Clothesline gives voice for gender-aimed violence
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 13:04
In 2009, 459 forcible rapes occurred on college campuses — 17 percent of all college-related violent crimes committed — according the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They estimated that, at any given time, 12 percent of women attending American colleges have been raped, and only 12 percent of those rapes are reported.
To highlight Domestic Violence Month, Feminists United participated in the Clothesline Project April 17 through 19 to give Armstrong’s student body a chance to address the issue of violence against women and to be a voice for victims and survivors of abuse.
“Because we’re doing the ‘Vagina Monologues,’ we thought that it’d be nice since the ‘Vagina Monologues’ is to empower women and raise awareness about sexual abuse,” said senior Kristin Cook, Feminists United’s vice president. “The Clothesline Project encompassed all kinds of abuse — domestic, emotional, verbal, everything — and nothing like that is really done on Armstrong’s campus, and it not only gave the people who wrote on the shirts a voice, it let other people see how prevalent violence against women is.”
The Clothesline Project started in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1990. As doing laundry was always considered women’s work, visual artist Rachel Carey-Harper suggested using T-shirts as a natural way of raising awareness of the issue.
White T-shirts represented women who died because of violence. Yellow and beige symbolized battered or assaulted women. Red, pink and orange signified survivors of rape and sexual assault. Purple and lavender shirts denoted women attacked because of sexual orientation, and women attacked for political reasons were represented by black shirts.
The project has spread to 41 states and five countries.
Feminists United placed collection boxes around campus between March 19 and April 13, encouraging students to write statistics, facts or personal stories on a T-shirt. However, only three shirts were anonymously donated to the project. Two weeks prior to the event, Cook set up the shirts in front the Student Union.
“A lot of people made them, but it was more like, ‘Stop violence,’ ‘No means no.’ It wasn’t actual stories,” Cook said.
But when the shirts were hung, more students began to participate.
“I had a lot of people, especially older people — nontraditional students — come up, and they would say, ‘It would take five shirts to write out my story.’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, I have five shirts.’ And they would say, ‘No, no,’” Cook said. “They weren’t ready to put it out there.
“By the third day, so many people came back, and they would say, ‘I think I’ll do the shirt now.’ It took them a long time to get out what they wanted to say, but they said it and hung their shirt. I think that was the best thing for me.”
The shirts were meant to be an educational tool for those who read the personal stories, a way to heal for those who wrote the stories and a means of letting those who are suffering in silence to know they are not alone.
“A lot of people asked, ‘Are these real stories? Did these things really happen?’” Cook said. “And yeah, these are the stories of the people you go to school with.”
Some students even named their abusers on their T-shirts.
“It was kind of crazy because just with his first name and his last initial, other people came up and were like, ‘I know who that is. I know who that is,’” Cook said.
Females and students weren’t the only participants. Several men made shirts, as well.
“We had — I think — three faculty members make shirts,” Cook said. “Two professors brought their classes out to read the shirts.”
Over 50 shirts were made in total. However, some students reacted negatively to the campaign.
“Some students passing by, they would mimic what was on the shirt — it was mostly guys, of course,” Cook said. “They would read off what was on the shirts in a really stupid voice.”
A message was also left on the voicemail of Feminist United’s faculty advisor, Allison Hatch.
“It said, ‘Is this the feminist group that’s doing the Clothesline Project?’” Cook said. “Then, he called us a bunch of man-hating bitches. He said that most men — including himself — spend their days and their life protecting women, so how can we say that all men are abusive — when that has never been said, and that is not what we’re about.”
Cook experienced some trouble when she was posting the advertising posters for the project as well.
“When I was posting the posters for the project, one guy — he didn’t know I could still hear him because I had gone inside the men’s bathroom, and he was walking out — he read it out loud to his girlfriend, and he said, ‘Yeah, because every time they have sex, they’re raped, right?’” Cook said.
However, Cook feels the project was a success overall and hopes the project will continue at Armstrong.
“There were some negative things, but overall it was really positive,” Cook said.