Four undergrad students from North Carolina State University recently came forward with a nail polish that changes colours when
exposed to date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB, thus enabling the wearer to dip a finger into a drink and test it for safety.
The feminist reaction, on the other hand, took a more critical approach. While acknowledging that the invention was born out of good intentions, many feminists took to social media to suggest that rather than challenging rape culture, this product actually contributes to it — a controversial claim, to say the least. But upon further research, I’ll have to agree that these critics are in the right.
Essentially, critics claim that while the new product means well, it specifically puts the onus on women to protect themselves from rape. This normalizes rape, making it seem like an inevitable part of life that people have to accept and do their best to avoid. This attitude absolves rapists of responsibility because it makes rape seem unavoidable, and thus contributes to rape culture.
In fact, the responsibility is often placed on women to prevent sexual assault. They are often told to avoid wearing clothing that reveals too much, to be careful with how much they drink, to travel with friends, to keep an eye on their beverages, the list goes on. But women should not have to test their drinks in every bar they walk into.
The nail polish concept absolves rapists of responsibility as it makes rape seem unavoidable.
Another powerful critique is that the nail polish completely removes men from the equation. Men are also victims of sex crimes, and this preventative method only targets women, as the discourse surrounding sexual assault often does. This point struck me, especially since feminists are often accused of neglecting men or working against them. If we want to successfully combat rape culture, we need men and women to work together and open the lines of communication.
Honestly, I feel rather ashamed for not having thought critically about it on my own. Do I feel the men who invented the product intend to contribute to rape culture? Absolutely not — they were trying to do a good thing. However, their approach was misguided.
Unfortunately, because of the established patriarchal society that we live in, it’s difficult to break out of our existing mental framework and consider alternative ways to combat these crimes. Feminist concepts may be difficult to wrap our heads around, as feminist perspectives on these matters are far from common knowledge, and are often misunderstood. This is why it’s important to turn the conversation on its head and question the way we’ve all been conditioned to see the issue of sexual assault.
The fact of the matter is that these feminist critics have a point, and the longer we fail to educate ourselves and consider this point, the more we perpetuate an environment conducive to rape culture. I’d like a world where we all feel safe, but I don’t think nail polish is the answer. These young innovators should be congratulated for their efforts but we, as a society, must do better.