Recently, a company named AR Wear made big headlines with a campaign to fund “anti-rape underwear.” The underwear are supposed to protect women from rape by being extremely difficult to remove. While the makers of the underwear had good intentions, their ideas about rape—and rape prevention—are all wrong. (For a wonderful, detailed explanation of how these underwear actually enforce rape culture, see this article by Tara Culp-Ressler.) In response to the AR Wear campaign, Impact Bay Area and Impact Personal Safety of Southern California (nonprofit organizations that teach self-defense classes) have come up with a fabulous campaign of their own: Go Commando. Don’t you love that name? And the tagline is just as awesome: Effective Self-Defense Training, Not Fear and Fig Leaves.
The people at Impact Bay Area understand rape culture. Check this out, from their campaign page: “The notion that women should dress differently to keep themselves safe from sexual assault is dangerous and wrong. Clothes do not cause or prevent rape. Nuns and women in burkas are raped. Rapists cause rape. And rape culture, including the offensive notion that women need to keep their sexuality under lock and key to be safe, perpetuates the myth that women are helpless, that they cannot physically defend themselves.”
Absolutely. One of the most troubling things about the concept of anti-rape underwear is that it furthers the notion that what a woman wears—or doesn’t wear—is a cause of rape. It doesn’t take many steps to get from the idea that underwear prevent rape to the idea that NOT wearing anti-rape underwear is a mistake, thus blaming the victim rather than the rapist.
Go Commando is all about empowering women, not blaming them: Impact Bay Area’s self-defense classes, which take 3–6 days to complete, give women the skills they need to defend themselves from an attacker. In addition, they impart the confidence women need to set emotional and physical boundaries in all areas of their lives. That right there—the confidence to set boundaries when and where necessary—is gold, my friends. Solid. Gold.
Ah, but what about the notion, at the very core of rape culture, that the onus to prevent rape is on the woman—do self-defense classes further this notion, thus keeping us preoccupied with a woman’s choices rather than the rapist’s crime? To this, I would say a resounding no. We must work to change how everyone perceives rape, and we must work to place the focus and the blame on the rapist rather than on the victim. This, and this alone, will turn the tide on rape culture. But an individual woman’s ability to give informed consent (for which she must be sober) and her ability to physically and emotionally defend herself can empower her to protect herself from an attack. So we must work on two fronts—education about safety (which never has to do with clothing) and defining rape as belonging to the rapist under all circumstances.
That is precisely what Impact Bay Area is doing, and why I think this campaign is fantastic. Go Commando is raising funds to train expert instructors, teach women and girls the skills they need for self-defense, and raise awareness that women CAN physically defend themselves. Check out this awesome video about their training—and if you have some money to give this Christmas, consider giving to this campaign. The work that Impact Bay Area is doing is both highly effective and deeply necessary.