Earlier this week, a group of male students at North Carolina State University introduced Undercover Colors, a new line of nail polish designed to change color when it comes into contact with date rape drugs. While many have praised the young entrepreneurs, some anti-rape activists refuse to fully embrace the product. They've got a point.
Undercover Colors is simply the latest in a slew of anti-rape products that don't necessarily make the world a safer place, but do make women's lives more difficult by adding yet more items to the list of things they "should" do to avoid rape. The logic of these products rests on some decidedly problematic assumptions about what causes rape in the first place, and also suggests that men are unable to control themselves.
Women, like men, have the right to move throughout the world without constantly fearing for their safety, yet the burden of prevention continues to fall squarely on women's shoulders. One can't help but wonder, what would it look like if we talked to men about rape prevention in the same way we talk to women?
Thus, in the name of equality, we've compiled some handy tips that men can use to avoid rape too.
1. Stay inside after dark.
For the safety of women everywhere, responsible adult men should observe a reasonable nightly curfew.
2. If you must go out, shield your eyes.
Considering women descended from Eve to tempt men into sin with their miniskirts and high heels, it's important never to look at them directly. If seeing a woman is unavoidable, obscure your vision through simple yet effective anti-rape eyewear such as horse blinkers or glasses in the wrong prescription.
3. Always be aware of your surroundings.
If you notice a woman who is by herself, run away.
4. Wear practical shoes.
On a similar note, comfortable sneakers will facilitate a quicker getaway.
5. Don't drink.
In a survey of alcohol-related sexual assault, Wayne State University psychology professor Antonia Abbey points out that "62% [of date rapists] felt that they had committed rape because of their alcohol consumption." As such, men should remain sober at all times.
6. Consider a chastity belt.
Why should girls have all the fun when it comes to obtrusive and often wildly impractical anti-rape products? Cloaking your dick in metal boxers before a night on the town is a surefire way to prevent it from accidentally falling into an unsuspecting vagina.
7. Carry mace.
If you find yourself struggling with the urge to rape someone, spray yourself in the face. Not only will the excruciating pain likely kill your boner, but the temporary blindness will help you run away before a woman's outfit can tempt you any further.
8. Be open with your date.
Dating is so hard! Especially since "date rape" is sometimes just a case of totally understandable mixed signals. Avoid a potentially awkward morning after sexually assaulting someone by being upfront with your intentions.
If this all sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. Rape is not an accident, and it is not caused by certain outfits, alcohol, mixed signals or dates gone sour. It is caused by people who choose to rape. And no matter how many anti-rape products we sell or limiting behaviors we encourage, some people are, unfortunately, still going to make that choice.
That's why it's so important not to use language that suggests women did not do enough to prevent a crime that was committed against them. Because for every woman who "avoids" being raped, what about those who are less "prepared"? What about those who do take every preventive step you can think of, and are raped anyways? What about the men who are raped? Are these survivors somehow more to blame for what happened to them?
Of course not. Yet that is the narrative that anti-rape products implicitly endorse. Regardless of their good intentions, in treating rape as something individually preventable, products like Undercover Colors transfer at least some of the responsibility from rapists to their victims. However subtle this messaging may be, it adds up to create a culture that blames survivors and sympathizes with criminals.
We all want to stay safe, and we want the people we care about to stay safe as well. If these products help some women do just that, then they should by all means use them. But we must not laud anti-rape products as the ultimate solution to this problem. Truly curbing rape means addressing the myriad cultural forces that lead to sexual violence in the first place, as well as the systemic injustices that allow it to so often go unpunished — both of which take a lot more effort than telling women to paint their nails.
Julianne Ross is an editor at Mic covering feminism, sexuality, body image and culture. Her writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com and Boston.com.