Project pulps panties to promote consent culture

Hannah Smith, freshman in LAS, smiled as she pulled the paper she made by hand from its mould. The large pink sheet was covered in roses, a peace sign and the phrase, “Equality is the only option.” No one would guess that this paper was made from women’s underwear.

An organization called Peace Paper Project brought papermaking to Allen Hall last week from Nov. 4-7 in the form of “Panty Pulping,” or cutting up women’s underwear into pieces to transform them into paper.

Margaret Mahan and Drew Matott co-created the Vermont-based Peace Paper Project. Mahan explained that Panty Pulping focuses on papermaking by hand as art therapy.

“The idea is that we’re using the unmentionables to address the unmentionable,” Mahan said. “We are inviting people to come together and take a stand against sexual and domestic violence on college campuses to promote consent culture.”

Elise Lanker, president of the Sexual Health Peers registered student organization,said consent culture was a term coined to oppose lack of consent, the objectification of women and aggressive sexuality.

“Consent culture came about as a way to oppose rape culture and bring about this more sex-positive, more consent-positive message,” Lanker said. “Consent is not just the absence of a ‘no,’ but the presence of a very enthusiastic ‘yes.’”

Lanker said the most common time for women to be at risk for sexual assault is their freshman year of college, and she said one in 12 college-aged men, when surveyed, said that they had committed sexual assault as defined by the law.

“It’s a very important topic to talk about anywhere, but especially on the college campus environment because of those numbers,” Lanker said.

Mahan said the activity of hand papermaking is a healing process for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. After the paper is created, it is often used in art projects to create books or to use as paper for letter writing. The Peace Paper Project also does papermaking for other communities with people in need of healing, such as survivors of trauma and people with physical disabilities.  

The first time Mahan said she encountered papermaking as a healing experience was when she met a veteran with PTSD who was transforming his uniform into paper.

“He said to me, ‘Papermaking saved my life,’” Mahan said.

Students who tried panty pulping affirmed its calming nature. Parichay Swarup, freshman in Media, said that, in addition to recycling and social justice, papermaking is good because it can be peaceful.

“I had a lot of work to do, so it was relaxing in so many ways,” Swarup said.

About 40 pairs of underwear were pulped in the three days that the Peace Paper Project was on campus. Aside from the papermaking, a petition was available at the project’s desk that promoted consent culture.

In that way, students could “still be engaged with the intention of the project by taking this vow to themselves to use their power to prevent violence in thought, speech and action,” Mahan said.

The University is the last stop on the Peace Paper Project’s tour of the United States. However, from November through March they plan to continue their work panty pulping abroad in the United Kingdom and in northern Spain.

“It’s not just about making paper,” she said. “We don’t need paper. But we need vehicles of self-expression that can be new and healing and empowering, and that’s what paper is.”

Zila can be reached at [email protected]