An Artist Has Designed A "Rape Cloak" To Ask People To Rethink Consent

    "No one is ever asking for it. We shouldn't be asking women to cover up," artist Sarah Maple told BuzzFeed News.

    Artist Sarah Maple has created a "rape cloak" to comment on the culture of victim-blaming as part of a new exhibition celebrating feminist activism.

    Sarah Maple

    The 15-day series of "trouble-making" workshops, events, and gatherings, beginning on 8 October, entitled The Art of Nuisance, is being presented by feminist group The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance.

    Maple told BuzzFeed News the cloak was designed as a comment on the culture of victim-blaming, something she said bothers her greatly.

    "When people say you shouldn't have been wearing this or that, you should dress modestly, etc, it puts all the blame on the woman, when a person should be able to wear whatever they like without the fear of being raped," she said.

    She said it was ridiculous to think that women brought abuse upon themselves, and by wearing a cloak would be "completely safe from rape in any place, anywhere, any context, no longer 'asking for it'".

    Sarah Maple

    "I have had many friends go through sexual assault in some way, a disturbing number of them women. And sadly, not any of them reported this to the police," she added.

    "I think part of the reason for that was because they felt they were making a fuss or had somehow brought it on themselves. This really upsets me."

    The exhibition draws on the idea of women feeling like they should keep quiet, and was inspired by the suffragettes, who were described by politicians at the time as "making a nuisance of themselves".

    "It's very evident from the abuse feminists get online that many people think that we are 'making a fuss about nothing' and we should be quiet," Maple said.

    Sarah Maple

    Recalling the online abuse journalist Caroline Criado-Perez received when she suggested that a woman should be pictured on a British banknote, Maple said: "The wonderful thing about social media is that it has given a platform for feminists to speak out, but then it also gives a platform to abusers.

    "If we talk about issues such as cat-calling or sexism in the workplace, feminists often get the usual abuse of 'ugly', or 'jealous', 'making a fuss about nothing', or that 'there are more important issues to deal with' – comments like these try to silence us when they are all important issues.

    "No one is saying women are better than men, we are just equal and want to be treated that way."

    Maple also designed black hoods for the exhibition that she said were inspired by photos she found of a 1960s beauty competition where women wore paper bags on their heads to divert focus to their bodies.

    Sarah Maple
    Sarah Maple

    "It's very odd that women are encouraged to be sexy and are told constantly by the media that our sexiness dictates our value and worth, but then if we dress sexily we deserve to be raped," she said.

    "It's a contradiction I can't get my head around. It is also ridiculous to think that a bit of female flesh on view turns men into savage beasts who must have sex right away. It's a damaging idea for both sexes."

    Maple was raised a Muslim, and said that "initially the cloak was meant to be very burka-like" so that it covered all of a woman's skin, except around the eyes.

    Sarah Maple

    In the end, she decided that her feminist message might be diluted by "linking it too closely with Islam, which wasn't what I was going for".

    But, she noted: "I find it funny that many people have a go at Islam telling women to cover up, and the wearing of the burka, when essentially the idea that women should dress a certain way to avoid being raped is obviously a belief held by many in the Western world."

    Maple said that she hopes the exhibition will make people rethink ideas around rape and victim-blaming. "We shouldn't be asking women to cover up, we should be educating people about consent and they should not be raping," she said.

    Sarah Maple

    "We hope the whole exhibition with inspire people to get active, speak out, and make some noise."

    For more information on The Art of Nuisance exhibition, which also includes an intergenerational feminist arm-wrestling evening hosted by Maple and Meg Mosley, see the Facebook event page.

    Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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