Nail polish is not considered an essential object. The popular beauty product has been around since 3000 BC, when it was invented by the Chinese. Now, it is getting completely re-invented by students in the Materials Science & Engineering department at North Carolina State University. They have created nail polish that could save lives.
They have invented a nail polish that can help stop sexual assault. Called Undercover Colors, this polish will change color when it comes in contact with certain drugs often used to drug women, including Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB. In order to detect the chemicals, the person wearing the nail polish has to use their finger to stir their drink. If the drink has a date rape drug in it, the nail polish changes color.
This invention could changes the lives of women throughout the country, especially on college campuses. The Washington Post reports that 55% of about 1,570 colleges and universities with more than 1,000 students received at least one report of forcible sex offense on campus in 2012. From 2010 to 2012 there were 14 forcible sex offenses reported on N.C. State’s campus.
“Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime,” the team behind Undercover Colors said on their Facebook page.
At first glance, this seems like a great idea! A perfect way to keep women safe!
Top: The four NC State students who developed the polish
Bottom: The nail polish will change color when it is exposed to date rape drugs
Photo Courtesy of Buzzfeed
If you dig beneath the surface, this is not the case at all.
There are many flaws in the polish- it would need to be able to detect drugs in food, which can also be spiked. Additionally, what about men? According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report 1 in 71 men – or almost 1.6 million – have been sexually assaulted during their lives.While the pictures of the product show a bight fuchsia that would appeal to many women, the majority of men are not going to wear fuchsia nail polish. The company should offer clear polish that changes to a darker color, so that men can equally protect themselves.
Furthermore,a study of American college students put the rate of attacks carried out on people who have had their drink spiked at around 5 percent. While that should be noted, it is clear that the most commonly used drug to sedate women and rape them is alcohol. Not spiked alcohol, not alcohol with crushed pills- plain alcohol handed to women by people they assume are their friends but actually rapists just waiting for their chance.
The fact that men know that they can get away with rape, without being blamed– that’s the real problem. Whether or not a women’s nail polish detects date rape drugs or not, the fact that people, in 2014, think it’s okay to take advantage of someone without their consent is not okay.
Many people question why it was more important to create a nail polish that detects these drugs, rather than focus on a way to end the rape culture that we live in. They question how this nail polish is any different from variations of the same “anti-rape” concept. Previously, “anti-rape underwear” and “Rapex” a female condom that would insert tiny hooks into an assailant’s penis, have been market towards women. Some feel that by promoting these things, whether it be the modern chastity belts or color-changing nail polish, it is actually promoting rape, by suggesting that rape is inevitable.
Jessica Valenti of the Guardian ponders “Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than find a way to stop rapists?”
She states in her column:
“Even if a woman were to wear special nail polish or anti-rape underwear, or if she listens to common – but misplaced – advice about not getting drunk and always walking home in a group, all she’s supposedly ensuring is that she won’t be attacked. (And even then it’s not real security, because women who do all the “right” things get raped too) What about the girl at the same party who decided to have a few drinks that night? So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape.
Prevention tips or products that focus on what women do or wear aren’t just ineffective, they leave room for victim-blaming when those steps aren’t taken. Didn’t wear your anti-rape underwear? Well what did you expect?
That’s a familiar refrain. In a Bloomberg article last week, for example, one Stanford student compared women who get raped to unlocked bicycles…The problem is that simply being female in public remains an undue risk. Do we really believe that half the population should be required to avoid parties, socializing, drinking, cute clothes and walking alone if they don’t want to be raped?”
According to Eyewitness News, Lisa Vetten, a gender researcher with the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, questioned the need for women to be constantly taught ways on “how not to be raped.”
She told the Eyewitness News, “If you look at the kinds of jokes that people tell, the kind of language that they use, the imagery, the advertising, everything that we see around us – it requires us to take a more critical look. It is for us to say what is that sustaining? What is that supporting? Should we be challenging not just each other but our broader social institutions to change how they encourage us to think about sex?”
While the team says, “Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught”, with such a high percentage of rapes every year, it is going to take more than just nail polish to stop sexual assault. It is going to take an entire shift in culture.
I think Audrey from Autostraddle said it best. In this clear, concise and informative article, she sums up the problem in the best way possible.
“The products perpetuate victim blaming by making it easier for others to turn to the victims of assault and ask “Well [product] exists; why didn’t you use it to prevent this from happening?” On their Facebook page, the creators say they “hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught.” What about making potential perpetrators afraid to rape a woman because when she tells someone about it, they’ll believe her and seek justice? What about creating cultural shifts so that people don’t become violent assailants at all? Date rape drugs are just a tool, and if would-be rapists find it to be a less effective one, they’ll find another. The issue isn’t date rape drugs; the issue is rape culture.”
People are going to need to stop blaming the victims and encouraging both women and men to take extra precautions.
As Know Your IX founder Alexandra Brodsky said to Think Progress, “One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea. But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”
Rape is simply not okay, taking advantage of someone when they are drunk is not okay, and it shouldn’t be expected that both men and women have to constantly worry about protecting themselves when they are out at a party. The problem isn’t that women are not aware that drugs are going into their drinks, it is that drugs are going into their drinks in the first place.
While the nail polish is a valiant effort to help women, it is not going to solve the problem- in the end it is just perpetuating the cycle of victim-shaming, limiting actions and rape culture.
It’s that simple.