February 17 2014

Wellesley Women Reaching for Smelling Salts

Charlotte Hays

The women of Wellesley are getting the vapors over a nearly nude sculpture of a man. The Sleepwalker statue is arguably creepy, and lacking as a piece of art. But that’s not what is rattling the delicate young women of Wellesley.

Nope, many Wellesley women say they are frightened by the statue. They have called the statue a “trigger” that evokes images of rape and memories of sexual assault. “Wellesley should be a safe place for students, not a triggering one,” wrote one of Wellesley’s delicate flowers.

In a piece on “Fear and Loathing at Wellesley,” Lenore Skenazy writes:

Grab the smelling salts, ladies. This is not a prowler, it's a piece of art.

That distinction doesn't seem to matter to the 700 angry and aggrieved students, alumni and others who in recent days have signed a petition demanding the removal of artist Tony Matelli's "Sleepwalker." They say that, while inanimate, the male image is nonetheless a "trigger"—a catalyst capable of stirring up anything from memories of sexual assault to fear of strangers.

Noting that no one would deny the “misery of real-life traumas like rape and assault,” Skenazy nevertheless finds the Wellesley Victorians’ attempts at censorship ridiculous:

Since when is it a "civil right" not to feel disturbed by a piece of art? And who gets to decide which art we chuck? You don't like the "Sleepwalker," but I don't like "Winged Victory." It stirs scary thoughts of decapitation. Dear Louvre, please stash that headless gal in the attic.

Where does it stop? Cultural critic Jonathan Rauch coined the term "offendedness sweepstakes" to describe our present condition: We've gotten to the point where almost any group can declare almost anything unnerving or politically incorrect and demand its removal. These censors automatically win because anyone who demurs is criminally callous.

Christina Hoff Sommers was on Fox yesterday talking about the Sleepwalker controversy. "I can see people perceiving the statue as creepy," Hoff Sommers said. "But the idea that it is sexual assault? Where do they get these ideas?" Hoff Sommers suggested that feminism, which was supposed to be liberating and empowering, has been transformed into something that induces the kind of fragility on display in the Sleepwalker controversy. The interview is well worth watching.

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