The Vagenda

Boy, I Can’t Wait To Get My Brand New Pair of Anti-Rape Knickers

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.

My first 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, 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?’

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 rapist either.

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 loved ones.

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.


11 thoughts on “Boy, I Can’t Wait To Get My Brand New Pair of Anti-Rape Knickers

  1. I’m not sure encouraging rapists to add a sturdy set of bolt cutters to their attack arsenal is such a good idea, Maybe we should try to focus more on the stopping rapists becoming rapists in the first place.

  2. I think my big problem with this is that if you were in a position where the underwear actually comes into play – i.e. you’ve already been drugged/physically overpowered and this underwear is the last barrier between you and full penetrative rape – then you are already having a horribly traumatic experience. The emphasis definitely needs to be on stopping that situation occurring in the first place, and not one last ditch attempt to stop the inevitable. (Because, that is what these knickers are really saying – it’s inevitable, you may as well have this barrier).

  3. :( :( :( All the comments on that page are “THIS IS SUCH A GREAT IDEA!!” herp derp, without any proper thought by the look of it. Then the rest are requests for a male version. I have a horrible feeling what you said about defence lawyers will actually become reality :/ I’m not even angry, I’m just too sad about this.

  4. Agreed completely. Reminds me of the stat about when seatbelts were first invented. The rate of accidents actually INCREASED for a bit, as drivers thought they were safer and could be more reckless. So some dumb women will feel like they can walk that dark alley or decline a friend walking them home, because they have the safety of their A R panties. Never mind that a car accident:rape attempt is traumatic and terrible, despite the potential worst case scenario (death:rape, respectively) being avoided.
    On a separate note, speaking from someone who used to be in an extremely jealous and overcontrolling, abusive relationship, i can see these going in the direction of chastity belts. “worried your woman is cheating on you? just bolt out of these on her, and be worry free”. ugggg

  5. Urgh. Why more focus on what women should do to prevent rape, not on what society should do and how cultures should change??

    Also, travel shorts?? Because all those scary foreigners, they’re way more likely to rape you. *headdesk*

  6. Because a man already disturbed enough to be trying to rape you could never turn extra violent if he found you were wearing these. No chance you might not get raped, but might get brutally beaten instead, or be forced to perform oral sex instead? Perhaps we need lockable gags as well…

    Somebody has not thought this product through at all.

  7. I was sexually assaulted at 15. There was no penetration, so it wasn’t rape, but it still fucked me up emotionally for about ten years (and the effects linger to this day). I had enough trouble coming to terms with it in part due to the fact that it wasn’t “rape” therefore I was lucky, it was a good thing, I had got away without any genuine suffering etc. It worries me that a woman wearing these pants who gets subjected to an attempted rape and goes through all of the attack, violence, trauma etc but isn’t forced into actual penetrative sex because it’s impossible for the rapist to do so will be considered to have got off lightly, escaped, etc, and not be treated for the trauma she has suffered or given the sympathy, understanding and counselling she needs to recover from such an experience. It’ll just be: hey, thank god you wore your high-security knickers, eh? Close call! More wine?

  8. I was just looking back on these comments, and this is so incredibly important to consider. We talk about victim blaming all the time, but the completely unjust hierarchy of assault also needs to be tackled.
    You are a wonderful person for finding a way to cope with what happened to you. It appals me to think that you might have been made to feel that your experience was less damaging than anyone else’s. This is definitely something that needs to be addressed! Xx