Victoria’s (Real) Secret

Last week, Victoria’s Secret took social media by storm with the unveiling of its new PINK underwear line. Instead of phrases indicating a woman’s sexual availability (like “sure thing” and “no peeking”), the new PINK line would remind men (and other women) to “Ask First,” that “No Means No,” and issue an invitation – “Let’s Talk About Sex.”

Even better, the advertising for the new line featured beautiful, but not emaciated, women of color (see the website at www.pinklovesconsent.com) and a powerful new message:

Why does PINK heart Consent?
Because PINK loves pleasure. And PINK loves power. And we believe that sex should be empowering and pleasurable for all people! On top of stopping you from having great sex, not communicating can lead to unwanted sexual experiences.

This must be a dream, right? A corporation actually challenging the confusing messages that American culture gives young women about sexuality and power – is it a holiday miracle?

No. Victoria’s Secret is still peddling its overpriced underwear with supposedly cute messages emblazoned on the crouch. The “PINK loves consent” campaign was dreamed up by a team of creative feminists in Baltimore (FORCE), who challenge rape culture. Victoria’s Secret, however, quickly learned of the campaign. According to FORCE’s website:

The campaign got an overwhelmingly positive response.  In two days, this site had over 200,000 hits. The stunt was written up in the Huffington Post, Jezebel, New York Magazine, and BUST to name a few. EVERY ONE was talking about it on social media.  High school and college aged students blogged and reblogged the story like crazy. International consent enthusiasts tweeted positive declarations about why they #loveconsent.  On facebook, VS customers were wishing the consent campaign was real.  And during the broadcast of the annual Fashion Show the #victoriassecret hashtag was successfully hi-jacked to promote #loveconsent more than the #vsfashionshow (www.upsettingrapeculture.com).

There is a lot to love about this campaign: the ability of activists to use media to break through the commercial clutter during the shopping frenzy season, not to mention the powerful message the campaign sends. But, what always amazes me is the corporate response to these efforts.

Instead of seeing this as free market research, creating a desirable product, and promoting itself as a socially responsible company – something that corporations quickly do when it comes to AIDS, animals, or the environment – lawyers representing Victoria’s Secret contacted FORCE and told them to take down the site. [FORCE responded by putting media to work and circulated a petition to get the site back up and running.]

The lawyers argued that the PINK loves Consent campaign “confused customers,” which is legalese for “we do not want our brand associated with these ideas.” Okay, but why not? Do a quick search and you will be impressed by the overwhelming positive response. Once women learned it was a hoax, they expressed disappointment and noted that they would be loyal V.S. customers if such a line existed. Granted I am just a sociologist, but isn’t the idea to make money by selling products that the targets (in this case high school and college age women) want?

It seems to me that the ideas of the campaign are too threatening for big company to promote. If V.S. sold underwear encouraging informed consent before sex, it would be acknowledging that there is a fundamental problem with how American culture and institutions think about sex, power, and gender. I can understand why they want to keep this a secret.

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About Double take Sociology

I am a professor of sociology at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. My new book is "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America" (2015, Cambridge University Press). Be sure to visit my website at www.DeanaRohlinger.com!
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