The Shock of Armour

There's been an explosion of protectionist products, all in the name of women's emancipation.

New Media Fellows 2013

By Anindita Sengupta

November 03, 2013

Also published by the Bangalore Mirror

Over the last year, rape has been discussed more than before and behold! It is the dawn of a new age—of marketing. Not the police or the judiciary or the government, the ones quickest to action have been the product gurus, the advertisers. From TV commercials exhorting men to be "soldiers" who will protect us to companies designing anti-rape undergarments—there's an explosion of protectionist products, all in the name of women's emancipation.

Now, a company called AR Wear has designed a range of underwear, leggings, shorts and 'travelling shorts' that "lock" into place and are difficult to remove forcibly. According to a report in, a set of so-called thigh locks ensure that the material over the leg openings are difficult to move after the user snaps them in place. A crowd-funding campaign run by the company had raised $2,080 at time of writing. They're trying to raise $50,000 in a month and the project will only be funded if it reaches its goal. Predictably, the company is selling this on the basis of rape prevention.

All this does is again put the responsibility of rape and safety from it, squarely back on our shoulders, or well, anatomy in general. The core message is not that different from regressive college principals who impose Draconian dress codes on female students: You have something that is desirable and dangerous. Cover it up, hide it away, lock it up. (Un)free your vagina, and the rest will follow.

A lot of women have not responded as enthusiastically as the company may have hoped. A Facebook commenter expresses why: "Maybe because I don't want to wear the fear of rape--to feel a reminder of it on my body--or because it feels like something else to lock women into? Or, even uglier... my second thought was: should we wear helmets too?"

Besides the regressive ideology behind the product, there is also a desperate lack of common sense. Rape is rarely limited to vaginal penetration and is never about that. It is about control, subjugation and violence. A locking mechanism on underwear is hardly likely to thwart a rapist. What are we expecting? That he will then throw up his hands, shrug and move on?

Much has been said and written about the element of torture in recent rape cases. Miscellaneous objects of glass and iron have assumed terrifying shapes. The shock of unknown skin is outdone by the shock of other substances. Evil is both imaginative and whimsical. It is dogged. Armouring a woman is not likely to thwart a rapist. It may just enrage him even more.

The larger problem then is how to thwart the conception of evil itself, the slow blossoming of it in a boy's mind. At what point does a boy go from being an ordinary, innocent person to someone capable of causing grievous harm? How do we recognise this moment? What can we do to break the hold of that evil? And by evil here, I don't allude to supernatural forces or horror-movie intangibles. By evil, I mean the accumulation of thoughts, feelings, teachings and influences that would cause somebody to be capable of rape and simultaneously, the lack of other more nourishing thoughts, feelings and influences that would make them abhor it.

If there is innovation required, it is in this sphere. Can we make toys that teach boys about respect? Can we make movies that make men aware of their responsibilities? Can we create systems that ensure the police do their job? How about a crowd-funded project to make the legal system more efficient in dealing with rape cases? Can we—as a society—stop making rape a woman's problem?

There is very little real will behind this. Year after year, we continue to hear the same litany of excuses, warnings and idiotic solutions. Quick-fix measures are adopted to stem our rage when there is a particularly high-profile case. Meanwhile, girls and women in families and schools, streets and college campuses, villages and cities continue to be raped and tortured. Once in a while, a company decides to "cash in" on our fears. It is more than misguided. It is pathetic.

But beware: products like this do not help us or help our freedom. They only seek to make profits while absolving the law, the police and the government—and worse, the rapists--of responsibility. It is our job to push back, to disagree, and to remind them as many times as necessary that the age of chastity belts has long passed.

The author writes about maternal and reproductive health with a grant from the International Reporting Project in Washington, DC.