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.
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.
If this 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?’
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 rapist either.
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.