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On Monday, the internet was abuzz with the news that Victoria’s Secret Pink had released a new line of panties with slogans about consent. The line, which included underwear with mottoes like “No Means No,” “Ask First,” and “Consent Is Sexy,” was being promoted on a website called pinklovesconsent.com. The site also featured a section explaining how to practice consent and why it was important, and an explanation of why some previous Pink panty designs–“No Peeking” and “Sure Thing”–contributed to rape culture by suggesting that saying “no” was a good way to flirt and that consent could be presumed.

Victoria’s Secret, which made the news recently for appropriating and sexualizing Native culture in their annual fashion show seemed like an unlikely company to be fighting rape culture, even as a PR move. Sure enough, the website and fashion line turned out to be a hoax dreamed up by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an activist group that made headlines for projecting the words “Rape is Rape” on the US Capitol Building the night before the US presidential election.

As FORCE explained, “We could write a pamphlet about consent. In fact, we have written and distributed pamphlets about consent. But how many people are reading pamphlets about sexual practices and how many people are reading facebook post about Victoria’s Secret? Consent needs to become a mainstream idea.”

After Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker broke the hoax story, many people expressed their desire for these products to be real. “I would buy the hell out of those!” read one of the comments. Not surprisingly, a lot of people like the idea of underwear that promotes positive sexual messages, not to mention campaigns featuring models of a variety of sizes and races.

But other comments on the site questioned whether such a campaign, had it really come from the lingerie line, would have been a tangible step to combating rape culture. “No “commodity feminism” from corporations that KNOW they will reap more from fueling [sic] & exploiting women’s insecurities, and promoting rape culture—than they would if they devoted themselves to fighting sexism,” read one comment. Another chillingly speculated, “I work with victims of sexual violence and I am just now having a grim daydream of a pair of these panties in an evidence bag, a case going to trial, and a defense [sic] attorney just LOVING IT. “Of course he didn’t rape her! She was wearing her ‘No means No’ panties! How could he not stop and ask?””

So—what do you think? Would “Consent is Sexy” panties empower people and bring consent culture into the mainstream, or is Victoria’s Secret too much a part of the problem to be part of the solution?

Former model Carré Otis has already written a memoir that details the sexual abuse she faced at the hands of her agent. Now she speaks as a survivor in an article for the Huffington Post, where she advocates for women’s rights in the face of the burgeoning war on women. It is a difficult choice to make to disclose one’s personal history, but here Otis uses her story to fight for her fellow women’s safety and freedom.

Now I find myself at another crossroads, wondering about the potential benefits of sharing more of my personal experience in the public sphere. After careful thought, I’ve decided that by opening up about more of my past, my voice can contribute to the fight to make a difference in the present

Both Otis’ memoir and her recent article demonstrate bravery in speaking about her own history of sexual abuse. In this article she advocates for women’s basic right to safety and autonomy over their body, a right that politicians, policy makers, and other people in power continue to infringe upon, and a right that so many women have already been denied. All else I can say about the article is that it is well worth reading.

Sisterhood Now: The Political, the Personal, and the Just [Huffington Post]

*Trigger Warning* This post contains an explicit image of violence.

Jezebel’s Jenna Sauers posted an article yesterday that discusses a highly disturbing photo shoot in Pop magazine. The images feature an under-age model in various highly-sexual images, and one that depicts a hand choking her. The model, Hailey Clauson, is 17 and her parents have previously sued a photographer due to the exploitation and sexualization of her image.

The photograph suggests that it is not just acceptable to choke a teenage girl, but sexualizes and glamorizes the act to present it as even more appealing. Fashion is no stranger to using under-age models, nor is it any stranger to depicting violence against women as glamorous. As she is 17, one has to question just how much control this model can exert over the use of her image, and to what degree she can consent to such a situation. This is not technically an advertisement like the Calvin Klein campaign I discussed in a previous post, however it is still utilizing an explicitly violent image to sell a product. At the top of the photograph are by-lines for the designer clothes and accessories shown in the editorial. The magazine benefits from the exploitation of this model, as do the designers who receive publicity alongside her image.

Image after the jump  Read More

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Calvin Klein’s Spring 2012 ad campaign features Lara Stone in the brand’s latest wares. The model, despite being front and center, is in a rather powerless position; she is on her back, eyes closed, perhaps clutching her jacket closed. With her breasts partly exposed and her legs almost open, she is not only submissive but sexually available. Her position is compounded by the addition of a silhouetted male figure looming over her in the upper right corner. The image goes from simply portraying a model in a sexual pose, to suggesting violence, all with the intention of selling a high-end product.

This isn’t the first time a fashion advertisement has portrayed the potential of sexual violence in a glamorous way, not even close. In a previous post I recommended watching Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly film series, and again I can’t recommend it enough. In the second half of her most recent installment, she describes what she calls the “Romantic Stranger” trend. The video is embedded below, skip to 17:52 to hear her analysis of the eroticization of violence in advertising. This ad and its meanings are by no means unique. Women are frequently subjected to many types of violence in their lives, including physical and often at the hands of men, yet fashion seems to have no qualms about portraying this in order to sell a product. In numerous examples the female models often have an ambiguous facial expression, somewhere between pleasure and pain, and the image suggests that violence against women is not only potentially pleasurable, but glamorous.

Funny that an industry whose products are marketed almost entirely to women is so insistent on selling them on the “glamour” of their oppressed state.

Model Lea T. is on the cover of Brazilian Elle‘s December 2011 issue:

Lea T. has been on magazine covers before, in ad campaigns, and on runways. Significant about this particular cover, however, is that it is a mainstream, very commercial magazine.

Lea T. is an openly transsexual model who’s served as the muse for designer Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy and appeared on Oprah to talk about her struggles with reassigning her gender. Appearing on the cover of a publication like Elle is a huge step for the model is it affirms her ability to sell a magazine, and her image will reach a much larger audience than her appearance on the indie fashion publication, Love in their “Androgyny Issue” (pictured below with Kate Moss)

The Daily Mail writes about Lea T.’s success in relation to her December Elle cover. They also link to an interesting Vogue UK article, which conflates Lea T.’s transgender identity with that of fellow model, Andrej Pejic. Pejic is a male model who often models women’s clothes; he’s walked for Jean Paul Gaultier and here he is in a recent fashion editorial for Número with female model Ginta Lapina:

Pejic is frequently styled to emphasize his traditionally feminine features (high cheekbones, tiny waist, smaller jaw etc.) and is perhaps so convincing as a female that when featured topless on the cover of Dossier, some newsstands actually censored the cover, because of course women’s bare chests are somehow more obscene than men’s (and why that is could be a whole other post). Pejic, who is open to either “she” or “he” as a pronoun, does not identify as trans, despite the Vogue UK article comparing him to Lea T.

“There are similarities between myself and Lea T, and we’re placed in the same category, but our look is very different,” he said. “Lea has been extremely brave in being very honest about her journey – but I don’t really see myself as being here to challenge transgender stereotypes. I’m just myself.”

The article goes on to present gender as a current “trend” in fashion, as though it were a new hemline or it bag. Both Andrej Pejic and Lea T. have proven very well spoken on the role of gender identity in their respective lives, but is their visibility in fashion a flash in the pan? Will they disappear as soon as their novelty wears off? Or are they helping to broaden the kind of gender displays seen in the media? I suppose it remains to be seen.

Crossing over: Transsexual model Lea T. lands first commercial magazine cover [The Daily Mail]

Pejic’s Models [Vogue UK]

Andrej Vs Lea T [Vogue UK]

The Prettiest Boy in the World [New York]

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