In the promised reckoning over sexual assault, harassment and rape culture, a bracelet probably wasn't the solution the women of 2018 were hoping for.
But here it is. Last week, a Dutch start-up announced the sale of the Invi bracelet, the latest in a long line of odd implements designed for fending off would-be rapists. When the wearer gives it a tug, the Invi releases a pungent stench that Invi's founder, Roel van der Kamp, likens to a skunk's perfume.
The tagline for the Invi, priced at about $70, is "Provoke Independence," which is an oddly upbeat way of reminding us that without some kind of protection, women's freedom is not a given. Guys, you get to slide your Time's Up pin through your lapel and call it a day. We'll go to work wearing a skunk bracelet just in case.
Which, well, stinks.
"If this approach was going to work, it would have worked already," says Jaclyn Friedman, an anti-rape activist and author of "Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All."
Instead, she says, these sorts of products are "incredibly exploitative of women's fears, and they sell the idea that there's some capitalist-commerce fix to the problem of sexual violence."
And, adds Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, an organization that offers resources and training to fight harassment on the street and online, self-defense contraptions are a "cottage industry" built around "the idea that, essentially, it's your responsibility to protect yourself — that the people who perpetrate these behaviors don't have any self-control, and you need to take control and strap on your jacket with 110 volts of electricity."
Van der Kamp argues that men can also wear his bracelet to draw attention to sexual violence. Of the burden of ending rape, he says, "I don't believe it's a woman's problem. It's equally a man's problem."
So why are so many of these "protective" gadgets aimed at us? Here's a shortlist of some of the well-meaning (but often ridiculous) defenses women have been offered against the great boogeyman of sexual violence.
Researchers say there was never an actual medieval device intended to make a fortress of a woman's erogenous zones, but the fantasy of a locked-up damsel endures. A modern-day version might exist in AR Wear, a crowdfunded prototype of a woman's panty with locks at the waist and the legs. Tagline: "For when things go wrong."
Sound archaic? Dozens of these glorified noisemakers are available on sites such as Amazon. And after the brutal, deadly rape of a young woman in New Delhi in 2015, an organization called She's Against Rape even began distributing pink whistles to Indian women as a defense — along with a warning not to cry wolf.
Urban American women first took up jujitsu and other self-defense training in the 1920s, just as they were going after the right to vote, according to the recent book "Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women's Self-Defense Movement." Was the timing a coincidence? We think not.
Whip it out of your pocket or purse and spray the rape away. Or maybe not. "I've always had this fear: What if I were in a situation where I had to carry [pepper spray] to protect myself, but what if it were turned on me? What if it blew up in my bag and ended up making me get sick?" says Jamia Wilson, director and publisher of the New York-based Feminist Press. "I'd rather have a society that holds people accountable, that teaches people about consent and where rape culture doesn't exist."
The Athena is a button-like device that when triggered sends a distress message and your location to a network of contacts you've selected. Then you sit and wait for one of them to rescue you.
We can thank a South African doctor for the Rape-aXe, a female condom — never brought to market — with rows of teeth that would ensnare an attacker upon penetration, trapping him painfully until a doctor removed it. No word on how exactly a victim would discreetly use a condom, much less one that looked like a killer jellyfish.
In 2016, a rape crisis center in England encouraged bar patrons on troubling dates to go to the bar and "ask for Angela," tipping bartenders to their need for help.
Yes, really. Undercover Colors has developed but not yet begun selling a nail polish that changes color when dipped into, say, trashcan punch loaded with roofies. "Power," reads the company's website, "must be handed back to women in what is a devastatingly powerless situation."
Swipe your consent to sex ahead of time, so you won't ever actually have to discuss it. LegalFling, announced last week, offers just that, with Tinder-like ease of use. As a bonus, your potential partner gets a record of that consent for posterity (or in case of future legal action), and if there's "a breach" of contract, you can simply tap the app, triggering a cease-and-desist letter. Men, naturally, are behind this.
So, where should inventors direct their money and efforts, if not lockable panties?
"Products that would reduce the likelihood of men wanting to assault," May deadpans. Maybe even a bracelet a man would have to wear. "Something like, every time a woman gets sexually assaulted, you get a tiny shock on your wrist."
Men wouldn't even have to wear it very long, she adds, to get a very strong jolt of women's reality.