“Mattress Girl” and rape survivor Emma Sulkowicz is still gaining hordes of media attention months after her attack happened on the Columbia University main campus. Called “an expression of art”, the action of carrying around a mattress that symbolically represents her rape is an act not yet seen in our (supposedly) progressive society. Why is this bold statement making so much noise in our rape conscious global community? We turned to a student the same age as Sulkowicz to get some perspective.
“I think it’s inspirational,” says TCNJ student Rebecca Shaber. “It’s a non-violent way of representing a violent act. It is also a good way to get people to notice her when it was clear she wasn’t being seen before.” A victim’s sense of invisibility after they have been abused is a serious issue that is often overlooked by the public. According to a report titled “Victim Responses to Sexual Assault: Counterintuitive or Simply Adaptive?” by Patricia L. Fanflik, rape victims typically act without assistance after they have been attacked because they fear rejection from a court of law. Sulkowicz experienced this feeling for a brief time when she chose not to report the attack right away, at which both prosecutors and critics of the case point their fingers. Shaber sympathizes, “I understand why she hesitated. There’s definitely an issue of believability here. It seems more likely than not that people would make you question yourself when it comes to a serious issue such as this.” Is believability a problem that is relevant on college campus today? “I think so,” states Shaber. “Unfortunately it seems pretty common for universities to doubt their students despite the evidence. It’s something that needs to change.” Sulkowicz’s actions reflect Shaber’s statement. The Columbia student went from silence to outcry within the amount of time it took her to acquire a university-issued, regular sized twin mattress. Dragging the metaphor everywhere she goes is an incredible feat that shows strength most non-abused people do not possess. “I have never been attacked or abused, but I know that I would never be able to do what she does,” says Shaber. “It’s a noble stance to take.”
Noble and creative. Sulkowicz’s protest-turned-mobile-art-exhibit is nothing less than innovative. Beyond making a statement about her personal injustice, Sulkowicz is metaphorically carrying the weight of all rape survivors, and she’s not doing it alone. As journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis reports, Sulkowicz has a band of helpers called “collective carriers” to assist her in dragging the mattress around campus. Shaber comments, “If I saw her walking around campus I would run to help her. What she’s doing is important. She deserves the help.” Alongside giving her support, Shaber posed another significant opinion on rape culture: “While I respect the way in which Emma is protesting her case, I wouldn’t say that that method is for everyone. It’s about doing what’s right for you in the most meaningful way possible. If it’s not meaningful, why are you fighting for it?”