Friday, April 4, 2008

A T-Shirt about Rape

Saw this brief item in the City Room section of today's NYT, and it reminded me of several things -- including our discussion this past week about how abortion is a bit like rape in the sense that no one seems to talk about either "happening" to themselves. There seems to be a shame in "owning up" to either. We mostly discuss them only in the abstract, apart from ourselves.

As you'll see from reading the piece, in 2004, writer and activist Jennifer Baumgardner distributed T-shirts that said "I Had an Abortion." When she decided she wanted to apply this approach to consciousness raising to rape, she had difficulty coming up with a suitable design, one that was neither too passive, ebullient, or shocking. She settled on the one pictured in the article.

She explains:

“What the safe design loses is shock value,” said Ms. Baumgardner, but that’s not what she was going for in the first place.

What was she going for? A shirt that would let rape victims “own the experience,” she says, and would help chip away the cone of silence that surrounds a crime with humiliation at its core.

A shirt that would start conversations.

And a conversation does follow on the City Room blog. Maybe you will want to join.

So what was the other thing this brief item reminded me of? Just what Baumgardner says above -- the need to let rape survivors "own the experience," to help end the silence about this all-too-often occurrence in the lives of altogether-too-many women. As I've expressed before to friends and students: Why do we value and encourage discussion of so many life experiences as providing insights into those experiences, yet dismiss what rape survivors know about rape as "emotional" or "biased" on the topic? We/they should be permitted to speak about our/their experiences without loss of credibility, without being dismissed as angry/upset/overly emotional/lacking objectivity (pick your descriptor). For so many reasons, we/it/they need to come to out of the closet.

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