Unraveling the question, ‘What were you wearing?’

By Wanda Haskel on April 3, 2019

New exhibit at TU's Cook Library promotes awareness and agency in the fight against sexual violence

Julie Potter and Molly Cohen
Department of Theatre Arts Associate Professor Julie Potter, left, and alumna Molly Cohen ’18, curators of the exhibit What Were You Wearing?

Sweatpants and a T-shirt, a school uniform, a sundress.

These aren’t just clothes. They’re what real people were wearing when they were sexually assaulted.

Outfits like these, along with survivors’ stories, will be on display in Towson University’s Cook Library and at pop-up locations around campus throughout the month of April as part of an exhibit titled What Were You Wearing?: Weaving a New Narrative.

Curated by Associate Professor Julie Potter and theatre arts graduate Molly Cohen ’18, the installation challenges the myth that wardrobe choices “cause” sexual violence.

And unravels it at the seams.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing,” says Potter. “Clothing does not cause rape. Rapists do.”

The clothing is accompanied by stories culled from conversations with college students as well as local newspaper accounts dating back to the 1880s.

What Were You Wearing? also explores rape culture, which Cohen argues is knitted into society through the portrayal of gender roles in media such as magazines and television. She aims to arm visitors with awareness and give them the tools to support survivors and become active in preventing sexual violence.

The goal, says Cohen, is to “foster agents of change in every visitor…to unweave the fabric of hatred woven into our nation that keeps perpetrators untouchable simply because it’s their word against the survivors’.”

April is apt because it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The exhibit will correlate with activities associated with sexual assault issues planned by the campus health center and other student groups.

The #MeToo movement, which is raising awareness about sexual assault and giving many survivors the courage to speak out, also makes this the right moment for What Were You Wearing?, says Potter.

“Now is the time for this exhibit. We have to do it now.”

View the Exhibit

What Were You Wearing? Weaving a New Narrative
April 4 - 30
Cook Library, Third Floor Lobby

Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of COFAC Today.