The XX Factor

Rape-aXe, Gentlemen?

Whether it hails from ancient Asian, Egyptian or Amerindian myth or from the stomach-turning imagery of the 2007 thriller Teeth , there is no more obvious metaphor for male sexual anxiety in all of human endeavor than a woman with a hoo-ha that can bite your junk off. And now the myth of the vagina dentata has become reality. Well, sort of. And all it took to make it happen was the World Cup.

Last week, South African doctor Sonnet Ehlers introduced the Rape-aXe. Designed as an anti-rape device, it is essentially a vaginal condom lined with hooks that will grab onto anything inserted into it. Dr. Ehlers has been distributing Rape-aXe to female attendees at this year’s World Cup matches, being held in South Africa, a country with a horrifying rape rate-in a 2009 survey, one in 20 South African women surveyed reported being raped within the last year, and most of these crimes go unprosecuted. The way Rape-aXe is supposed to work, once a man has gotten himself, er, entangled with the device, he can’t remove it except with a physician’s assistance-and presumably a cop standing by to cuff him once the thing’s off. Dicks go in, but they don’t come out.

It’s an unnerving notion, though interesting to bring up at cocktail parties if only to watch grown men try to refrain from protectively grabbing at their crotches. Women tend to point out that a rapist with an iron maiden attached to his penis could still be perfectly capable of beating someone to death and might, in fact, even be inspired to do so. And I’ve talked to several men whose imaginations immediately spin psychotic-girlfriend scenarios that make bunny-boiling seem elegant and subtle by comparison.

I’m not above poetic justice, and there’s satisfaction to be had in a punishment so vividly fitting the crime. But just what are we women teaching would-be rapists by weaponizing our genitalia? It’s not as if we need to contribute to the view that female sexuality is threatening and unnatural-men having been doing that just fine for themselves since the first one emerged from the first toothless uterus. And isn’t castration anxiety-the terror of emasculation and subsequent desire to quash female power-one of the prime impetuses behind rape to begin with? Dr. Ehlers insists that her device will bring justice to women in a place where justice is hard to come by. What’s happening to the women of South Africa is disgusting, horrific, unacceptable by any standard of human decency. But buying into the nightmarish visions of the most stunted of our male counterparts ultimately just feeds the flame of fear and contempt from which violence against women has always arisen.

So I think I’ll let my privates remain unarmed and stick with the rape whistle. Though if I’m at a World Cup match, the whine of vuvuzelas might make mace a better choice.

Photograph of anti-rape poster courtesy of AFP.