On the sliding scale of oppressed peoples, American women don't seem to have it too bad. Perhaps that's why the Rape-aXe wasn't created here, but somewhere the need for a countermeasure was extremely urgent, and had to be immediately effective against aggression both physically and emotionally.

The Rape-aXe is unlikely to even be available in the US anytime soon. "Unless someone really took (Rape-aXe distribution) on with financial backing and went for the FDA approval, I haven't seen anything about them being approved for use in the USA," says Nelly Hall, owner of Condom Sense in Portland. "The way it could be done is if it was sold as a novelty product."


Changing circumstances

Rape-defense tools are hardly novelties. Neither are demonstrations and speeches supporting and demanding women's equality. It is dangerously tempting to call activism unnecessary to oppose anything less severe than outwardly antagonistic sexism and violence. Once women are in the workplace, or one is your boss, it's easy to believe we're post-sexism.

Prejudice lives on, though, as we see in the recent lawsuit in which female members of the US military are offering evidence that the male-dominated American top brass "failed 'to take reasonable steps to prevent plaintiffs from being repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed by federal military personnel.'"

And these days, violations take different forms than they have in the past. They almost never fit the stereotypical "man in the bushes" scenario. We are more likely to be hurt at a party or in our kitchens than on the streets. (See "A Rape Victim Speaks Out," by Emily Parkhurst, January 19, 2007.)

Feminist thinking, activism, planning, and action need to shift with the threat. (Witness the threat of rampant and brutal violence in South Africa, met by an equally severe response.)

But whatever means are used to achieve the ends, there are three generally acknowledged "waves" or stages of feminist-friendly development of a culture. Briefly (and in rashly abbreviated form), they are:

1) Access to education, employment, equality in contracting marriage, property ownership, maternal rights to children, and the right to vote.

2) Access to legal family-planning services (including birth control and abortions), women in the workplace, widespread condemnation of sexual harassment and assault, and a growing measure of political power.

3) Gender-queer awareness, "post-feminist" activism and cultural memes such as those espoused by Tina Fey, and combating social inequalities due to age, gender, race, sexual orientation/gender expression, economic status, and educational level.

In sum, as Rachel Fudge wrote in Bitch Magazine, "Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Hard to argue with, right?"


Expanding thinking

Modern feminism is not dead; walking home in fear (and walking home to fear) is still too common for us to rest. But given that 99 percent of rape offenders are male, we need to be frank and admit we are dealing with women's issues and men's issues — and some of the latter end up, tragically, as the former.

That's true in South Africa, too. Rape-aXe inventor Ehlers says she doesn't hate men: "and I do not even hate rapists . . . These men are sick, they lack self-esteem and use rape as a means of asserting power — rapists need help. What I do hate is the fact that there are men out there who do not seek help against their compulsion towards sexual violence."

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