Over the weekend we reported on a team of college students who invented a nail varnish which can detect the presence of date rape drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax, or GHB. While trying to help prevent sexual assault is a completely worthy cause, many critics condemned the polish for placing the responsibility on women to buy a product so they don’t get raped instead of teaching people not to rape. Naturally there were a lot of scathing and often poignant tweets on the subject and rape culture at large.
[ Trigger warning for sexual assault. ]
It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that “rape drug detecting” makeup or accessories aren’t actually that new — 2LoveMyLips has been making similar products since 2010, and last year a design for color-changing straws and glasses from DrinkSavvy also made headlines. Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), told ThinkProgress yesterday that these products often get more attention than the much more difficult process of unlearning rape culture:
“I think a lot of the time we get focused on these new products because they’re innovative and they’re interesting, and it’s really cool that they figured out how to create nail polish that does this. But at the end of the day, are you having those tough conversations with students, and particularly men, who are at risk for committing sexual assault?” Vitchers added. “Are you talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent?”
Ultimately UnderColors is doing something revolutionary in terms of what we expect a product to do —particularly with something like nail polish, which is generally not thought to have any practical use beyond being aesthetically cool. If it helps to out even one potential rapist, then that would be fantastic.
What would be even more revolutionary, though, is if we thought less about products that add to the list of precautions women are already “supposed” to take or have on them (even in the case of DrinkSavvy— what bar or house party is going to stock only their glassware?), and more about how to dismantle the aspects of culture which encourages rapists in the first place.