Anti-Rape Underwear has officially become a thing. Well, insofar as there is a US company prototyping the design, and, y'know, the Daily Mail has covered it.
I understand the premise; they care about women’s safety and want women to feel
protected and in control in potentially aggressive or intimidating situations.
However, if I’m honest, the
whole concept horrifies me.
The idea has been suggested as preferable to encouraging women to take
self-defence classes, the claim being that ‘A R Underwear’ (subtle) might be a
better option, as attackers are likely to be made more aggressive if a women
physically defends herself and may escalate the level of violence. From my own
experience, knowing a little self-defence leaves you feeling that bit more
confident on the street, a bit more in charge of your own fate. Perhaps, in the unlikely event of someone attacking you, he might back the fuck up, realising that you’re a confident, super-prepared,
bad-ass bitch. Perhaps not. But while it is a physically positive bit of
knowledge to have, it is also mentally useful.
Anti-rape underwear, however, implies that you should only feel safe and
confident if you are wearing underwear that no man can enter, no matter how
hard they come at you with a knife.
serious concern, and many other women’s (if the comments on other articles
about this design is anything to go by), was that most of us can barely work
our way out of a playsuit on a night out, let alone combination lock pants, and
that we will be spending our nights out in urine-sodden undergarments, making puddles on the floor as we try to rave out to some god-awful house music. Surely
even those superwomen who manage to take their make-up off, clean their teeth
and never ever fall asleep with one shoe still on because the buckle defeated
them at 4am after so many tequilas they stopped counting - even those women, will, I fear,
be defeated by the locked knickers, and will wake up at 8am with a blaring
hangover, desperate for a wee and well and truly locked inside their own
underwear. But these (relatively) trivial issues aside, there are far bigger
problems with self-locking pants.
First off is the advert campaign for ‘A R Underwear’. I don’t imagine that it was on
purpose that the choice of models used for the advert implies that it would
only ever be teeny tiny beauties that are at risk of rape; I imagine it was
just the case that when you phone a modelling agency to set up a casting for
some new underwear it is underwear models that are sent. Nevertheless, the thing does
genuinely look like a JML shopping channel ad, full of vacantly smiling young
women wafting around in their fancy chastity pants, looking vaguely pleased
that the faceless male hands are unable to yank down said underwear - which
doesn’t quite do justice to the seriousness of the topic.
The woman narrating the advert - and asking for support in funding the final
prototype - lists the environments in which these knickers (and running shorts
and travel shorts) would make a woman feel safer: a night out, a first date,
while travelling, while on a run, and so on. Call me old-fashioned and naive,
but how depressing a thought - to be getting ready for a first date with that
really sweet guy you’ve been chatting to through Match.com, or that guy from
the office on the floor below that you’ve fancied for months and finally womanned
up about and asked out, then donning your anti-rape pants and thinking, ‘Well, best be on the
safe side, chances are he’s probably either already planning on attacking me,
or will get so wasted he can’t help himself!’ In fact, since (according to the
statistics published by the UK government, based on a survey undertaken by
CSEW) only 10% of the most violent forms of sexual attacks and rapes (as
opposed, one presumes, to those sort of nice, gentle ones…?) are committed by
people not already known to the victim, will we soon be expected to wear
anti-rape pants at all times? According to these particular statistics, 56% of
the most serious offence types are committed by partners, and 32% are non-related
but already known to the victim. So wearing lockable pants on a night out just
doesn’t seem like it is really going to tackle many of the issues surrounding
sexual attacks on women.
prototype actually makes it to production, how long it will be until defence
lawyers are asking victims of sexual assaults, ‘What were you wearing? Had you
been drinking? Were you wearing slutty easy-access pants or anti-rape
underwear?... You weren’t wearing self-locking knickers?! Well how was this man
supposed to know not to rape you? You were practically gagging for it, surely?’
We don’t need
anything that puts any more blame on victims. I’m sure this was never the
intention, but it is exactly what such a design does. It puts women in control,
to an extent, as the advert states, but in control of the likelihood of whether
they are raped. That shouldn’t be up to a woman, beyond the fact that, no
thanks, she doesn’t want to be raped. Underwear is already enough of an issue
for most of us: anything other than giant M&S cotton bum-huggers give us
thrush, and even then if we wear tights on a hot day (or any other day, bloody
tights) we are still not safe. Now we have to wear something that is chained
around our legs so that we can try to avoid actually being physically
penetrated against our will if we do meet a man so monumentally fucked-up as to try to
sexually assault us. Goody.
Perhaps for sex workers, female aid workers, or journalists working in volatile
environments, female (and male) soldiers, and anyone else working in a role
that puts them at risk of being captured or where the risk of attack is
actually, genuinely, relatively high, such underwear is a garment to
consider, if these women and men would feel safer as a result of wearing them. But in environments this potentially
volatile and dangerous, is an attacker going to just toddle off if they can’t
find a way into your orifices? I'm guessing probs not.
One final point for the road. The men who rape women are violent people with mentally skewed versions of the world inside their heads. And, as most of us know, most men don't rape women. The prat at
the bar doing suicide shots is probably not a rapist; your uncle, probably not
a rapist; the slightly fear-inducing beggar you pass in *insert scary-seeming
foreign city from your own travelling experience here*? He’s probably not a
Call me crazy, but I have genuine faith
that the men in my life - my darling friends, all of them, no matter how
much they had to drink; my beautiful, cheeky, numpty of a little brother; my
ex-boyfriends; my current boyfriend; all the men in my family - to not sexually
assault a woman. These aren't ‘men,
potential sex attackers’: they are just blokes, smart, stupid, funny, sensible,
kind, sweet, sporty, intellectual, practical, some can cook, some can’t, some
are in the services, some are students, some are gay, some are straight, some
are bi, some like Jay Z and some like Laura Marling. They are my friends and my
And it breaks my heart to think that one day a young woman - so terrorised by
the concept that she must be doing everything possible within her power to
protect herself from all of these potential sex attackers, might be stood at a
bar, ordering a drink that comes in a bottle, testing it for date rape drugs,
wearing her Anti Rape knickers, desperate for a wee but unable to get out of
them - gets approached by my baby brother, who having wandered over smiles and
offers her a drink, and she might look at him, and in her terrorized state
caused by this sense of female shame and blame and self-protection, think - ‘I
wonder if this man is one of those men we’re warned about, who will drug the
drink he buys me and rape me.'
Because my baby brother, like most men, won’t. He just fancies you a bit, and if
you politely (or rudely) asked him to leave, he would.
Rapists are a huge problem, and we need to tackle their crimes and the society that allows and encourages them. But come on, ladybros, A R Underwear is not the magical solution. There are more effective measures we can all take to tackling rape culture - and I am of the strong belief that not one of them restricts our ability to have a wee.