Hypothetical Rape Scenarios DON’T Sell Pepper Spray

by Jami Laubich, Communications Intern

In order to intern with NOW, I moved from rural upstate New York into the Maryland/D.C. area. Along with the delight of being in a new city, I have struggled as a feminist with whether or not I needed to have some form of hand-held self-defense. I did a quick survey, and National NOW staff members and interns have carried the following items for self protection: pepper spray, tai chi skills, a whistle key ring, a big heavy bag, mace, keys, even an old showerhead.

I decided to educate myself about different items I could carry for self-protection by shopping at a local Army Navy store with a friend. When we walked into the store we asked the sales clerk where to find self-protection devices that attach to a key ring. On the store counter the clerk put down different types of pepper spray and stabbing weapons. My friend stated that the stabbing weapon was probably the best option, while the sales clerk deferred to the pepper spray. I then listened in awe as the sales clerk stated that if I (that’s right–me!) were being raped by a three hundred-pound man, the stabbing weapon wouldn’t be effective, so I should get the pepper spray. Silence. Holding my cash in hand, I went to purchase the Kubotan weapon, and the same clerk had the audacity to ask my friend if they were paying for it. It would probably be a good time to mention that both my friend and the sales clerk were male.

Having just experienced a “primitive-caveman-protects-woman” experience, I silently walked out of the store with my purchase. I was furious. We walked back across the street to the car, where I left my friend waiting, so that I could go back into the store. I asked the clerk who had just helped me if I could talk to him for a second. He complied, and I explained that putting any customer in a hypothetical rape situation should not be a tool used to sell his product. If women are coming in to purchase a weapon for their key ring, chances are it was because they had experienced some form of sexual assault, and it was not his job to trigger fear. I also told him his communication and focus should be on the customer, regardless of their gender. I thanked him for his time and left.

I felt better. However, I now had a personal vendetta against my new stabbing weapon. While holding a grudge against a piece of plastic seems silly, I couldn’t help it. It now somehow stood for everything that I wasn’t, like I had somehow given in to society’s patriarchal paradigm. That fact that I had even gone through with the purchase made me feel guilty. I keep it on my key ring sometimes and more often not. In trying to unpack my experience, I explained what had happened to other NOW interns to get some insight. After seeing the Kubotan in person, one said it looked like her sexual aid while another stated it could just as easily be used against me as the pepper spray.

Safety is not a gender issue, but a human issue. Just because I am female does not mean I am a victim. How I choose to protect myself is all about personal empowerment and what makes me feel comfortable and safe. Eventually I gave the Kubaton weapon away to a friend who felt empowered by having it with them as protection. I continue to research a form of protection that empowers me.

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