“This is important because in our society, rape and abuse are taboo subjects.... I think if more people talk, more people will listen.”
Shirts Help Victims Speak Out
The messages of pain and suffering weren't readily apparent when walking by the clothesline, its wires laden with brightly colored shirts waving in the wind. Only careful and close scrutiny allowed the meanings and genuine sincerity of the words to come to light.
Armstrong's Feminists United unveiled the clandestine nature of sexual assault and violence against women with the Clothesline Project, which allowed local residents and members of the Armstrong community to anonymously write down statistics, facts and personal stories about sexual assault and domestic violence on old t-shirts. The clothes were then displayed in front of the Student Union on a clothesline from April 17 to 19, 2012.
The purpose of the project was to air society's dirty laundry by educating the community about violence against women.
“The project is important for women for a variety of reasons,” Alison Hatch explained. Hatch is an assistant professor of sociology at Armstrong and the faculty advisor of Feminists United.
“First, it shows women who have experienced violence and abuse that they are not alone, that many others have experienced the same. Second, the experience of making a t-shirt can be cathartic for survivors of violence. To some degree, it may help with their healing process. And last, the project shows the community that violence against women is real, that it is common, and that it needs to be taken seriously,” she said.
“This is important because in our society, rape and abuse are taboo subjects,” Kristin Cook, vice president of Feminists United, said. “I think if more people talk, more people will listen.”
T-shirt stories ranged from personal tales of abuse and rape to showing support for family members or friends who had dealt with past trauma.
“Some of my close friends shared their stories, and they were absolutely heartbreaking and devastating,” said Farhanna Smith, a senior gender and women's studies major and a member of Feminists United.
The project was implemented by the campus feminist group that, until recently, had lain dormant at Armstrong. Cook and fellow gender and women's studies major Kristen Harris rebooted the club due to the public's general misunderstanding of the feminist term.
“From my encounters with people in my classes, I've seen exactly how misused the name feminist tends to be,” Cook said. “I thought by having Feminists United active on campus, people would see that feminists are not castrating witches who just want to rant and complain. Instead, we are women and men who refuse to accept treatment of women that is less than what men receive.”
The group raised further awareness about equality and violence against women with a benefit production of Eve Ensler's award-winning play The Vagina Monologues. But even with two successful events this spring, activists in Feminists United know that the road to total campus awareness is pocked with potholes.
“By and large the response from students to the Clothesline Project was positive, from men and from women,” Hatch reported. “But there were male students that laughed and/or made snide and disrespectful comments about the t-shirts. This lack of respect about the seriousness of rape and domestic violence is disheartening. It really shows how we as a culture have a tendency not to take violence against women seriously. And it shows how much more education on the subject needs to be done on our campus.”