In an ideal world, the absurd, twisted logic of victim-blaming would just... not exist. Our brains would be incapable of forming the synapses necessary to form the phrases "she was asking for it," or "boys will be boys." Unfortunately, we don't live in such a utopia, and victims of sexual assault are often told, explicitly or implicitly, that the violence perpetrated against them was somehow their fault. A new series of videos seeks to undermine this harmful narrative by applying the preposterous reasoning behind victim-blaming to more ordinary scenarios.
In the first video, a woman emerges from the hotel gym, tired and sweaty, to find a caterer putting the finishing touches on a decadent wedding cake. She says it looks delicious, and the caterer beams, but suddenly, the woman digs her hand into the cake and shoves a fistful of Tahitian vanilla and frosted flowers into her mouth.
"Why would you do this?" the caterer asks, incredulous.
"Oh come on," the cake-attacker says, rolling her eyes. "You knew what you were doing. You were the one that made it so tempting."
"Is this your caterer?" she asks when the bride emerges from the bathroom. "He's a real cake-tease."
"This is the logic used to excuse sexual assault," text reads. "Not very logical, is it?"
This video, as well as two others — one set in a hardware store and one in an art gallery — was created by the advertising collective 101-North Marketing, in conjunction with "It's On Us," the campus assault prevention program introduced in 2014 by President Obama and Vice President Biden (Remember when our president actively worked to prevent sexual assault instead of bragging about it? Good times.)
"Sexual assault is a delicate subject, and while we didn't want to make light of the issue, we also thought that if we could find the right angle, addressing it with comedy could be really effective," 101-North Marketing writer/director Johanna Stein and producer David Gassman said about their choice to use humor to tackle this difficult issue.
And despite their sensitive subject matter, the videos are funny. In one, a woman rushes into a hardware store and pees in a display toilet. "Dude, what's your problem?" she snaps when the store owner threatens to call the cops. "I come in here with a biological urge that I can't be expected to control. You've got everything just out on display, super proud to show off what you got, and then you're shocked when I come in here and let nature run its course? Really?"
In another, two women feel up a piece of art in a gallery, and laugh off the guard who asks them to stop. "We know you have to say no for appearance's sake," one scoffs.
But as funny as the videos are, what makes them so effective is that they tap into profoundly uncomfortable truths about the way we as a society think about sexual assault. They highlight the absurdity of victim-blaming, yes, but by framing these scenarios in terms of inanimate objects that the women violate, they also underline the fact that women's bodies are perceived as objects available for public consumption. The objectification of women is not a new observation by any means, but having our bodies compared to toilets really drives the point home.
As Alvin Bruno, the campus programs director for It's On Us, told Mashable these videos come at a critical time, when Obama-era protections for victims of sexual assault are under threat from the current administration. In order to combat this, Bruno is encouraging students to sign up for It's On Us's pledge, which will notify them when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opens the "Notice and Comment" process on her department's review of campus sexual assault guidelines.
"We're issuing a rallying cry for everyone to become part of the solution," said Bruno, "and create an environment where survivors are supported.