Are you a woman? Are you concerned about being sexually assaulted? (OF COURSE YOU ARE.)
Well sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and take out your wallet because two American entrepreneurs have your back. Or rather, your crotch region.
AR Wear — which stands for ‘anti-rape wear’ — is a line of high-tech, impenetrable undergarments. (I am not making this up.)
Its creators, two women from New York (one of whom is reportedly a survivor of two attempted sexual assaults), launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign last month seeking $50,000 to help them finalize “an effective, eloquent and production-ready prototype.”
Because if you’re going to wear anti-rape panties, they damn well better be eloquent, amirite?
Marketed as “wearable protection for when things go wrong,” AR Wear is a series of slim-fitting shorts of varying lengths which have been reinforced in key areas — the leg openings, the waistband and a central panel — with an “innovative skeletal structure” that is all-but-impossible to rip or cut.
Speaking of keys, these undies literally lock in place — both around the thighs (“to prevent the leg opening from being lifted or shifted to the sides by someone else”) and at the waist, which has a special lock that can only be opened using “clock hand positions which are easy for the user to remember.” (Up to 132 combinations will be randomly assigned.)
According to the campaign’s video (which features a lot of thin, white, able-bodied, conventionally attractive women because of course it does), AR Wear “is designed to provide a substantial barrier to sexual assault.”
The theory, if I understand it correctly, is that because these garments are (ostensibly) virtually impossible for someone other than the wearer to remove, a woman sporting AR Wear will a) buy herself time in an attack situation, potentially creating an opportunity to escape, b) thwart a rapist’s attempts to get in her pants, and c) send a clear message to any would-be assailant — even if she’s incapacitated — that she is not consenting.
“Studies show that resisting sexual assault lessens the chance of a rape taking place without increasing the violence of the attack,” the video’s narrator explains.
“We feel very strongly about women’s safety and believe that we have successfully combined technology and fashion to help solve a problem that has not been adequately addressed in our society,” the campaign’s accompany text proclaims (in what is arguably the UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE FUCKING YEAR).
“Confidence and protection that can be worn,” the product’s tag line declares.
Textile science to the rescue of scared ladies everywhere! FASHION MEETS FUNCTION, PEOPLE.
Just so we’re clear: The product being pitched here is basically a modern-day, cuter version of a chastity belt — except instead of the key being kept by a woman’s rightful owner husband, the woman herself gets to have control over the mechanism guarding her precious, precious vagina.
It’s 2013, and the cutting-edge rape-prevention technique we’re discussing is a CHASTITY BELT.
There is no doubt in my mind that the two women behind AR Wear have the best of intentions. (There is also no doubt in my mind that the product designers working with these two women see an opportunity to turn a profit.)
AR Wear is not going to be effective in the way its creators think it will because the rationale behind it is fundamentally flawed.
In fact, there are many (many) incorrect assumptions going on here about sexual assault, the criminal act, and about rape prevention, the concept.
First: Preventing someone from penetrating someone else’s vagina with their penis is only ‘preventing rape’ in the most pedantic, old-school legal understanding possible of the word ‘rape.’ Certainly, it’s not synonymous with preventing sexual assault, as AR Wear’s makers suggest.
This is because — and brace yourself for a shock here — sexual assault can and does involve all sorts of actions. EVEN NON-VAGINA-RELATED ACTIONS.
(Fun trivia for any non-Canadian reader: the word ‘rape’ no longer appears in our country’s Criminal Code, replaced some years ago by the term ‘sexual assault’ in recognition of this very fact!)
Perpetuating the idea that one needs access to a vagina to commit a sexual assault is both extremely heteronormative and dick-focused (like everything else in our culture — quelle surprise) and, frankly, offensive to people who have been sexually assaulted in non-vaginal ways, including people who DON’T HAVE VAGINAS.
Second: Two thirds of rapes are committed by men who are known to their victims, while approximately 25 to 30% of rapes are perpetuated by intimate partners. (FYI: these stats are from the same study AR Wear links to in its online campaign.)
More often than not, sexual assaults are committed by men who are trusted by their victims.
The guys women ask to walk them home at night from a party so they won’t get raped. The guys women are voluntarily dating. The ones with whom women are in long-term relationships. The ones they marry. They are little girls’ soccer coaches and uncles and fathers. They are police officers and priests.
Despite what Law & Order: SVU would have you believe, the vast majority of rapes are not committed by masked strangers who jump out from behind a bush, capture their victim and drag her into a fully stocked underground torture chamber. In reality, it’s highly likely that a woman may voluntarily remove her anti-rape wear in advance of being sexually assaulted — or not wear it at all — because she is in the company of someone she trusts to be one of the good guys who, you know, doesn’t rape people.
Third: It seems to me that a would-be assailant could persuade his would-be victim to remove her anti-rape garment relatively easily. Say, by threatening her with severe bodily harm. The long-held cultural expectation that a woman should be willing to endure a beating (or worse) in order to possibly avoid a sexual attack — to fight back to the point of additional injuries of a sufficient degree that maybe, when it’s all over, we might believe her when she says she didn’t consent to what was done to her — is EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC, even if research on sexual assault suggests, as it does, that certain forms of resistance such as screaming and fighting actually can help some women avoid rape.
(See also: the problematic way society reacts to women who convince their attackers to wear a condom. Strategic mitigation of additional harmful consequences =/= consent.)
On a related note, it seems a bit much to expect women to be ready, willing and able to fight off their attacker when, in all likelihood, their attacker is someone they love and trust.
And what of the girls and women who find themselves in the presence of a rapist without their anti-rape wear, whether because they forgot it that day or because they trusted someone not to rape them or because took it off because they wanted to have sex or because they saw what was coming and submitted? Will they be considered somehow culpable in their attack because they didn’t have an innovative skeletal structure woven into their panties?
Can’t you just hear the judge? “Well, missy, you voluntarily removed your protective underwear — UNDERWEAR THAT ONLY YOU COULD REMOVE THANKS TO ONE OF UP TO 132 EASY-TO-REMEMBER COMBINATION LOCKS — so clearly you must have wanted it.”
Lastly: can we talk for a moment about the absolutely GRATUITOUS use of the passive voice throughout AR Wear’s campaign?
“When things go wrong.”
“A rape taking place.”
Why, it’s as if rape just happens! Like a rain shower or a sunset — you know, just one of those inevitable things in life, death and taxes, yada yada yada.
Except, of course, that’s not correct. Sexual assault happens because someone decides to commit it. The perpetrator is kind of essential to the whole concept.
‘Feeling safe’ is not the same as being safe. Locking up your vagina will not prevent someone from sexually assaulting you. (And here I will pre-emptively point out that a woman’s body is not a car or an iPod or a house. Indeed, women’s bodies are not objects at all — a concept that is SO FUCKING SIMPLE and yet apparently so difficult for many people to understand, given that they continue to feel compelled to compare sexual assault to property crime, as if the two things were remotely the same.)
As I write this, 15 days remain in AR Wear’s Indiegogo campaign and $40,284 USD has been raised. Odds are decent that its creators will reach their financial target, get their money and bring their underwear to market.
At best, this product may prevent some men from vaginally penetrating a woman against her will and/or a woman who is unconscious and cannot express her will either way (which, FYI, is also sexual assault). Wearing it, then, could be considered one small way to strategically mitigate some additional harmful consequences of sexual assault.
Anti-rape wear, it most certainly is not.