AR Wear recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for a new clothing line with one mission statement in mind:
"Offering wearable protection for when things go wrong."
When do things go "wrong"? When women are confronted by rapists.
The creators behind this are Ruth and Yuval from Nyack, New York, who only go by their first names. "We're trying to make this about the product, not about us," Ruth told me in our conversation. So far, they're definitely keeping a low profile — the Indiegogo campaign website is the only actual website they have, though they're also on Twitter and Facebook.
They do have this video:
The reaction to the rape shorts was largely not great. Louise Pennington said the clothing line was perpetuating a rape myth, Anne Thériault wrote a moving blog post condemning the success AR Wear claims it will have, and Carry Murphy of The Gloss called it a "modern chastity belt."
After Emily Yoffe's article in Slate asked women to stop binge-drinking to avoid rape, a war has broken out between those who believe women will be empowered by rape-prevention techniques and those who think these recommendations border on victim-blaming.
But the creators of AR Wear seem to have the best of intentions.
"I got attacked two times when I was in college," Ruth said. "The first time, I fought the guy off. He thought he heard a noise somewhere, and I kept fighting. He ran away."
Ruth has lived through the experience of being randomly assaulted by a stranger when she's been out in the open. She has known the threat of rape, just like I have. AR Wear's existence, Ruth says, is in response to that fear.
And no matter how many times I've worried that rape prevention techniques border on victim-blaming, I do take many precautions myself.
I've carried a pepper spray in my purse. I've slept with a knife on my night desk. I've cursed myself whenever I wear a really short dress and find myself on a street with men leering at my legs. I wear extra layers because I hope that if the moment ever comes, extra layers of clothing will delay the perpetrator enough to maybe even prevent it.
I know that may sound irrational to you. I know all these precautions sound superficial. But that's how I feel when I've taken the subway home alone at 3 a.m. That's the lurking feeling I get when a street harasser suddenly reminds me I'm a woman. And I'm not the first and will certainly not be the last woman to feel this way.
How do we empathize with the fear of rape that women grow up with without perpetuating that fear?
Anne Thériault said it best in her post: "This clothing does not make women less vulnerable to the threat of rape. Not really. It just seeks to make a profit off of a deep and very legitimate fear that almost every woman has."
In our conversation together, Anne laid out her concerns.
"I do think, in theory, that whatever empowers a woman, whatever makes a woman feel safer is good," she said. "I don't think that this product will necessarily make somebody safer. If this is a stranger-in-the-dark-alley rape, and that person is intent on rape, this underwear's not going to stop them. They could do it at gunpoint, and make me take off the shorts. Also, vaginal penetration is not the only form of sexual assault. I'm super-skeptical of people who are marketing what I'm assuming is going to be an expensive product to a vulnerable population."
Both the copy on the AR Wear website, and the clothing line's press release and pitch letter seem to imply that stranger rape is incredibly common (it's not). Ruth confirms this: "This isn't for domestic rape, or rape by people you know," she said. "This is for those situations when you're on a blind date, or in unfamiliar places." They're catering to a specific type of victim, or to women who are mainly concerned with avoiding stranger rape.
And that is the main problem with AR Wear. While Ruth does acknowledge that stranger rape happens far less often than any other type, the existence of a clothing line that caters to women who are afraid of stranger rape will do nothing to dispel the common notions about it.
Fear is at the root of all these messages: fear of the possibility of being raped, or being raped again. I'll admit, I accused Emily Yoffe of victim-blaming when her Slate article first came out. In retrospect, I really do believe she had the best of intentions: she wanted to help alleviate that fear.
It's just that good intentions don't always lead to the best solutions. AR Wear offers a very false security. It may not seek to profit from fear, but its existence reinforces it.
Yes, we should help women feel safer. But the answer — just like the question — has never been about what a woman wears.