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‘I Was Raped’ Shirt Another Fashion Misdemeanor by Shocking Designer

You’ve seen slogans on t-shirts that read “my dad went to Disneyland and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” or some such sentiments. Women’s informational website Scarletteen is selling a t-shirt with the message “I was raped.” It is causing controversy and some women’s advocates are vociferous in their allegations that it could cause more harm than actually do good.
Brought to you by Jennifer Baumgardner, women’s rights activist with an in your face mentality, this shirt is a follow up to her bold statement made with the “I had an Abortion” t-shirt she championed in 2003. Her reasons for crafting the shirt are compelling: she seeks to encourage strong women to put themselves out there to let those suffering in silence in the aftermath of rape know that they are not alone.

Similarly, it is an opening for a conversation while at the same time taking the shame away from the woman who was victimized and instead places it back onto the perpetrator (where it belongs). Ms. Baumgardner also declares that justice is a far cry from being meted out in the aftermath of rape and in many ways this shirt is a step to affecting personal justice by not hiding the crime from those in the victim’s circle of influence.

As someone whose dearest friend was the victim of date rape, I must honestly say that while I applaud Ms. Baumgardner for her extravert bravery if she wishes to wear this shirt to make a personal statement about her own experience and how she is dealing with it, I am mortified by the somewhat ill conceived notion that women in general should consider wearing it.

Although my friend has dealt with the experience, she is affronted at the prospect of wearing such a t-shirt to show her support for rape victims, and although an active feminist sees this as a gigantic step backwards. Interestingly, in her view her disgust over the shirt has nothing to do with personal shame or guilt but instead everything with cheapening the crime by more or less issuing a cattle call for liberated women to “prove” their feminism with donning an “I was Raped” t-shirt.

Suddenly the crime victim becomes a 24-7 spokesperson for the ravages of this crime and is supposed to help her sisters who might not yet have come out of the shadows to also advance to the mindset that will have them be comfortable to self-stigmatize. Essentially, my friend is right in alleging that instead of being seen as a smart, vivacious, feminist, and politically astute yet deeply religious individual she is asked by a liberated woman to shackle herself to a self-definition of victimhood overcome.

I agree with her completely. The negativity that goes along with wearing such a shirt by far outweighs the potential of starting a conversation or making oneself known as being willing to be approached. The “I had an Abortion” t-shirt that Ms. Baumgardner had previously crafted was based on the execution (literal as well as figurative) of the wearer’s choice whereas the “I was Raped” sentiment does not reflect any personal choice on the part of the victim. Making the survival of the most egregious breach of trust a wearable article of trade available in light pink in a variety of sizes is a bit much.

Of course, there are other aspects to consider; for example, if you were to encounter a woman sporting such a t-shirt, how would you act? Would you go up to her and say “good for you! I appreciate your bravery” when she is really in excruciating pain inside and bravery has nothing to do with this but instead a cry for help is more or less the driving force? How about the woman who is subjected to jeers and taunts from knuckle draggers who are still waiting in line for evolution?

On the flipside, as a man, how do you approach a woman wearing a t-shirt that claims “I was Raped?” Do you try to stay away? Do you pretend not to see it? Do you say something and hope not to get your head bitten off? It is interesting to note that the Men Can Stop Rape website also offers merchandise which instead of the victim-aspect stresses the empowerment of men as young as teen boys to prevent and stop rape. When compared to the “I was Raped” t-shirt, the empowering merchandise of the D.C. organization is sure to have much more of an impact and a constructive message.

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