consent panties*Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle recently made news when they promoted a line of panties satirizing the Victoria’s Secret PINK series. Only their statement was less comical and more political.

The PINK line of panties by Victoria’s Secret features slogans such as “Sure Thing”, “No Peeking”, and “Yes No Maybe.” For Brancato and Nagle these slogans lead to sexual assault of young women and a promotion of rape culture. Alternative slogans for their panties were “Yes”, “No”, and “Maybe.”

Brancato and Nagle argue that by having panties that give conflicting messages like “Yes No Maybe” teaches young women to be coy whereas their panties (one of which says “Yes”, one of which says “No”, and one of which says “Maybe”) are more assertive because there is only one message.

Brancato and Nagle have misinterpreted the problem with Victoria’s Secret. It is not a matter of promoting sexual assault and rape culture, but it is a matter of promoting sex culture and over sexualizing young women and girls (high-school and college age females) that the PINK line is marketed toward. If a young woman is dating and the guy sees that her panties say “Sure Thing”, he is not going to become overly aggressive because of what is printed on her underwear. If she is showing him her panties, it was already likely that they were going to have sex. Contrarily if a young woman is being attacked by someone who gets her pants/skirt/shorts off, seeing the word “No” printed on her panties is unlikely to be a deterrent.

I agree with Brancato and Nagle to a degree in that the PINK panty line is designed to be flirtatious and have the printed words act as a proxy for the verbal cues of the young ladies who wear them. Non-verbal communication is part and parcel of dating – no one spells out each and every of their thoughts and motives or questions the actions of the other person every step along the way when pursuing a romantic relationship. “Now I’m going to hold your hand,” “Did that smile mean it’s okay to kiss you?” “Does your invite for coffee mean that we’ll be sleeping together tonight?”

Nevertheless there is no non-verbal cue that can or should trump a strong verbal command. If a young woman is wearing the “No” panties but says to her date “I’d really like to have sex with you right now” are we to believe that he will decline? If the same young lady is wearing the “Yes” panty but says to her beau “I don’t want to have sex with you” do the panties make her statement irrelevant? In each case we expect that her words will be heeded. In short panties do not promote sexual assault.

Nor do they promote rape culture which can be defined as a culture that normalizes sexual assault. Many outfits, especially for women, are designed to accentuate certain body parts. Wearing these types of clothes can get a woman more attention: more looks from men, and more men approaching her with romantic interest. But it is a stretch to say that this extra attention means the men in question feel entitled to sex with the women wearing the outfits. Any sort of connection becomes even more unlikely when you realize that underwear is concealed and generally not seen the way a low cut blouse is.

While the panties do promote sexual violence against women they do help initiate young women into the sex culture of our country. That is problematic enough. Brancato and Nagle overstate the problem unnecessarily. And why would they do that. If I’m being optimistic I’d say that they were being extra careful with the sexuality of high school and college age females, young ladies at an important juncture in their development sexually and socially.

If I’m being cynical I’d say that they were engaging in this protest as a way to drum up interest in their panties. Brancato and Nagle admit that they produced the panties for publicity but had no plans to sell and distribute them. That changed when there was a substantial response to their protest; some people thought that their panties were real additions to Victoria Secret’s PINK line. Having now established a market for these panties, they will meet the demand. How convenient.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins