Undercover Colors: Progressive or Problematic?

*Since the creators of this product have said it is geared towards women, I will refer to the wearer as “she” or “her,” although I don’t believe this product can’t be worn by men as well, and it’s also important to know that not only women are victims of sexual assault.

There has been a buzz the past few weeks over a developing nail polish that can detect the presence of date rape drugs in one’s drink. This product, called Undercover Colors, was developed by four male undergraduate students at North Carolina State University. Geared towards women, the nail color detects the presence of date rape drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB in the wearer’s drink once she sticks her polished nail in the beverage. If such drugs are present, the nail polish will change colors. Although this product may seem like a smart idea and a positive development for preventing sexual assaults, I find it problematic.

I read a Newsweek article featuring a news video with several quotes from the company’s Facebook page that I found troubling.  One such quote said, “Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.” Another quote found on the company’s Twitter page reads, “empowering women to protect themselves with the first date rape drug detecting nail polish ever #discreet #functional #fashion”.

I see several problems here. Firstly, both of these quotes, directly coming from the creators of this product, state that their product is intended for women to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted. While I agree that sexual assault is indeed a horrible crime, and it is preventable, I do not think that any part of this prevention should be the (possible) victim’s responsibility. No human being, man or woman, should have to leave the house on high alert taking extra precautions to not be attacked or raped. This puts our society in the mindset of blaming the victim, making it the polish wearer’s responsibility to not get raped, rather than making it the rapist’s responsibility to not rape.

Undercover Colors Twitter

Another quote found in the Newsweek article stated that Undercover Colors was the “first fashion company working to prevent sexual assault”. This quote, coupled with the “#fashion” tagged onto the end of their already problematic tweet makes this product seem like a chic fashion statement, ultimately diminishing the gravity of the issue of sexual assault. Having to wear a nail polish to test your drink so you don’t get roofied and attacked is not cute, and neither is marketing this product as a cool fashion trend. It lessens the harshness of this perpetuated issue of rape and victim blaming.

The quote that irritated me the most, however, was “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 they can get caught”. This statement implies that potential attackers should only be deterred from attacking because they might get caught, not because rape is a violent act, a violation of another human being emotionally and physically, and incredibly wrong; it’s only bad because they might get caught thanks to this neat new nail polish.

I’ve heard some dispute over whether or not it’s problematic that four men created this product, and I don’t think it is. I truly do believe the heart of this product is in the right place; hoping to prevent sexual assault, however, it was executed poorly. Sexual assault and rape is indeed a huge problem in our society, especially amongst college campuses, so obviously something needs to change to make it less of an issue.

I absolutely do not believe, however, that the thing to prevent sexual assault is something the potential victim should have to wear or do differently. Instead of teaching women and men how not to get raped, we need to change the focus to teaching women and men not to rape. Once we change the dialogue surrounding sexual assault and realize that the root of the problem is rapists and not the victims, hopefully we would see a decrease in attacks.

What are your thoughts regarding Undercover Colors? Do you think it’s a good idea, or do you think it perpetuates the cycle of victim blaming? Let us know in the comment section below.

 

Bekah Pollard

Contributing Editor, Butler University Major: Art + Design Her heart belongs to: unicorns, cereal, life chats with friends, coffee shops, and the Internet Her guilty pleasures: One Direction, The Real Housewives of anywhere, and slam poetry

2 Comments
  1. Great article! I think you pointed out some really insightful and well thought out ideas. I agree when you say the concept was in the right place. I especially agree with the “getting caught” concept. Predators shouldn’t fear ‘getting caught’ they should KNOW it is a crime and not even think to commit in the first place. Personally, I think the concept was a good idea– Yes. We should teach society NOT to rape, but I also think it is important to teach people how to be cautious.

    I think the “millennial” generation is doing a great job at highlighting these issues and differentiating “how not to” and “not to” but unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and a not-so-perfect world has not-so-great people. I think it is CRUCIAL to still maintain awareness. This is not to say ‘Always be on guard’, but to have an understanding of your environment and the potential dangers.

    Social-change must be a two way street. We MUST teach people that sexual assault is in fact a crime but we also need to teach people that not everyone will learn. We teach people not to steal, but we also teach people not to flaunt their valuables in public. Unfortunately, I think we must account for those who we cannot reach out to.

    I personally do not see the problem with men creating this product either. Men, women and all people alike have the right to help each other as much as possible. If people continue to create positive products (at least with good intentions) is should motivate more of that.

  2. Our society rewards boys for succeeding aggressively – in business, in sports, socially, and throughout history. Society rewards girls for being compliant and supportive.

    With this background environment rape is going to happen to women, and men will reward themselves for it. This isn’t new – through history it has happened EVERY time there was a failure of law and order.

    You can’t erase a history of violent and dominating men, but you can give today’s women information so they can decide for themselves. In an ideal world it shouldn’t be necessary, but products like this deserve to succeed.

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