Have you heard of Mattress Girl? How about innocent until proven guilty?

Talking About Rape Badly

Congratulations on graduating, Emma Sulkowicz! Now, can we stop tormenting someone who was exonerated?

Now, there is one thing for standing against misogyny, but there is also harassment. There is also, bullying. And while Emma’s story is one of a girl standing up against her rapist and the institution that won’t allow for justice, there is also the story of Paul Nungesser, the accused rapist, someone who has been bullied and labeled a “rapist” despite there being zero proof other than accusations. She has a very compelling story of rape. But an interesting story is just that, an interesting story.

Then there are the text messages. Emma and Paul had a consensual, casual, sexual relationship prior to the “rape” incident. This amiable relationship continued for a couple of months after the incident. There are Facebook messages that show Emma initiating contact with Paul several times in a friendly manner. These are messages that she herself has corroborated. She offered to provide deeper context to the messages, but has since retracted that offer. As far as I can tell from the media, there’s also no evidence or eyewitness testimony of her changing attitudes after the incident as well.

Being friendly to your attacker does not prove he’s innocent. It doesn’t prove he’s guilty either. In fact, it does not prove anything. All it does is place doubt to claims of rape. And aside from the messages, is there any other evidence that would prove the claim? Mathematically alone it doesn’t look good for Emma. There is one evidence that suggests Paul’s innocence, zero for guilt.

The university didn’t find her claims credible. The NYPD didn’t think there was enough evidence to press charges. That should have been it. While not ideal, that’s roughly how the way justice in the country should work. Someone makes an accusation, authorities determine whether there’s enough evidence for a case, if there’s none, the accused is then exonerated. The accuser should not be allowed to harass the exonerated party.

Worse, the media should not crucify the exonerated by publicizing the story and insinuating that he got away with sexual assault. The New York Times, Salon, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, the Nation… so many news outlets dug into the story for all of its scandalous bits. They often fail to mention that the accused was exonerated. Perhaps Paul was indeed guilty, and perhaps the university should have done a much better job at investigating the case, but a public flogging is not justice. We don’t hang people without a trial nor use scarlet letters (yes, there is irony here, but Emma chose to carry her scarlet letter, Paul was given his).

What’s ironic is some people supporting Emma is quick to judge the veracity of her story due to the media they consume and will be equally dismissive of the outlets that would counter her claims. “Who could believe Nungesser when he runs to the Daily Beast?” Of course, this is also a current symptom of people only following news outlets that reinforce their ideology, but saying something like, “who would believe him, his story is from breitbart.com?” is just as dismissive and as close-minded as something a “patriarchal misogynist” would say when countering rape stories. How about examining the counter-arguments regardless of the messenger? (to an extent)

Shame on the university art professor as well for allowing Emma to stage her harassment under the guise of performance art! There is neither art here, nor justice. What little art there was is overshadowed by the possibility of inflicting lifelong torture to someone who was exonerated. Hurting reputations and destroying lives is not art. And as for justice, Emma is not exactly acting with clean hands. I don’t want to underestimate the impact of the “rape victim” label, but for Emma, what other names come with that label aside from what I assume are glowing marks on her art project? Artist? Activist? Feminist hero? I’m not saying that she is not truly a victim, nor am I saying that she made up the whole thing for an art project, but would she be in the zeitgeist if she never lugged around that mattress? This wouldn’t be the first time an artist, in lieu of a lack of talent, would front a cause for publicity.

If Paul was a cynic, instead of hiding, he should’ve countered with a different performance piece, one that highlights the plight of the innocent accused. Just look at the Innocence Project. Doesn’t its mere existence suggest that we as a society have a tendency to rush to judgment regardless the costs?

The friendly Facebook messages and the long period before reporting the incident are countered by Emma’s supporters with a defense that I wholeheartedly agree with, there are no perfect victims. Yes, there are none. While I was never a victim rape (sexual assault and harassment, yes), I have many friends who were, and none of them went to the police. Some stayed in denial, some dealt with it years later, while some don’t even realize they were raped. It takes a lot of courage to immediately report an incident. But the victim’s courage should not overshadow justice for the accused. Accusers should not be immediately given the benefit of the doubt simply because they overcame something tremendous. The justice system still gives benefit of the doubt to the accused, otherwise’ we would be living in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’ The goal is to be somewhere in the middle of the two parties, where both the accuser and the accused have equal opportunities.

Feminism is a good thing. We as a society should be doing more to fight for the rights of women. I also believe that incidents of sexual assault are underreported. There should be more support for victims regardless of gender. What troubles me is this new wave of feminism and the surge of “social justice warriors” who overreact to certain social issues or approach them in a manner that is counter to the general good. Feminism is neither a twisted form of egalitarianism (equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity) nor misandry, but you would be confused if you looked at the Internet. The same way newly-converted and superficial feminists are muddying the meaning of the word, so does Emma Sulkowicz harms the feminist movement. Her narrative does not strengthen and support female victims of rape; it introduces more doubts to their claims.

And while people often have no idea of how to talk about rape, lugging a mattress around and crying victim is not the way to go about it either.

Update:

Apparently, she now released a videotape that if you watch with intent counter to hers makes you equivalent to participating in her “rape.”

If she hasn’t lost you before, she should lose you by now.

First off, by releasing something on the Internet, by the very nature of the Internet and of the act, you are giving the public consent to do whatever they want with that information. This skewers the very definition of consent. When celebrities’ phones were hacked and their images were leaked online, viewing the stolen images contributed to their victimhood. They didn’t have any control over very personal images. But when someone “leaks” a sextape, ala Farrah Abraham, then there’s no victimhood. The release of the sextape serves to benefit the ones on video. There is consent, there is benefit. Emma Sulkowicz stands to benefit from the release of her sextape. It’ll keep her in the limelight (thanks to Salon and Huffington Post), feminists will continue parading her as a hero, and she will gain some art cred for whatever its worth.

What bothers me most is that as an artist, you do not control the dialogue. You do not dictate to the viewer that they are wrong for seeing your art one way instead of another. It’s the first lesson: art is subjective. Alot of great works from classical masters are pornographic in nature, but we see them as higher art. And now, to tell viewers that they are viewing a piece wrongly, and worse, that they are essentially rapists by proxy is not art. It’s activism at its worst. It’s what I notice some feminists these days have succumbed to instead of meaningful dialogue. If you don’t agree to their sentiments 100%, which can range from reasonable feminist issues that I myself agree with to frantic misandry, then you are contributing to their oppression.

I refuse to look at the video, but luckily, there have been other news sites that have looked into it and made images or gifs of it. I refuse to contribute more clicks. But let me address some of the questions on her preface:

Searching:

Are you searching for proof? Proof of what? I am not searching for anything. In fact, when I first heard about this story, I wanted desperately to believe Emma and looked for evidence to support her claims. I found none but accusations.
Are you searching for ways to either hurt or help me? Not really. But is anyone helping the accused? No one is perpetuating the stigma of a “rape victim” to Emma more than Emma herself. And in perpetuating that label, she also perpetuates the label of “rapist” to the accused who was exonerated.
What are you looking for? I’m looking for an end to this drama. Sadly, I don’t think it’s gonna happen anytime soon.

Desiring:

Do you desire pleasure? Not from this. I honestly get my sexual kicks from something else.
Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? See above.
What do you want from this experience? I really don’t want to experience this. But I can tell you want people to either feel guilty for clickbaiting or simply being curious. You put content out there that is designed to titilate and then accuse people of rape by being titilated. This does not help real victims. This does not help the anti-slutshaming fight.

Me:

How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met? This is a dumb counterargument to anything. Think about it. Don’t you think this can be applied to any situation?

Do you think I’m the perfect victim or the world’s worst victim? A victim has not been established yet. If anything, Paul Nungesser appears to be a victim in this case.

Do you refuse to see me as either a human being or a victim? If so, why? Is it to deny me agency and thus further victimize me? If so, what do you think of the fact that you owe your ability to do so to me, since I’m the one who took a risk and made myself vulnerable in the first place? No one has been denied agencies. No one. The school and the police looked at the case. Emma Sulkowicz had the agency to complain anytime after the incident. She had the agency to drag Paul Nungesser’s name in the mud. No one is stopping her from doing anything, including releasing a sextape.

Do you hate me? If so, how does it feel to hate me? I don’t hate Emma Sulkowicz. I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed at the art professors and the art critics that see any of this as art. I’m annoyed at people cynically using “art” as a shield for anything other than art, in this case, a cry for attention and a tool to persecute Paul Nungesser. I’m annoyed at Internet news Websites continuing to use this story as clickbait. I’m annoyed at lazy feminists that don’t examine this issue, believe Emma Sulkowicz without batting an see, and not see how this case is truly counter to their cause. I’m annoyed at people who forget that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Emma Sulkowicz says that she’s infuriated with the name “Mattress Girl” and wants to go beyond that point. Releasing a sex video referencing rape is not the way to go about it. This is almost trolling for attention. And really, if “Mattress Girl” is infuriating, how infuriating is it compared to the label “rapist?”

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