How Feminists Punked 'Playboy'
The blogosphere was abuzz Tuesday after Playboy published "The 2013 Top Ten Party Commandments for a Consensual Good Time" — an innovative list starkly different from their usual college party guides. Rather than ranking schools by best nightlife or booziest party scene, Playboy took the advice of some "sexually enlightened undergrads" (my alma mater, Hampshire College, is on that list), to change the conversation by focusing on consent, sex-positivity, and the ways rape culture affects many college students.
Consent-focused party principles on the list include “Thou shalt ask first,” “talk about sex,” and “love all bodies.” A good college party the piece concludes, “is all about everyone having a good time. Consent is all about everyone having a good time. Rape is only a good time if you’re a rapist. And fuck those people.” College papers, students, twitter users, and even national news outlets applauded the Top Ten List, claiming a feminist victory.
But the list seemed too good to be true, given Playboy's reputation — and turns out, it was. ThinkProgress later exposed the much talked about list as a hack, the work of feminist activists at FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a Baltimore-based organization responsible for a similar prank on the Victoria's Secret website last year. While FORCE did some of the prank's legwork, they reveal on their website that the Playboy consent campaign was mostly carried out by college students across the United States. Playboy has confirmed that the list is not theirs and has asked that it be taken down.
The prank, pulled off beautifully, did exactly what it was meant to — it emphasized how Playboy and similar outlets look the other way when it comes to talking consent, sexual assault, and the frequency of rape on college campuses. It got people talking about rape, and it highlighted the activism of college groups that work to create campus atmospheres that put consent and communication at the core of sexuality, especially in the aftermath of last year's host of college rape cases in the media.
Sophie Hess, an Oberlin College student who was in on the hoax, said she learned a lot from the experience. “The whole process has made me realize that as easy as it is for people to believe negative sexual messages from the media, it’s also just as easy for them to believe positive ones," she said. "It’s both sad and exciting to move on to the next stage of the game, where we’ll have to acknowledge that mainstream conversation around consent really isn’t actually happening, even though it could and should be.”
Beyond calling out Playboy for what they don’t already do as a multi-million dollar institution devoted to sex, the prank illuminates what such a powerful organization could do to promote safe, healthy sexuality. Many people were ready and willing to believe that the list could be the work of Playboy turning a new leaf — showing that there's a lot of support to be gained from feminists, sex educators, and young people.
Beyond acknowledging how much our culture is ready for a shift in messaging around sexuality, the prank also shows how much a focus on consent is growing, particularly on college campuses. As college rape continues to be a serious and alarming problem, we can look with gratitude to the exciting work of young people who are focused on combating sexual assault in their communities by promoting empowering, pleasurable, and consensual sex.
The prank's not over. Support the merry pranksters by continuing to share “The Top Ten Party Commandments for a Consensual Good Time” and tell @Playboy why they should have taken the lead, and how they still can.