her sexuality is always the focus, her intelligence is diminished. If she’s supposed to be smart, her sexuality has to be confined in a pantsuit.

I attempted to do some digging and find real examples of exactly what VS has on the market right now. We all know the deal – first thing you see in any VS store are giant bins and drawers in the PINK section that feature a plethora of underwear, several sections dedicated entirely to bikini cuts and thongs with various sexual teaser phrases plastered on the bottom and crotch area. But oddly enough I could not find any of these underwear listed on their website. It’s possible I’m not looking in the right spot or that they never feature those specific panties online, but it did make me wonder if they recently edited them out of the site to prevent further possible criticism. The only thing I could currently find was a peak at their St.Patrick’s Day line featuring one pair of thongs that read “Feeling lucky?”

However, I don’t believe FORCE was ever necessarily trying to place blame on VS for promoting ideas of rape, but rather just using their wide-known brand and market to send an additional message. It would have been a true sign of the times (ideal times, that is) if VS had stepped forward and embraced the movement. Why not? Why wouldn’t they want to promote consent if they didn’t feel it in someway contradicted whatever message they feel they’re currently sending? I imagine many of their investors and business ties are probably males who would find the campaign offensive, but embracing it would only promote them further with the astounding amount of publicity, good and bad, they would receive. More importantly  just think of the impact it would have on the younger girls who have already began purchasing VS products in an attempt to make the first step in coming to terms with their budding sexuality. You would think a company would want to show a stronger allegiance to their client-base who are females. Regardless of if they feel a male influence is what is driving the women to their purchases, what a perfect opportunity to take a stand and make a real change in how female sexuality is viewed. They could reverse the idea that it exists only to serve a man’s desires and make the statement once and for all that a woman is sexual for her own reasons, motivations, and pleasures. For anyone who says we have no prominent issues for women in today’s society, I cite this example for how mainstream America really does cling to a male-bias.

ImageFORCE’s “operation panty drop” isn’t their only recent campaign for fighting rape culture. On Valentine’s Day members of the group created a giant sort of raft made of letters that formed the phrase “I can’t forget what happened but no one else remembers” and set it afloat in the reflecting pool that sits in front of the Lincoln Memorial in DC. The statement was a poetic phrase written by a rape survivor, and the event was intended to send out a call for a permanent memorial for rape victims and survivors. FORCE states:

“We want to build a national memorial to survivors, because we want to live in a country that holds public and supportive space for survivors to heal.  We want to build a national memorial to survivors because we want to live in a country that believes rape can and must end.”

Witnesses of the event described it as beautiful and haunting. I can not think of a better way to bring much deserved and long over-due honor and recognition to victims of sexual assault. Acts of boldness like this are what will finally force America to stop ignoring the fact that 1 in 3 women have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault. With statistics like that it really makes you wonder what the problem is exactly. If it were a treatable disease or mental illness, pharmaceutical companies would be all over it in a heartbeat. They’d have new drugs up for approval by tomorrow probably. If it were a crime that affected both men and women equally, it would be considered a national epidemic by everyone. Plug those numbers into crimes that are regularly recognized as “real problems” by law enforcement and politicians. What if 1 in every 3 children were molested? God, what if 1 in every 3 people were murdered? What if 1 in every 3 men were raped? (1 out of every ten rape victims are male) For people who say we aren’t dealing with rape culture, I ask you to really think about why more attention isn’t being brought to the matter on a daily basis. When is the last time you heard a politician publicly speak on ways we can work to prevent rape and rape culture? When is the last time you heard any male politician even use the phrase “rape culture”?

I recommend doing more research if you need more convincing on why our society still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the issue of violence towards women. It should get you asking yourself and others some hard questions. Then what? Speak up. And get involved with groups like FORCE. Their guerrilla art methods for raising awareness and sending the message that women won’t stand for this issue being ignored any longer really brings me hope. I can’t remember the last time I felt so inspired by a movement. Not only does it do wonders to bring attention to women’s issues of today, but it really shows potential for a new revival within the art world. It reminds artists that visual art still can be powerful and make a difference.

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