DON’T just write off panties as a kinky tool to seduce men, it could well be used as a weapon to fight against the culture of rape and unfair objectification of the fairer sex. Meet Amulya Sanagavarapu, the 22-year-old Canadian-Indian student, who aims to change people’s perception about sex through her new line of consent-themed underwear.
The computer science student at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, got the inspiration for the line of lingerie from a prank from activist group FORCE that had advertised a fake line of “consent panties” from Victoria’s Secret last year. As no company was coming forward to champion the cause, Amulya formed Feminist Style and decided to launch her own line of undergarments. The company aims to create and sell products that will target objectification of women and promote gender equality.
When rape and molestation cases are making headlines around the world every day, will Amulya’s underwear line be able to change the patriarchal mindset of the society? “Obviously, I don’t expect serial rapists to read the slogans on the underwear and think “oh, never mind then”. But I think having these products in the market would help shift the culture around consent and rape,” said Amulya.
Right now if you look at what types of underwear slogans are in the market, what’s promoted and encouraged of young girls, you’ll mostly see sexual objectification (i.e.- “ready for anything”, “sure thing”) and things that teach that ‘no’ is a way to flirt (i.e.- “no peeking”). Such a culture teaches men to think of women as sex objects and also for women to think of themselves as sex objects, she underlined.
She believes her product line will offer an alternative view of society — that consent is required and it is ‘sexy’. Her product targets school and college going teenagers when the number of minor rapists seems to be growing by the day, including the latest case of a 13-year-old boy raping his 8-year-old sister in the UK. So would wearing undies with messages help kill that mentally that sees woman as a commodity?
The underwear is to speak for the wearer or be a focal point of sexual interactions, but it may serve as a sort of fun way to initiate these difficult conversations about boundaries and what each person is comfortable with. The main goal is to shift the underlying preconceptions about what is acceptable and encouraged in society. I think the underwear also plays a heavy social and peer role.
That is, consent is usually spoken of as an adult-to-child conversation, if at all “Yes, yes, don’t pressure the other person into sex, we get it from mom/dad/teacher. But something like this would help make it a peer-to-peer interaction.
It would take a conversation involving bragging about sexual conquests and where any of it would have been bragging before — the cultural shift would encourage friends to show disapproval if there is any coercion involved.And losing social status for something like this would have more impact than informational brochures and pamphlets handed out by adults.
There are lots of advertising agencies that thrive on objectifying women. But they need to strike a balance as selling insecurities of the fairer sex is unfair as they serve as fodder to the patriarchal mindset.
“I think objectifying women to make sales is an easy way, but definitely not the only way to get the best possible results. Men’s commercials for example, don’t really use men’s insecurities to sell products,” she said. Dove, for example, saw drastic increases in sales after it launched its real beauty campaign.
The culture is starting to shift already through social media the #notbuyingit on twitter has had a lot of popularity. And several advertisers have agreed not to use sexist or sexually-objectifying advertising anymore. Demonstrated demand and demonstrated success of non-sexist ads is what will really start making a difference.
Amulya’s kick starter project aims to raise $1,50000 by March . So what is the bigger plan? “The bigger plan is the motto- “social change through consumerism”. The idea is to sell products that target sexism and promote gender equality. And for that, Feminist Style is starting with the consent-themed underwear and plans to use the proceeds to produce feminist advertising that will further expand the cause and the business.Amulya plans to have an online store where the consent themed panties and boxers will be available for $ 8 each.
So will the teenagers be the only target audience? “No, not necessarily. I think it’s really important to target teenagers while they’re still learning about these social concepts, but the messages apply to everyone of all ages.
In countries like India, children grow up seeing father dominating and, at times, intimidating the mother. But if father starts respecting the mother, if the family starts giving equal rights to male and female children, there won’t be any chasing game even after a ‘no’.
“When kids see the father as having authority over the mother, they will have a preconception of men having power — perhaps “rightfully” in their culture — over women.”
Such a culture encourages men to chase after women, rather than acknowledging and respecting their lack of interest in them. “I think this is changing over the generations though, it is not seen as acceptable for a young man to show as much authority over a young woman as it is within an old couple.”
Take the case of Indian society, it thrives on double standards: Women are worshiped in temples and raped on the streets and also in the bed-rooms. A recent campaign against domestic violence in India portrayed beaten and bruised goddesses depicts the double standards of a patriarchal society.
Amulya plans to make the cause her career and she says she got the confidence to start something of her own while working with companies like Facebook in the Sillicon Valley.
“My time in Silicon Valley inspired me to change my mindset from “I can’t start a company, I’m just a college student” to realizing that people who make a difference in the world aren’t at a completely different level of talent and knowledge but rather they’re the ones who decided to pursue an idea and learn as they go,” said Amulya.
Feminist Style has raised a meagre amount of its $150,000 goal. It looks very unlikely that the company would be able to achieve its goal before the Feb.16 deadline. Amulya admits in terms of the kickstarter campaign, it’s a pretty ambitious goal. “I didn’t get any press coverage until 1/4 of the way through, so there is a good chance it won’t get fully funded, in which case I’ll be re-launching the campaign after getting a bit more press coverage with a smaller funding goal.”