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How the “Grab Her by the Brain” campaign tried and failed to advocate for women

How about not grabbing women at all?

A hat for sale at #GrabHerByTheBrain’s website
Grabherbythebrain.com

A campaign to promote gender equality seemingly designed to reclaim Donald Trump’s videotaped brag about grabbing women by the genitals is being criticized for doing just the opposite.

Grab Her by the Brain — an online campaign with accompanying baseball caps on sale for $21 each — says its ultimate goal is “To implement school programs to encourage the empowerment, individuality and tolerance of gender equality.”

The five “ambassadors” of the effort — who, according to their website biographies, include actors, an “event visionary,” and a “philanthropy enthusiast” — say their hope is for “females” to:

“Be valued for their contribution to our communities...

Participate in our society without the fear of being objectified...

Feel confident, able, and willing to achieve their greatest potential...

Have access to equal opportunities as their gender counterpart...”

Those are goals few would quibble with.

But Twitter users have criticized the campaign’s name — and its seeming embrace of the idea that men can or should grab women in any way — for reinforcing the very sexist thinking that fueled Trump’s comments (not to mention the actions his comments describe, which arguably constitute sexual assault).

It’s more than just a criticism of the language. Underlying almost any debate about sexual assault is a misunderstanding of what constitutes consent and a stubborn belief that men are within their rights to make physical contact with women in any way they choose.

In the process of mocking the importance of consent in a recent broadcast, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh unintentionally did a good job explaining this. As Emily Crockett wrote:

One of the most ridiculous responses to the allegations came from Rush Limbaugh, who defended Trump by dismissing the whole idea of "consent": "You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element," he said. "Do you know what it is? Consent. … If the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation, then here come the rape police."

Limbaugh is being sarcastic, but he’s actually correct. Consent isn’t some deviant left-wing phenomenon — it’s the law.

Any message that disregards the importance of consent when it comes to women’s bodies — even if its intentions are pure, even if it encourages men to grab at brains instead of genitals, or even, as some suspect, if it’s just a slapdash effort to sell apparel — risks harming women more than it helps them.

Vox has reached out to the creators of Grab Her by the Brain for a response to these critiques, but had not yet received a response by the time of publication.

Update: Grab Her by the Brain founder Elizabeth Ariosto provided the following statement to Vox:

As a domestic violence survivor and someone who dedicates her life to advocating for women’s rights, I am deeply saddened by the way certain members of our society value women in both the workplace and at home.

Intentionally provocative in nature, Grab Her by the Brain, is designed to serve as a timely metaphor to promote gender equality by using satire to help influence healthy public debate following Mr. Trump’s derogatory remarks about women. Undoubtedly, our slogan is being used to protest his lewd comments and propel the nation to join in demanding cultural change.

My hope is that this campaign will bring every woman closer to achieving their greatest potential without the fear of being objectified or disempowered.