Welcome to Hell

If you’re a lady like myself, you know living as a woman is no day at the beach.  Actually, as SNL so nicely put it, it’s pretty much hell – in a variety of ways.

Recently, I was walking by the Barnes and Noble on campus by the engineering and art schools, when a sign caught my eye: “Super Sparkly Safety Stuff”.

‘What?’ I thought, ‘Like glittery safety goggles or something?’

I walked over to the display to learn what this safety stuff actually was. Bedazzled pepper spray. Glittery personal alarms. Escape hammers called “glammers.”

I picked the box of pepper spray up; the tagline on it read “so cute, it hurts!”

‘This can’t be real.’ I thought.

I left and looked up the brand, Blingsting. Their website features all the products I just mentioned, as well as a rhinestone-studded stun gun. The Blingsting mission statement says “we know that personal safety doesn’t have to be boring or masculine! Our pepper spray, personal alarms, stun guns, and more are designed to keep girls safe and super-cute.” They go on to say they believe in “being a girl” which apparently means liking sparkles, the color pink, and only using pepper spray that comes in a shiny can. It ends with “smart is the new pretty” – because we couldn’t forget to include that classic “holier than thou” mindset.

So, what’s the problem with sparkly pepper spray?

Well, nothing with it being sparkly. If you want bedazzled pepper spray, that’s your business.

What I have an issue with here is how this brand (and many like it) presents itself.

First off, I’m aware that we unfortunately live in a society where women often feel the need to take precautions to protect themselves; I would carry a box cutter in my pocket when I’d head back to my dorm freshman year. But the way Blingsting is marketing their products makes them sound like cute accessories that all women should have. It normalizes violence towards women by making it seem natural to carry around a shiny stun gun. Guess what – there’s nothing natural about it.

If I’m using pepper spray, I’m not trying to, as the website puts it, look “HOT AF” – I’m trying to not be kidnapped, raped, or murdered. I don’t care about how I look or how my pepper spray looks. I just need it to buy me enough time to make a hasty getaway. Not only is the diction surrounding this content belittling (the basic right to feel safe isn’t “cute” sweetie, and yes, I’m purposely being belittling there), but it also reinforces the stereotype that women are pretty airheads by using such flowery language. Additionally, the promotion of these products puts the weight to stay safe on women by making it our responsibility, when instead, we as a society should be teaching people to, you know, not rape other people.

Plus, I don’t need to have shiny self-defense tools – I’m fine with a normal black can of pepper spray. All of these products are needlessly gendered because, surprise, women aren’t the only ones who can be assaulted. The unnecessary gendering of products like these only further perpetuates the stereotype that rape and assault are women’s problems. It also contributes to the mindset that, if a woman is a survivor of assault, it’s her fault for not taking the precautions to prevent it – not the fault of her aggressor. In a blog post Blingsting writes “we just can’t stop taking things that girls NEED and making them into things girls WANT.” Except I don’t want or need a stun gun and neither do most people. A female person shouldn’t need a stun gun more than anyone else. What I need is a society that believes survivors, holds aggressors and harassers accountable, and doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes. But I suppose that takes much more work to achieve, and it doesn’t come with rhinestones, does it?

What I think bothers me most about this company, though, is that they are very clearly monetizing violence towards women and profiting from it. As far as I can tell, they don’t donate any profits towards charities that actually help women in need. If Blingsting is genuinely trying to empower women, they haven’t convinced me. Their logic that your self-defense items have to be cute to be used is flawed and gross. Their whole selling point is that a stun gun can apparently be a fun accessory. My safety is not something I should be sold. It’s not a trend, a look, or a cute keychain. Don’t slap a shiny veneer on self-defense and claim the issue is fixed.

I don’t hate the idea of bedazzled pepper spray and having one that could go on your keychain. But companies like Blingsting need to do more if they want to prove they’re here to help others and not just themselves. This could be done by donating some of the proceeds, but it should be mandatory that these companies acknowledge that this isn’t something women should be expected to have. There is nothing normal about having to carry pepper spray around; there is nothing normal about having to carry a stun gun around. There is nothing normal about the fact that women have to constantly fear for their safety, and it’s about damn time we stopped acting like it was.

If you want a sparkly pepper spray keychain, that’s your prerogative. But don’t wrap it in a bow and tell me it’s the hottest item of the season.

Welcome to Hell indeed.


Images courtesy of: SNL, Alexa Caruso, and Blingsting.com