The Perfect Poster Girl

It might seem as if she’s back out of nowhere. Her attempt at porn did more to promote abstinence than any effort by Tipper Gore. Her resort to BDSM as a catharsis for her outrage could be the new 50 shades of pale. And it’s coincidental that it comes moments after Columbia University paid off Paul Nungesser, the victim of her mattress-toting shenanigans. But Emma Sulkowicz is back.

Tovia Smith at NPR held up Mattress Girl as a “survivor,” rationalizing that it’s her self-identification. After all, it’s not as if Nungesser was cleared of any wrongdoing and Sulkowicz’s only survival is from having been caught in her lies.

Reporter Tovia Smith quotes as a “survivor” the Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowicz, who lost her rape case against fellow student Paul Nungesser in a campus adjudication based on the extremely low “more likely than not” evidence standard.

Sulkowicz and her activist friends harassed Nungesser, a foreign student, for years through her “Carry that Weight” art project, in which she pledged to lug a mattress around campus until Columbia punished Nungesser, whom it had explicitly exonerated of any wrongdoing.

It’s usually impossible to prove the negative, to prove that Nungesser didn’t do what Mattress Girl accused him of doing. Usually. But beyond his exoneration, and NPR’s effort to perpetuate the lie, Cathy Young hammers yet another nail in the coffin of the Legend of Mattress Girl. Young adds to the mix that “Toni,” who Sulkowicz says explained to her that she had been raped, and supposedly an advocate for the cause, disappeared from view when it came time to support the claim. Not even Toni would back up her story.

But for those who believe the victim, despite the litany of excuses, the failure of facts, the scheme concocted to create accusations out of whole cloth and the generic cries of rape culture for whom the Legend of Mattress Girl became their rallying point, none of this matters.

Aside: For those woke criminal defense lawyers who hate me for not praying at the altar of social justice because it’s all so horrifying and exhausting, consider why facts matter to you when the offense is anything other than racism and sexism, but you cast aside all thought for your feelz when it evokes your sad tears. Either all the accused are given due process, judged by the same substantive measures, or none of them. If you can’t grasp why this is so, you can’t be a criminal defense lawyer. Sorry, kidz.

Suddenly, Sulkowicz is showing up everywhere, with a new homage to her status as the Princess of Pain in the Daily Beast, whose motto is, “NPR, hold our beer.”

Emma Sulkowicz has a disarming bedside manner.

She doesn’t introduce herself when I arrive at her Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center in Philadelphia, but smiles warmly as she thumbs through my unfinished paperwork—a list of questions like “What concerns bring you into the office today?” and “Are you experiencing physical pain?”—and tells me to make myself comfortable on her paper-covered doctor’s bed.

Dressed in a white lab coat, black slacks rolled up around her ankles, and black Dansko clogs, she sits on a stool and picks up where I left off with the paperwork: “Why do you go to art shows and performances?”

Her newest game is to pretend to be a doctor. It’s performance art for the talent challenged. Apparently, she wants to be like mommy and daddy without doing the work.

Sulkowicz’s parents are both psychotherapists, as is her aunt. Her father, Kerry Sulkowicz, is a psychoanalyst turned business consultant whose firm advises high-powered executives on interpersonal boardroom dynamics. (He abandoned his private practice more than 15 years ago, but was lauded as “one of the most sought after psychoanalysts in the world” in a 2014 Psychiatric Times profile.)

How painful and difficult this must have been, growing up in the lap of Manhattan luxury. But that changes nothing if you believe she’s a survivor.

Mattress Performance has defined Sulkowicz’s public identity, making her an easy target for Twitter trolls, conservative media, and even feminist firebrand Camille Paglia, who denounced Mattress Performance as a “protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself a victim, which will now be her identity forever. This isn’t feminism—which should empower women, not cripple them.”

Paglia’s stinging remarks reverberate, though, when Sulkowicz describes feeling a sort of separation anxiety about parting ways with her mattress before graduation, revealing how much it became part of her private identity.

You read that right. Feminist icon Camille Paglia is a “twitter troll.” Anyone who doesn’t believe is a troll. And Sulkowicz isn’t taking it.

“[Paglia] speaks as if she, a white woman, knew what was best for me, a woman of color she’s never met… To expect me to move on is to equate courage with self-censorship. The phrases—suck it up, move on, and get over it—are violence… I dedicate this award to everyone who has not told me to get over it.”

And boom, now she’s not merely a “survivor,” but a vulnerable and marginalized “woman of color” who suffered the deprivations as the poor child of Manhattan Elite, who went to Ivy League Columbia, who carried a mattress to the applause of her tribe until it got her on magazine covers. And it was all a lie, just as she’s no “Dr. Sulkwicz” and one god-awful porn star.

Meet the Poster Girl for campus rape, for feminism, and now for “women of color.” She’s back and she does a spectacular job of representing the true essence of social justice. And her deeply passionate fans don’t see any problem here.

23 thoughts on “The Perfect Poster Girl

  1. LTMG

    Having been graduated not too long ago, Emma S. has realized that rent and car payments are waiting. Who will hire her? So she trades on her notoriety to earn a living. What skills does she have to make a living?

  2. el professor presente

    Sulkowicz: “The phrases–suck it up, move on, and get over it–are violence.”

    This is such a trollish statement seemingly directed at nobody (as if her detractors would say these things to her), that of course one must unpack the journalism to figure out what is going on here.

    Turns out she wasn’t just directing this at Paglia or any of the twitter trolls, she was literally directing this at the sad-eyed allies who were expressing concern for her. The larger statement in her NOW 2016 Woman of Courage Award acceptance speech is:

    “Many people ask me how I’ve ‘healed’ from my assault, as if healing were another word for ‘forgetting about it,’ ‘getting over it,’ or even ‘shutting up about it.’ To expect me to move on is to equate courage with self-censorship. The phrases–suck it up, move on, and get over it–are violence.”

    Those allies are the worst.

  3. Jon Burk

    Scott, the article would carry a little more weight if you would spell “Sulkowicz” correctly throughout. The content is great, just tighten the editing.

    Thanks for posting this.

  4. Edward

    The NPR story appeared on their website July 25th. They posted a rather lame “clarification” on July 27th. All it said was:

    “This story refers to Emma Sulkowicz as a survivor of sexual assault, as she considers herself to be. The accused in her case was found not responsible by a campus adjudication process.”

    1. SHG Post author

      That came as a result of many people challenging the false characterization, to which the author responded that she “self-identifies” as a “survivor.” I self-identify as 6’8″, and am awaiting a call from the Knicks.

  5. B. McLeod

    She has glaring mental issues, and trying to pass herself off as some kind of art-degree-qualified health professional should be shut down by licensing authorities. Her victim routine was ludicrous, and her porn video was crappy. However, because she has no real talent of any kind, she has little choice but to ride her fantasy routines (mattress chick, porn chick and now, Dr. chick) until the horse falls down dead.

    1. SHG Post author

      At least she’s a better artist than Jackson Pollock, who throws shit on a canvas and gets tons of money because he’s a white man.

      1. B. McLeod

        If he gets tons of money for throwing shit anywhere, it can’t be because he’s a white man. That’s thoroughly out of fashion. (But, this reminds me that the “woman of color” thing is Dolezalish too).

  6. Sacho

    Emma Sulkowicz is celebrated by anti-feminists around the world – I cannot think of a better poster girl of the dangers of feminism. Wait, no, I can, I bet that convicted murderer that was a featured speaker at the Women’s March can give her a run for her money. Or the terrorist bomber organizing “A Day Without A Woman”. Come to think of it, Emma is pretty reasonable as far as feminist icons go.

    1. SHG Post author

      I feel compelled to make a point here: I believe in equality for women. That means that when a woman says/does something stupid, hypocritical, crazy they are no less responsibility than a guy, and it would be sexist of me to treat them as a lesser person. I’m told that makes me a misogynist by third-wave fems and allies. So be it. I will not abandon my treatment of women as equals.

  7. B. McLeod

    In some fonts, “fems” looks a lot like “ferns,” but in the occasional context, either one will work.

        1. SHG Post author

          I believe you’re right. Which doesn’t change what Fern makes me think of, but shows what age does to memory.

        2. SHG Post author

          I believe you’re right. Which doesn’t change what Fern makes me think of, but shows what age does to memory.

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