"A Postsecular Feminist Politics and Aesthetics: Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry That Weight” and 21st-Century U.S. Anti-Rape Movements on College Campuses"
This paper analyses the influence of Christian discourses and iconography in the contemporary anti-rape movement on American college campuses, focusing on Emma Sulkowicz’s 2014-15 performance piece, “Carry That Weight.” I argue that protests against universities’ handling of sexual assault emphasize, on the one hand, a self-consciously secular movement for justice in the twenty-first century and, on the other hand, a transcendent Christian spirituality founded on the shared experience of suffering. Given this split discourse, the contemporary feminist movement against rape on college campuses in the U.S. is a useful case for thinking through the theory and politics of postsecular feminism, one that highlights both pitfalls and possibilities. The Christian language and imagery that frames this anti-rape movement sometimes upholds patriarchal models of sexuality and frames martyrdom as the paradigmatic form of political virtue. Yet, in other ways, Sulkowicz’s performance also embodies an ethics of becoming that Rosi Braidotti identifies as crucial to feminist politics, founded on a “subject [who is] looking for the ways in which otherness prompts, mobilizes and allows for the affirmation of what is not contained in the present conditions.”
Suzanne Edwards is Associate Professor of English, core faculty in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Director of the Humanities Center at Lehigh University. A specialist in medieval literature and feminist theory, Professor Edwards's research and teaching consider how study of the distant past can help us to think in new ways about ethics and justice in the present. A winner of Lehigh University’s Junior Faculty Award for Distinguished teaching, Professor Edwards has taught a wide range of courses on medieval literature (Medieval Pagans, Muslims, and Jews; Dream Visions and Revelations; Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales; Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature; Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in the Middle Ages; and Getting Medieval: Representations of Violence in the Middle Ages) as well as feminist and queer theory (Women and Men in Society; Theories of Gender and Feminism). Her book, The Afterlives of Rape in Medieval England, was published in Palgrave Macmillan's New Middle Ages series in 2016. Analyzing literary, philosophical, and legal texts between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, this monograph examines the gendered forms of agency, consolation, and embodiment associated with surviving sexual violence in medieval culture. She has also published essays on the Wife of Bath's Tale, reproductive justice, and motherhood, and women's bodies in early Jewish literature (with Benjamin Wright). Her new book-length project will examine how medieval debate poetry approaches identity and difference in philosophical, practical, and aesthetic terms.