Women choose their underwear for a variety of reasons, from how comfy it is to whether or not it lists the days of the week. But a new undergarment company is bringing a new consideration to the purchasing process: How well does your underwear prevent rape?
AR Wear (the AR stands for Anti-Rape) has started crowd-funding a line of underwear, running shorts, and travel shorts that "create an effective barrier layer [to] allow women and girls to passively resist an attacker." Specifically, the company has enforced these undergarments with cut-resistant straps, webbing, and an "innovative skeletal structure," all of which supposedly make them impossible to forcibly pull down.
Unsurprisingly, since rape culture and victim-blaming are such controversial topics, many commentators did not take too kindly to this product. Carrie Murphy at The Gloss wrote that "it seems they place the burden of protection against rape and sexual assault on the woman rather than teaching rapists not to rape and bringing those who to do justice."
Amanda Hess at Slate dismissed the product as an antiquated, oppressive relic, describing it as the "comfortable, elegant chastity belt for the modern rape victim." Sarcastically, she wrote that at least one benefit of wearing a "reinforced skeletal structure around [your] vagina" is that "it beats explaining to mom, dad, and the local public defender why 'things went wrong.'"
With recent cases like Daisy Coleman, who was harassed on social media after allegedly being raped, sensitivities to rape victim-blaming is at a high, and any product seen as putting control in a potential victim's hand causes offense.
However, these charges are unfair, considering that AR Wear specifically tackles that criticism head-on and pretty convincingly so:
The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world. Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men. Meanwhile, as long as sexual predators continue to populate our world, AR Wear would like to provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes while the work of changing society's rape culture moves forward.
Indeed, Robyn Urback at the National Post argues that AR Wear is a good product because "employing preventative measures is sometimes a necessary evil." Describing how she wears her bag across her body when she visits Manhattan, she notes that "certain scenarios demand a little extra vigilance. That is not contentious when we talk about New York City muggings, but it is, for some reason, when we talk about sexual assault."
That being said, there are some other problems with AR Wear that do cause legitimate concerns. For one, there's the logistics. It's great to have underwear that can't be forcibly removed during an attack, but how good is that when you've been waiting on a bathroom line at a club for 15 minutes? Nowhere on the site does it mention how you remove the skeletal-fitting undergarments, which seems like it would be a difficult operation even when you're stone cold sober and have all the time in the world.
Perhaps most troubling, though, is the possibility that wearing underwear specifically designed to prevent you from being raped could make you constantly aware of the possiblity of rape. "Nothing makes a woman feel comfortable in her own body like a constant physical reminder that she's expected to guard her genitals against sexual assaults at all times," writes Hess.
A perpetual paranoia about being raped is not good for anyone. Furthermore, constantly seeing others as potential rapists could exacerbate rape culture.
At the same time, AR Wear just may provide a level of security for those who have been through traumatic situations. Jia Tolentino at The Hairpin cites the case of a woman she interviewed "who was raped by a stranger at a club." The girl is still dealing with the aftermath and "feels flashes of sickness and panic in rowdy party situations," says Tolentino. "I wonder if underwear like this would feel like a welcome protection in the recovery process."
If AR Wear can provide comfort for even one person who has gone through that trauma, then perhaps it could serve some purpose after all.