• Poetry & Prose



This is not a submission. It is my protest. Perhaps I don't understand . . . but I don't appreciate having to spend time - time I don't have because I am juggling three jobs to support myself while I am in school and I'm keeping up with my six classes - engaging in this project.

I am an older woman. Much older. Being a student at the School of the Arts has been an exercise in Otherness for which I will always be truly grateful. I'm not just a student here. I'm a graduate of GS '73, a veteran New Yorker, an observer and a participant at once, and I am always aware that I do not simply fit in. Which is a good thing.

But what I am constantly appalled by is the way in which I come up against all kinds of disrespect that is engendered by both my age and my gender. I expect the age to stick me out, cut I continue to be surprised by the way in which respect for gender differences have suddenly boiled down to the demand for respect for a woman's right to say no to sex. We are so much more complex than simply bodies, simply receptacles, and there is little attention paid to the many other erosions of respect in our community. Little attention, little discussion is spent in investigating beyond what appear to be the demands of The Mattress.

I watch how people roll their eyes when a female student as old as I am makes a comment with which they disagree. I listen to the way (mostly male) professors extinct the contributions made by women who are less attractive or no longer of flirtable age but how avidly they attend to the blurtings of the beautiful and the nubile . . . and how seriously they take the male students' comments. Inequalities exist in the doling out of grants, opportunities, fellowships, jobs; women in general fare less well than men, and the older woman fares less well than any.

Women in general - in the world and at Columbia - are paid less, respected less, honored less than men. Reproductive rights and political representation are eroding out from under us. We have so much more to worry about than being raped, but thanks to a walking mattress, that's what we have to center our concerns around.

We have all been reduced to the level of that ubiquitous, amorphous mattress, to a place where the only threat that gets real attention on our campus is the threat of physical violence. There is so much more to us. 

The fact that The Mattress has become the symbol of our suffering, and an alleged rape that began as an admitted consensual relationship has become the focal point of discussion is perplexing at least. It makes no sense to me that this mattress speaks for a whole generation of women who are willingly allowing their other attributes to be compromised while they participate in a performance piece.