What do ‘the feminists’ think about it?

In the news this week, four students have come up with a nail varnish that detects certain date rape drugs in drinks by changing colour. What started as a story about a product intended to help women* protect themselves from sexual assault became another excuse for a backlash against feminism. “Feminists oppose anti-date rape drug technology” one headline ran. “Why are feminists getting so pissed off with this anti-rape nail varnish?” went another.

First, lumping all feminists together and coming up with one view held by all of us is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

This may sound slightly hypocritical, coming from someone who dedicates an entire blog to writing about different feminist issues, but sometimes I think we need to step back and simplify feminism. We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves about the feminist view on any given issue. Can Beyoncé crawl around on stage in a leotard and still call herself a feminist? Would I be outlawed by feminism if I got married and took on my husband’s surname?

Yes, I identify myself as a feminist. No, that does not mean I share the same views as every other man or woman who also identifies as feminist. ‘We’ (I refer to anyone who calls him/herself a feminist here) are individuals, with unique thoughts, experiences and feelings. 

So let’s get away from in-fighting and complex debates on feminist theory and take it back to something broader and more welcoming. Personally, I like Caitlin Moran’s definition in How To Be a Woman:

“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

Second, I’ve struggled to find any evidence that feminists, as a demographic, actually do oppose the invention. Rather, responses to the story have tended to say that ‘while date rape still occurs, this is quite a cool idea. Still, it’s a bit shit that people do get drugged and raped, isn’t it?’. Saying that we shouldn’t need this nail varnish is not the same as opposing it. It is simply unfair to tweet or write uninformed headlines criticising feminists for opposing something that aims to help women, when feminists, for the most part, have done nothing of the sort.

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People who have genuinely opposed the product have typically viewed it as something that puts the onus on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Rape Crisis criticises the nail varnish as ‘it implies that it’s the woman’s fault’. This is a valid concern of the charity’s, though not one that I personally share. The students who came up with the product aim to ’empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime’. This virtuous ambition seems, if anything, to be the antithesis of implying that it’s the woman’s fault.

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In my view, this just seems another excuse for people to slag off those whinging, annoying women they perceive feminists to be. So, men and women, please take note of what feminism is (“the belief that women should be as free as men”) and lose the idea that all feminists are a homogeneous bunch of out of touch, ridiculous, whiny women. And then go and tell other people about it. Only by educating people about what feminism is and destigmatising the term, will we make the slagging off of the belief-that-women-should-be-as-free-as-men (catchy, eh?) to become as unacceptable as racism or homophobia.

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*By the way, I am well aware that men are also sexually assaulted, and I’m not ignorantly ignoring this as an issue, but as the nail varnish and the related arguments are so women-centric, this is where my post focuses.

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