"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Vagina Dentata.... in Latex Form?

This post at Feministe about "discreet" taser guns disguised as tampons reminded me of another really odd "safety" device for women that was brought to my attention about a month ago. Check this out:

RAPEX: The Anti-Rape Condom

Now, I may have just been living in the dark, since a Google search revealed that this product even has a Wikipedia entry, but the existence of such a thing is new to me. I just don't know what to think about this. I'm sure it was developed with good intentions, but it totally creeps me out somehow. I absolutely love the idea of an attacker being disabled immediately in his attempt to rape, and protecting would-be victims from sexually transmitted infections is of course a positive thing. But would wearing such a device empower one with a feeling of security or contribute to an already intense victim mentality? And just how is a woman supposed to know or choose when to wear this thing? If she is attacked during a time when she is not wearing one, will it be another way to guilt and shame her for not "doing her part" to protect herself?

I suppose it depends on one's point of view and level of risk. Who am I to be skeptical of such a product when there are countless women who are vulnerable to extreme danger of attack every day, like the women in South Africa for whom the product was developed, or the women in Ciudad Juárez who are kidnapped, raped, and killed in terrifying numbers on their way to and from work?

But since we live in a world where one in three women will be assaulted or abused at some point during their lives, is anyone really in a position to believe they are safer than anyone else? The thing that bothers me really isn't so much the product itself, but the need for such a product in the first place. It makes me cringe, because it is yet another thing reminding us of our perpetual vulnerability to attack and penetration by men. It makes us admit and concede to this vulnerability, and I automatically want to resist anything that requires that of us. It's a visceral reaction rather than a practical one, but it's one that I can't help wanting to own and embrace. Somehow I find that resistance more empowering than conceding to vulnerability. Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

mmm. I remember hearing about Rapex a couple of years ago when it first came out. I thought it was great.

But you ask some good questions - would having this device make one feel more secure? and especially your question about whether it might contribute to a survivor's guilt if she was attacked when she wasn't wearing the device, and whether or not using such a device is a concession.

Firstly, I think the idea is to wear one of these things whenever you feel like you might be at risk. So if that's every time you leave the house, or on occasions when you are going to a party with people you don't know well, or perhaps if you're nervous to be home alone at night, or maybe if you are in an abusive relationship and need some help fighting back. It seems like it's personal - whenever you think you might be vulnerable. BUT, considering many women are raped under circumstances where they don't feel vulnerbale until the attack happens, how would you really know when an attack is looming? so then is the best thing to simply wear a device all the time?

I think you're spot on about adding a layer to victim guilt and shame.

and I also think that this IS a concession, its' accepting that men rape women frequently enough and randomly enough that the only really final and ultimate line of defense is teeth in your vagina. yikes. that makes me wanna vomit, too.

but yet, I think in a way, we do have to consider this to be true. We must resist it, of course: that being a woman is enough to make us vulnerable to violent attack. But perhaps this could be part of the resistance? maybe if enough women used Rapex, and enough rapists were innjured by the device, and word got out that hey - this is a real and tangible risk that you take in raping someone, perhaps rape would go down? but then again, I suppose it would jsut mean that rapists would go checking for the device with another object first, then remove it, and then proceed with the rape. Jeez... I dunno, I still kind of like the idea of the device as a personal safety item of the most intimate variety, and I like that it protects against STIs, but it certainly isn't perfect, is it? Maybe I only really like it because deep down, I feel very vengeful about rape and think that rapists deserve to have bad things happen to their penises!

Tracey said...

Thanks for the comment, TG. I know. I'm so torn about this thing. I completely agree that whether to wear something like this and when should be a woman's personal choice. The fact that there is a necessity or a demand for such a product is a glaring piece of evidence that rape and violence against women are a huge problem in our world.

I like all the same things you like about it. (And I don't think I mentioned this in the post, but apparently once these little devices attaches itself to a rapist's penis, he pretty much has to go to a doctor to have it removed. I love that.)

Even if rapists eventually catch on and try find ways around it, at the very least, it's making committing their crime a little more difficult. This may be a little idealistic of me, but maybe the presence of the device would cause some attackers to think twice -- that if his victim went to the trouble to protect herself from just this situation, he certainly can't be under the impression that she wanted it or was "asking for it".