So why are those feminists so darn grumpy about nail polish?


So many of you are probably aware that some chemists at MIT have invented a nail polish that a person can dip into their drink and detects the date rape drug GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid) by changing colour. There is some strong indicators from prior attempt to process similar products that they don’t work as they are too sensitive and will change colour when exposed to substances such a milk, and may not even respond to GHB though lets ignore that.

Even assuming that it works this nail polish isn’t the win-win some folks seem to be making out to be. Like most rape prevention items it focuses mostly on the victims rather then he perpetrators and the reasons why the perpetrators commit the crimes.

It’s a stop-gap measure much like a chastity belt, though slightly less problematic and also even less effective (not to mention cost effective). First some people sight number like this could prevent 1% of rapes. First that 1% statistic is probably far too high, why? Because there are well over two dozen relatively (though most are controlled) common substances which can be used a date rape drug (not including alcohol).

This nail polish can probably only detect a single of those compound (maybe, it might detect lots of unintended things). It’s like barricading a house by covering a single window at random and hoping the zombies pick that window. And it does nothing about alcohol you might be drinking and the fact the vast majority of perpetrators are known to the victim (there by passing the trust barrier).

Sure it’s an interesting bit of tech (assuming it works which seem more doubtful then likely), but it’s pretty damn useless because of the above. To even protect the tiny percent of women who will be attacked with GHB we need to have every women wearing it at most social events involving drinking and using it effectively all the time.

Which leads to a particular comment which in large part started off the writing of the reply which lead in turn to this post.

“And lastly, where you definitely miss my point: rape, like murder, will likely never be eradicated from human society. It is at least partly behavioral and you can’t stop that. So while it’s really nice to say “We should just cure the disease,” it’s not realistic and you can’t abandon any other progress just to pursue that.” (I’ll leave him anonymous)

The question isn’t how do we eradicate rape it’s how we prevent (mostly) men from thinking that rape is an acceptable means of exerting power over others, or taking sexual pleasure. The facts as they stand are according to recent CDC studies (here) that an estimated 19.3% of American women will be raped, 43.9% will be exposed to sexual violence, 15.2% will experience being stalked in their life time. These are not numbers to be explained away by some non-existent small percent of bad, but very busy, eggs.

(The male numbers respectively are 1.7%, 23.4%(though some rape numbers are actually in this category so that first number should be higher) 5.7% I suggest people read the report it’s a bit tricky).

Why do I bring this up? Because it seem clear from my experience and reading that a large proportion of rapists don’t even know/acknowledge they are rapists, and don’t understand what consent and rape actually are. That’s part of why stop gap measures like this nail polish are not a real solutions. One because they are not every effective, and two they really are not treating the cause of the problem. Which as far as I can tell is a gross misunderstanding of consent, and a double standard we have with regard to sex and consent and basically all other places where we consider consent as important. such as property, ownership, scientific experiments, medicine and the like. We don’t just assume that, when you haven’t given clear consent, that you’ve in fact given consent to donate your kidney, but many people thing ambiguous consent equal consensual sex, and worse some others think that a no isn’t really a no.

Most feminists, from my understanding, are not saying that the nail polish is awful in and of itself (though I’m sure you can find some if you look, like any opinion), it’s more that it’s pretty damn useless and it’s probable that some woman somewhere is going to get drugged by GHB and someone is going to blame her for not wearing her drug test kit that evening. I hope that’s not the case, but tech like this doesn’t actually even treat the symptoms (overall) let alone the problem, And that’s assuming it works! No matter how neat it might be, it has to be very effective indeed to even be consisted as a useful tool which to inconvenience half the party going population with. And even then do we really want women to have to do another little fucking thing every day just so they are safe from violence?

I suppose the point of all of this is that it isn’t about the nail polish at all, it’s about who we put the burden of rape prevention on. I would like to see everyone, with a particular onus on the education system and the authorities, be responsible for rape prevention. Not just women.

Withteeth

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25 responses to “So why are those feminists so darn grumpy about nail polish?

  • iamwildewoman

    I’m glad you wrote this. For me as a feminist, I understand and fully support that the focus and energy should be spent on changing rape culture but that’s going to a battle we will fight for many many years to come and one that we can fight in the meantime. Don’t we all know that it’s easier and less time intensive to invent a product to help prevent rape than to change an entire culture? So while we are fighting the never-ending rape culture battle, I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms against a product that could, in the “meantime”, potentially save who knows how many young women from being raped. Even saving one would be enough. Can’t we all agree on that?

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I’m too much of a pragmatist for that, one is not enough, one is a fluke and those already happen. We need percentage points to go down. We need real change for the better. And this nail polish is probably nothing more then a party trick. Sure it might make some women feel safer. Okay, but given what I know it won’t actually make them safer 99.9…% of the time

      Like don’t get me wrong it’s a nice idea, but it won’t be getting results until it become more universal in what it detects. And even then it will cover less then 10% of rapes. I think many feminists including myself don’t like it because it’s a waste of time and money and gives a false sense of security, but then again I could be convinced otherwise if something like it starts getting results.

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      • iamwildewoman

        I guess we differ in our opinions. I absolutely agree and am all about pragmatism, but I’m also thankful and not going to trivialize that maybe even a small percentage can be prevented by this “invention.” I also love science and I think a partnership between science and preventing/changing rape culture can only help make change more likely. We will see what the future brings.

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  • drippingfaucet522

    As a university professor I must agree that sexual violence is a terrible and complex problem on our campuses. I agree that color-changing nail polish isn’t going to change the world here, but I don’t think any one thing will. An effective test for date rape drugs would make some of my students feel more secure socializing with their peers. I will never forget one of my senior females relating that she was afraid to go out for even one drink with her friends for fear that something would be slipped in her drink. It was clearly her impression that this is a pervasive problem. No amount of education about consent will protect women like her from these predators. Technology and harsh punishment of offenders could change the benefit:risk calculation and thereby reduce the prevalence of this type of violence.
    Unfortunately, punishment of offenders is a double-edged, often unused, sword. The perception of the false : valid : unreported rape is a very real problem in this regard. I think we could make great strides in reducing sexual violence by unravelling this conundrum.
    I agree that education about consent would be helpful, but the least effective way to do this would be in classrooms. It should be introduced there to be sure, but proper use of consent will have to be modelled in media protrayals of romance before it gains any traction in society.
    Finally, I think the media has substantial culpability for the problem of sexual violence in America. I think everything from how romance is depicted to the hyper-sexualization of sales and marketing to the prevalence of pornography have played a role in creating a society in which almost half the women have been exposed to sexual violence (thanks for that frightening statistic). I don’t know the solution to this problem, but I do think it is important to consider.
    Thank you for drawing your readers’ attention back to this very important problem.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      “An effective test for date rape drugs would make some of my students feel more secure socializing with their peers.” agreed, however we don’t have it yet, we might be a step closer, but if it is possible, and then both financially feasible for a person afforded one and physically feasible to take it around with them and use it are another set of questions altogether.
      “No amount of education about consent will protect women like her from these predators.” Though I’m not saying it will protect against the tiny subset of rapist which go to such lengths to rape. They simply are not the majority of the problem. It is far more likely that someone will get you a few doubles instead of some single talls, till your too drunk to be coherent and then rape you when you can’t even say no. There isn’t a whole lot we can do for those who would irrational fears about being date raped with powerful rape drugs, but we can educate people (the primary target ought to be men, but might as well get everyone) that getting consent is not getting some one drunk. That is what I’m talking about, the majority of rapists, which are mostly known to the victim. Not strangers with sedatives.
      Yep I agree that the media play a large role, but I think that is in large part because we allow the media to educate children about sex and relationships. Because sex and relationships are taboo to talk about in much of society.
      It reciprocal, we are not going to see media change unless we see people want to see accurate and healthy depictions of relationships. Giving the new generations the opportunity to learn about what healthy sex and relationships look like will be a huge boon to them as well as society. Part of how we do this as well is which governments stepping in and allowing this education to be put into the media alongside regular school education. We are already seeing change as sexual violence become more of a talked about issue.

      Though perhaps I have misrepresented you some, and perhaps you’d like to get more in depth and reply to some of my comments.

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      • drippingfaucet522

        What I am sure of is that sexual violence, particularly on college campuses, is a horrible, pervasive, and complex problem. There will not be a silver bullet that decreases the number of victims from 1 in 5 to 1 in 100. (Not that 1 in 100 is a goal – just that it would be improvement)
        I am less sure of the means rapists use. I’ve never been part of that scene. Is my student’s concern about getting drugged (not necessarily by a stranger) “irrational”? That isn’t consistent with the rest of what I know about her, but it is a perception of a perception. Even if statistics are available to show that only a small fraction of rapes are committed using date-rape drugs I would argue that doing something to catch those rapist would be energy well spent, particularly as they could be cited for a crime before actually raping another victim. I agree that color changing nail polish is almost certianly not the “something”.
        I think the idea of consent education is good, but question whether the classroom is the most important or effective place for it. This may seem odd for an educator to say, but I don’t think talking about something in a classroom is a very effective means to change engrained perspective and/or practice. Humans need to see and (in at least some sense) participate in desired behavior before they will adopt it. The Mentors in Violence Prevention program was highlighted by NPR back in August as one method of using mentoring and peer pressure to reduce incidence of sexual violence. I may be overly optimistic, but I also think excecutives at Disney, the WB, etc. could be convinced that it is better to be part of the solution than part of the problem. They would likely need to see specific examples of how scenarios in their programming could better handle consent, but that wouldn’t be hard to do for someone with a good understanding of the college culture and consent. Sound like a good class and/or senior project for someone in communications, feminists studies, social justice? I certainly couldn’t do something like this as I was too busy studying in college to party and what my students tell me about their activities seems completely incongruent with a culture of consent. I hope someone less ignorant is willing to make a difference here.
        Finally, I think this problem is bigger than how men view sex and consent. I think it is about how society views and values women. Think about the 50 or 100 most popular celebrities in America right now. How many of the men are famous for their sexuality? How many of the women aren’t famous for their sexuality? I am not opposed to female sexuality, but the women I know have a lot more than that to offer. Unfortunately it isn’t just society that seems to value them soley for their sexuality, in many cases that is also the lie that they have bought. Reclaiming the personhood of women is also an important part of decreasing sexual violence. Victims would be more likely to report rape. Men would be less likely to victimize someone if they recognized them as a fellow person. Ok, gonna stop now and get back to grading examples of how little my students learned in the first three weeks of my class…

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        • hessianwithteeth

          I’ve gotten very ill very fast, so I couldn’t read your whole comment critically, but from the skimming I managed to draw the conclusion that I agree with most of what you said, and our stance are quite similar.

          “Reclaiming the personhood of women is also an important part of decreasing sexual violence. Victims would be more likely to report rape. Men would be less likely to victimize someone if they recognized them as a fellow person.”

          I agree this is another important point, I think it come hand in hand with consent education, but it is an important and separate issue. Though it has a wider effect then just rape.

          I only say a fear is irrational if there is a less then 1% chance of happening. Now for the given student the changes might be different, but for the average woman it’s highly unlike that if your raped it will be by and drug other then alcohol.

          I could be mistaken, I’ll look it up when I don’t feel like my head has been stuffed with socks, but it could be as high as 70% of reported rapes are facilitated by alcohol. Though don’t quote me on that just yet, I’ll need to go hunting for that citation.

          Have fun grading, sorry to hear your have such little faith in your students, but as a student who isn’t naturally good at the whole academia and that whole test taking thing (I’m a hands on, do it or lose it learner. I also tend to need to know the whys along with the how’s to retain information well). I found it took me 2.5 years of university to (mostly) work pass the damage done by my grade school education, and start figuring out what from each course was relevant, and useful beyond that course. Then again it also depends oh who your teaching, what, and when. Good luck.

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  • MikuMarmalade

    I think the nail polish is a useless idea. There are too many nail polishes without whatever active ingredients make that nail polish effective. And what about those who don’t wear nail polish? I understand the concept. I think a better plan would to not accept drinks from other guys and buy your own and watch it.
    Not too fun sounding, I agree. If you are worried about getting raped don’t put yourself out there.
    Fun at clubs and bars comes at a price. Use sense.
    I, a woman, wouldn’t want to get raped. I don’t do things way out of my way to not get raped but I don’t open unnecessary doors either. I don’t go to clubs or bars because there’s nothing good or interesting going on there.
    The nail polish can easily be foiled. Labels. People don’t read that. More people will look for color change before understanding why it works.

    I’m a bit biased on this topic. I will admit it. I don’t really feel much sympathy for girls who get sexually assaulted at clubs or bars because I personally don’t see how those places are safe to begin with.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      “I, a woman, wouldn’t want to get raped.”
      More to the point, and more accurately. No one can actually “want”
      to be raped, it’s logically impossible. Rape is sex with out consent, if you want to have forced sex it isn’t really forced. Obviously it get’s a bit tricky if your looking at outlier cases, but in strictest terms no one can actually want to be rape.

      Now I have to point out a few things you said.

      “Fun at clubs and bars comes at a price. Use sense.”

      and

      “I don’t really feel much sympathy for girls who get sexually assaulted at clubs or bars because I personally don’t see how those places are safe to begin with.”

      Yes you admit your bias, but this is still victim blaming. So what your not allowed to go to a normal social event (these are often held at bars and club in our society) with out running the risk of being assaulted? There is a point to be made about safety, but well that line of reasoning lead to women being stuck at home all the time because their many dangers of rape in all sort of circumstances. And this does nothing about intimate partner abuse. Sure you might not feel sympathy for people who’ve been attacked, but why do you think that? Do you think they deserved it?

      I think you should really critically analyst how your using your language. It isn’t that you shouldn’t go out and have fun and drink as many people do, it’s that no one should rape others. Obviously if a place has a horrid reputation where many women are attacked, then sure you should avoid the place, but did you deserve to be attacked? I hope it’s obvious that no, you didn’t deserved to be attacked. Plus what about the women who aren’t aware of the risks?

      I bring this up, because what you said IS victim blaming. Pure and simple. It’s all about what the victim did and takes all the attention away from the perpetrator.

      Withteeth

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      • MikuMarmalade

        Yeah I was thinking about my post yesterday. I think I came off rude and inconsiderate. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated disrespectfully in any way or shape or form. Rape to me is a form of disrespect of the body.
        And rape doesn’t only occur in clubs. And for those that do, it sad. And slipping something in a drink can happen at ANY social event. I do realize that.

        No one deserves to get raped. And while I still hold onto the view that “women” shouldn’t go to bars or clubs, I hold that standard for both men and women. Why? Locally, clubs aren’t known for being a good place to be. It’s the culture. Shooting and whatnot. If rape happens, it’s not usually the first thing you hear. I personally feel there’s no value in those places. But that leads me to house parties and stuff. The same thing can happen at house parties that happen at clubs.

        And yes, technically you can’t want to get raped. It’s like an oxymoron(I think that’s the right term). Want= desire =/= consent but it’s a fine line.

        Sorry for coming off as such a douche.
        I still don’t agree with club scene but it’s not solely because of rape. There are other things that form my opinion.
        But no one deserves to be disrespected especially in areas where they can’t help it. Being a woman or being drunk. While you can get educated about stuff, what about before you are educated? What if you think you’re educated but really aren’t or misguided? Being educated doesn’t happen with a snap of a finger and people who hasn’t had the chance to learn what’s needed(depends on the situation) how can you hold that against them?

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        • hessianwithteeth

          Thank for your reply.
          Ignorance is unavoidable, one should only consider holding it against a person if it is willful ignorance, and often even then some time it is still best give the benefit of the doubt. When I say educate I mean educate everyone what rape and consent actually are so you don’t have guys walking around thinking that getting a woman passed out drunk drunk = she’s good to do. Or people who think that no can mean yes. These sort of ideas are what I mean by education.

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  • morethangeekylove

    Well, your points are fair enough. You mentioned, that the nail polish may not be such a great solution and solving this problem should not start from the victims. And you also said, that rape will never stop, I think that even if this nail polish won’t be that effective, is still a step of giving a chance to girls/boys to prevent it from happening. Exactly for this reason, that abusers won’t stop, nor can be in some way re-educated, the best thing to do is concentrate on the potential victims. Most of the abusers are people with some serious psychological problems and/or lack of affection, that find pleasure in satisfying their perverse fantasies by doing this outrageous act. Think that in India people don’t move a finger when it occurs, and this is really worrisome. And we are talking about little girls here too, so if a nail polish will be of a help even 0,01%, is still a great news, that will give at least some hope.

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  • ryanarron

    An interesting read. In particular, I liked your conclusion about where does rape prevention begin. It’s more than obvious that it begins with policy makers and the education system, but there’s a major gap to be bridged there. I would say that’s public pedagogy and laws. The latter most important.

    Like

  • Sex Lacking In Consent | Amusing Nonsense

    […] hope I made that clear. I’m writing this because I left a comment on this post about a new nail polish being developed that’s supposed to identify if a specific roofie is […]

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  • koharjones

    How crazy is it that we even need to say “rape is wrong.”
    Like “murder is wrong.”
    It’s a given.
    Except somehow our culture has shifted to the point where rape is somehow considered okay. What the hell?

    Like

  • siriusbizinus

    Your points are well taken about the onus of rape prevention and the potential inadequacies of this nail polish. There is a silver lining here, and that is the occasion of researchers developing methods to counteract the instruments of rape. What should be advertised publicly and frequently is that rape not only is wrong, but it is so wrong that scientists are seeking means to combat it. That some of these means are currently ineffectual will be besides the point. The message that is being broadcast is that sex without consent is wrong.

    While this may be a small consolation, I think the more voices out there saying rape is wrong, the better off society will be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      I’d say rather then researching how to protect people from the extremely rare rapist who use something other then alcohol as their drug of choice, we educate the current and next generation (and those who are already around to what ever extent we can) about consent and rape. Make it mandatory (or inescapable), made it informative, make it from different perspectives, make it quick and repeat it often. And if you can tailor it to audience as often as is possible.

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  • qcprincess

    Have you heard about the Vive bracelet? I know it’s not on the market yet but I like the idea that it alerts your friends, that would make me feel better when I go out.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Ya there app for that same purpose as well. gain it’s a stop gap measure. However, unlike the nail polish it’s more effective (though it doesn’t actually protect you much from assault and harassment it just make it so you less likely to be found dead in a gutter or never found at all which is nice).

      Educating the population what rape actually is is a great way to actually reduce the number of rapists out there. Imagine if it was made into mandatory sex education, that could really help the next generation.

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      • qcprincess

        Seriously. I feel like since the bracelet is obvious someone has it on, it would make them less of a target. It would be nice to not have to worry about being a target at all though!

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        • hessianwithteeth

          Obviously if it make you feel more secure that’s a big deal and important in many ways so I’m definitely not saying to people that they shouldn’t use these things only that they are not the solution that many think they are. 🙂 but I suspect we are more in agreement then not.

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