Are anti-rape panties anti-feminist?

November 6, 2013
AR Wear, as pictured on Indiegogo.com
AR Wear, as pictured on Indiegogo.com

Imagine. It is a Friday night, and you are getting ready to go out with your girl friends. Puckering your lips in the mirror as you smooth on some ruby lipstick to the beat of anything but Robin Thicke, you catch up on the week, which inevitably leads to gossiping about that hot guy in the cubicle down the hall. You go to slip on your dress.

“Oh, wait,” your friend interjects distractedly, as she dabs on some concealer, “Don’t forget your anti-rape shorts.”

This is not too far off from the ridiculous yet real commercial for AR (as in Anti-Rape) Wear, a new clothing company that has raised more than $36,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It has 17 days left to meet its $50,000 goal to begin manufacturing its sexual assault-retardant apparel.

The actual crowdfunding video opens with a young, model-esque woman sporting gleaming white, anti-rape boy shorts, happily and confidently posing in front of her bedroom mirror. “We want to provide a product that will make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date or a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, traveling in a foreign country, or in other potentially risky situations.”

No, as Carmel Deamicis writes in PandoDaily, this is not a SNL skit…yet.

The undergarments, using an “innovative skeletal structure” (I envision a sort of Chinese finger trap for your crotch) and locking devices around the thighs and waist, claim to be resistant to pulling, tearing and cutting — while being comfortable and stylish, of course. AR Wear hopes to expand with traveling shorts soon.

My first question was something along the lines of Feministing editor Alexandra Brodsky’s: “If the whole point of your magic anti-rape underwear is that an evil rapist can’t take them off, is it going to take me a really long time to undo all the secret locks” when one needs to go to the ladies room?

And does one indestructible yet adjustable panty fit all?

Entertaining logistical musings aside, it has sparked an interesting spin on an old debate: Is anti-rape underwear a “noble idea” or a “comfortable, elegant chastity belt for the modern rape victim”?

As one might surmise, many feminists are not happy.

“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,” says Amanda Hess in Slate.

But Holly Kearl of Stop Street Harassment is among those who are torn.

“This product places the focus on women as being the responsible party for stopping their own rape. That is highly problematic,” she says, echoing other feminists’ concern that the product inherently blames the victim.

Kearl highlights another problem with AR Wear: How would indestructible panties work in instances of rape where the perpetrator knows the victim intimately? The company’s campaign site does not say, but Kearl echoes others in arguing that the product inherently “perpetuates the stereotype that rape is men raping women they do not know in a park or drugging them at a bar and raping them later.” The reality, of course, is most victims are raped by someone they know (82%, according to the Department of Justice).

Despite its limited potential, though, Kearl believes a product has value if it can prevent even one rape from happening. “And I bet AR Wear can do that,” she says.

At least no one, not even AR Wear’s inventors, is arguing super-strong yet fashionable compression shorts will end rape or the culture that promotes it.

“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,” the company states on Indiegogo. “The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world.”

Aly Neel is a multimedia platform journalist who most recently was based in Istanbul, Turkey, where she reported on gender-based violence and discrimination. She currently is pursuing her master in public affairs at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter @AlysonNeel.
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Brigid Schulte · November 6, 2013