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Rape On Campus: Why Emma Carried Her Mattress All Around Columbia University

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By Abhishek Jha

Emma Sulkowicz started carrying around a 50lb mattress everywhere she went on campus at Columbia University in September 2014, after Paul Nungesser, her rapist, was acquitted. She said that she would carry it every day until he left the campus.


At the recent graduation ceremony for her batch, Columbia University, probably aware of Sulkowicz’s “Carry That Weight” project, asked graduates to not bring “large objects” into the ceremonial area. Such an instruction had not existed for the Columbia College Class Day in previous years. However, Columbia Spectator reported that she was later allowed to bring her mattress to the stage.

Sulkowicz took up this form of protest as her visual arts major’s senior thesis, hoping to make peace with her own experience and to draw attention towards the flaws in the University’s handling of such issues, the sentence pardoning the defendant being upheld even when she appealed. Paul Nungesser responded by filing a lawsuit against the University, some members of the administration, and the supervisor of Sulkowicz’s thesis. Titled “Columbia Student: I Didn’t Rape Her“, Cathy Young published an article in February this year in ‘The Daily Beast‘, defending Paul’s story against allegations of sexual assault by students of his college. Posters have now started appearing on the Columbia campus, where Commencement Week is in progress, and in its vicinity showing Emma with her mattress and calling her a “pretty little liar“.

The Daily Beast article, which tried to defend Paul, stands refuted by Jezebel and Cathy Young is found wanting in her process of defending Paul. Yet the recent developments (as much as the rest of it) in Sulkowicz’s story shows how much patriarchy feels scared of being brought to justice, of being even slightly questioned, of being denied even a morsel of its privilege pudding. In what is now becoming more and more prominent on social media (what with the ubiquitous “Feminazi” and other such gelatinous scum), any individual case where the victim’s version can be questioned is used to portray men as victims of “alleged sexual assaults“.

The Jezebel article trashing Cathy Young’s “exclusive” accepted despondently that those who said that the “real” victims of rape would get affected after the Rolling Stone fiasco were right. Although they have been proven correct, it is appalling that people are so opaque to the notion of structural violence. Rapists not getting convicted and victims being put through invasive questioning is the result of centuries of patriarchal thinking that plagues every aspect of our lives. A single exception- which Sulkowicz does not appear to be- does not discount the structural violence inflicted upon women. Similarly, men getting raped and not being able to speak about it (a point which men’s rights activists rally behind), does not mean that it is because of women being privileged. It is the result of patriarchy deeming men “speaking out” as – guess what – being feminine, which is something undesirable for men in a patriarchal world.

Emma Sulkowicz, who was sexually assaulted by a friend, is (alas!) not alone in this world. There could be countless such women in our country who were/are/will be raped by husbands, in fact, as marital rape is not punishable here. All of them carry the weight that Emma Sulkowicz carried all through her college life and will probably carry all her life.

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    My wife rapes me repeatedly. Can you please tell me what action I can take, without ending up breaking my marriage, and without the possibility of her and her brother arranging goons to harm me and my family?

    1. swati

      @B, Excluding her two more girls are rape by that person (see the original newsfeed), the university refuse to take responsibility and you want to woman bash here.
      And as for your question you can’t reform a rapist so you have to break your marriage if you want to save yourself from abusive relationship, complain to police and ask for police protection. if there is no law then you can always file a PIL in court.

    2. fedup

      This guy was cleared by the college committee and the police did not find any evidence to be able to proceed with the investigation. And you are still so sure that he comiited the crime. Should you not be using the adjective ‘alleged’. After the alleged incident the woman sent very warm facebook messages to him and only after many months complained. What exactly do you want this guy to do to prove his innocen

  2. Rabi

    The victim was never able to prove her case. In fact she could never even establish evidence of sexual intercourse with this guy. Hence the posters all over the campus calling her “pretty little liar”. But sure you would know all about what really happened from half way across the world. What a completely biased and sexist article. When will people learn to see these things as a case between 2 individuals rather than a battle between sexes.

  3. Rahul

    Editor, Sir. You DO know that she was lying through her teeth, all this while, right?

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