Realizing When Realism Should Trump Idealism

Realizing When Realism Should Trump Idealism

Realizing When Realism Should Trump Idealism

You would think that anyone interested in rape prevention would welcome a new tool that might prevent rapes. But you'd be wrong.

     
Realizing When Realism Should Trump Idealism
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People do horrible things. Not all people, but some. You can't tell who will and who won't just by looking. Often you can't tell just by listening. Sometimes you might not know until it's too late.

Rape is one of those horrible things, whether or not is has "date" in front of it. And one of the ways some men rape is by dosing unsuspecting women with "roofies" or similar drugs that render the target incapacitated. It's a classic "I didn't see it coming" scenario.

Four students at North Carolina State University have founded a company called Undercover Colors, whose first product will be a tool to help women combat just this scenario: a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with "date-rape drugs."

"With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger," the company says on its Facebook page. "If her nail polish changes color, she’ll know that something is wrong."

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Who wouldn't be enthused about an invention that has the potential to reduce the number of rapes and help bring would-be rapists to justice?

Believe it or not, some women are not exactly over the moon about Undercover Colors. In a Think Progress article titled "Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roofies," writer Tara Culp-Ressler dubiously tries to make the case that technology like "anti-rape nail polish […] actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society."

In making her case, Culp-Ressler trots out spokespeople for a few rape-prevention groups that apparently share her bizarre view that something that might reduce the number of rapes is a bad thing. She indirectly quotes Alexandra Brodsky, co-founder and co-director of Know Your IX, "a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence," as asserting that "well-intentioned products like anti-rape nail polish can actually end up fueling victim blaming. She has Students Active for Ending Rape Board Chair Tracy Vitchers intimating that Undercover Colors' invention is a form of "placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women." And she quotes FORCE Co-Director Rebecca Nagle going so far as to paint Undercover Colors as part of the mechanism by which rape exerts control over women's lives.

“One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Nagle is quoted as saying. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted—it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

I don't blame Nagle. But the truth is, that is the world we live in. And while all three activists, along with Culp-Ressler, are right to emphasize the importance of (in Vitchers's words) "talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent," all the talk in the world is not going to stop rape entirely. The world is a big place of tremendous variety with a huge number of people. As such, unfortunately there will always people who do terrible things.

Why these women regard education and detection as an either/or proposition is puzzling. Why not embrace both? While Culp-Ressler has Brodsky saying, "Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape," one has to wonder whether the pair would apply the same logic to college campuses offering women the option to call a security guard to walk them to their cars. Does that service enable rape culture by opening women who don't avail themselves of it up to the same criticism?

It seems no-one would make that argument. So why make a similar argument regarding Undercover Colors? Perhaps it's because Undercover Colors was founded by four men, a fact Culp-Ressler makes explicit near the top of her article.

Whatever the rationale, when Culp-Ressler and the activists further diminish Undercover Colors' technology by noting that it would not be a factor in the majority of rapes ("Activists point out that most students are assaulted by people they know in environments where they feel comfortable—situations when wearing anti-rape nail polish doesn’t necessarily make sense," Culp-Ressler writes. "Plus, […] just about 2.4 percent of female undergrads who had been sexually assaulted suspected they had been slipped a drug")—as if preventing even one wouldn't make it completely worthwhile—it's hard not to see how misguided these women are. Brodsky even insinuates that any woman who would use a product like those to be offered by Undercover Colors is selfishly trying to put the would-be rapists onto some other woman.

“One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea,” Brodsky is quoted as saying. “But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”

There's little doubt that all of these women are well intended. The problem is that their agenda blinds them to what is most important: preventing as many rapes as possible. They want the world to be a place wherein rapes do not happen. Great. Everyone who doesn't rape feels that way, including the four men who founded Undercover Colors. We're all allies in the same war.

It's too bad these women can't see that. It's too bad they don't comprehend that, as important as their tactics are, other tactics may prove valuable, too. It's too bad they don't regard something that may prevent even one rape as a welcome weapon in the fight. It's too bad they blame women who might want to resort to an extra measure of prevention, just in case. It's too bad they feel the need to point fingers rather than open their arms.

It's great to strive for ideals. It's greater when that striving is done with recognition of the actual ground beneath one's feet. Undercover Colors may have come up with something that someday will spare one or more women from being raped. What more do you need to hear? 

 

Photo By:  Favim.com


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

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Last Updated : Thursday, June 16, 2016