Is Wellesley's Underwear-Clad Statue Too Scary for Free Speech?

Daily Mail Screen CapDaily Mail Screen CapWhile the students of some universities fight their administrators to protect the right to free speech, the pupils of Wellesley College in Massachusetts are taking a contrary approach to sticking it to the man. In response to a recently unveiled piece of art that portrays a nearly-naked individual, some students of the all-female liberal-arts college want to censor it because certain interpretations may lead to mental and emotional distress.

On Wednesday, along a main thoroughfare the university installed “Sleepwalker," a hyper-realistic sculpture of a man stumbling in his underwear. In a press release from the school's Davis Museum, one art historian explains, “Art has the ability to invite the kinds of conversation that are not easily available anywhere else but in the art world. Sleepwalker can even do some of the work in sparking the kinds of dialogue that we want to have on campus.”

Although the artwork would not likely be legally considered indecent, let alone obscene, student Zoe Magid is less interested in talking about it and more interested in removing it. She believes that, “while it may appear humorous, or thought provoking to some,” such qualities are invalidated by others' readings of it. Magid asserts that the inanimate object is “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community.” So, she started a petition demanding the university stick Sleepwalker inside the museum, away from the public eye. 722 people, about one-third the school's student population, have signed.

Alumna Magdalena Zebracka put her John Hancock on the petition because she believes the sculpture is mentally oppressing the women. “What does this statue do if not remind us of the fact of male privilege every single time we pass it, every single time we think about it, every single time we are forced to acknowledge its presence,” she asks.

Zoe Kraus, another student, voiced a similar sentiment, assuring that she is not “pro-censorship,” but wants the sculpture, as well as the entire exhibit, to be removed in favor of the work of an artist who isn't a “well-established, middle-aged white man.”

Amanda Marcotte of Slate points out that, “notably, no self-identified rape survivors piped in to say that the statue reminded them of their own experiences, but that didn't hold back the tide of speculation that it might traumatize them.”

Charlotte Alter of Time criticizes the students for advocating “Soviet-level censorship” and “a weirdly puritan strain of liberalism.” She touches on the dangers of censorship and a culture that has “the expectation that once offended – or, in most cases, once a hypothetical offensiveness has been identified – the world must immediately act to make the 'bad thing' disappear. There’s something spoiled about our knee-jerk reaction to abolish anything that could be considered even remotely insensitive.”

Although Wellesley doesn't have a stellar record on promoting free speech, the administration will let Sleepwalker remain. Davis Museum Director Lisa Fischman responded to the petition, offering a different interpretation, and defending the installation. “He appears vulnerable and unaware against the snowy backdrop of the space around him... He is profoundly passive. He is inert, as sculpture,” she writes.

Tony Matelli, the artist, was shocked by the negative response and says he hoped the students would feel empathy for the vulnerability of man being portrayed.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Wellesley College is doing too good a job teaching women to be victims. Or not good enough.

  • BuSab Agent||

    It IS kinda creepy tho.

  • Overt||

    Yeah- why do people have to resort to appeals to safety and mental health?

    Can't the students of this college just say, "Hey, this thing is an eyesore and we don't want it dirtying up our campus."

    I'm pretty sure that such a complaint would get a pretty good following- unless these people fear that they'd have to check in their liberal arts cards if they don't like some crappy art. Hrmm.

  • PD Scott||

    Or put a dress and a wig on it. Don't they have any damn initiative besides being easily offended and ban happy?

  • Bill Dalasio||

    ...unless these people fear that they'd have to check in their liberal arts cards if they don't like some crappy art.

    I think that's it. If they complained on the grounds you suggest, they'd be written off as philistines imposing bourgeois standards on the poor, suffering artist. But, feminist victimhood trumps avant garde in the PC heirarchy.

  • TANSTaaFL||

    "Tony Matelli, the artist, was shocked by the negative response and says he hoped the students would feel empathy for the vulnerability of man being portrayed."

    Oh, Tony. What a delicious example you are. A man that expects empathy and understanding from women and is instead met with anger he cannot understand.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He's fortunate he didn't portray his sleepwalker with morning wood.

  • ||

    I sent him a picture of me doing that, but I guess he didn't use it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I could say that he did in fact use your exact likeness just that the girls couldn't see anything but I'm too classy.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    They could turn it into a cuckoo clock!
    Ever hour on the hour he get excited.

  • Jayburd||

    So much for hyper-realism.

  • Mongo||

    Long ago, I was part of an erotic project with Lisa Fischman that was aborted after The Boss lost his nerve!

    Lisa is way cool....

  • ||

    Hooleeeey shit.

    *gag*

    I can't think of a derogatory word sufficient to describe these girls.
    What miserable lives they have ahead of them.

  • 110 Lean||

    I worked on the board of a non-profit that hired a bookkeeper who graduated from Wellesley. Total moron.

  • ||

    Do all-mens colleges still exist?

    The concept of all-womens colleges seems weird to me...even stranger if all-mens colleges don't even exist.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    Do all-mens colleges still exist?

    Caltech?

    But seriously, Wabash college is an all men's college. I remember receiving their propaganda while I was a junior in high school and tossing it out once I read it was for men only.

  • 110 Lean||

    Have a friend who went to Smith. Lovely, beautiful woman and very smart, but her reverence for her alma mater is kind of weird.

  • SIV||

    I never thought I'd say this but Amanda Marcotte gets it right:

    I'm sure this story is on its way to a conservative media outlet near you, where some white, privileged man in tighty-whities will roll his eyes about the hysterical feminists, which, in this case, well—good call.

  • ||

    Shocked am I, truly shocked.

  • Ted S.||

    As I said over at David Thompson's blog where I first came acorss this story last night, this is what happens when art that's supposed to be "transgressive" and "challenging" transgresses against and challenges the wrong people.

  • Root Boy||

    Ha! David Thompson is great at skewering modern art and feminism.

    Kevin Williamson at NRO had a great comment on this issue - here they are skeered of underwear man, but at Yale they are freed by porn week.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Okay, Underwear Man is funny.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Piss Christ = really cool, pushing the envelope of art.

    Dude in tighty whities = horrifically triggering example of white male patriarchy.

    It's such a fine line between stupid and uh...clever.

  • Invisible Finger||

    When I was their age, I'd threaten to enroll at another school. Uptight kids nowadays just don't understand the bottom line, all they understand is the "victim card".

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    *Googles Wellesley's tuition costs*

    http://www.wellesley.edu/admis.....le/tuition

    *Faints*

  • Loki||

    "You want me to pay how much money for a worthless liberal arts degree from a school that teaches you how to be a shrill permanent victim card playing harpy?" - what I would say if I had a daughter who wanted to go there.

  • KWebb||

    Magid asserts that the inanimate object is “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault the zombie apocalypse for some members of our campus community.”

    Fixed.

  • Paul.||

    Rights have a constituency. Don't ever forget that.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    I drove by that statue this morning and pointed it out to my 6 and 4 year old kids (one of whom is a girl) and both laughed at it and thought it was silly. I guess I've kept them from being inculcated by the grievance industry...for now.

  • Snark Plissken||

    That was a triggered laugh. You are so trapped in the patriarchy you don't understand how much you are oppressing them.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    Another thing that stikes me - the women at Wellesley are completely unimaginative. If this were placed at any other college in the area, it would have been dressed in silly outfits or winter coat within hours of it being installed. But, 5 days later, it stands...unmolested.

    Boring.

  • Great+Grandma||

    I totally love your comment A Frayed Knot. It has what those pathetic girls at the college don't have, imagination.

    Unfortunately, today's women are taught to be whiny, demanding and have intolerably nasty dispositions. It's supposed to make them superior or something. What it does is make men look in other countries for spouses.

  • ||

    I actually got the reaction the artist wanted, how in god's green fuck is that sexually evocative? The point has been furthered again how anti-free speech, democratic, and West the university campus is and strives to be.
    It's the only place in the West that requires a "free speech zone". How the standards have fallen.

  • waffles||

    Sensitivity towards survivors is not anti-art nor censorship.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Exactly. Why isn't anyone thinking of all the white males who survived sleepwalking through snow in their underwear?

  • waffles||

    Hypothermia kills! Do you think they would stop being upset if someone just threw a nice quilt over him? Poor guy.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Let's face it, hard to rape when you have that much shrinkage going on.

  • waffles||

    *neither
    That's the last time I copy a quote from a Wellesley grad. Cannot into grammar.

  • Homple||

    As long as Wellesley exists the Pearl Clutching Hairleg will never make it to the endangered species list.

  • CE||

    It's the liberal mindset: if you fear something, or fear that someone might fear it, or fear that someone might enjoy it, ban it.

  • ||

    "What does this statue do if not remind us of the fact of male privilege every single time we pass it, every single time we think about it, every single time we are forced to acknowledge its presence?”

    I just don't even..

  • Loki||

    Tony Matelli, the artist, was shocked by the negative response and says he hoped the students would feel empathy for the vulnerability of man being portrayed.

    HAHAHA!!! Empathy, that's a good one! First they would have to have the capacity to have empathy. If they did, they wouldn't be demanding a harmless inanimate object that offends their overly delicate sensibilities be removed.

    Maybe someone should go repaint it to look like a zombie.

  • GILMORE||

    "What does this statue do if not remind us of the fact of male privilege every single time we pass it, every single time we think about it, every single time we are forced to acknowledge its presence..."

    I AGREE = WE NEED STATUE OF SLEEPWALKING NUDE TEEN GIRL

    Solved!

  • GILMORE||

    But really people... liberals are open minded.... they are tolerant.... they are interested in diversity.... they welcome alternative views....

  • Bill Dalasio||

    You know, the funny part about this is that the girls from Wellesley just lived up to the most old-fashioned stereotypes about women. An artist showed a rendition of a man about as nude as any guy you'd see on a public beach, and they came down with a case of the vapors.

  • grylliade||

    I'm only saying this because I'm a terrible person. I really, really hate the whole "when men say something talk about what they say, when women say something talk about how they look" thing that libertarians have going on. We really need to fix that, by the way. Seriously, I'm as anti-PC as they come, but it's just creepy, and even libertarian women—like my wife—are put off by it, let alone any non-libertarian women who might otherwise find our arguments persuasive.

    But that girl is cute. And I'm pretty sure my wife would agree, and may even call dibs. :-)

  • Ivoted4KODOS||

    WTF do your incoherent ramblings mean? We make fun of how everybody looks/talks/acts as well as their words. And if you and your freaky bi-wife want to have a threesome with some "cute" girl, well then you just keep that to yoursel...I mean...you just feel free to share that with the rest of us!

  • ||

    My wife, who's a libertarian and an artist, just thought it was stupid. I'm a fan of George Segal, so for me, it was interesting.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I was originally going to say "I support the coeds on this one," but then I realized, numero uno, can you really be a coed if you're at a woman-only institution, and, numero two-o, the quoted objections to the statue were misandric and anti-white. I don't know how representative the quotes are.

    I would have thought the case was a slam-dunk in the students' favor. Creepy pieces of pretentious "art" belong in museums, if they belong anywhere, and that's what the petition says - put it inside the museum building where anyone who wants to take a gander at it can do so. As for "free expression," it's the college itself which is engaging in expression, and is being asked to express itself differently. Call this censorship if you want, but in that case you'll also have to call it censorship when viewers complain about *The Independents* and say the hosts shouldn't wear earrings.

    It would take a lot to get me to support the arty nut-jobs at the museum, but bashing white people and/or men would be just the thing to get me to switch sides. There's a good case to be made against the statue for being creepy and offensive, but they have to mess up a good case by babbling about the artist's race and sex. That to me is the equivalent of students complaining about the work of a Jewish artist because they find Jews threatening.

    But maybe the quotes were not representative.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    And not only a white man but an established, *middle-aged* white man.

    Look, the odds are that one day you, too, will be middle aged. Maybe you'll have become a man, too, I don't know. But in any case middle aged. Don't go hating on an age cohort you're likely to join.

  • JeremyR||

    That's a seriously ugly/creepy statue. I went to a college where the average student looked like that and I wouldn't want it on campus. What's the point?

  • Mickey Rat||

    "“Art has the ability to invite the kinds of conversation that are not easily available anywhere else but in the art world. Sleepwalker can even do some of the work in sparking the kinds of dialogue that we want to have on campus.”

    We have hit the motherlode of pretentious babble.

  • ||

    Here's another discussion topic for the art museum and the "artist" to consider: - Why is this art, and not just an unpleasant and unattractive blemish on the campus, like a piece of trash? This is meant seriously. I look forward to your response.

  • plusafdotcom||

    ... and it should be a real scream for parents bringing their kid to Wellesley for a campus tour when they're trying to pick which college they want to go to, eh? ... and for some kids, too!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement