Four undergrads at North Carolina University were faced with a serious problem. Ankesh Madan, Stephen Grey, Tasso Von Windheim and Tyler Confrey-Maloney realized that date rape is a horrifically common experience on campus. “All of us have been close to someone who has been through the terrible experience [of date rape],” Madan told Higher Education Works, “and we began to focus on finding a way to help prevent the crime.” Their innovative solution to this problem was to create Undercover Colors, a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with a wide range of date-rape drugs, from Xanax to GHB. “With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger. If her nail polish changes color, she’ll know that something is wrong.”
Now, total nerd that I am, I think this is super neato. I might buy and wear this nail polish simply because it’s cool. I can defend my rude ice-chewing habit by smiling sardonically when I dig for ice chips and saying, “Just discreetly ensuring my safety, hang on!” However, I don’t actually feel empowered by this product at all (because who really feels empowered by yet another reminder that you live in a world that is constantly dangerous to you?). Honestly, most of the women I know are drawn to this idea for its pure gimmicky-ness, and not actually as a rape-prevention tool. This lead me down a wild, winding internet road of anti-rape devices, from the crude and cruel to the downright goofy or completely fake. Care to join me?
The Chastity Belt
Well, maybe being a pretty pretty princess wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yeesh. Doesn’t that photo just make you want to weep for the poor vaginas of the Middle Ages? I mean, I can’t even fucking deal with the sadistic bastards who created nylon panties (breathable cotton, ladies. Only give your ladybits breathable cotton). Talk about a yeast infection that you can’t ever, ever scratch. Also, quick question: how do you poop in this thing?! That lovely clover-shaped dookie hole seems…inadequate to me. Luckily, most chastity belts are actually fakes from the 19th century, which I was really surprised to find out. In fact, many chastity belts from prominent history museums, including the British Museum and the Musée de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages) in Paris, have either removed their collections of hoochie-cages or re-dated them, thanks to carbon-dating technology that can test the metals and prove that they were actually created in the 19th century.
The mythology of the chastity belt goes all the way back to the Crusades, when knights supposedly locked up their ladies’ little penis penitentiaries to protect them from other marauding troops. And, you know, to keep the fire alive. Because nothing says “I love you” like burning pustules from chafing against rusty metal.
Most of these tales come from the super-SEXSEXSEX-obsessed 19th century, when women actually did wear a kinda-sorta more humane form of chastity belt (like, with some padding next to the iron) to protect themselves from all the drunken jackasses they had to deal with in the workplace. I’m sure they felt very empowered to discreetly ensure their safety.
The Rape-aXe, a barbed female condom created by Sonnet Ehlers, basically turns your lovely passionflower into a Venus flytrap. Ehlers created the Rape-aXe while she was a blood technician with the South African Blood Transfusion Service. Disgusted and disheartened by the astronomically high instances of rape in South Africa, Ehlers created this latex sheath that is lined with inward-facing barbs that are impossible for a perpetrator to remove from his penis without excruciating pain, thus forcing him to be treated in hospitals…where he would have to explain why he has dozens of tiny little plastic teeth embedded in his penis.
First of all, the fact that this is marketed as a “rape-prevention tool” is laughable. Um, if his penis is in your vagina without your consent, tiny plastic needles or no tiny plastic needles, sounds to me like he’s raped you pretty successfully. Not to mention that, in order for this to “prevent” rape, there are a lot of assumptions that need to be true. He needs to rape you in your vagina, for one. Also, considering rape can happen anywhere and at any time, you’d have to wear this damn thing every second of your life. Many feminists have also expressed another serious concern: harming a rapist’s penis is a pretty surefire way to escalate rape to homicide.
The No-Contact Assault Jacket
No-Contact LLC primarily markets to police forces and private security, creating electrically-conducive clothing that sends 80,000 volts of low-amperage electricity up the arm (or, you know…whatever) of an attacker. However, they did make a jacket with ladies in mind, saying that the electric shock disorients the attacker long enough to give you life-saving seconds for a getaway. I kinda wish my friend had this jacket that one time a dude totally rubbed his penis on her while we were riding the subway. Douche. You can watch a video of the jacket in action here.
The Angel Wing Anti-Rape Alarm
Yes, this is actually advertised as a mighty RAPE PREVENTING ALARM. LOL. Srsly guys? Because in urban environments, it’s not like we ignore alarms every freaking second of the day or anything. The instructional image says it all:
“Agitate your attacker and escalate violence even faster by emitting a screeching, high-pitched sound that will scare the crap out of him and probably make him punch your lights out rather than run away!”
Cold Steel Hair Brush Defense Dagger
Okay, so this isn’t exactly marketed as a rape-preventive devise, but it’s so goofy that I had to share it. (Plus, just about any instance where a woman needs to physically defend herself, rape is always a concern, sooo…it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.) Made by Armed In Heels (bra gun holsters, anyone?), this would probably not be the best option for ladies who are always losing things in the bottom of their purse. “Hang on, don’t attack me yet! God damn it, I know it’s in here somewhere…” Gotta love the site’s product description:The Hair Brush Defense Dagger is a fully functioning hairbrush that is easy to store in a purse or bag. However, when pulled apart, the polypropylene shaft becomes an 8.25″ defense dagger. Being extra light, affordable, and useful, this is a great addition to any female’s day or overnight bag!
Fully functioning hairbrush! You could always brush your hair with the power of death in your very hands.
This… I don’t know what to call this.
How about we call it amazeballs. This camouflage costume is so bizarre that I was certain it was a hoax. Either that or a prop for an upcoming Pink Panther movie. However, a little research pulled up a New York Times article about Aya Tsukioka, a Japanese clothing designer who created this self-defense getup so that Japanese women can hide in plain sight. This is “discreet empowerment” at its, um, most discreet. Being followed by a potential attacker? You can pull a snappy Inspector Clouseau move and dodge around a corner, then zip this puppy up. Tada! <<heavy French accent>> “Pretty young woman? What pretty young woman? Can’t you see that I’m a vending machine?”
There’s an App for that!
Worried that you may have been roofied? At a frat party that’s getting out of hand? On a date and realize you’re cornered in his car? There are countless smartphone apps that can handle almost any situation; that is, if you can get to your phone. Or dial it. Without it being noticed that you have a blaring “SAFETY SIREN” screen on your phone. Many of these have a similar basic function: they set off a blaring alarm with a shake or a tap, and send a Google Map of your location to your preset emergency contacts. Only slightly more useful than the Angel Wing. A couple of them even have a “secret camera mode” which will record them in the act, but I’m having trouble picturing exactly how this works. Like, “Hang on, I have a text. Can you just… sit still for a minute? Thanks. Okay. Continue.” Or, for $15 a month (the cost of a fancy sandwich! 😉 ), you can use the App MyForce, which will send you your own personal security team to any location.
The list goes on and on, and I didn’t even post about the penis guillotine or the tampon taser (golly gee, what could possibly go wrong with placing weapons inside your vagina?). You’d think with all the options women have, they’d figure out a way to stop getting raped by now. I mean, geez. Even with all the unwanted advice from your aunt Pearl and these exhausting 29-step lists, women still can’t figure it out. (sarcasm guys.)
Here’s the deal. These guys from NCU are clearly brilliant, capable, caring young men. They’re concerned about women’s safety and they’re ready to have a dialogue about that, and I think it’s great. But the big reason women like me just kind of collectively shrug when a new anti-rape gimmick comes out is because, while this is interesting and cool, it’s not solving the problem at all. None of these products or ideas–none of them–prevent rape. This isn’t a problem you can patch up with spackle, put a fresh coat of paint on it, and call it fixed. It’s a more holistic problem than that. Constantly placing the responsibility on women to prevent violence they rarely have control over–and then telling them how empowered they are!–is actually downright insulting.
So, what works?
See what the awesome people at Men Can Stop Rape and The Good Men Project are doing. Instead of sending that e-mail to your niece about “3,654 Easy Ways to Prevent Date Rape,” talk to your nephew about what obtaining consent means. Instead of fostering a fear-mongering culture where all women are victims and all men are potential rapists (how secure would you feel if you felt like you needed to hide a dagger in your hairbrush? I mean really? Do you really feel better now?), let’s give men an active voice in this conversation……….and by active I mean more than just “Ladies, you should do this, not that, and definitely don’t wear that if you don’t want to get raped.” I personally don’t believe that men are all slathering beasts waiting to assault a woman. We need to stop treating men like we expect them to be animals and stop treating women like they are then responsible for the horrible actions of a few men. And it’s more than just talking about “Yes is yes and No is no.” We need to talk about the systemic objectification of women’s bodies, and what personal agency and autonomy for women in their own bodies really means. This problem is bigger than a condescending safety talk at freshman orientation.
If you read this far, here’s a little easter egg for you.