Censoring a student’s artwork exploring rape culture out of a concern for “the children”? Yep, that sounds about par for the course for the US educational system.
Gracie Holtzclaw, a high school senior in South Carolina, was one of the young artists selected to display her work at the Greenville County Schools Art Exhibition this month. She told local outlet WYFF that she was really “excited” to be part of the event. But just a few days later, 18-year-old Holtzclaw was informed that her submission, which is entitled “Rape Culture,” wouldn’t be permitted to appear in the show.
“This piece, for both title and content, was determined to be inappropriate for the District Show because the artwork is on display during a community event and can be viewed by small children,” a school district spokesperson explained in a statement.
In an interview with WYFF, Holtzclaw explained that her piece was inspired by her own experience being sexually assaulted — and then blamed for it thanks to purity culture.
“I started at an early age at a Christian school, locally, and we were always taught that it was our responsibility as women to cover up and be modest, and if a man was to ever get aroused or turned on or be interested in us, it was our fault,” said Holtzclaw. “Eventually, I had gotten sexually assaulted. It was true when it happened. Everyone blamed me for it and told me it was my fault and that just led the way into this art piece.”
“I know I’m not the only girl in high school that’s been sexually assaulted and felt like it was my fault, so I wanted to get the word out there and tell people, ‘It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault,’” said Holtzclaw. “Things that need to be talked about shouldn’t be taboo, because people struggle and we need to talk about those kind of things that people struggle with.”
So, basically, the whole point of Holtzclaw’s piece was to break the taboo around discussing sexual assault and victim-blaming — a taboo which was then perfectly illustrated by the school district’s response to it. Come on, people. At least we can help ensure that Holtzclaw’s piece — and important message — gets an even wider audience on the interwebs.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.