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An imperfect life guide for women
Image from AR Wear's kickstarter
"My sexual security should come from living in a society that teaches people not to rape, not one that suggests I wear tear-resistant underwear and hope it doesn’t happen."

Why I won’t be supporting AR Wear, the “anti-rape” underwear company

Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault, violence against women

When I first left home for university my dad suggested I get a “safety” whistle and a take self defence course. More out of laziness than dissent, I did neither, though I now balk at the advice. At the time, however, I agreed with him: it was important to do everything I could to protect myself from would-be assailants. And there would be assailants; I was definitely going to be attacked. I’d watched full seasons of Law & Order: SVU and read enough stats to assume that it was inevitable, that I needed to take precautions to protect myself. It seemed normal to be afraid, just another part of being a woman, my burden to bear because I had both breasts and night classes on the other side of campus. Walking alone at night I’d plug 9-1-1 into my phone and keep the ‘send’ button close by or carry my keys between my knuckles like I’d been told to do in high school.

I imagine many of you have done similar things. When 70% of all women are likely to experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetimes, it’s the reality of our day-to-day. It’s also the way most people have come to conceptualize sexual assault prevention. Ever Mainard has a stand up routine that pokes fun at it: “Every woman has that one moment like, “Well. Here’s my rape. This is it. Heeeeere’s my rape!” Mainard’s routine is controversial, but her jokes hinge on an unlikely power reversal between assailant and victim and shed light on the ingrained way that we think about violence against women.

In the summer of 2008 a string of connected assaults took place in the neighbourhood where I lived. One night a friend found a man climbing inside her basement window. The city was afraid and I grew resentful. I was annoyed when people suggested I use our campus Safe Walk program—why should I change my route home? Why did I need protection? Why was it my responsibility to avoid rape? My gender meant I wasn’t able to walk alone at night without fear and it wasn’t fair.

Instead of accepting the protect-yourself-to-stop-rape status quo, I emailed the Garneau Sisterhood, an ad hoc anti-rape organization. They created a poster campaign combating common rape myths and demanded the rapist turn himself in. He didn’t, and to my knowledge still hasn’t, but I felt far more empowered working with them then I had before. It was my first introduction to the notion of rape culture, and the beginning of a larger discussion that is now in full swing in mainstream media. The push to redefine rape prevention by focusing on perpetrators rather than their targets has grown significantly since then.

So that’s why I’m frustrated when I hear about things like this Indiegogo campaign to fund AR Wear, an ‘“anti-rape” underwear company. Why are they wasting resources on more victim-focused rape prevention? There has been major backlash against the “protective” garment ,which promises to offer “protection when things go wrong.” In addition to being a trivializing slogan, this kind of “protection” is an example of unwitting victim-blaming. Anti-rape devices promote a sense of perpetual potential victimhood in women and draw attention away from the real issues surrounding rape. They also ignore the fact that the majority of assault is committed by someone known by the victim. I look at this “anti-rape” underwear and wonder about women in abusive relationships: how could the garments actually help the people who are most likely to be assaulted? Instead of arming women with a glorified chastity belt and fear of dark alleys, we should be providing information on abusive relationships and consent to both sexes.

Obviously, not unlike my dad, the producers behind these contraptions want me to stay safe. It isn’t their intent to shift responsibility and victim-blame, and they try to acknowledge this: “Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men. Meanwhile, 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.”

But while the fear that followed me down empty streets ten years ago remains and I find myself asking the same questions—Can I run in these heels? If I wear headphones, will I hear someone approach?—I will not wear these undergarments or support their production. I will instinctively try to avoid dangerous situations—I wear a bicycle helmet because I’m afraid of accidents, not because I think someone is going to deliberately run me over—but I refuse to take on more responsibility. My sexual security should come from living in a society that teaches people not to rape, not one that suggests I wear tear-resistant underwear and hope it doesn’t happen.

11 comments
Caleigh
Caleigh

I agree with what many others (and the author) have said with regard to there being a necessity to focus more on the perpetrators of rape and less on victims. I also agree with the notion that rape is not the fault of the victim.


That said, as a female heading into basic training I would welcome a product such as the AR wear, given the extraordinarily high rates of sexual assault towards female military personnel. I daresay it might be nice to have that feeling of extra security, even just while sleeping. 


My wearing or not wearing AR wear is not an excuse for any potential attacker anymore than my wearing a short skirt, a parka, or a hijab would be. Rape is and always will be the attacker's fault. 


That said, if it comes down to a situation where a 200lb man is pinning me down to try and force sex, I will be much happier if he is unable to actually do something to me. I'd rather be the almost-victim that had a chance to scream and fight back than the undefended victim, and if someone has a simple tool like a pair of shorts that I can wear to give me any sort of advantage in a worst-case scenario situation, hell yes I will take it.

incon
incon

As others have said, it's a lot harder to create a crime-free society than to give people additional tools to protect themselves. No one will blame a woman who DOESN'T use this tool. They also don't market it to be used as a daily garment. They say this could be used to feel safer on a blind date, out drinking or jogging at night, and frankly I wouldn't mind that extra comfort because those situations DO make me scared. 


This product doesn't say "What should the victim do", it says "What COULD the victim do" to improve their chances against bad people. It's an option, just like having a rape whistle, or carrying a knife. If someone wants to have that in case they need to protect themselves, why not. 

A real person
A real person

Yes, because creating an uthopia with no crime whatsoever is easier than manufacturing a piece of underwear.


Rape will always happen. Just like burglary will always happen. Just like murder will always happen. And its not because there is a rape culture or murder culture or burglary culture. Its because some people are fucked in the head. Its because there will always be some guy who doesnt give a fuck about laws and education. 


The sad truth is there will ALWAYS be criminals. You will never completely erase all criminal activity. So for fucks sake, stop acting like ALL rapes can be avoided through society because they cant. 


Raping, just like all other crimes, will always exist.

99999Guest
99999Guest

You are right it would be better when men would not rape women and we lived in a society without violence. But the real is different some people are bad and make crimes to saticfy their own egoistic ambitions. So long as humanity existed crimes and rapes existed, and there would be nothing, which change this situation.

No education or awareness training would change the behaviour of some people, and that is the sad true. 

Erin3223
Erin3223

I hope men stop raping us one day.

babababa
babababa

Thank you for this. Very well written.

Peace Ama
Peace Ama

Doesn't strike me as breathable

Beth11
Beth11

This is a well written and thought provoking article.  As a young woman taking public transit, I used to cringe at the old men (who were likely not that old) that would ogle, change seats to sit closer or say disgusting things.  It was a regular occurrence.  I don't recall being overly fearful but instead using common sense and following suggestions of my mother.  She used to hand me some extra cash to keep aside just in case I needed a cab to make a quick get away.  She called it mad money.

Vanessa
Vanessa

I agree. It also scares me to think what would happen if someone was actually attacked and the victim had this garment on, what would the attacker do instead? There are other, techniques for women to protect themselves and this distracts from that by giving a very false sense of security. No, you shouldn't walk alone in a dark alley, and this garment is not going to give you the power to do such a thing.