What were you wearing?
A new exhibit on the campus of the University of Kansas brings into light a visual representation of what women and men wore at the time they were raped or sexually assaulted. This display demonstrates one of the fundamental flaws in rape culture where a victim’s attire becomes a reason for their attack. Whenever a young woman is raped or sexually assaulted, people are still quick to question if she did something to put herself in that situation, instead of questioning the person who raped or sexually assaulted her. Our culture has made some progress in understanding that the rapist, not the victim, is to blame for the rape, but far too many adults still haven’t caught to this thought and still blame the victim.
In the Kansas Union Gallery on the campus of the University of Kansas, women displayed outfits they were wearing at the time of their assault. The easy to understand and visually appealing display puts into question the myth of the little revealing mini skirt. The outfits are hung on the wall as if the woman was standing before you telling her story. The display helps the viewer reflect themselves in the outfits, and the narratives accompanying each outfit recalls the excitement about purchasing or receiving the selected clothing and the rape or assault. This reflection in each other fits is very powerful and thought-provoking for the viewer.
Many viewers were mentioning the type of outfits displayed were everyday clothing, something they were currently wearing or had worn earlier in the week. The most eye-catching outfits are a small pink dress in size 2T obviously worn by a toddler, and pants and a sweater decorated with hummingbirds that reveal an outfit of a woman typically older. These outfits worn by small children to the elderly show the range and scope of rape and sexual assault on all sections of the population and puts the blame back where it belongs, with the one who caused the harm.
Installations like this on college campuses originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013. This exhibit will be moving to an online forum beginning October 1, 2017.
Photo by: Sara Shepard, Lawrence Journal World
This blog chronicles my research in activist art and my life as a woman in academia.