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Suzanne Fields
Suzanne Fields
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Reducing Rape to Performance Art


If Aesop were here he might rewrite his famous fable, replacing the boy who cried "wolf!" with the girl who cried "rape!" The cry of "rape" is used so carelessly that it's often impossible to get to the truth of an accusation. When rape was a capital offense, it was a rare and vicious crime which required a court of law to apply justice. It was under-reported, since the rapist usually took advantage of those who felt too vulnerable even to say anything about it.

Contemporary accusations of rape are frequent, often made by women at prestigious colleges whose accusations are often perceived as ambiguous. The suspects are tried and convicted in the social media where reputations are ruined on the hearsay of "he said, she said." Such accusations, on campus as elsewhere, are often factually challenged, and convictions in the court of public opinion can be based on emotions, sometimes articulated long after the event.

Emma Sulkowicz is known as the "mattress girl" at Columbia University, enjoying her 15 minutes of fame as the poster girl of the campus "rape culture," celebrated in a story in New York magazine, where she is shown carrying what she calls "the scene of the crime" on her back.

Her accusation is simple and graphic. She accuses the man with whom she was having a session of consensual sex of taking anal liberties without permission. She says she said "No" and tried to fight him off with leg action. He persisted. He argues that Emma is a fencer whose legs were strong enough to obstruct him if she wanted. He's a lightweight rower. Macho man, this "rapist" is not.

The university adjudicators who heard the case exonerated him. Enraged by the verdict, Emma took up her mattress for what she calls her "performance art," carrying it everywhere. This turns sexual relations into Theater of the Absurd, in a new version of the old Broadway musical, "Once Upon a Mattress." Rape, and even the accusation of it, should not be so trivialized.

Hillary Clinton, who knows up close and personal how sexual accusations can hurt a man, and who further recognizes a good feminist issue when she sees one, says the girl and the mattress create an image that "should haunt all of us."

But "haunt" isn't what that image does.

Unless you were a fly on the wall when this sexual episode occurred, you have no way to know what really happened. For feminists who have moved beyond victim to activist and insist on trying men with public humiliation, this is rape as farce.

Most of the rape charges on campus are accusations by women who concede they had had too much to drink and didn't show good judgment in choosing men to "hook up" with. They're at best extremely careless in conducting themselves or protecting their bodies.

This doesn't excuse men from bad behavior. Many of them are missing sexual signals. If a man actually acts like a brute — and the woman can prove it — he should be tried like a brute. But campus hearings can't impose justice for serious crimes, which rape certainly is, and justice must be sought in the world beyond the ivy towers of academic speculation.

Suzanne Goldberg, the new head liaison on sexual assault at Columbia, is a law professor who was co-counsel in the lawsuit on which the Supreme Court threw out the law criminalizing sodomy in Texas. She's not naive about human behavior. She cites a poster depicting a traffic light hanging in an undergraduate dorm. Red means stop, whether drunk, passed out or simply disinclined. Yellow offers a pause to think. Green, if sex is mutual, means "go for it."

Alas, human emotions can't be regulated like traffic. Young men and women, pushed by a hurricane of hormones, living away from comfortable, protective homes for the first time, haven't learned how to curb their enthusiasms. They're driving a powerful machine with a learner's license. They need adult guidance starting in their homes and continuing on campus.

Sexual relationships got off track when "gender" replaced "sex," and biological differences were dismissed as considerations to guide behavior. If sexual difference is attributed more to culture than biology, sexual communication loses significant behavioral clues for what to expect.

Colleges further make problems when they establish arbitrary academic juries untrained in the law and rules of evidence to listen to aggrieved students and mediate their sexual behavior with one another. Performance art may act as a form of punishment that embarrasses and humiliates, but it doesn't teach responsibility or obtain justice when someone cries rape.

Write to Suzanne Fields at: Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost." To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators webpage at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Ma'am;... I would like for you to consider that you are wrong about the woman in question: Mz. Sulkowicz. Many people are stolen from by people they accept into their homes. It does not make them responsible for the theft. Her charge has a ring of truth about it. One of the reasons men so fear rape by other men when defenseless or made so, is that there is little good defense against it. Look at the range of motion of your limbs, and you can see how limited they are to the rear. Military terminology reflects the freedom of movement to front and side, and the danger of movement to the rear. Even a monkey on ones back can cause injury.
There is a reason many men like anal sex with women, and fewer women like it. It has its obvious dangers, but no woman or man seeking commitment and equality in love makes anal intercourse a priority, and for good reason. It is demeaning, or certainly can be. It is far from the love button. It is fraught with moral prohibitions, has often been a crime, and is likely to be the cause of psychological pain, and physical pain as well if not gentle on one side, and relaxed on the other. Among men there is no better analogy for a financial relationship where one is used, abused, and discard than that act on the recieving end. Yet men take great pleasure in it to have a chance to give where they so often must take. And to make all the miserable relationships a man must suffer to survive right with her body is not the woman's responsibility.
I applaud any woman understanding this about her man, who accepts that situation, and helps him live with it with a win once in a while; but it is not her obligation, and it is far beyond her obligation; and it is no cure for his situation.
I am no psychologist, though I read psychology, and I would like to suggest the obvious. Perhaps these men are expanding their gay consciousness with a woman as a surrogate for a man. Maybe they are flipboys who have not been rescued by prince valiant. Maybe some one should ask them to be perfectly honest on the subject while they are fixated. What are you thinking about? What do you really love?
I would not condemn anyone for what comes naturally, and is acceptable. If sin is what it is about, then secrecy is a stage of intimacy. Let's keep this little perversion between us, and not make a fetish of it for which to sacrifice our peace of mind. Of one fact I am certain: To be worthy of freedom, freedom we must allow. It does not matter if ten minutes into the relationship, she says no, or thirty years in. No, is the answer, and must be respected. Just as with Abortion, if a woman is not free in her own body, she is not free at all. There is no doubt that the man took something that was special to her. There is so much pressure for the young to engage in sex, and all entertainment sex has its dangers. It is quite possible for a woman to not mind the thought of anal sex, and yet still want to save it for some one who has proved himself special, and worthy. There is an economy of sex: a this for that, a giving and taking. There is an economy in all relationships.
What if now this girl must explain in pain to her one true love that she tried to save part of herself for him, and a thief stole it, and her society would give no justice. In every relationship we give people the power to hurt us without the permission. Lonliness and isolation is no defense, but is a prison built of pain.
I would tell this woman that sex is only the symbol of love, and not the reality. Give your love, and you have given all. Give not your love and you have given nothing; and waste not worry on the economy of sex, but use your love to sooth the inner child.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:02 PM
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