Undercover Colors ‘Date Rape’ Polish: Not Nailing It


I HAVE to say, I’m still kind of hoping that this nail polish that detects the presence of drugs in your drink apparently created by a group of young, male engineering students is actually just a masterful act of satire produced and propagated by HBO’s political analyst John Oliver.

Oliver is all about provocation that goes beyond the thirty minutes he’s allotted on a Sunday night and in the past he’s come up with some very clever, and effective, schemes. I’m still hoping that when his show returns, he will be there behind his desk, smiling cheekily, claiming, “Surprise!” Because, as well as reading the many, many think-pieces on this invention, the prize it was awarded, and the massive investment in its future production and distribution, I also looked at the actual website and it’s weirdly unsettling.

Undercover Colors is the name of this brand of nail polish. The logo is colored with a sweep of different shades of pink. Choice Matters, states the tagline. “The First Fashion Company Empowering Women To Prevent Sexual Assault” is the description. Click through to their Facebook page and you’ll see further explanation – “nail polish that changes color in the presence of date rape drugs.” We discover it is a company owned and run by four men, pictured.

Click through to their Twitter timeline and we discover the one woman involved is Laurel Street and she is the director of social media, although there’s little evidence of her direct, personal involvement in the Twitter or Facebook pages. There is a photo of her wearing pink nail polish, holding a prototype of Undercover Colors packaging. Laurel’s involvement was announced on social media in mid-July, but since then she has not been part of the media coverage. It doesn’t appear that she was involved in the original website, although it’s possible. Subsequent social media postings have been signed by the male CEO of the company.

The website looks like the kind of website a group of young, male students might think would get the approval of young feminist women. The use of the buzzwords “Choice” and “Empowerment,” the breast cancer charity coloring, the “Happy Mani Monday!: message on Twitter, and that word “undercover” which seems to try and make a brand about sexual assault seem, well, sexy.

The use of the term “date rape,” considering rape is rape whether it happens when you’re on a date or not, comes off as dubious. Are we still saying “date rape” even? And then – choice matters? Which choice? The choice to get drugged? The choice to be raped? The choice to continue a date? The choice to leave your drink alone for a minute?

I’m hoping John Oliver will say “Surprise!” and then he will roll one of his genius satirical videos in which we will see a young woman, seated at a table in a busy nightclub, being brought a drink by a man. In the clip she’ll leave the drink on the table and turn around to dance with her friends. She’ll return to the drink, but before she takes a sip she’ll dip her finger in the glass and check if nail polish changes color. The young woman then confronts the man who brought her the drink. He’ll act confused and deny spiking it. The young woman will walk over to the bar and tell the bartender her drink was spiked. The bartender calls the police, then tells the DJ to stop playing and turns up the lights. The police arrive. The doors of the club are locked…..

And then what? How is this going to work? Suggesting a woman confront the man she believes is planning to rape her when her nail polish changes color seems unwise. So should she just call a friend to pick her up and leave the club as quickly as she can? It wasn’t her that got raped, she was able to avoid sexual assault that night, but what about elsewhere, what about other women? Would we all have to wear the nail polish all of the time? That would indeed make the creators millionaires. But I don’t like wearing nail polish on my fingernails, it drives me to distraction. I’d like the choice not to have to wear drug-detecting nail polish.

John Oliver is always good at directing our attention to the story we should be concerned about, once he’s humorously skewered what we have been so focused on that week. The nail polish idea has its limits, he might say, especially in a world where this happens…

Take a look at the reports coming from Rotherham in the UK regarding systematic, institutionalized abuse perpetrated and condoned by men with power in government, schools, and the police force. Women and children who weren’t drugged, but instead kidnapped, doused in petrol, held at gun point. These women and children had no choice, no power, and no hope of protecting themselves against rape, and it’s up to us to protect them with something more than nail polish.

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