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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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.