Recently, it has come to my attention that my college’s honors program created this t-shirt with an image of a stack of books and the slogan, “I’d hit that.” Proponents of the T-shirt claim it stands for education and also that “it’s funny.” They say the honors program students voted on this t-shirt design democratically, and they enjoyed “laughing” about it. To criticize this shirt, they say, would be insensitive to the person who designed it. Never mind that when I was at Hood, fellow feminist students fought tooth and nail against the out-of-date sexual harassment policy after a severe mishandling of a sexual assault on campus. Never mind that the city in which this college is located, like so many cities across this country, is one in which sexual harassment and street harassment is a daily nightmare, especially for women. Frederick, Maryland is a city of Civil War aggrandizing, where people carry confederate flags down Market Street without much protest from locals, where the rich condo owners overlooking Carol Creek phone the food bank to ask that the poor people stand behind the building so they don’t have to “see dirty people.”
This t-shirt is really just a small drop in the bucket of the kind of inequality and daily injustice that happens in Frederick. I can’t imagine wearing a shirt that says “I’d hit that,” inviting even more sexual harassment than I already experienced on the streets of Frederick. I remember when a man told me to take off my hat, and I refused. He then found out where I lived and called me a filthy bitch every morning. He would wait for me in his car at the intersection and suddenly make his car go forward right when I tried to cross the street, as if he was about to hit me. He would make his car go up on the curb when I was walking on the sidewalk, which also gave me a terrible scare that I was about to get hit by his car and possibly die or be horribly injured. Mind you, I had no way to avoid this kind of harassment because I had been sexually harassed and assaulted at my first full time job after graduating from Hood. The only way to avoid my perpetrator was to take a different road on my walk to a new job location, which also meant putting up with this kind of daily street harassment. Men on the corner shouted at me: “Hey girl, want to get pregnant… Hey girl, nice legs but they need a tan.” I didn’t need a degrading message like “I’d hit that” on my chest for all of this violence to come my way, but I don’t have the privilege to “laugh” at this t-shirt, which brings up horrible memories of the sexually objectifying abuse that I experienced in Frederick.
What I am trying to explain to the honors program at Hood College is that not everyone is so fortunate as to be able to disentangle the expression “I’d hit that” from the context of sexism. That should have been a consideration and the fact that it was not makes me concerned for the culture that produced it. It saddens me that this t-shirt contributes to the Rape Culture there at Hood, in Frederick, and everywhere, “a society in which rape and sexual violence are normalized. Where rape is perpetuated by every aspect of our culture: in the media, the justice system, the prison industrial complex, our own government, music, advertising etc. Rape culture is victim shaming and blaming. It is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Where 75 percent of all survivors are assaulted by someone they know.” (Boston Feminists for Liberation Statement)
Let me be clear: I’m not angry at the students who voted for this t-shirt. I assume that they did not mean to send out a message of rape and sexual violence; however, the flippant handling of this messaging is indicative of the lack of intellectual and radical feminist culture in the honors program and on campus in general. I remember when Mary Daly visited Hood College and spoke of how we cannot be afraid to call ourselves feminists, that we must speak out against injustice. I hope by writing this blog/letter that I have contributed to that legacy of resistance at Hood College of which I am truly proud.