The Nail Polish Debate and How Good Ideas Can Be Taken to a Bad Place

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There has been a great deal of controversy about a new product being developed by four students in North Carolina; a nail polish which can be worn and used to detect date rape drugs in a drink.

The concept is simple. You can put on this nail varnish and if by chance you are concerned about the safety of your drink, you can just stir it with your finger and if the color changes, you drink has tested positive for date rape drugs.
Now when I first heard about this I was impressed. While drug assisted rape is not the most common form of rape it still happens and even a small percentage of an epidemic problem is significant. I was glad to see that there were people who were doing what they could think to do to address the issue.

Then I began to see article upon article slamming the product stating a number of different concerns. Some are more reasonable than others. Many women feel that the drug-detecting nail polish is a fantastic idea while others believe it actually furthers rape culture concepts. Here are some of the discussion points that I’ve seen.

Men should just not rape – This is absolute truth. Men should not rape. Women are people and not property. No one is entitled to another person’s body.

Unfortunately, they do. Every day. Having performed in The Vagina Monologues and speaking with all of the women in the cast, I was amazed how many of them had been sexually harassed and assaulted, myself included. And of course the stories range from “he was a guy who lived in my dorm” to “it was my uncle” and the list goes on. Horror story after horror story proves that we do not yet live in the post-rape era regardless of how much we wish that were the case. And while we must be diligent about calling out rape culture for what it is and hold men accountable for their actions, that isn’t going to change this sad reality overnight.

Victim blaming is wrong – Preach! It is wrong. It doesn’t matter if a woman is running naked through a frat house on a Saturday night, she still isn’t “asking for it”. If her skirt is too short…it’s her damned skirt. She can wear whatever she wants. If she is flirty, flirting is still no guarantee of anything beyond just that. If she’s drunk, that’s her prerogative. Justifying rape as a means to inflict antiquated puritanical standards on women is filthy beyond compare. Do not tolerate this ever. If someone is robbed in a parking lot on their way to the car, we don’t say “Well you shouldn’t have been carrying your purse to the grocery store”. Same goes here.

And because men should not rape, putting the responsibility on the victim is victim blaming – Here’s where things get dicey. On the one hand, if a victim were to prosecute her attacker, no court of law or lawyer should ever be caught asking “Why weren’t you wearing your nail polish?” This will never be acceptable and would, in fact, constitute victim blaming and an egregious abuse of the law and the victim. But on the other hand this is where I frequently find that advocates take this idea to an illogical extreme.

Now whenever it is presented that there are means of empowering oneself to feel safer I hear cries of “That is victim blaming too”. I highly disagree. It is not victim blaming to equip someone with options for self-defense and protection.

I recently taught a class on Spiritual Warriorship. In this class I discuss what I call storytelling. Storytelling can be good or bad. Storytelling can help us frame the future we want to see and guide us on our path.

I would love to live in a world where men and women treated each other as equals, where men no longer viewed women as objects for their pleasure, trophies to be won or something to conquer. We are working toward it but it is going to be a process. Even the invention of the nail polish by four young men shows that we are progressing. No one can be everywhere at once and this is their way of attempting to hold those who would cause another person harm, accountable. In this case, they’re chemists trying to use their gifts to make a positive impact on something they too see as a serious issue. Perhaps it’s not the answer people counted on. I certainly never considered it. But it’s here and someone is actively doing what they can to help.

Storytelling gone wrong begins with the word “should”. When we write a story from a place of should we are attempting to project our views onto a world that does not have to care about what we want. I agree, no one should rape or assault anyone else.

But the only thing we can control is ourselves.

We can’t usurp the free will of others. There is no potion for that. People will do what they are going to do, horrible or not. As much as I’d love people to stop doing terrible things, my saying so doesn’t change the fact that some choose to.
As an assistant self-defense instructor I do what I can to empower people who feel fearful and don’t want their own fear of what could be to keep them from living their life the way they want. A multi-faceted approach is what I believe should be implemented. You can’t make anyone do or not do anything. But you can better equip yourself with the means to stay safe.

Remember though, if you never take a self-defense class, or use nail polish or have pepper spray, and you are assaulted YOU STILL DID NOTHING TO DESERVE IT. I cannot stress that enough. Especially because you can’t control the actions of others, if someone does something unspeakable to you, it is not your fault.

You know, chastity belts were also considered rape prevention devices. – This is how some activists have taken this way too far. In everything I’ve read, the creators of Undercover Colors never mentioned that it was a rape prevention tool. I have heard it referred to as a means of empowering oneself to more comfortably do the things they want to. The only people framing it as rape prevention are those who oppose the idea of the nail polish. This can really damage the spirit of the message we, as activists, are trying to send.

For starters, a chastity belt was not intended as an anti-rape device specifically. Historically speaking it was a means of protecting your “property” or a woman’s “purity”. While rape was filed under that category it was intended to prevent consensual sex as well. It was believed that a chastity belt would preserve a woman’s value so that when it was time to find her a marriage, the best marriage could be arranged because she was untouched. This is patently disgusting. That having been said, comparing nail polish to a chastity belt is a major false equivalency intended only to illicit inflammatory reactions from people on an already horrifying and triggering subject. By the same logic a bra can be compared to foot binding and I think we can all agree that they don’t exactly live in the same world of comparison.

False equivalencies tend to place people who were once figuring things out or on the fence, on the offensive, absolutely defeating the thing we are trying to do; present this message such that it reaches EVERYONE, because that is when it will be effective. No, we shouldn’t allow wrong thinking to dominate but if we can relate to people who may have been raised with different awarenesses and values, then we are making progress. And frankly, if there are people who don’t understand, those are the people we need to reach because they are more likely to contribute to rape culture due to their lack of awareness! Preaching to the choir alone will not help. We have to present our position strategically so that it can be heard and actualized by as many people as possible, not just other consent culture advocates.

If you oppose my opinion, you aren’t a real consent culture advocate or feminist – And this is the point in our program where we begin to cannibalize ourselves. So if you are an advocate and you do not agree with someone to the letter on their point of view, you aren’t a real advocate and you’re a bad feminist.

Some of this comes from a place of privilege. Not all of us have had the chance to take a women’s studies class or anything more than a rudimentary and woefully inadequate sex education class in high school. That being said, just because someone’s personal experience does not coincide with the ideals of beloved feminist and consent culture authors and activists, does not make that experience inadequate, less or invalidate that person’s opinion. Sadly, almost every woman I know has some firsthand knowledge of rape culture.

I was watching comment threads where one woman would state that she felt that the nail polish was a great idea and would be happy to wear it only to be pummeled by 25 other women and even some men claiming that they were upset and disgusted for her that she was feeding into rape culture.

Not acceptable.

Each of us chooses what stand to take. If you choose the stance that you would not wear nail polish, I understand that. If you feel that defending your principles is best served that way, then you are living as a feminist by defining how you live based on your own thoughts as opposed to being told what to do or being pressured. By that same process, who is to say that someone else choosing to empower themselves by wearing Undercover Colors who wants to go out for a drink isn’t also doing the same thing in their own way? Personally, if someone is scared and this is one tool that allows them to more fully enjoy their life, I’m glad for them.

Won’t it give you a false sense of security? – This is a concern with any tool out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s a self-defense tool such as pepper spray or nail polish. They are only tools and they all have limitations. It is important that anyone who sells or supports such products to make this clear and that people pay attention.

For example pepper spray has very specific limitations. In some states, it’s illegal. Some people do not react adversely to it. It is a very rare thing but it happens. You have to account for where the wind is blowing when you spray it, otherwise you may spray yourself.

Can it be helpful? Yes. Does it have limitations? Yes. Should you research and train to use any self-defense measure you’d like to implement? Yes.

The nail polish is going to have issues as well. Currently it’s formulated to detect certain things. Unfortunately one thing we can count on is that people, even predators, innovate. So they may find new substances that aren’t detected. In my opinion, it’s best to just keep track of your drink and if you lose track of it, toss it and get another. But even these suggestions have limitations.


In the battle against rape culture everyone has a stake. Either you are a woman or know and love a woman somewhere. No woman is lesser. No one is expendable.

And that is why I wrote this. Some of the most popular philosophies border dangerously on promoting a lack of personal awareness and preparedness. No one should feel that they have to leave their home armed to the teeth or terrified that any and all men are going to assault them. No woman should feel as if the only way she can live her life and be safe is to “prevent” the violence against her by “covering up” or not ever enjoying a drink. It is up to us to reinforce that violence against women is intolerable. We must teach our boys as they grow, to treat women as fellow human beings worthy of respect. We have to diligently pursue legal action against anyone who rapes or assaults anyone else. It is vital that we continue to support legislation that states, without question, that anyone who violates these laws will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

That having been said, doing nothing can be disastrous.

As for self-defense and personal tools, use what speaks to you. But I do suggest at least educating yourself in some method of preparedness. Our world is not a safe place. It may not be politically correct but philosophy is of little concern to me. My real concern is you.

If, Gods forbid, you find yourself in a terrible situation I want you to escape unharmed.

You are of the utmost importance.

All politics aside, to anyone who has ever been the victim of rape, I am so desperately sorry. You did not deserve it. No matter what anyone else may have tried to convince you of, you have a right to be safe. It is not your fault that someone else disregarded his own humanity and caused you harm. I hope more than anything that you’ve found some peace and healing and that the nightmare is over. I hope that you have found people who remind you of what is good and true. I hope that you have discovered ways to feel as if you can live your life well, regardless of the past. And know that I am so glad that you’re still here.

Let’s eliminate rape culture by approaching it from all sides and incorporating all the voices of advocacy. While our methods and opinions may differ, we must all work together to create the world we wish to see, a world everyone can share without the threat of violence.


Controversy Over Student Nail Varnish Date Rape Detector : 



2 thoughts on “The Nail Polish Debate and How Good Ideas Can Be Taken to a Bad Place

  1. caelesti

    I would see this as another tool women (and folks with other gender identities) can use to protect themselves, along with learning self-defense techniques, going out with friends who will help look out for them, try not to drink too much. You can do all those things and still be raped or abused. You can do none of those things and have nothing happen. Of course rape/sexual violence & abuse is never ok regardless of what possible preventative measures someone has or hasn’t taken.

  2. lunamusprime Post author

    Absolutely caelesti. You’re right. You can do everything in your power to keep yourself safe and still be victimized. And that is exactly why a multifaceted approach to activism is so important. On the one hand you can do certain things to better insure your safety but if we can successfully reach people then we can create a future with fewer (and ideally no) rapists.

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