The Problem With Cute Self-Defense Products for Women

When you're a woman, fear is a fact of life. That's not to say we're necessarily scared all the time; it's simply that we're all too familiar with that sudden prickle.

You'll be going about your business and then wonder: Is the rando trying to make awkward conversation going to follow me off this subway train? What if this online date is a predator? Should I worry about the guy I passed on my way home late one night, whispered something vicious and nasty just loud enough that I could hear, but not so loudly anyone else might?

So it's not surprising that there are companies out there rushing to "help," with self-defense products marketed in ways that are questionable, at best. Today the Verge tackled the trend in an editorial. The headline: "How to look cute and not get raped."

Now there is a very good chance that headline caused a million tiny thermonuclear bombs to go off in your brain, especially if you first saw it out of context, on social media. It certainly gave the Jezebel staff an initial collective heart attack. It is provocative—deliberately so. Perhaps a siren sounded in your brain and a neon light started flashing "CLICKBAIT! CLICKBAIT!" Twitter basically shit bricks, as Twitter is wont to do.

However: Writer Adi Robertson is actually making the case that, all too often, this is the underlying message from the makers of cutesy self-defense products for the ladies. She focuses specifically on AR Wear, the anti-rape panties recently funded on Indiegogo, and "Guardian Angel," a concept ginned up by a Singapore ad agency originally assigned to create a PSA about date rape. Instead, they dreamed up a necklace that fakes a call to your phone. There is a "How It Looks" tab on the website.

HM, now why does that stick so firmly in my craw?

Things like the Guardian Angel are different. They're promoted not as tools but as highly gendered lifestyle products, to be purchased by women and put on day after day. They're fashion. In the promotional video for AR Wear, a woman strikes a pose to check out her anti-rape underwear before sliding on her little black dress and doing her hair, all in one seamless process. Split ends. Deodorant streaks. Sexual assault. How terribly inconvenient.

Yup, sounds about right.

She's boiled their pitch down to something deliberately, acidly shocking—because she's fucking infuriated, and she wants us infuriated, too. As well we should be!

In fact, the techie-tinged products Robertson outlines are just the tip of the bullshit iceberg. Who hasn't been given a brightly colored rape whistle? There's a whole cottage industry dedicated to marketing pink "self-defense" shit; take this entire section at Walmart.com tagged "pink guns," which also includes stun guns. There's plenty of pink pepper spray out there. Here is a pink keychain shaped like a cat face, except the ears are for stabbing attackers; it regularly comes up with you search "women's self-defense." You'll also be offered up this stun gun, shaped like brass knuckle and, you guessed it, pink! Glock has an entire "GlockWomen" page. Here's some pepper spray disguised as lipstick.

It's genuinely depressing to realize how little things have changed since this retro gun ad, via BuzzFeed:

The Problem With Cute Self-Defense Products for Women

Society is just so ready and willing to hand us a bandaid—for a modest fee, of course. As though a massive canister of pepper spray were a reasonable thing to need, on par with an umbrella. That's why ladies carry such massive purses, right? You just never know when you'll run a stocking and need some clear nail polish, or get jumped in a dark alley and find a taser handy.

Sure, 10 percent of the Guardian Angel profits will go to an organization fighting sexual assault. But it's just so hard to get past the marketing. As Robertson puts it:

There's a difference between noting a problem and naturalizing it. In our cultural scripts, crimes against men can be explained by any number of individual factors. Crimes against women are explained by the fact that they are women, and therefore naturally victimizable. If men are threatened and defend themselves, they're tough. If women do it, they're lucky. The Guardian Angel is a pretty, technological token that underscores this connection. It is the aestheticization of female fear.

Lots of people got mad about that headline. The point was to get you mad—but let's get mad at the right stuff. Let's get fucking livid about the fact that society treats fear for our very lives as a natural, normal part of the female experience. I don't want cute rape-prevention accessories. I want to feel safe walking down the street.