Good news, everyone! A group of chemistry students have invented an ingenious way for women to test their cocktails for date-rape drugs. Undercover Colors is a nail polish that reacts with common date rape drugs like rohypnol, GHB or Xanax, changing color after the wearer dips her finger in a tainted drink.

This invention isn’t without its accusations of being “problematic,” however. Jessica Valenti, one of the high priestesses of the Internet Feminist Monoculture, asks: “Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than find a way to stop rapists?

Why, indeed. Off the top of my head:

  1. Inventing a color-changing nail polish requires a little bit of chemistry book-learning, while the requirements for massive social change are significantly greater, with a less obvious/direct path from start to finish.
  2. There’s a very clear, personal incentive to the inventor for successfully bringing a product to market.
  3. Markets work quickly, while justice works slowly.

I suspect the titular question was rhetorical, but the 800 words that followed were not. Valenti’s main gripe is that every new “rape prevention” invention puts the onus on women to look after their own safety. Or as she says:

Even if a woman were to wear special nail polish or anti-rape underwear, or if she listens to common – but misplaced – advice about not getting drunk and always walking home in a group, all she’s supposedly ensuring is that she won’t be attacked. (And even then it’s not real security, because women who do all the “right” things get raped too) What about the girl at the same party who decided to have a few drinks that night? So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape.

(I’d point out that humanity hasn’t managed to end murder, theft, or assaults, or alcohol-fueled brawls yet, though the trend is going in the right direction for all of the above.)

Because she’s Internet famous, and because The Guardian pays her somewhere between nothing and next-to-nothing to publish her thoughts on whatever the hot topic of the day is, I’m sure Valenti thinks she’s making a Really Important Point. I’m also sure the mindless Retweets she’ll get will further reinforce this broken logic of we-all-need-to-suffer-united-until-we-convince-the-rapists-to-stop. This kind of black-and-white absolutism (with a dash of Slate-style counter-intuitiveness) has led her to a conclusion that is exactly what the adage “let the perfect be the enemy of the good” describes.

Listen: I’m sympathetic to the “Teach Men Not To Rape” camp, as it aligns fairly well with my “strive to recognize everybody’s humanity” and “men=women=people” philosophies. Valenti and I might well agree on a lot of gender issues. Like maybe the perversity of film and TV audiences uncritically accepting depictions of abuse toward women and freaking out over a second’s worth of nudity. We were probably both slightly disappointed to learn that the inventors were men – who then hired a woman as “director of social media” for the venture. After all, men are good at science while women are better communicators, right?

I’m nonetheless suspicious that invoking TMNTR is less a sincere public education proposal, and more of a signal to one’s Twitter followers that he or she holds the right progressive values. Is this really your only solution for reducing sexual violence? How about “Teach Police To Deal With Accusations Sensitively?” Or “Teach Students To Go to the Police, Not College Administration?” I rather like “Teach Women to Stop Waiting For The World To Change and Stand Together.

Hardly anyone disputes the importance of catching, prosecuting and punishing rapists. And I predict that TMNTR-style instruction will be the inevitable result of more widespread reporting on campus assaults—if only a watered down, Cover-Your-Ass version of it. But I cannot see the upside – other than boosting your own status as a Thoughtful Serious Feminist – of demonizing a product like Undercover Colors. Do you want women to have better technologies (other than “dress modestly” and “don’t drink”) for avoiding sexual assault? Or do you want to call out women who use them for being insufficiently committed to your ideological cause?

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