Form Over Function: Are ‘Fashionable’ Safety Items Capitalizing on Anxieties About Assault?

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Form Over Function: Are ‘Fashionable’ Safety Items Capitalizing on Anxieties About Assault?

Courtesy of Ominae

Courtesy of Ominae

Courtesy of Ominae

Courtesy of Ominae

By Alaikia Marielle

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The amount of self-defense products made specifically for women to prevent sexual assault is staggering. Just over a decade ago, Taser International introduced a compact taser which came in several colors, including pink. Today, pink tasers are just the tip of the self-defense iceberg.

Sexual assault, especially on college campuses, is a monster of a problem. A 2015 report from the Association of American Universities found that 23 percent of undergraduate women experience sexual assault during their time as a student. Self-defense weapons like pepper spray and stun guns offer a level of protection for women who would otherwise feel unsafe walking to their cars after a late class.

In 2015, artist Taylor Yocom’s photography project “Guarded” went viral. The project showed women brandishing the items they use to feel protected when walking alone or at night. The items ranged from umbrellas and keys between knuckles to stun guns and pepper spray. Yocum, who started the project as a student at the University of Iowa, wanted to show the universal need of women to be “on guard.”

Courtesy of Allen Slack

The transition from high school to college is when many women receive or purchase their first self-defense item. Jasmine Robinson, senior, told The Daily Utah Chronicle she received her first can of pepper spray from her parents when she left for school. “Anytime I go somewhere at night, I double check I have it.”

“I usually keep one in my purse and I keep one in my backpack,” Robinson said, who has since purchased additional pepper spray. “I have a couple in a couple different places, so I have them when I need them.”

Robinson chose her method of self-defense based on reviews and recommendations on Amazon, opting for functionality and reliability over aesthetics. But the industry has exploded beyond traditional methods of self-defense to ease your nighttime anxieties.

A simple search for pepper spray or stun guns yields colorful results, mostly pink. Some come bedazzled or covered in glitter. There are even more discreet solutions ranging from pepper spray disguised as lipstick and stun gun key chains.

Wearable self-defense is also trendier than ever. There are pendants and rings filled with anything you could need. Some have pepper spray, others have hidden blades. There is also a surge in wearable defense which alerts an emergency contact and sends them your location when pressed.

Websites like Defense Divas dedicate themselves to providing self-defense weapons and other tools for women. In addition to selling self-defense tools, Defense Divas also runs a blog with general safety tips and compiles information on state laws regarding the use of stun guns and pepper spray.

Courtesy of Sara Boyer

Many self-defense items targeted to women are compact and easily concealable. This is handy for the many women who carry smaller bags, making a bulkier item, like a taser, impractical.

There is a fine line between providing women with useful tools and exploiting vulnerability for the sake of fashion. In 2016, AR Wear launched an Indiegogo campaign for rape-proof clothing. The woman in the video poses in her anti-rape underwear before proceeding to get ready for a night out, as if putting on armor is as unremarkable as picking the right shade of lipstick. Marketing like this normalizes rape as just an unfortunate part of women’s lives, brushing it off as a mere inconvenience women have to prepare for rather than a deep-rooted societal problem we need to address.

Companies like AR Wear are capitalizing on conversations about sexual assault and the #MeToo movement to turn a profit. These items are promoted to women as something you can wear every day. They aren’t promoted as tools. They are promoted as fashion. If your armor is pretty enough, you don’t have to think about the reason you need it in the first place.

There is nothing wrong with adding a little bling to your self-defense method of choice. The ability to carry around a hot pink stun gun over a bulky black one may even be more empowering. Just be careful you’re not sacrificing the reliability of the product and don’t let aesthetics cover up the real problem.

Remember to take advantage of the safety services provided by the U. If you feel nervous walking to your car or dorm at night, call the Department of Public Safety at 801-585-2677 for a safety escort.