by Désirée Nothnagel
I often had a certain sort of discussion with my female friends. The all known discussion about sexual harassment. Despite being an immemorial topic of disputes, it still doesn’t lose any of its relevance. During these discussions I realized that I don’t know a single girl or woman who has never been sexually harassed in her whole life.
I found out that sexual harassment looms in every women’s life to bigger extent than I thought (also because I sometimes suggested it would unfortunately only happen to me). When I talked with men about this, they often reacted with surprise, as if it was the first time they had ever really given a thought to the subject and its potential consequences. I guess many girls know what I am talking about when I say that I often keep my keys in my hand when walking home at night all alone. I do this to be able to scratch an attacker’s face and defend myself, if need be. Sometimes, I even feel ridiculous when doing so. But having to listen to all those horrifying stories on the media and from my friends, it suddenly appears quite natural to feel the safety of a key in my hand.
I also started to avoid conversations with men who maybe just want to ask for directions and I wonder why they even ask a girl for directions at night. Shouldn’t they know that good girls never talk to strangers? And with good girls I mean girls who try to stay safe on their way home at night. With my hands in my pockets and a “leave me alone!” expression on my face I make my way home from a party. A gasp of relief follows when the door closes behind me and I am finally safe. This often happens unconsciously and I just realize that I was scared the whole way long when I find myself in a secure situation. I then also realize that I really don’t want to be the scared girl, but the self-confident young woman who just walks home still thinking about the nice evening. Last summer I experienced several moments in which I was harassed, even in daylight and in front of many people. I started to become nervous when leaving the house just because of the thought that it could happen again.
What should you do, when a man approaches you and you are helpless? “Tell him that you are really not interested, talk to strangers and ask for help, scream “fire, fire!” (because that is what catches people’s attention more than “help me, help me!”), use a pepper spray, ring at somebody’s door, run and don’t look like a victim, since that is what they want. Be loud.” The list of pieces of advice is long, but what are you really doing in a moment of fear? I experienced that I did it all: screaming, defending myself and being shy. What really makes me angry is the fact that people sometimes asked me what I was wearing when I was harassed. Seriously? In what kind of world do we live in that still supports victim shaming? Why can’t I just go to a nice park in the summer without being scared that my body could endanger my life? Is it my fault when a man puts his hands on me? “Well, in those short pants you were definitely asking for it.” Of course, I am asking for it! Every woman is asking for it, when it happens. That is what we do, asking for being harassed, or even worse, being raped. Those frustrating arguments even often come from women themselves. “She looked like a bitch, what did she expect?” It just doesn’t make sense to me why women would say this about representatives of their own gender.
Since a few months you can follow a big discussion on the internet which concerns a new invention. This invention is highly supported and also heavily criticized. It is the invention of anti-rape underwear, or the so-called modern chastity belt. The underwear looks almost like a normal average panty. What makes it different is the special lock, which can only be opened by the person who wears it. The parts for legs and hip have a certain “skeletal structure” that make it impossible to pull the pants down or even rip or cut them. In a short Youtube video a woman explains: “We want to make a product that will make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date or a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, travelling in another country or in other potentially risky situations.” Criticizers mentioned the possible dangers. If those pants are really too solid for being cut, then it is possible that in an emergency a doctor could not open them. It is also possible, that the victim will be killed by her attacker because he can’t relieve his aggression otherwise. The company AR Wear (Anti-Rape Wear) answers that it is more probable that the attacker leaves his victim untouched because of being distracted by not being able to open the pants. Furthermore, the woman has more time to defend herself while her attacker is unsuccessfully performing his undertaking.
AR Wear currently collects money to produce a prototype of this underwear with many women supporting the idea. On the one hand, it is an understandable thought that surely has its roots in the basic fear of being harassed. On the other hand, it again shifts the responsibility of not being raped to the woman’s side, as some people argue. “Why didn’t you wear your anti-rape underwear? It would not have happened then.” Arguments like this could be possible in the future. I just wonder why women should put on underwear that keeps them from being raped, when we could also raise our sons with the message not to rape. Doesn’t this new invention show how confused our minds are when it comes to this topic? I do not like the very idea of wearing this underwear when going out with my friends, because then I would surely assume that it is possible for me to be sexually harassed or even raped during the night. What a nice thought to focus on when having a drink in a bar or dancing in a club. “I leave the house and step in this, oh, so unsafe world, but no problem for me, because I wear my anti-rape underwear!” I appreciate the effort to give women a more secure feeling and I assume I could be grateful for wearing those pants when I am on my way home alone at night, but I would also feel like I accepted the dark and degenerated side of our contemporary culture and I’m certainly not willing to do so.