Camille Paglia Denounces Emma Sulkowicz Calling Her a Bad Feminist

Camille Paglia. Photo: courtesy Studio Q, CBC.
Camille Paglia. Photo: courtesy Studio Q, CBC.

What does controversial feminist and social critic Camille Paglia think of controversial performance artist and activist Emma Sulkowicz?

In an long-winded interview with Salon about Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton, Paglia finally felt like she had the time to trash the Columbia graduate’s senior thesis project, Carry That Weight, writing, “I’d give her a D!”

“It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance—oriented feminism,” the academic and author wrote, referring to the performance art piece a “protracted masochistic exercise” and “mattress feminism.”

(Though Paglia’s criticism includes film as well as art and music, she did not weigh in on Sulkowicz’s controversial, Internet-breaking follow-up video work.)

Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Emma Sulkowicz
Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Paglia criticizes Sulkowicz for “perpetually lugging around your bad memories—never evolving or moving on,” espousing instead her preferred brand of “Amazon feminism” or “‘street-smart feminism,’ where you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make.” She continues, “You become stronger and move on.”

By carrying the mattress everywhere she went on campus for the duration of her senior year, Paglia argued, Sulkowicz “trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever.”

Paglia concluded, “The situation is worsening year by year, as teachers have to watch what they say and give trigger warnings, because God forbid that American students should have to confront the brutal realities of human life.” The author neglects to acknowledge that Sulkowicz’s work is a response to the brutal reality of rape culture.

While Carry That Weight served as a reminder of Sulkowicz’s alleged rape, the work was meant to point out the shortcomings in the school’s justice system—not to proclaim her status as a victim.

Emma Sulkowicz carrying her mattress at her Columbia graduation in the conclusion of Carry That Weight. Photo: the Columbia Spectator.

Emma Sulkowicz carrying her mattress at her Columbia graduation in the conclusion of Carry That Weight.
Photo: the Columbia Spectator.

Sulkowicz should not be criticized for refusing to ignore and forget what allegedly happened to her, but instead lauded for standing up for herself and for sexual assault victims at universities around the country.

A repeatedly tone-deaf Paglia says that feminism “should empower women, not cripple them,” but Carry That Weight did just that; let’s not forgot that it got the recent art graduate a ticket to this year’s State of the Union address.

The viral success of her thesis project gave Sulkowicz a platform and a voice, allowing her to spread the message that sexual assault should not and cannot be swept under the rug. Bottling up her negative experience could never have sparked a movement on campuses across the nation, a movement that can only have positive effects for all.


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