There was some concern among BUST.com readers about the posting (and subsequent removal) of a post on a new line of anti-rape activewear. Though there may be benefits to these products, we thought this issue could use a more nuanced discussion.
Rape-prevention techniques like self-defense classes and pepper-spray are often helpful; they can save lives. But ideally, they are not permanent fixtures. If we turn solely to defensive tactics that teach us, “Don’t get raped” instead of “Don’t rape,” we’re in trouble. Instead of accepting that sexual violence is not normal, there are many societal forces insisting that it's our responsibility to protect ourselves. We’re told that we can’t wear certain outfits and that we can’t leave the house after dark. And living in fear of being raped? That’s oppression!
The recent development “anti-rape wear” forces us to confront difficult questions about rape culture. In a well-intentioned attempt to prevent violence, the New York startup AR Wear is in the process of creating pants that lock and cannot be removed easily.
Aside from looking less than comfortable, the clothing designs have raised concerns about victim-blaming ideologies. We can't fault a company for inventing an item that attempts to ward off rapists, but it’s important to realize that preventative tools like these are not a viable long-term solution. And the company acknowledges that the clothing is meant as more of a band-aid than a magical fix: “As long as sexual predators continue to populate our world, AR Wear would like to provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes while the work of changing society’s rape culture moves forward,” it explains.
As Madame Noire’s Charing Ball suggests, these clothing items are bound to be expensive, and the company has already promised discounts to those donating larger amounts of money. The potential availability of these garments only to wealthier women is problematic. As Ball also notes, these garments are designed only for women and totally side-step the reality of the sexual victimization of individuals of all genders. The garments also could not be 100% effective and do not prevent against sexual attacks that do not involve the genitals. Another problem: removing one's AR Wear also does not necessarily constitute consent, although Ball fears courtrooms might see it as such.
While AR Wear’s idea is admirable, it shouldn’t dominate our discussion of rape prevention. Rape is not an inevitability that we are responsible for protecting ourselves from; it is a violent act that we, as a society, must be taught not to condone. Everyone has the right to safety, and if these pants help, that’s wonderful. But in order to truly prevent rape, we must reframe the way we discuss it in order to include education aimed at the prevention of potential offenders, not just potential victims.
Of course anything that could potentially protect a single person from sexual assault is worthwhile, but I would hope that the garments can be made available to more people of diverse genders and financial situations. The fight against rape culture is at a crucial stage, and we must make sure that prevention techniques be used only for the benefit of victims, never for victim-blaming. What do you think of AR Wear’s campaign?
Images via Buzzfeed