Consent below the belt: anti-rape pants?


In recent months, dressing the female body has caused colossal controversy: a Colombian nightclub owner remarked that a woman in a miniskirt may have invited her rape through her outfit. Women SlutWalked through Toronto, beginning a transnational movement to redefine female sexuality.  In light of interpreting clothing as consent, AR Wear have launched their Anti-Rape Underwear after raising $50,000 through crowd-funding on Indiegogo. The New York based AR Wear’s fortified fabric shorts are specifically designed to prevent male-on-female rape. Contoured to lock around a female waist, the shorts can’t be pulled down over her generally wider “pelvic area” without her consent. AR Wear claims their clothing line offers “wearable protection for when things go wrong”. Not ‘if’, notice, but ‘when’.

Some people may say that this by no means legitimises rape and instead is merely a necessary expedient in the face of the sad fact of the criminality of some human beings. In that way, it’s a below-the-belt burglar alarm, no different from a car alarm or cyber security. However, in the far more fraught realm of personal physical integrity, it none the less feels troubling that a woman should have to pay to preserve her own security. There are also practical considerations that might be said to consign these garments to be the sartorial equivalent of scare-ware. For instance, as rape is predicated on the physical dominance of one party by another, how could Anti-Rape Underwear protect someone who was by definition under a rapist’s physical control: could he not order her to remove them on pain of physical abuse?

Bearing in mind the case of the Australian woman whose alleged rapist was acquitted on the grounds that the ‘victim’, having been wearing skinny jeans, must have consented to have removed such a tight-fitting garment: would Anti-Rape underwear not create a similar liability? While it is understandable that people might wish to spend on anything that might give them greater safety in a dangerous world, is it really responsible to frighten people into parting with their money for garments whose protective powers are probably illusory?

In addition to practical issues, there are social side-effects. The tagline “protection for when things go wrong” demonises men, depicting sexual violation as an inevitability, not a criminalised exception. Precautionary underwear becomes counterproductive through encouraging enmity.

AR Wear’s commodification of non-consent conditions women to be afraid, to rely on external, material objects for “confidence and protection”, and pressurises them to pay not to be victims. AR Wear is said to offer protection “in situations that cause feelings of apprehension”, apparently ignoring that most rape victims are assaulted by people they already know. Should women then be advised, and eventually expected to wear Anti Rape underwear at all times, even when in an intimate relationship?  These scare tactics of degradation and demonization create an atmosphere of animosity and fear where nobody wins.

The underlying concept of AR Wear may be pragmatic and preventative, but it also seems depressingly defeatist. The very fact that anyone would consider it a necessity to pay protection money for their own pelvic area can only make one wish for a time when women can rely for their personal safety on men’s respect, rather than on women’s restrictions.


PHOTO/Oxford Women’s Campaign



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