Don’t Weaponize My Panties. Please.
by Adriana Paramo
I don’t know what disturbs me more: that India would consider fighting sexual violence against women by weaponizing their underwear or that the brains behind this device are not social scientists but three automobile engineering students who named this nugget SHE, Society Harnessing Equipment.
The three young undergraduates devised, and are about to commercially launch, a line of lingerie equipped with GPS, GSM capabilities and pressure sensors designed to deliver 3,800kV- shocks upon activation. The attacker gets up to 82 shocks and the GPS and GSM systems alert the police as well as the girl’s parents.
The concept, as innovative as it might be, saddens me beyond words. The SHE represents to me a declaration of surrender; it says that men are hopeless brutes incapable of learning the basics of mutual respect and common sense and because their feral lust and insatiable hunger for power over women wreak havoc in buses and public spaces alike, it is necessary to lace one’s panties with modules, wires and stun generators. Conversely, I believe the SHE is also a declaration of war against women’s sexuality. The designers of the anti-rape device haven’t been able to find a suitable material in which to pack their rather bulky invention. I cringe at the thought of these three kids working in a lab, stuffing their gadget into panties made of parachute material one day, and spacesuit stuff the next. A woman’s underwear is not a weapon or a shield, and definitely it’s nobody’s business; we like it soft and comfy; and whether it’s made of cotton, nylon, satin, silk or a concoction of synthetic fibers, how I cover my crotch is a decision devoid of social malaises, technological innovations and political agendas.
SHE is a technological response to a social crisis of global proportions. Sexual violence against women is rampant in India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, the United States, Botswana, Brazil, Peru, and sadly, many other countries. Rape is not a malfunctioning machine, it’s not a glitch in the system, or a Trojan malware threatening to steal my credit card details. SHE can’t be nor should it be used as a technological response to a social issue, just as bulletproof backpacks for schoolchildren are not a solution to the problem of the proliferation of weapons in the street.
For the record, I have never been raped, but this does not keep me from hurting when I read or hear about women being raped. That I haven’t been a victim of any form of sexual assault doesn’t make me less sympathetic, less worried about women’s safety, less keen on severely punishing those already found guilty of sexual assault; on the contrary, it makes me more determined to find viable solutions to this social calamity and I know that a gadget is not one of them.
I also know that opposing the weaponization of underwear, with calculated words and from the safety and comfort of my office, may seem trivial and worlds apart from the quotidian fear of the young women recently gang-raped in the United States, Brazil and India (New Delhi is the current rape capital of the world). Writing about “it” is not the same as living through “it.” Yet, as a writer of women’s issues, words are my only weapons and so I use them now to object to the placing of gizmos in women’s underwear as a deterrent to rape.
SHE is not a desperate measure or the last resort after an endless list of tried-and-failed solutions to India’s endemic sexual violence. Little has been done so far to identify the source, treat and uproot the problem. President Pranab Mukherjee has recently given his assent to the Anti-rape Bill which provides for life term and even death sentence for rape. That’s a start but it’s not enough. The ultimate goal should not be to punish the attacker but to reduce the number of and eventually eradicate all sexual assaults; a task that can only be accomplished through radical changes in the mindsets of both men and women.
- Studies show that women are more likely to report sex crimes to female police officers and medical examiners. The recruitment of women in those two areas seems paramount.
- In response to the recent gang-rapes in India, a legislator suggested to forbid skirts as a way to curtail sexual crimes. This notion that women bring rape on themselves by wearing provocative clothing is widespread and sadly not exclusive to Indian mentality. A woman deserves respect whether she walks down the street in a miniskirt and cowboy boots or under a black robe.
- Hatred, like love, starts at home. Children raised in violent homes where wife-beating is the norm, are likely to perpetuate the cycle as adults. The acceptance of domestic violence, so rampant in many cultures and subcultures, emphasizes the roles of men and women as victimizer and victim.
- A raped woman is perceived by some as “damaged goods,” and in India this translates into unmarriageable material. A girl’s prospects of marriage are more important than bringing her rapist to justice and for this very reason, she might be forced to compromise and either marry her rapist or drop the charges altogether; a conundrum that is increasingly leading rape victims in India to commit suicide.
- The widespread belief that rape is about power and control desexualizes the assault. If the only motivation for a rape is the desire to dominate, humiliate and degrade the victims through the use of physical violence and intimidation, sexual gratification would not be a part of the equation, but it is, because without the sexual element the assault is not rape.
My main concern with this SHE gadget is that it changes the rules of the dialogue. It moves into the technical field that which belongs in the social realm. All of us, not just Indians, need to educate our boys and girls, re-educate our teenagers, campaign for violence-free homes, instill respect for women’s sexuality, and enforce a zero-tolerance law to punish sexual transgressors. My guess is that if a society channels its resources towards education, therefore, prevention, fewer shelters, support groups, crisis centers, hotlines and other social band-aids will be needed.
The other problem with gadgets is our tendency to refine and extrapolate their function. What comes after the weaponization of women’s panties? Bullet-firing bras à la Fembot? Pedophile-proof diapers? Tear-gas spitting mobile phones for our daughters? The sky is the limit.
Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in dialogue and respect. Call me a dreamer, but I have infinite faith in my male counterparts and their universal potential to be good men. Call me oblivious, but I refuse to weaponize my panties. So here’s my answer to the three Indian students: I know you have women’s best interests at heart. Thank you. However, I think your invention is misguided and rather than to uproot the problem, it deepens it. I think you are young and have the time and passion required to come up with viable solutions, but for the time being, leave our crotches alone. Please.
About Adriana Paramo
Adriana Paramo is a Colombian writer, born in cold Bogotá but raised in Medellín, The City of Eternal Spring. She is the author of “Looking for Esperanza,” published by Benu Press, winner of the 2011 Social Justice and Equity Award in Creative Nonfiction, and listed in the Top 10 Latino Books of 2012.
Learn more about Adriana Paramo and her work here.
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