What if we all carried that weight?

This week Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz began her senior art thesis, a protest and performance for which she will carry around the mattress on which she was raped last year until she no longer has to go to school with her assailant (see the video above). Sulkowicz has titled the piece “Mattress Performance: Carry that Weight.” In response, Barnard senior Allie Rickard urged her campus to help lighten the burden: “One of Emma’s rules of engagement states that she will not ask for help to carry the mattress, but that she can accept help if it is offered. I’m encouraging anyone and everyone who is a part of our community to engage in helping Emma.” Rickard explains:

What is urgently needed are the helping hands of all members of the University community—students, faculty, and staff—to help Emma carry this weight.

Help her carry this weight as a survivor, ally, supporter, activist, artist, advocate, or friend.

Help her carry this weight as an act of solidarity with the countless survivors of sexual assault in our community.

Help her carry this weight as an act of collective protest against our administration’s sexual assault policies.

What if all those who participate in a community that allows harm would stand up and bear some of that weight? This call to help a survivor of rape carry her mattress, the symbol of her trauma and continued institutional abuse, seems the perfect embodiment of the core mission of so much political organizing, particularly that around interpersonal violence. We ask communities to take responsibility for individual wrongdoing both to support the harmed and to recognize, finally, the impossible realness of the many forms of violent injustice we seek to end.

This isn’t about easy allyship, fun and glamorous symbolic solidarity. Carrying her weight requires sacrifice, as all real change does. (Advocate for change that will undermine your privilege. Live your politics even when it’s inconvenient.) Carrying her weight also requires us to follow her where she is going, whether that be to class or to a new vision of how our world could work.

The idea isn’t to make trauma palatable, each of us holding little crumbs of the problem in our pockets so that it doesn’t feel so big anymore. (“For just one dollar, you can help end hunger.”) Rather, if we all helped carry the weight of injustice, we could not bear it. And so we would finally stop tolerating what we’ve been content to force others to carry alone.



Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing, a founding co-director of Know Your IX, and a student at Yale Law School.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com. During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com.

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