On Costumes

Recently, Boing Boing featured a new product designed to help women disguise themselves as vending machines, so, according to its designer, they can elude pursuers.

Just lift a flap on your skirt, ladies, and out comes the nifty disguise—and rapists will walk right on by!

This concept is nutty for several reasons, starting with "Would anyone be fooled by this?"—and not least of which being that women are about three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger, and nine times more likely to be raped in their homes, the home of someone they know, or anywhere else than being raped on the street.

Nonetheless, clothing that turns, Transformer-like, into camoflage for its wearer is being seriously marketed to women to protect themselves against the threat of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, men can purchase this hysterical Halloween costume (possibly NSFW):

Frank the Flasher

Last time I checked, flashing was still a crime. To be specific, it's still a minor sexual assault. But in the same world where women are being exhorted to chameleon themselves into their surroundings to shake rapists off their human scent, men are being hawked Halloween costumes that recreate a sex crime without the pesky problem of possibly getting arrested for it.

Here, then, is precisely how the rape culture works. Women are tasked with increasingly myriad ways of preventing sexual assault even as men are encouraged to view it as fun, a bit of playful silliness, No Big Deal. And the more inextricably its transmission is associated with humor, the easier it is to shoot down dissenters as humorless, hysterical, over-reactionary.

And 'round and 'round we go.

Of course there will be people who look at the "Frank the Flasher" costume and laugh. But that's not exactly evidence against the insidious ubiquity of the rape culture, is it? That we have become inured to the gravity of unsolicited sexual aggression, that we can "find humor" in things that by all rights should be regarded as indicative of a profoundly debased predatory sexuality that runs counter to every principle of sexual egalitarianism and consent, is the primary affirmation of how deeply entrenched the rape culture is. If you're laughing, that's the problem.

This idea probably deserves a post of its own, but I also want to quickly point out that this costume is sold mostly on sites who make people double-dog swear they're over 18 before they access them, and, in one case, bearing a warning that it's not appropriate for Halloween parties attended by children. (As if someone daft enough to need that warning will be clever enough to heed it.)

Of course, exposing one's genitalia unbidden is not just a crime only when done to children; it's a criminal act to expose oneself to adults, too. I'm reminded of Eugene Volokh's ridiculous argument that the reason we criminalize touching a woman's breast or genitals against her will, as opposed to her shoulder, is because it might sexually arouse her. I noted in my response:

I suspect nearly everyone is familiar with the method of conveying to children what is appropriate and inappropriate touching by using the example of a bathing suit. No one should ever touch you on the places covered by your bathing suit. For boys, that's a signal that a stranger who tries to touch their genitals or buttocks is doing something wrong. For girls, it's the genitals, buttocks, and breasts. Is Volokh seriously arguing that the reason we impart this information to children is because we're worried about the children becoming sexually aroused? Or even just because we're worried about the pedophile becoming sexually aroused? I suspect not. I suspect he would recognize that there are other issues at play here aside from just sexual arousal—issues about bodily autonomy, trust, safety, emotional health, appropriateness. Which means, then, he's attempting to make the argument that sometime after puberty, women lose their right to not have the same body parts invaded on those principles.
Even though it's a crime to flash anyone of any age, by the time we're adults, we're expected to find this stuff funny; we're expected to resolve ourselves to the reality that we live in a rape culture and not be bothered by that which propagates it, like ubiquitous if minor sex crimes turned into cheeky costumes for giggles.

I mean, geez—can't you take a joke?

It's only when our risk of being raped starts to diminish that we start to regain our right to object to things like Frank the Flasher. Older women might be dismissed as fuddy-duddies, but there is generally some respect for an older woman's right to take issue with overt displays of sexuality and/or aggressive sex "jokes."

Children are (usually) regarded as deserving of protection, and older women are (usually) regarded as deserving of respect; it's young women who are most discouraged from objecting to the rape culture—and who receive the least amount of sympathy and about whom the most vicious narratives of victim-blaming become operative if they are sexually assaulted, ergo also making them most discouraged from reporting rape.

In other words, the most likely victims of sexual assault are also the people most expected to accommodate the rape culture and all its accoutrements.

What a coincidence, huh?

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