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Red My Lips – An Interview with the Founder

Woman Applies Lipstick

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Published March 21, 2014 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Red My Lips is a campaign that occurs every April to raise awareness about sexual violence. The founder of the campaign, Danielle Tansino, emphasizes that sexual violence is not just a women’s issue – it’s a human issue. The campaign is about visibility and, in some ways, resembles Movembers’ use of “visibility” through physical manifestations, to generate buzz and awareness around a particular topic. We sat down with Ms. Tansino to learn more about the campaign, how to get involved and what we can learn from awareness campaigning.

1. Can you tell us a bit about the campaign? What kind of activities or events are held? How many people participated last year?

Red My Lips is a campaign that encourages supporters to wear red lipstick throughout the month of April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) to raise visibility and awareness related to sexual violence. The goal of the campaign is to give people an easy way to challenge rape culture and victim-blaming, while demonstrating solidarity and support for surivors in their lives.

Red My Lips emerged from my own personal experience with sexual violence. In 2011, I was raped by a friend of my then housemate. In the wake of this experience, I was shocked to learn firsthand how common it is for loved ones, the legal system and (sometimes) even counselors to blame, shame and silence survivors. Though it is probably hard to imagine, those responses were more jarring and traumatizing than the assault itself.

Red My Lips was my way of speaking out and began as a small social media campaign. Honestly, I really only expected that a small group of my close friends would participate. I was shocked to see it quickly spread to over 40 countries, including Australia, South Africa and India. Over 2,000 “attended” the campaign’s first online event and countless supporters shared pictures and stories throughout the month. It became clear that this was a conversation people wanted to have.

2. Since the campaign’s inception in 2012, what do you feel has been the greatest achievement for the campaign?

Last year's campaign at the Classy office
Last year’s campaign at the Classy office

Without a doubt, the most powerful outcome of Red My Lips has been the response from supporters. Numerous survivors shared having learned about the campaign after commenting on a friend or coworker’s red lipstick, which was exciting. I have also received personal messages (from strangers and loved ones alike) who said they never told anyone about their own assault. Many expressed that they always blamed themselves and stated that participating in the campaign allowed them to finally realize that what happened was not their fault.

Another particularly significant achievement involved participation from male supporters. When I began the campaign, many told me, “Men aren’t going to do this.”

However, one of the most dedicated supporters last year was a man from Canada who blogged about the campaign, shared updates and picture, and even wore red lipstick out! I also had an amazing group of guy friends who agreed to wear red lipstick out at a Boston bar one night last April. On a personal note, witnessing this was one of the most touching and meaningful experiences for me.

3. What, specifically, do you hope the campaign can achieve for activism against sexual violence (e.g beyond awareness, are there particular things you hope to achieve like stauncher legislation that will bring more perpetrators to justice?)

My most basic hope for the campaign is that it will allow survivors to feel and SEE support on faces of those around them. So many survivors suffer for years in silence, which can be incredibly isolating. And those who speak often experience a different kind of isolation, because so many people don’t know how to show support or talk about these issues. I would love to see that change. On top of survivors deserving support, it’s also hard to hold perpetrators accountable when we’re busy pointing fingers at their victims. And it’s hard to prosecute perpetrators when survivors are afraid to speak.

Beyond raising awareness and supporting survivors, I think looking at prevention programs will be hugely important. Unfortunately, current prevention efforts mainly focus on policing women’s behavior. Not only does this approach fuel victim-blaming, but it simply doesn’t work. It does not address the root cause(s) of sexual violence nor the aspects of our culture that perpetuate it. However, there are some promising new programs, particularly those that focus on bystander intervention and programs that help young men examine and redefine masculinity. Once Red My Lips is able to raise funds, I would love to support the development and expansion of these types of programs.

In regards to the technicality of running the campaign:

4. How does Red My Lips, specifically, raise awareness and spread its message? How do you get people to participate, spread the word and recruit others to be active supporters?

Since Red My Lips participants wear red lipstick for the entire month of April, they have many opportunities to spread the word about the campaign. When you wear such a bold color, particularly day after day, people take notice. (This is especially true for those who don’t typically wear lipstick.) Though wearing red lipstick alone can be a powerful gesture of support, in and of itself, it also gives people and easy way to begin important conversations. Therefore, supporters are encouraged to talk with people in their lives, particularly when someone comments on their red lips!

Currently, Red My Lips is run predominantly through social media. Participants post pictures, blogs, etc, showing their support. However, as the campaign grows, this will hopefully expand to include a fundraising component, as well as events.

5. Where do you see the campaign in one year? In 5 years? Do you see it developing into a broader organization?

The long term goal is to develop Red My Lips into a charitable foundation, where supporters who wear red lipstick will be able to raise money for the cause. The money raised would fund projects that support survivors, as well as prevention programs that address the root causes of sexual violence and the elements of our culture that perpetuate it.

Once Red My Lips is established as a non-profit, it will also be possible to partner with cosmetics companies to help raise awareness and funds.

Anything else you want us to know about Red My Lips?

This is not exactly an answer to that question, but I would like to direct a final message to those who have experienced sexual violence:

Regardless of what anyone tells you, there is absolutely NOTHING that you did or could have done that would make what happened to you your fault. I don’t care the circumstances. I don’t care how much you drank, where you were, or what you were wearing. It doesn’t matter if you screamed “No!” and tried to gauge your attacker’s eyes out or if you panicked and froze. No matter the circumstances, your experience and response are valid.

Additionally, experiencing sexual violence does not make you a different person. You are not damaged or broken. What happened does not reflect who you are; it reflects who the perpetrator is.

Danielle Tansino is the creator and founder of Red My Lips. Trained as a clinical social worker and having worked as an outpatient therapist. After an assault in 2011, she experienced firsthand how victim-blaming effects the legal process and complicates healing for survivors. When she is not fighting rape culture, she is a reluctant red lipstick connoisseur and enjoys sketching at the beach and petting her reclusive cat.

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