This post is a collaboration between Jan and Barbie. Trigger warning for rape, rape culture, and lots of anger. 

Part of what I find fascinating about crowdfunding is that it makes it very transparent where there is a market for something. Sometimes those things make me want to go bleach my brain, e.g. the pickup artist manual, which Kickstarter later regretted to the tune of a $25,000 donation to RAINN.  I was on Indiegogo today and saw the campaign for AR Wear, an anti-rape underwear project that has been making news, and decided to check it out for myself.

AR Wear

AR Wear: you know it’s empowering because she’s striking a sassy pose!

AR Wear is knife-resistant, structurally reinforced clothing that locks around the waist and thighs, making it theoretically impossible to remove. The women behind it pay lip service to the idea that rapists are responsible for rape; they get that they’re solving a problem that is not the problem rape culture has, but they’re going to do it anyway because money. And people are absolutely eating it up—it’s a great-and-disturbing education in how much misinformation is out there about rape. They are well on their way to meeting their $50,000 campaign goal, without even offering a chance to receive the product in exchange for backing (this campaign is just to fund the creation of samples, MORE money is needed to go into production). Clearly, there is a huge market out there for the fantasy that rape can be stopped by just preventing access to the victim’s genitals.

There are two types of rape that this device could plausibly prevent: jump-out-of-bushes rape and passes-out-at-party-and-gets-raped-while-unconscious rape. Let’s play out those scenarios:

  1. Rapist jumps out of bushes, threatens AR wearer with some type of weapon, forces them to unlock the underwear and rapes them. Or rapist is thwarted by the underwear and gets more violent against the wearer. Avoiding this situation is the same whether or not you’re wearing anti rape underwear: take a self defense class, use it to disable or distract him, and RUN.
  2. AR wearer passes out at a party, someone decides to rape her. The rapist has all night to figure out how to get her AR wear off, with an added bonus that the police will say “oh, you were wearing anti-rape underwear? Then you must have consented.” Or, if that doesn’t work, there are hundreds of ways that sexual assault or other horribly violating experiences can take place without touching the victim’s genitals.

I don’t see how this helps against the way rapists usually operate: incrementally pushing boundaries, taking advantage of the fact that we’ve taught boys to push until they get what they want and girls to be accommodating, employing tactics that make their victims question whether they even have the right to say they didn’t want whatever happened to happen. Rapists know that they have more success when they operate in the gray area of “was it rape?”

I don’t see how it helps women feel empowered. AR Wear’s campaign says: “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.” Trust me, RAPISTS ALREADY KNOW. Rape isn’t about sex.  It’s about violence and power. If a rapist can’t get into someone’s underwear, they’re not going to say “hey, maybe I should reconsider what I’m doing.” They will find another, possibly more violent way, to exert their power. Amanda Hess wrote on Slate about the real message AR Wear is sending: “After all, nothing makes a woman feel comfortable in her own body like a constant physical reminder that she’s expected to guard her genitals against potential sexual assaults at all times.”

You would have no idea how much the internet is blowing up at this from AR’s Indiegogo page. There’s one comment that links to a piece that is slightly critical. And the rest? “Please make this for men too!” I’m not an expert on the mechanics of how male rape works, but I’m pretty sure stranger-jumps-out-of bushes or passes-out-at-party-and-gets-raped-while-unconscious type rapes are even rarer than their already rare incidence among women. Do these men actually live their lives in fear of being a victim of rape? Or are they just upset about being left out of the conversation? (A friend recently came up with an option C: these men could be chastity fetishists looking for a new toy to facilitate orgasm denial play. In which case, best of luck, boys.)

But… this is a market driven solution. Women are making it, buying it, and promoting it. Anecdotally, people are coming forward and saying that they think this could have stopped their sexual assault. Who are we to say that it shouldn’t be available, that women shouldn’t be allowed to protect themselves the way they want? Haha j/k we’re going to say it, and the reason is that AR is basing much of their sales pitch on misinformation they WILLINGLY spread about the effectiveness of self defense training. Their campaign says “We believe that the tools of self-defense currently available are not effective in many common settings of sexual assault.”  Umm, you can’t just decide that self-defense is ineffective because you feel like it’s ineffective.  And especially don’t immediately follow it with research saying that physical resistance is an effective strategy (page 413-414 of the linked paper explicitly states that physical resistance is effective).  AR says physical resistance is only useful “if the potential victim is extremely alert and bold when an attack comes.”

Knowing how to knee a guy in the balls: helpful no matter what underwear you’re wearing!

Certainly, there are problems with traditional self defense training: the kind that focus primarily on physical skills, without addressing vocal and emotional skills, without providing education on societal expectations for women, and without teaching people how to recognize “boundary-testing.” In IMPACT and other self-defense styles tailored to women and other vulnerable populations (e.g. homosexual men, children, etc.), there is training for how to use vocal skills as well as physical skills, how to understand the fear reaction, and how to fight back with your fear, not in spite of it. There are also opportunities to roleplay situations with friends and lovers. Survivors are supported and validated during these courses. You do not have to be “bold” and you do not have to be “extremely alert.”  So we’re not ok with trying to dissuade people from learning self-defense THAT THE VERY ARTICLE AR WEAR CITES SAYS WORKS, just in order to sell a product. Obviously, self defense doesn’t work in every situation of sexual assault, but for things like intimate partner violence, AR Wear wouldn’t work anyway. It will only work if you think you’re in danger, and the ones who can hurt you the most are the ones you think never would. Go back and read Barbie’s survivor story; despite experiencing sexual assault that wouldn’t have been stopped by her extensive knowledge of martial arts, she is an ardent supporter of self defense training that helps people stay safe in a way that doesn’t make them feel like a victim-in-waiting. Nothing you do to protect yourself from sexual assault is going to be completely foolproof.  Even a self-defense instructor can get hurt.  However, just like washing your hands is good for your health even though it doesn’t kill 100% of germs, the physical and emotional empowerment you get through a well-taught self-defense course is good for your health and safety too.

The great thing about crowdfunding is that everything can be made if it finds its audience. It a shame that the things that have actually been shown to prevent rape, like men’s peer education programs, domestic violence shelters, and comprehensive sex education, chronically struggle for funding. If people are so eager to throw money at this problem, they should check out the following organizations:

Men Can Stop Rape 

National Domestic Violence Hotline or shelters in your area

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US

Add your own in the comments!