What the Company Marketing ‘Anti-Rape Underwear’ Gets Wrong About Rape
November 6, 2013 |
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A company named AR Wear is making waves by marketing “a clothing line offering wearable protection for when things go wrong.” The line includes several different types of underwear and shorts that are intended to be difficult for a sexual predator to remove, and the founders explain that could help women feel safer when they’re “going out on a blind date, taking an evening run, ‘clubbing,’ traveling in unfamiliar countries, and any other activity that might make one anxious about the possibility of an assault.” AR Wear has currently raised about half of its $50,000 fundraising goal on the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.
It’s fairly clear that AR Wear’s founders have the best of intentions. In a press release about the crowdfunding campaign, they explain that they want to help women reclaim control over what happens to their bodies. And on their IndieGoGo site, they note that as long as sexual predators are still out there, it’s important to protect women from them.
Nonetheless, their effort has been widely criticized, derided as a new type of chastity belt for the “ modern rape victim.” That’s not because people are opposed to preventing rape, of course — it’s because AR Wear seems to be missing a few crucial points about the reality of sexual assault. Here’s what the campaign gets wrong:
1. Rape isn’t an accident.
From the onset, the tagline of AR Wear’s campaign signals that this isn’t exactly the right framing for effectively tackling sexual assault. Marketing anti-rape underwear “for when things go wrong” suggests that sexual assault is an accident, or simply a night of partying gone sour. It subtly frames the incident in terms of the victim’s bad luck rather than in terms of the perpetrator’s decision to rape. In fact, sexual assault isn’t a slip-up; it’s a crime that a rapist has consciously committed.
“A woman or girl who is wearing one of our garments will be sending a clear message to her would-be assailant that she is NOT consenting. We believe that this undeniable message can help to prevent a significant number of rapes,” AR Wear notes. That’s not exactly right, either. Extensive research has shown that the people who commit rape aren’t simply confused about whether or not their victim consented. Rapists typically carefully select their victims and use a variety of tactics to manipulate them in order to accomplish their goal of sexual assault. In fact, especially when it comes to date rape, it’s often the victims who are confused about what constitutes consent, and that’s how the rapist gets away with it.
2. Rape doesn’t typically occur among strangers whom women encounter at clubs.
AR Wear’s product totally obscures the reality of date rape or intimate partner violence — which actually comprises the majority of sexual violence in this country. Of course, some women are the victims of random violent crimes. But most women aren’t raped by strangers who accost them while they’re jogging or out dancing. According to RAINN, nearly 75 percent of rape victims are assaulted by someone they know. Anti-rape underwear doesn’t seem so helpful for the women who grow to trust a partner before he ends up raping them.
AR Wear’s IndieGoGo campaign notes that the “work of changing society’s rape culture” still needs to move forward — but the myth that date rape is some kind of lesser version of sexual assault, or that it’s somehow less serious or less violent than stranger rape, actually contributes to unhealthy societal assumptions about sexual crimes.
3. White, pretty girls aren’t the only ones at risk of sexual assault.
AR Wear’s campaign doesn’t explicitly address race. But the founders of the clothing line still sent some clear messages about the type of women who need to be protected from the strangers lurking in the bushes waiting to rape them. Although there are a few stock photos of women of color at the beginning of the video, the vast majority of the women who appear — and every single woman who actually speaks — is a slim, pretty white woman. They all fit mainstream society’s conventional standards about what is considered to be beautiful and desirable.