This anti-rape nail polish thing

When I first heard about the nail polish that changes color when exposed to date rape drug, I shared it on my Facebook with the status, “Cool invention, but it makes me sad that women have to live defensively.” Even though I recognize that the invention provides certain benefits, there are aspects of the situation that we must examine and be critical about. I am not completely against such inventions, but we should not let this legitimize wrong notions, and we should not lose sight of the long-term goal of fighting rape culture. What did I mean by that? My answer is multi-tiered and complex, so I will try to break it down for you.

I think that the nail polish is helpful.

When women are unsure about the drink that they are given in a club, and social pressures stop them from throwing it away, then they can trust their handy nail polish to change color (when dipped into the liquid), and thus discreetly give them a telling signal “Drink me”, or “Leave now! Run for your life!”

Although, it’s also sad that she can’t just say no to a drink that she doesn’t trust. Instead, she has to act cautiously so as not to offend the suspicious male in her midst. Or maybe he’s a friend, so it’s hard for her to betray her doubts. But fine, the invention is still helpful. I do recognize that.

But I wasn’t I completely happy about it because it reveals a chilling reality.

A comment on the said Jezebel article perfectly encapsulates my feeling. “Oh, words can’t describe how sad the need of such an invention is,” said MarioO. The fact that this was invented goes to how prevalent sexual assault is in women’s lives.

Before men hit the club, all they need to think about is how they’re going to have a good time. On the other hand, women have to put their nail polish on and prepare to defend themselves against sexual assault. Got my red dress on and my anti-rape nail polish, now I’m ready to hit the club! This is just freakin’ sad.

By saying that this is sad, I’m not arguing that the nail polish is evil or should be banned. I’m just saying that living this way is not an ideal situation. The ideal situation is hitting the club without anti-rape preparations. We should aim for a future where rape rarely occurs. We should aim for a world where the threat of rape isn’t on women’s minds whenever they want to have an ordinary fun night at a club. A world where rape rarely occurs shouldn’t be an unimaginable utopia. It should be a foreseeable future that we should work to create.

I was worried that the invention might send the wrong message.

We must clarify that creating this invention doesn’t mean that we think that women should be solely responsible for preventing rape, or that women are at fault if they get raped because they did not do enough to prevent the rape from happening to them. That’s why the Jezebel article ends with a caveat, “And while helping a woman protect herself is always a good move, victims are in no way responsible for rape—rapists are.”

Up to now, rape victims are still asked, “what were you wearing?” A person asks this because he or she thinks that it was the victim’s fault that she got raped. For this person it was the woman’s responsibility to prevent rape by not dressing like a slut. Seriously, how many inches of clothing does it take to be rape free? Is there an agreed upon standard? Woops, above the knee, not rape free! No, there isn’t, because women have been raped even if they were wearing baggy jeans and large t-shirts. Even if a woman who was wearing sexy clothes got raped, then it’s not the dress’ fault, or the woman who chose to wear it. It was the fault of the rapist who chose to commit the crime. Men, you can control your urges. You are not animals. Women are also blamed for being raped if they drank alcohol. When women become vulnerable because they drank vodka, that shouldn’t be a free pass for men to force themselves on her. Wearing a dress or drinking alcohol isn’t a free access pass to a woman’s vagina. They do not make rape ok.

Knowing that society has a tendency to blame the victim, we must realize that anti-rape devices again focuses on the victim. If we are not careful, this can legitimize dangerous notions. This victim-focus can reinforce the wrong notion that it’s the woman’s responsibility to prevent rape, and that this responsibility is not on the shoulders of the uncontrollable sexually-charged man.

Whenever we make an anti-rape invention, it can insidiously support society’s tendency to focus on the woman, burden her, and blame her if she fails to protect herself. They think, if she didn’t take enough precautions, then it was her fault she got raped, she was asking for it, she was dumb enough not to use the anti-rape device when it was necessary for her daily existence. Compulsory no slutty dresses or else it’s your fault you got raped. Compulsory no alcohol or else it’s your fault you got raped. Compulsory use of anti-rape device or else it’s your fault you got raped. These are wrong notions that some people might be led into thinking. If society has the tendency to blame the victim, then we must clarify what the invention is really for, and what it means when we say we are ok with these inventions.

We must remember that these inventions are merely stopgap mechanisms. 

The invention should not mislead us into thinking that preventing rape is the sole responsibility of the woman, and thus the only thing we should do is keep arming her with anti-rape devices. These devices are stop gap mechanisms that can help protect the woman, but we must continue to educate men that rape is wrong and most definitely not the victim’s fault. Men must stop themselves from raping–that is the most effective solution to the problem.

Education is still the long term goal, and we shouldn’t forget this. 

There is a danger that if we get too content with these inventions, or we get cynical about the effectiveness of education, then we might be driven to settle on this strategy of creating anti-rape devices. We should aim for a future where men are educated. We should aim for a future where rape rarely happens. We shouldn’t aim for a future where women are fully equipped with a hundred anti-rape devices, chastity belt to boot, so that she is rape free, but is in essence chained by the threat of rape, her real freedom hindered by all of the precautions that she must take. We must recognize that these devices are helpful, but they are stop gap mechanisms, and we must continue to fight the real fight through education.

Everyone can contribute to fighting rape culture in his or her own small way.

If you think that you can’t do anything now because rape culture is so strong, you’re wrong. You can post feminist articles on Facebook, call out a friend who makes a sexist joke, call out a friend or even a stranger who whistles at women, call out people who shame women by using words such as “bitch” and “whore”, and call out friends who grope women in crowded places. By doing these little things, we might change people’s minds, or we might not. Failure is only assured when we do nothing.

For more posts in the Analyze This category, check out:

You can also read an article that criticizes the nail polish invention here.

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