Haven, the rooftop bar at Sanctuary Hotel located in the heart of Times Square, has officially opened for the summer season. Yes, “the heart of Times Square” is usually not a phrase you like to hear as a New Yorker looking for a new spot to hang out for the season–but hear us out! [Read more…] about Haven Rooftop: A Pleasant Way to Be in the Heart of Times Square
Right where Houston becomes East 1st Street at the corner of Avenue A sits Boulton & Watt, a restaurant/bar that’s decked out in brick and wood and looks right at home in its young professional-filled neighborhood. When I entered on a Thursday evening in early May, the after work crowd mingled with birthday partygoers, clogging up the space by the bar. The establishment is big enough to accommodate standing groups of loud twenty-somethings as well as other diners, all mostly of the younger set but a couple of older men in suits and a family were sprinkled in with the dining crowd. [Read more…] about Boulton & Watt: People Should Come Here Just for the Cookie…
One of our favorite Mexican hotspots is officially reopening tonight, and we could not be more excited for this to be happening. Cantina Rooftop, located in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, is kicking off the start of this amazing warm weather we are having in New York City at 5PM, where you can make reservations and experience what makes this place truthfully unique, tasty and breathtaking. [Read more…] about Cantina Rooftop is Officially Opened Again & We Are Happy
You would expect a publishing company that occupies a massive, eye-catching tower and includes in its portfolio names like Esquire, Town & Country, and Seventeen to boast plenty of visual art within said tower. The Hearst Galleries, just up the stairs from the Hearst Tower’s entrance, do just that, and on January 12th, they opened their contemporary artist showcase, appropriately titled, “The Art of Now.”
A glorified PR event to showcase a camera company’s new printers has never been so much fun—which is of course unfair for me to say, having never attended one before. In favor of Canon’s “Behind the Print: A Look Inside a Photographer’s Obsession,” which took place on the evening of Wednesday, October 21st, there was plenty of opportunity for photography enthusiasts to get involved in the action. Several impressive sets for shooting were assembled across the venue, ready for use by renowned photographers, guests, and a host of models.
The renowned photographers, Joel Grimes, Lindsay Adler, and David Bergman, sat one to a set as guests arrived, shooting models while surrounded by several assistants each. Each of these photographers has attained a level of editorial and commercial success that’s put them in publications you’ve heard of, like Rolling Stone (Bergman) and Essence (Adler), and paired them with clients whose products you’ve used, like Red Bull and the US Postal Service (Grimes). Their work shares a common focus on portraits, capturing humans at close range, whether they’re modeling designer outfits or showcasing rippling muscles.
As these portrait-focused photographers snapped pictures, Canon employees printed out their best shots on the evening’s main attraction, Canon’s new series of professional, large format printers. These photos went on to fill a “work-in-progress gallery.” In other words, white picture frames that stood empty on one wall of the venue at the start of evening became filled, as the photographers worked away, with highly accomplished, commercial-looking shots by the evening’s end.
The event’s whole design cleverly showcased the printers, making them an integral part of the interactive experience and, simultaneously, the means to a cherish-able souvenir for the select guests allowed to use one the company’s newer cameras while directing and shooting models of their choice. These guests, identified in advance as photographers by the event’s organizers, also had available to them a costume and props station from which they could pick how to adorn the models they’d shoot. Models ranged from a veritable contortionist who looked great with the provided balloon animals to a clean-cut woman in a volleyball player’s getup, jumping to spike balls as Joel Grimes took pictures.
As the last “photographer” of the evening scheduled to make use of the sets, I (I’m no photographer) ended up in the one Lindsay Adler had been using. It offered a striking, red background and perfect lighting. Having never had to direct a model during a photo shoot before, I started off feebly—“Uhh, look down, and, uh, raise your arms above your head?” I graduated to more secure directions that resulted, actually, in worse pictures. “Pretend you’re on a family vacation that you really don’t want to be on.”
Thanks to the professional grade set with a professional model (and Canon’s new printers, surely), I ended up walking away with a great looking picture, one I could show my friends with ample pride. “Look, Mom, look what I made at this Canon event!” As I waited for the photo to print, an actual photographer stood by my side, waiting on a print from Lindsay Adler that he could take home.
“Isn’t she great?” he remarked as my photo came through. “Yeah, the model is gorgeous,” I replied, confused. “No, Lindsay Adler,” he said, thinking my picture had been taken by the well-known beauty photographer. I explained his mistake. “I guess with the right lighting and a whole professional team, anyone can take a great photo.” I agreed. Still, it was an ego boost, one smartly designed by Canon’s PR team.
After the “interactive” part of the event, when the hor d’oeurves switched from tiny sliders to remarkably dry cupcakes, the renowned photographers sat on an elevated platform for a panel discussion on how “obsession,” the theme of the event, ties into their art. “Three inches makes or breaks the shot, so I obsess over that,” said Grimes. Adler, who spoke of “juggling so many things” when shooting earlier in the evening, from shadows to the model’s dress falling the right way, described “obsessing over everything.”
Ultimately, I obsessed a bit more over the dryness of the cupcakes than I did the outcome of my photo shoot, but I was still kind of obsessed with the photo I got to take home with me. Even with my hesitant direction and lack of experience, the set, the model, and the equipment did a lot of solid work on my behalf. So, thanks, Canon. Your professional, large format printer helped me fill out my own “work-in-progress gallery,” my living room wall.
As tends to be the case with the Museum of Sex, the current exhibitions offer a hit-and-miss experience. The relatively tiny museum, located at the corner of 5th Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan, houses a couple regular displays (one room dedicated to how various animals copulate, another showcasing the museum’s permanent collection), but there’s always space for two rotating features, which vary widely in terms of execution and content—hence the current exhibitions, “Hardcore: A Century and a Half of Obscene Imagery,” and “Splendor in the Grass: A Kinesthetic Camping Ground.”
While both exhibitions have one very obvious common denominator (sex), they explore the topic in almost polar opposite ways. The former does so historically, looking chronologically at archives of pornography that date back to a time when the idea of sexual expression was pretty much nonexistent in the public realm (we’ll get to exhibition number two later). Walking through these displayed archives proves a genuinely fascinating experience, especially as it does an excellent job of revealing various precursors to our modern day conceptions of what’s sexy.
For instance, altering photographs to achieve sexual ideals has been practiced for ages. Today, Photoshop accounts for many of the sexualized images we see in places as mundane as subway cars and billboards—and don’t think for a second that higher-end porn doesn’t involve a good bit of editing to make the subjects more attractive. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people back in the late 1800s felt that their pornographic photos could benefit from extra touch-ups.
Basically, porn-inspired masturbators did what anyone in the 21st Century with Photoshop would have done—they cut and pasted to create the naked bodies of their dreams. In one collection of erotic photographs found in a Brooklyn brownstone from this period, it was clear that someone had taken to them with scissors, selecting faces from certain photographs to paste atop the bodies from others. If porn was more out in the open back then, the first people to have done this could have certainly benefited from a patent of their genius idea.
Of course, sexual repression was an underlying theme of the “Hardcore” exhibition. It made sure to detail the anti-porn crusade of Anthony Comstock, the man behind the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it illegal first to mail contraception and then was amended several years later to forbid the mailing of all “lewd and lascivious material” (aka, all kinds of porn).
So that porn collection found in the Brooklyn brownstone—it was actually found in the walls of said brownstone, as Comstock had made it his mission in the 1870s to destroy all the erotic content he (and those on his side) could get their puritanical hands on.
This included same sex materials, which were lacking in this MoSex exhibition—but not by any fault of the museum’s. Same sex porn was largely destroyed over the years, not just via Comstock’s crusade but because it was deemed unnatural by many cultures. Considering the United States Supreme Court just made same sex marriage legal nationwide, it makes sense that 19th Century attitudes about this genre of erotica were proportionally backwards.
Further showcasing historical precursors to modern day ideas about porn, “Hardcore” made a point of touching on the “exotic,” a category of porn that was sought after even before the internet thoroughly globalized the industry. Today, people are fascinated by “other cultures” (to put it not-so-crassly). Straight, white guys love to watch Asian chicks getting it on, to name one, popular stereotype (and to put it crassly).
Centuries ago, this manifested in “anthropologists” traveling to foreign lands and bringing back pictures of these lands’ naked inhabitants. In other words, disingenuous people went to other countries pretending to be anthropologists so they could coerce people there into posing naked for them. How horribly sleazy…at least we can take (dis)comfort in the fact that the sex industry never changes.
In complete contrast to “Hardcore,” the museum’s second temporary exhibition, “Splendor in the Grass,” explores sex haphazardly, almost like a 12-year-old boy trying to exact his first hand job. The second in a series of “Kinesthesia Art Commissions” at MoSex, the first being Bompas & Parr’s Funland (the boob moon bounce from which has made it into the museum’s permanent collection), Studio Droog’s attempt at making sensual “art” interactive feels like it was thrown together at the last minute. Quick, guys, we have to get this MoSex thing ready! Let’s, uh, pitch a few tents, grab some mirrors, get a fog machine, and…that should do it!
Yes, this exhibition literally relies on smoke and mirrors to make an impression on museumgoers. Set up like a camping trip, “Splendor in the Grass” (named after the line in the Wordsworth poem) consists of multiple tents, each of which are meant to provide sensory experiences for those who enter. The first one, dedicated to “self exploration,” is made up of multiple mirrors strung together in such a way that they never quite stay still as you’re examining yourself. This makes for a sensation of dizziness that precludes actually looking at the mirrors for long enough to examine anything.
The next tent over features a semi-amorphous blob draped in a green, prickly material that visitors are invited to graze with their hands, creating a tingly sensation that’s helped along by creepy, whispering commentary that seem to emanate from this amorphous blob—oh, wait, it’s supposed to be the form of a reclining woman? Yes, you can tell for sure now that a little, red, laser-size dot has lit up where “her” nipple should be.
These are followed by three other tents, one of which offers a Twister-esque game without any instructions or logic to it, another of which is filled with the smoke part of the whole “smoke and mirrors” display, and the last of which had something to do with body heat but was apparently broken when my friend and I tried it out (so the “park ranger,” or the exhibition’s supervisor, concluded when nothing really happened after we went inside). Lastly, there’s a faux campfire displayed on the wall that cycles through erotic pictures, making it look as if these frolicking, sexing people are being slowly roasted away like marshmallows.
Ultimately, while “Splendor in the Grass” relies on a lot of materials, sounds, and colors to engage museumgoers, “Hardcore” doesn’t need to because the idea behind it was actually well thought out and interesting. Hopefully the artists at Studio Droog have a much better understanding of sex than what their exhibition portrays—for their partners’ sakes.
Seeing that New York City’s Museum of Sex was temporarily housing a multi-boob shaped moon bounce, I had to pay a visit.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, the moon bounce wasn’t the only big attraction at “MoSex” this mid-April. Before walking through a maze to get to the epic boob bounce on floor three, visitors have to endure a full floor exhibition dedicated to arguably the most famous porn actress of all time, Linda Lovelace.
Mainly meant to showcase her photo shoot with the iconic Milton H. Greene (the man behind the “Black Sitting” photo portraits of Marilyn Monroe), the exhibition covers that and more, including Linda Boreman’s (her last name at birth) relationship with what the museum’s website calls her “husband-manager” Chuck Traynor, whom she’s since come out to denounce as her long-time abuser, the man who literally forced her into prostitution and then porn at gunpoint.
Overall, the Linda Lovelace exhibition is horrifying and, in my humble opinion, should not have been there. I would call it glorifying one woman’s saga of abuse, but instead it seems to gloss over that part of the story. In fact, it would have you believe the abuse was just a “part” of the story, when it truly would be better deemed “the whole story.”
This, of course, is if Boreman’s account is to be believed, and why shouldn’t it? Making up a story of abuse like the one she told in her book, Ordeal, isn’t exactly something people tend to do on a lark. The exhibition, called “The Eve of Porn,” however, does look at Boreman’s story through a lens of doubt. It focuses much more on her porn stardom and all the fabulous celebrities she fucked (Hugh Hefner! Paul Newman and son!) as if these were glorious accolades in her lustrous, happy career.
Only when you make your way around to the latter end of the room do you start reading and hearing about Boreman’s “Ordeal.” According to Boreman, Traynor forced her into pornography and prostitution, threatening her with physical violence, firearms, and mental abuse that went on throughout her entire career. He completely controlled her and her finances, holding her prisoner.
“The Eve of Porn” throws this information in as if it’s an afterthought. If I remember correctly, it almost offers the information that Boreman became an anti-pornography advocate as a fact disconnected from her coerced entry into the industry, as if it’s some big mystery as to why this “Eve of Porn” would ever turn on the world that brought her so much fame and fortune (she attests to never having gotten paid for “Deep Throat,” with Traynor taking the money for her appearance in the film). Again, the exhibition favors glossing over analyzing.
Overall, it seemed that shock value was the main focus. A giant screen in which the sucking part of “Deep Throat” plays on a loop serves as the centerpiece, and the porn “Lovelace” made with canines as co-stars takes up no insignificant portion, either. True, Boreman’s story does tell an important one about the porn industry and its earlier days and the various, controversial stances on it, but her story should most prominently serve as a cautionary tale of intimate partner violence.
Seeing that tucked into the background of this exhibition was frankly disturbing. I felt deeply uncomfortable as I moved through it, but compelled nonetheless to read every sign, hoping for something to redeem the curator, and found very little (Lovelace talking herself about the abuse was just one, small video with poor sound quality playing on a screen greatly overshadowed by “Deep Throat” on the big screen). In a way, though, the exhibit mirrored how people saw this porn industry icon—in the foreground, as a sex goddess to whom no carnal feat was out of reach, and in the very distant shadows, a woman trying to survive in an abusive relationship.
Moving up the stairs to culinary and architectural designers Sam Bompas and Harry Parr’s Funland installation meant entering an entirely different universe, where sex felt more exciting and innocent. Coming straight from reading and hearing about Lovelace starring in bestiality flicks, it took a serious distraction to not feel a little queasy when finally getting to bounce around giant boobs in Funland (the boob moon bounce is what draws everyone to the Museum of Sex right now, isn’t it?). Visitors get exactly that in the mirrored maze that leads to the rest of Funland. Finding the much-awaited inflated boob castle at the end of a winding, mirrored path proved a true challenge.
Overall, the exhibition was more fun than I’d had all week, possibly even month, outside of having sex itself, but it was underwhelming in size. More important to note, it was a true feat of strength, forcing visitors to exercise both their bodies and their minds as they completed challenges like not getting winded as an adult in a moon (boob) bounce for more than five minutes and scaling a rock (boob/dick/butt/vagina) wall.
Kids would have thrived in Funland if their parents deemed it appropriate (though they may have bumped their heads on the glass maze of an entryway one too many times in getting to what they’d consider the “real fun”) and the elderly would have met with a truly difficult time—but neither are the demographic this museum caters to.
As young adults, my friends and I managed semi-swimmingly. We all slipped at the same part on the rock wall and got winded at about the same time in the boob-filled bouncy castle. We thrived in the mirrored entryway, but less so in the carnival game necessary to kill time while waiting for your turn in the boob bounce. The game featured golden, mini-penises (one per player) that inched forward as said player got more wooden balls in a hole. A filler of a game, it seemed a necessary addition to bring the full carnivalesque ambience. The penises were a bit trite, but very cute and ultimately entertaining. I suppose that description could sum up the whole exhibit.
Either way, there was almost enough going on in Funland to lead me away from the disturbed feeling I got walking through “The Eve of Porn.” Almost.
For more information on these exhibitons and New York’s Museum of Sex in general, check out its website.
*Images credited to the Museum of Sex.
Say you’re a woman looking for a sex toy to use with your partner, though you’ve never ventured into a sex shop before as a serious buyer. You fancy yourself a novice in the big, bad world of vibrators but know that having one might just be the answer to bringing excitement back into your sex life.
If that’s true, then you represent the average customer at Babeland, an upscale sex shop with New York City locations in Soho, the Lower East Side, and Park Slope in addition to a store in Seattle, where the founders, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning, first set up shop in 1993. The two women realized something crucial at a time when sex toys were treated more as part of the porn industry than a staple in your average Jane’s sex life. They noted that the then-current method of displaying vibrators and the like on a hook in opaque packaging featuring an image of a porn star did not exactly entice female buyers. In fact, (surprise, surprise) it kept them away, appearing more like another porn video for men than a toy targeting women looking to explore their own sexuality.
Thus was born the idea of Babeland, a store where you can touch, turn on, and even taste the products offered therein. Everything is on display because, well, why shouldn’t it be? If you’re going to buy something with a tactile function, you should be able to experience its feel before bringing it home—especially if you’re a novice when it comes to sex toys, like most of Babeland’s Soho customers, according to Pamela, who does marketing for Babeland (and asked that her last name be withheld). She also provided a breakdown of the store’s clientele: “About 60% of our customers are women, 40% are men, and the majority are looking for something to use in their relationship.”
Since this customer demographic suggests plenty of question-asking, the staff at Babeland have to be prepared. They go through a lot of training, and you can hear them rattle off expert explanations of various sex toys in a way that sounds natural, not rehearsed. Why bother rehearsing the answer to a question that you’ve had to answer about a hundred times before, anyway?
“Yes, people come into a sex shop to ask a lot of the same questions, but the number of questions asked is too many to start naming common ones,” said Pamela. “It’s easiest to approach the slightly overwhelming store by category—not all sex shop novices are looking for the same thing.”
Say they’re looking to explore anal sex. There’s a whole section in Babeland dedicated to this kind of penetration and play, from plugs to beads. A three-piece plug set, for instance, Pamela described as a good intro to anal toys. The sizes vary, so you can start small and work your way up. All of these toys have flared bases (so they’re easy to pull out…and don’t get lost inside).
With “communication, relaxation, and lubrication” as Babeland’s three pillars of anal, it’s smart design, and customer conscientiousness, that puts the lube section right next to anal sex toys. This is where the tasting comes in, and where Babeland yet again proves it’s out to make its sex products accessible to patrons. In comparing Babeland to another common place to buy lube, Pamela explained, “If you walk into a drug store, you’re going to see some lube on the shelf, and it’s going to be major brands like Astroglide.”
If you’re not sure of what exactly you’re looking for—in other words, if you’re not familiar with lube and are out to get a certain brand—the drug store might leave you feeling like the porn star-covered packaging on vibrators left women in 90s feeling: lost, uncomfortable, and out of your element. Babeland is geared more towards beginners, letting shoppers put the lube in their mouths if that’s where they think it’s going to end up. “There’s a whole world of lube,” said Pamela, and it certainly looks like it with each different lubricant at Babeland labeled based on its ingredients.
Next to the lube sit the condoms, all blown up (so you can get a sense of what they’ll feel like on) and affixed to jars containing their packaged counterparts. From there, you can peruse the store by brand. Sex toy brands have evolved in the past several years to comprise a range of toys wide enough to make up a person’s entire “toy chest,” according to Pamela, making for greater brand recognition and loyalty. “I think it’s also media attention,” she explained. “I’ve been working at Babeland for the past eight years, now, and it’s been within like the last six that major magazines have actually featured a vibrator in the pages…showing a photo and saying what it was and where to buy it.”
That’s not the only way sex toys have evolved. Even more recently, they’ve gone mobile. Babeland offers a handful (well, technically more than a handful, wink wink) of toys that users can control with apps. One vibrator from We-Vibe (a sex toy line from a couple based in Canada), for example, comes with an app that allows it be controlled across great distances. If you’re here in New York and your partner is, say, on a business trip in China, your partner can operate the vibrator from his or her hotel room and stimulate you in your New York apartment. Another futuristic vibrator from the company OhMiBod comes with a set of panties, making it wearable. It responds to its sonic surroundings, so if you’re wearing it in a club, it will move with the beat of the DJ.
Though these inventions might seem intimidating or out of reach, they’re available for you to touch (and feel vibrate) at Babeland. Now that sex toys have come out of their packaging and onto the shelves of sex shops, there’s no reason to be shy about exploring them. They won’t bite, after all—just vibrate. And if you’re a novice toy user visiting Babeland, it’s safe to say that you’re not alone.
You can visit Babeland in Soho at 43 Mercer Street, or give them a ring at 212-966-2120. Check the website for other locations.
Though I don’t exercise as often as I should (I run about two times a week, on a good week), I never regret it when I do…especially once the workout has ended and I’m done panting, ready to have fun with the fresh wave of endorphins coursing through my system.
One session on the Da Vinci Bodyboard, an exercise tool created at home by a Pilates instructor/chocolatier who started tying straps to furniture all over her house, provided plenty of those endorphins. The board (“bodyboard” is literal) connects to various, elastic straps that you hold onto/strap into while performing what would otherwise feel like standard warm-up exercises combined with yoga poses.
A regular class runs for only 30 minutes, thanks to the workout’s intensity. Floery Mahoney, the instructor and the Bodyboard’s inventor, even admitted that, at home, just 20 minutes will provide a comprehensive workout. “It’s just hard for people to think it’s worth it to come to a class for only 20 minutes,” she explained.
Whether the class had lasted for 20 or 30 minutes, it was undoubtedly worth it. The board works your entire body in a way that’s more meaningful than using any sort of weight machine. That’s because weight machines target a single muscle or muscle group, leaving you with a mixture of strong and limp muscles and joints throughout your body, which could end up hurting you, especially as you age. “It’s really important to train all of your muscles,” Floery explained, citing, for example, weak knee joints that come from running without otherwise strengthening the muscles that surround them.
Before the 30 minutes began, Floery gave us (it happened to be just me and one other woman) the run down. We’d perform each exercise for 30 seconds to a minute, depending on the level of difficulty. Breaks between each heart-pumping task would last for 10 seconds. At the end of it all, we’d stretch for four minutes.
At this point, Floery asked whether we worked out on the regular. The other attendee nodded as if habitual exercise were the most natural thing in the world. I said that I tried my best to run sometimes (leaving out that this mostly applies to when I’m late for work, these days). Thus, Floery assured me that it was okay to take breaks throughout the class whenever I needed to (she suggested three-second breaks to breath during each cycle).
Before I get to the actual exercise part (I know, I promise I’ll get there), it’s imperative that I describe the board. About the length of a yoga mat (we draped one on it for part of the class), the wooden board has various bands attached at different points. Long, thin, red ones span the length of both sides (these, Floery warned, sometimes snap when it comes to the overused boards she shoves in and out of cars all the time—when your board lives at home, she assured, this will not occur) and thicker ones with “handles” attach to either corner on one end. On the other end, similar, thick bands connect to Velcro straps that loop around your ankles in the way that surfers stay attached to their boards.
The workout itself was intense. Imagine doing any kind of core workout that also involves your arms and legs…but all your limbs are strapped to giant rubber bands. The tension helped to engage all my muscles in a way that left them sore for up to three days following my time on the Da Vinci Bodyboard (on day two, walking became a serious chore).
Overall, I found each minute-long exercise very accessible. In other words, anyone can do this, which Floery encouraged. “This works for any ability level,” she insisted. “People don’t understand what their bodies are capable of.” As it turns out, my body was capable of an exercise that was so difficult we only performed it in 15-second segments, broken up by three-second breaks. (This part of the class entailed lying on our backs while “running” with our feet in the air, heads lifted and legs strapped into these massive rubber bands.)
We were lucky to get the class directly from Floery, Da Vinci Bodyboard’s creator, because she obviously knows her stuff better than anyone. In fact, she’s set to travel to South Korea to launch the workout tool there next month. “Right now, we have classes cropping up all over the US and have a lot of master trainers,” said Floery, adding that the product has also come to Switzerland and an upscale hotel in Kuwait.
In spite of the number of “master trainers” (one must get certified through a specialized training to achieve that title), Floery prefers to do the training herself when the Da Vinci Bodyboard arrives in new countries to ensure that people there maintain the integrity of the workout. Also, it’s hard to turn down a trip abroad.
To learn more about the Da Vinci Bodyboard, visit the website, where you can also order one to use at home. There, you can work out on the equipment for as little as 10 minutes a day and still make a huge impact on your body, according to Floery. Based on the way I felt after my workout, I’m quick to believe her.
For more information log onto Da Vinci Bodyboard’s official website!
Since Undercover Colors went public earlier this summer, many have reacted to the company’s effort to aid in sexual assault prevention, which involves nail polish that changes color in the presence of “date rape drugs” slipped into someone’s drink, the idea being that a woman dips her finger into her drink to give it a stir and subtly procure information about the drink’s possibly insidious contents.
The North Carolina State University students who are developing the polish don’t actually suggest that it will solve the problem of date rape and other sexual assaults aided by drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and benzodiazepines (those that the nail polish will detect). They plan to proffer it amongst a slew of “technologies” meant to “empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime” known as sexual assault, according to the Undercover Colors Facebook page.
At first glance, this may seem (as it did to me, to be honest) like a cool, not to mention helpful, product. It’s empowering women by adding another tool to their self-defense kits! It’s subtle enough to prevent women from feeling burdened by it! It’s a health-positive fashion statement! Even women who are careful never to put down their drinks at bars or parties could consider this product helpful when it comes to the first or second dinner date, in which one might abandon her glass to go to the restroom without yet having gained full trust in her dinner companion.
After engaging in such reveries about the nail polish created to prevent sexual assault, it becomes easier to fasten on its many problems. First of all, it’s inherently gendered. Though I’m by no means saying that men do not and should not wear nail polish, the product is specifically aimed at women, sending the message that sexual assault happens only to women, or is only a women’s problem. It’s in part because of this attitude that sexual assault goes so frequently unreported amongst men.
Undercover Colors uses language like “empower” to suggest that it’s fighting the dynamic in which men traditionally have the upper hand over women. However, is the dynamic changing when it remains on women to have to work towards sexual assault prevention? In other words, it’s not a bad thing that, thanks to the polish, women have another tool to add to their anti-SA toolkits (sidled up to pepper spray in pink containers and purse-sized revolvers), but the product markedly keeps the responsibility of ending this kind of assault on the side of the potential victims.
As Undercover Colors puts it (again, in their Facebook mission statement), “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 that they can get caught.” Is this really the best approach to stopping sexual violence, by scaring potentially violent aggressors into accountability (not to mention the, if small, possibility that they already can get caught—but no need to go into the legal system that’s overwhelmingly soft on these kinds of perps, police that have trouble taking these crimes seriously, and the stigma and shame associated with reporting them)?
Working on prevention that targets these possible perps would send a much stronger message than prevention tactics that tend to shift the burden onto women. For example, with the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, more of these institutions are implementing workshops and information sessions aimed at prevention. These hope to foster awareness and group discussion rather than encourage women to endure the possibility of sexual assault “discreetly,” in silence.
Also, by putting the responsibility on the side of the women the product aims to protect, it presents possible detrimental consequences for them. For one thing, bystanders who know that a woman is wearing her Undercover Colors may be less likely to interfere on her behalf if she’s in trouble. They might assume that this puts her in complete control of her ability to detect and avoid predators. However, alcohol alone often proves sufficient as a date rape drug, and it’s always worth looking out for your friends when out on the town. Let’s think even further forward, to the post-assault moment when ill-informed cops ask questions like, “Well, did you say no?/Is this what you were wearing?/Then what did you agree to leave the bar with him for?” Say technology like this nail polish becomes mainstream. Would police then ask survivors, “Why weren’t you wearing your nail polish?”
Of course, that’s looking at an extreme possibility, one that would come long down the line considering the Undercover Colors product is still in development. Regardless, it’s worth thinking about the implications behind any means of sexual assault prevention and asking what kind of overall dialogue it fits with, one in which sexual assault is a women’s problem, or one in which it’s a human problem. Naturally, we should aim for the latter.
*Image credited to The New York Times, Samantha Rapp