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Why selling anti-rape wear perpetuates victim-blaming

av-end-violenceOn the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Young Feminist Wire wants to bring attention to the problem of rape culture and highlight initiatives from around the world that shed light on issues such as: street harassment in India, reclaiming public space through bicycles in Egypt and the start of a global conversion on people’s sexist attitudes toward women.

The Wire’s Nelly Bassily writes her commentary about the latest craze in victim-blaming but also tells us all about the amazing initiatives that try to counter sexism and misogyny.

“Hi, have you ever been out, walking at night, alone, wishing you could feel safer? And you, parents and friends, how often have you worried about a loved one? We want to provide a product that will make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date, a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, traveling in another country or in other potentially risky situations.”

That’s the opening statement from a video produced by a company called AR Wear. (And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the AR stands for ‘anti-rape’ wear!)

The company ran a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to be able to produce and sell you “confidence and protection that can be worn” in the form of underwear.

It seems problematic and quite disturbing that rape prevention now comes in the form of indestructible colourful undies that YOU – the potential victim of a rape – have to BUY. Welcome to capitalism and patriarchy colluding to convince you, in yet another way, that really, the rapists have nothing to do with rape. I mean, if only you dish out the cash and protect yourself with our product, everything will be A-OK! Thanks AR Wear…that’s top-notch rape prevention!

Let’s dissect the opening statement from the AR Wear video.

Have you ever been out, walking at night, alone, wishing you could feel safer?

Where does this idea come from that walking at night alone will automatically make you feel unsafe? Have rape-victims been attacked at night? Yes! Most certainly. Does this mean that rape or any other form of assault only happens at night. Most definitely NOT. We have to stop perpetuating this idea that women’s freedom of movement (especially at night) is risky.

Women of the World, listen up. You are NOT doing anything wrong by walking alone at night. Now, if it happens that a rapist, rapes you at night…that’s because that rapist, is a horrible human being who preys on victims when it is dark out. Further, let’s be clear. Most sexual assaults don’t happen at the hands of some random stranger at night. Unfortunately and statistically speaking, 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

Parents and friends, how often have you worried about a loved one?

Probably A LOT. But, really, we shouldn’t feed into parent insecurities about the safety of their children by feeding the insecurity with tales of shady-characters, just waiting at every corner to pounce on their victim. Here’s a novel idea: how about we educate our boys not to rape and respect women. How about we educate boys and girls about the meaning of consent and what consent looks and feels like.

Provide a product that will make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date, a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, traveling in another country or in other potentially risky situations.

This notion that you can buy yourself a stylish piece of undergarment to be safe is buying and selling a false sense of safety. Why would I want to go out on said date, night of clubbing, run or travel if I can only feel safe in a locked-down underwear? That’s a not a soothing thought – that’s a terrifying thought! Why should young women go about their daily activities, constantly looking over their shoulders and avoiding every person they encounter? Might as a well put gates in front of every young woman’s house and not allow her to go out all together. Are we really living in 2013?

As a young feminist, I absolutely refuse the idea that I’m a walking target. My sharpened feminist analysis tells me that actually, the entire blame falls on those who rape NOT the potential rape victims. I have shocking news: people who are raped never ask for it. EVER. And if you think you can profit from a potential rape, I don’t know where to begin to explain how unethical and wrong that is. Maybe AR Wear’s motives might come from the right place but in a world where more and more young women are being blamed for their rape, I don’t want to give rapists another way to escape the fingers being pointed in their direction.

But, my sharpened feminist analysis also tells me that, women are not letting victim-blaming, misogyny and sexism win.

There are a few empowering examples of women and discussions leading change:

In India, Blank Noise, a young feminist organisation, is NOT letting street harassment be the norm. Their mantra: “No woman of any age, colour, and character ever deserves to be sexually violated or what some might lightly call ‘eve-teased’” To learn more about Blank Noise’s amazing initiatives, listen to this interview with Jasmeen Patheja:

In Egypt, female bikers are not a common sight. The stigma in Egyptian society against women riding bicycles has long prevented them from getting on their bikes, for fear of getting physically harassed or being told that their behaviour is inappropriate or “unladylike.”But recently, more women have been hopping on their bikes, making a bold statement that biking is not unladylike. Listen to this interview with Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian feminist and lawyer who decided to start an online Facebook group called “Women riding bicycles and scooters in Cairo”:

Finally, you’ve probably seen and heard of the UN Women ad campaign that photo-shopped google auto-complete searches about what women should not do over the mouths of women. To learn more about where the idea for this campaign came from and the conversation that UN Women has sparked online with #WomenShould, listen to this interview with Nanette Braun, UN Women’s chief of communication and advocacy:

Do you know of a great young feminist initiative that’s fighting against rape culture?

During the 16 days of activism to stop violence against women, the Young Feminist Wire wants to hear from you. Share your thoughts and ideas about this topic with us and you could be published on the Wire. Email us yfa@awid.org, connect with us on Facebook or use #YFWire on Twitter.

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