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The Clothesline Project

For the artistic event I attended The Clothesline Project. This display was held in the Great Hall of Coffman Union on April 9th. The Clothesline Project is a grassroots network that was started by a small group of women to break the silence on the issue of violence against women. The women wanted to find a unique and powerful way to educate people on this issue and encourage change. One of the women in this group thought of the idea of shirts hanging on a clothesline. This idea stemmed from the tradition of women doing the laundry and sharing thoughts and experiences with other women in the neighborhood while hanging clothes up to dry in the yard. Also, this was a way to “air out society’s dirty laundry?. The group’s first display was held in 1990 in Massachusetts at “Take Back the Night?, an anti-rape and violence against women rally. Not long after the first display, the network’s popularity rapidly expanded and today there are over 250 known projects over the world, in 41 of our 50 states and 5 nations. The total number of shirts that have been designed since the beginning of The Clotheslin Project is between 25,000 and 30,000.

I wasn’t sure what to expect entering the display. There were many shirts hung on clotheslines, but there were many different messages. Some shirts were mournful, some hopeful, some resentful, and some proud. The messages on the shirts were shockingly honest and personal. The first shirt I looked at said, “He was my friend?. This is such a tragic thing, and it happens more than we realize. When you hear this it is clearer to see how women who have gone through this may never really recover or fully trust men, or anyone for that matter, again. The next shirts I saw said, “Charles: He got 12 years, I got life? and “Your first love raped you in your sleep?. These were both pretty powerful and they show the wide range of opinions and views on this subject. The first was a hopeful victim while the second was obviously the view of a person who knew something that suffered from rape. Other shirts communicated less through words and more through images. Some of the shirts had pleasant pictures on them that represented recovery and healing. Other shirts had very disturbing pictures that represented suffering, horror, confusion, and resentment. As I moved on to other shirts on the Clothesline, I saw some very simple designs and some very clever designs. For example, one shirt had a list of about twenty names or so. Of course I don’t know exactly what those names represent but the mystery of those names was really neat. Those names could be the people that helped this victim recover after rape or violence was committed against her. It could also be one victim’s friends that suffered from the same thing. Or it could be someone who hadn’t directly suffered, but who knew all these people who had. One shirt that really caught my attention had on it, “I have the right to wear what I want, get drunk with my friends, talk to men, say NO to sex, walk late at night, and live free from violence?. This is a well thought out message, and a profound one too. Women should not have to take such precautions like not talking or even flirting with men because society says that if that situation led to rape, it could possibly be your fault because you “initiated? the situation.

Overall, I thought this artistic display was really interesting. I am glad I attended, because the messages were so personal and powerful, it was like getting some sort of close-up on the issue instead of hearing about violence against women and rape politically or statistically.