WORDS BY NAYANTARA JOHNSON
Prior to the 2010 World Cup, rumors surfaced regarding an anti-rape device that was supposedly being distributed to the susceptible population of South African women. It was a controversial idea, to say the least—a female condom called Rape-aXe, built to seriously injure the male reproductive organ. The woman who developed Rape-aXe, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers was working as a medical technician for the South African Blood Transfusion Service. After interacting with so many rape victims through her work, Ehlers took it upon herself to create a drastic change.
South Africa is, after all, the country with the highest incidence of sexual assault in the world. According to a 2006 study, a woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa. It doesn’t stop there; in a 2009 report by Amnesty International, over 20,000 reports of rape led to only 1,600 convictions. One in every four South African men have confessed to rape, and half of those men have admitted to raping multiple times. In South Africa, rape is seen as a male bonding experience, a cure for lesbians and, perhaps most horrifying, a remedy for children with AIDS.
Rape-aXe itself is a latex female condom embedded with angled barbs. Upon penetration, the condom does not immediately hurt the rapist, but is excruciatingly painful on the way out. The device is meant to clasp onto the penis so tightly that it can only be removed surgically. This feature makes it quite clear when a man has committed an act of sexual violence.
The idea reportedly came from one of the victims Ehlers was working with, who said, “If only I had teeth down there…” Surprisingly, this is not a revolutionary idea. To those well-versed in Hindu mythology, the philosophy behind the Rape-aXe may seem vaguely familiar. The vagina dentata—or, the toothed vagina—originates from an ancient story of Hindu deities seeking revenge upon each other; the myth has been popularized through centuries of folklore and has even become the basis of mainstream movies. These myths, however, have a chauvinistic undertone, in the sense that they debase the female reproductive organ to something insidious and evil. But maybe there’s some feminine agency shining through. By Ehlers’s logic, women must be empowered to use their bodies as weapons, just as men have for far too long. It’s time for men to realize that they are not the only ones with sexual power.
Similarly, the functionality of the Rape-aXe device follows the same philosophy of the mythical vagina dentata. It reminds me of the time I decided to stick my finger through a Wet Wipes lid because the towelettes weren’t coming out; what I didn’t realize is that the wipes come out easily, but going back in—not so much. My finger went in easily, but I couldn’t get the lid off and eventually had to cut the lid with scissors.
At first glance, Rape-aXe might seem like a possible cure to the age-old epidemic of rape. The question is, are we fighting fire with fire? Will women use the anti-rape condoms as weapons of seduction? The Rape-aXe website reads, “It’s the twenty first century, man has supposedly evolved into a more civilized being… yet rape statistics are on the rise! Child and infant rape has increased 400% over the last decade!” Rape is, according to Ehlers, a “medieval deed” deserving of a “medieval consequence.” If the prevalence of rape continues to rise, Ehlers’s rather drastic solution may begin to seem increasingly practical.
Mass production of Rape-aXe was supposed to have begun in April of 2007, but the device has not been distributed to date. This may be because of intense criticism from the public. Critics claim the device is a violation of human rights, reminiscent of a chastity belt, and fails to address the real solution to rape: educating men. It is important to remember, however, that this product was not made with the white feminists of the Western world in mind; on the contrary, it was initiated in South Africa for a reason. Many have also speculated that the condom could cause anger in the rapist, continuing the cycle of violence and furthering the victim’s pain.
But while rape is especially rampant in South Africa, it is ultimately a global issue. The media continues to portray aggressive male behavior as something that should be expected in our society. Of course, most everyone remembers the controversy of Robin Thicke’s chart-topping hit in which rape and consensual sex are vaguely separated by “blurred lines.” Some might be more familiar with Tyga’s song “Ice Cream Paint Job,” in which he raps, “Money ain’t a thing / to the Young Money gang baby / Our navy, our ate and leave and rape your lady…” Then there’s Lil Wayne with, “We be thuggers, stunners, hustlers / Kidnap mothers, rape with no rubbers.” Tyler, the Creator says, “You call this shit kids, well I call these kids cum / And you call this shit rape, but I think that rape’s fun.” More recently, pop artist Cee Lo Green has made comments that it isn’t rape if the woman is unconscious—and if it is, he has raped at least two women. There is no way for these artists to justify such lyrics and comments. Even if the statements are not meant literally, the perpetuation of this behavior continues to lead young boys to accept the commodification of females as a norm.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, ninety-seven percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail—and that’s in the United States alone. Although there is no doubt that educating young men is the real solution to rape culture, the current situation calls for an extreme and more immediate remedy. Rape-aXe is not without its own flaws, but it does what so many law-enforcement organizations have been too lazy or negligent to accomplish: it provides concrete proof of rape’s prevalence. It forces us to acknowledge the fact that rape does occur and that victims do not make it up out of spite or revenge. Perhaps a few more Rape-aXe horror stories in the media is all it will take for a man in Johannesburg with an inclination towards rape to consider his options a bit more wisely.
Why is the blame for romanticizing mental illness lodged at teenage girls documenting/trying to cope with their struggles with mental illness and not grown men who make movies about how medication is evil and schizophrenia is magic powers.
If you are female, expressing hatred for your own body is not just acceptable, it’s practically de rigeur. Failure to indulge in the requisite amount of self-flagellation – my thighs! my skin! my face! – isn’t just negligent, it’s unfeminine. Self-hatred is fundamental to how femininity is constructed, more fundamental than any of the more obvious external symbols (dress, make-up, shoes). What matters is not that you are beautiful, but you know your place in the beauty hierarchy (and since every woman ages, every woman’s place will eventually be somewhere at the bottom).
Young women are encouraged to bond over their dislike of excess body hair, surplus flesh and “uneven” skin. They are meant to do so in a jovial way, egged on by perky adverts informing them what “real women” do: worry about having underarms beautiful enough for a sleeveless top, celebrate curves with apologetic booty shakes and cackle ruefully over miserable Sex-and-the-City-style lunches of Ryvita and Dulcolax. It’s a gendered ritual; men get football and booze, women get control pants and detoxes. We are supposed, of course, to be grateful. Hey, you don’t have to be perfect! Just know you’re not perfect and act accordingly, with the appropriate levels of guilt and shame!
Fairy tale after fairy tale tells us that what matters is being beautiful “on the inside” but what does that really mean? It means submission, obedience and the suppression of one’s own desires. Don’t be haughty and proud. Clean the hearth. Kiss the frog. Love the beast. Suck it up when you’re replaced by a younger model. Sure, you may look fine, but you mustn’t feel fine. You mustn’t be vain. You mustn’t be angry. All fury and pain must be turned back on itself. That way you’ll be a real princess: silent, fragile and never threatening to challenge the status quo."
casual racism includes:
the way people trivialize black women so much to the point where fat black women are constantly the subject of gifs and nobody will admit that it’s because they enjoy the stereotype of the “big black ghetto woman” doing something like “ahh praise da lawd” or “ohh babe” or some shit like that