The unbearable lightness of mattress feminism

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Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University senior, poses with a mattress in September 2014. Sulkowicz carried the mattress around on campus for several months in a symbolic gesture after accusing a former male friend of rape.

For thousands of years, divergent religious traditions have celebrated and venerated one unifying act: meditation. Twenty years before Christ, Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, recommended various meditative spiritual exercises. Meditation fills the history and writings surrounding the Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian and Sufi traditions. Early Christians, contrary to any modern image, were enthusiastic practitioners of various metaphysical arts — and many, as Tony Jones notes in his book “The Sacred Way,” still are.

Meditation’s appeal is simple yet profound: By clearing the mind of all distractions, petty thoughts and daily worries, and by focusing relentlessly on the now, we can reach higher truths, deeper insight and even elevated forms of consciousness.

It’s hard to think clearly, however, when you’re one of today’s third-wave feminists, particularly when you’ve been lugging a 50-pound mattress around your college campus for the past eight months as a public “performance art” project/
protest accusing your former friend of rape. This, alas, is the burden of Emma Sulkowicz, the infamous Columbia University “Mattress Girl,” who graduated on Tuesday from the Ivy League school with her signature mattress in tow. Several friends joined her on stage, preening — one even offered up an awkward facsimile of a Queen Elizabeth wave — as the not-so-humble, symbolic mattress was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

Sulkowicz’s claims, to put it kindly, are dubious. After an allegedly brutal attack, she refused to press criminal charges, saying it would be “too draining” — strange, given that she had the raw and obsessive energy to cart a mattress around all day for two semesters — and sent intimate and cutesy texts to Paul Nungesser, the young man she accused, in the months following the alleged assault. Nungesser, meanwhile, has been cleared multiple times by the university, and has filed a lawsuit against Columbia for enabling a targeted harassment campaign.

Oh, well. Details, details! “Mattress Girl” has gained media accolades, applause from high-profile politicians and even an invitation to the State of the Union address. MTV lauded the mattress’s graduation appearance as a “touching act of symbolism” worthy of a “slow clap.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Columbia’s commencement speaker, gave the mattress a triumphant shout-out in his address. Sulkowicz’s mattress, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte wrote, ended its run “as a piece celebrating women’s strength.”

Speaking of mattresses, when I read that last line, I frantically searched for one myself, hoping I safely could throw my computer upon it in exasperation while pretending I was throwing it off the roof of, say, the Empire State Building. Sulkowicz’s mattress project was an act of symbolism, to be sure, but it certainly didn’t celebrate women’s strength. Rather, it serves as a striking illustration of the logic-free, wild-eyed, finger-pointing, all-bitterness mess that modern feminism has become.

Friends, let us consider the mattress. Let us meditate upon it, not in its earth-bound, atom-based, material form, but as a symbol or Platonic form. The mattress is squishy. It lacks any backbone or sense of agency. It is easily manipulated. It is not a critical thinker; in fact, it does not think at all. You can probably see where I’m going here, so I’ll move on.

Let us now contemplate modern feminism, a movement that drives university professors to offer agonized trigger warnings for poems like Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” which is not about rape, but about a young rapscallion who cuts off a piece of a lady’s hair. More important, let us look at the latest feminist shock study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which claims, among other things, that a jaw-dropping 37 percent of American women will be victims of rape or attempted rape by the start of their sophomore year in college.

Let’s pretend, as a thought experiment, that these shocking numbers are accurate and representative of reality. (They are almost certainly not, thanks to flaws in the study — including some seriously cloudy numbers surrounding alcohol use — but work with me here.) If these mind-boggling numbers are real, after all, American women live in a savage, dangerous wasteland rivaling some of the worst war-torn environments in history, and maybe even the one in “Game of Thrones.”

With this in mind, if you really care about women, shouldn’t your first priority be locking this army of perpetrators — male monsters, apparently still on the loose, ready to assault other women — in the clink? Shouldn’t item one on the feminist agenda involve encouraging women to officially report sex crimes, seek some real justice and stop the alleged madness?

Alas, in the world of today’s feminism, hand-wringing is 80 percent of the fun. As the “37 percent” report was released this week, it was, rather predictably, greeted by a chorus of feminist horror, self-pity, sanctimony and utterly impractical, quasi-therapeutic advice — not to mention repeated proclamations that drinking until incapacitation is a treasured modern women’s right, up there with suffrage and dodging questions about mysteriously deleted emails and your shady family foundation during various political runs. To suggest otherwise, you see, is “victim blaming.”

Strange, isn’t it? It’s almost like feminists (a) don’t care about women; (b) don’t really expect anything of women; or (c) deep down, know that the truth about the sexual assault “epidemic” is far cloudier than they acknowledge. The result, sadly, is mattress feminism: a squishy, no-backbone ideology that eschews female agency, rejects critical thinking and encourages women to be helpless doormats — or downright delusional — when it comes to the topic of sexual assault.


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