Stamp of Disapproval

To walk freely throughout a city is a privilege that is not afforded to us all. The reality for many women and girls is that our freedom is restricted by the threat of sexual harassment and violence. We aim to break the silence around this problem and promote discourse by making a “Stamp of Disapproval” at each location of reported violence, making the reality of daily violence visible.

Rachel Ara, Plymouth, United Kingdom

All humans have a right to roam the city equally, without fear or restriction. UN Women state that sexual harassment in public spaces is an under-recognized global pandemic: “Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are an everyday occurrence for women and girls around the world—in urban and rural areas, in developed and developing countries.”. These issues contribute to restricting women's freedom of movement and enjoyment of a city. This is a problem that has become an insidious part of society, often ignored or met with a wall of silence. We disapprove of the silence. We aim to break the silence and galvanise change with our Stamp of Disapproval.
BACKGROUND: I’ve often wondered why the distressing crime figures of Gender Based Violence (GBV) has not had the attention or action they should demand. In the UK, 2 women a week are killed by their partner, 85,000 raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted. Worldwide 35% of women experience sexual violence.
Reading further around this subject I realised how much women’s movements were restricted compared to that of men's because of the threat of violence and harassment. Like others, I had subconsciously built this into my routine without questioning it.
In Jackson Katz’s book, “The Macho Paradox”, he brilliantly illustrates this problem with an exercise he uses on students. He draws a line in the middle of the board, one side male and one side female, and asks the students “What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourself being sexually assaulted?”. At the end of the exercise the men’s side is almost blank and the women’s side is packed full of comments. Restrictions such as “Don’t go jogging at night”, ”Go out in groups”, ”Avoid forests or wooded areas”, “Vary my route home from work”, ”Watch what I wear” etc.. According to Katz, “some women do get angry when they see the radical contrast between the women’s side of the chalk board, which is always full, and the men’s which is almost always blank”. The men are generally shocked and saddened when made aware of the restrictions that women have imposed upon them through threat or fear.
PROJECT: As a visual artist I feel statistics can be easily forgotten and the written word easily ignored. I puzzled over many potential approaches, some using mobile devices and apps, but eventually settled on the most direct and simple approach that I thought would create a shared experience and have the most impact. I wanted to physically mark each location around the city where there had been an occurrence of GBV. A mark that would be noticed and would hopefully act as a catalyst to break the continuing silence around violence.
The first step was to identify the locations of GBV. I’m fully aware that most GBV is not reported, so I can only work with what has been reported. In the UK the police publish data and locations of all reported incidents of “Violence and Sexual Offences”. It is simple to go to the website and type in the postcode you want to act in to see the crime scenes.
I then had to devise a covert way of making these stamps on the street. I got some paper shopping bags and cut a stencil into the bottom. It was then easy to mark the spot by spraying into the bottom of the bag and through the stencil. Over time I noticed that some scenes had such huge incident rates that I needed a more effective method. (One location had 170 incidents in one year!) The sole stamp was born.
This project is open to others to join in. Anyone can use the kit or create their own way of marking the streets. I’ve had some great responses from other women and artists who have engaged in the project. One ceramicist is making tiles with the stamp and installing them at locations around the city.
This is by no means a solution to such a pandemic problem we just want to add to the growing number of voices and actions around the world and hope to collectively affect change.

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