Photo: courtesy #thisdoesntmeanyes.
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#thisdoesntmeanyes: how a new campaign is tackling the myth of consent, once and for all

An overheard conversation in a bar prompted four friends to start their own anti-rape campaign. Now, they're asking women everywhere to join in and declare that their clothing doesn't mean consent.

As press releases go, the one for #thisdoesntmeanyes starts strong. “There’s a myth that surrounds women, a myth that embroils them: women who dress or behave suggestively, women who are playful or act provocatively, women who flirt or openly discuss sex – they’re asking for it.”

Anti-rape campaigners have been chanting “yes means yes” (and “no means no”) for decades, yet – as any feminist who spends much time online will be all too aware – there are plenty of other things that somehow still  frequently get mistranslated as “yes” – including, say, miniskirts, alcohol, or being in a public place after dark.

#thisdoesntmeanyes leaves no room for ambiguity. By collecting photographs of women in their own clothing, its four founders - Nathalie Gordon, Lydia Pang, Abigail Bergstrom and Karlie McCulloch -  hope to end the myth once and for all.

The campaign began because of an overheard conversation in a bar: two men turned to each other and commented that a passing stranger was “asking for it”. The women happened to be in the company of a friend who had been raped, and the suggestion that clothing could imply consent made her deeply unhappy.

Three out of the four women behind #thisdoesntmeanyes know someone who had also been the victim of rape, and the men’s comments made them realise it was time to act. With their backgrounds in art, illustration and editing, they decided to start their own campaign, and reached out to Rape Crisis London, who were on board immediately. “They just saw the whole thing as exactly what women needed”.

On April 11, the group took to the streets armed with a pop-up studio and the world-renowned photographer PEROU. Almost all of the women they stopped had a story to tell: not surprising, given that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault since the age of 16. “Sometimes it was enough just to say ‘we’re doing a project for Rape Crisis London’, and they’d say ‘what do I need to sign?’”. After being photographed, many of them asked if there was more they could do – one girl even e-mailed the team afterwards, offering to volunteer her time unpaid to help the campaign.

With other campaigns putting the onus on victims to prevent themselves from being assaulted, #thisdoesntmeanyes was a welcome chance to fight back. (When I ask the women about their campaign, one of the first things they bring up is the recent poster from Sussex Police. “It was everything we are trying to work against”.)

For those inclined to sneer at hashtag politics, it’s a potent reminder of the internet’s ability to forge progressive communities. Looking through the different photographs, what is most striking is the diversity of the participants. Hollie, who appears in the campaign [see photo above], is a lesbian, and after she was photographed stayed to talk. “We had always been very clear that this campaign was for all women including the lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, and her stories re-iterated that it isn’t just straight women who are victims”.

The women are encouraging others to post their photos using the hashtag, and will be adding  online contributions to the website. For demographics often sidelined in discussions of sexual violence, including women of colour and trans individuals, #thisdoesntmeanyes provides a forum in which they can represent themselves on equal footing.  “It’s a conversation we desperately need to have with men and women of all ages, sexes, races, sexualities.” The range of women who have already joined the campaign makes for a powerful statement.

As the organisers themselves put it, “long may the message continue”.

 

See the campaign in full at thisdoesntmeanyes.com, and add your own image using #thisdoesntmeanyes

Rape Crisis South London is open 12-2.30 and 19-21.30. Their telephone number is 0808 802 9999, or you can get help online at rasasc.org.uk

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.