New York magazine calls the new revolution a “brilliantly plotted movement against assault.” We’d call it a brilliantly plotted movement against men.
And here’s the question no one dares to ask: Why did this so-called rape epidemic not exist thirty years ago? Did a bunch of bad men come out of the woodwork? Or have women changed in a dramatic way over the past forty years? The answer is obvious.
Note: The following article is looooong.
“Want to meet at my dorm? Less carrying for me.”
Emma Sulkowicz, a.k.a. the international sensation “mattress girl,” is emailing from her phone in her Columbia University dorm high up over Morningside Heights, where she lives in a single room within a six-person suite. “My friends and I got the first place in the housing lottery for seniors last year,” she says nonchalantly, leading the way through a concrete-block hallway, in purple flip-flops the same color as her painted toes, as well as a light-blue cropped tee featuring a moose with sunglasses over the words FEARLESS LEADER, commemorating a river-rafting trip for freshmen.
As you may already know, given how viral Sulkowicz’s image has gone in the past few weeks, that’s the outdoor-orientation program that preceded Sulkowicz’s alleged rape by another orientation leader, which was followed by a Columbia-adjudicated hearing during which the university found her assailant not guilty—a verdict she began protesting, this September, by carrying a mattress around campus until Columbia expels her assailant.
A few years ago, an Ivy League student going public about her rape, telling the world her real name—let alone trying to attract attention by lugging around a mattress—would have been a rare bird. In America, after all, we still assume rape survivors want, and need, their identities protected by the press. But shattering silence, in 2014, means not just coming out with an atrocity tale about your assault but offering what Danielle Dirks, a sociologist at Occidental, calls “an atrocity tale about how poorly you were treated by the people you pay $62,500 a year to protect you.”
By owning those accusations, and pointing a finger not only at assailants but also the American university, the ivory tower of privilege, these survivors have built the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Rape activists now don’t talk much about women’s self-care and protection like they did in the ’90s with Take Back the Night marches, self-defense classes, and cans of Mace. Today, the militant cry is aimed at the university: Kick the bastards out.
Taking a seat in a wood-and-wool chair of the blend shared by dorms and doctors’ waiting rooms, Sulkowicz starts to tell her tale. At 21, in barely detectable Invisalign braces, she’s the type of hipster-nerd who rules the world these days, with the mellow demeanor and direct way of speaking of an Apple genius-bar clerk, except she giggles nervously when worried she’s said the wrong thing.
The Japanese-Chinese-Jewish daughter of Manhattan psychiatrists, she was a club fencer and an A student at Dalton on the Upper East Side. At Columbia, Sulkowicz thought she’d focus on mechanical physics—she liked the way you could draw a diagram to solve a problem, see the answer—but wound up drawn to visual arts instead. She also joined Alpha Delta Phi, Columbia’s co-ed “hipster frat.” As she puts it dryly, “Only the most hipster of the hipster kids can get in.” That’s where she met Paul, a film fanatic and rower. “He was a nice person,” she says matter-of-factly, “a cool person who was secretly really crazy.”
Toward the end of freshman year, the two students signed up to help lead the next year’s outdoor-orientation program, taking a training trip down the Delaware River. There were an odd number of students on the trip, so everyone sat two to a canoe except Paul, who was in a kayak. “He would paddle way out ahead of everyone so that he didn’t have to talk to anyone,” she says. They had sex twice. He went to Europe for the summer.
When he returned, at the beginning of sophomore year, Sulkowicz was a committee head for orientation. “Paul was really needy,” she says. “He asked me to help carry his bags, and I was like, ‘I’m organizing food for 400 freshmen.’ ” One night there was a party for the orientation leaders. In the ivy-covered courtyard outside Wien Hall, Paul kissed Sulkowicz, who says that she was sober except for a sip of gin-and-Sprite. He was buzzed and carrying a handle of vodka. While they were having consensual sex in her dorm room, she alleges that he suddenly pushed her legs against her chest, choked her, slapped her, and anally penetrated her as she struggled and clearly repeated “No.”
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