how it works

It’s as simple and complicated as “would you like a cupcake?”

There are two answers: yes and no. But the idea was if we could get everyone to say no, we could then get them to walk away with a cupcake regardless.

What happened was, as people visited the show, they walked into a room adorned with plants, covered in clean white curtains and sat across the table from the one offering dessert. Since most were going in blind, it was a very comfortable space to be. Then the questions began; “have you eaten cupcakes before,” “do you eat cupcakes with other people,” “do you enjoy eating cupcakes” and so on until “would you like a cupcake” was dropped.

So you’re sitting at this table being interrogated about your eating habits and you’re offered a cupcake and you have this vision of this perfect cupcake but as it’s being handed to you, in some way, it’s destroyed. It’s not the cupcake you had in mind and you don’t want it anymore. But this person who’s handed you the defiled dessert knows you’ve had it in the past and with other people and knows you like to eat cupcakes. It’s not fair for you to turn down their cupcake when it’s already been placed on the table for you because you asked for it and it doesn’t matter if you changed your mind, you have to take it. And you do take it because they made you feel guilty about denying it and they pushed you and you caved and consumed a cupcake you genuinely did not want. You feel confused afterward because you don’t know how you ended up accepting it.

Now, picture it this way: you’ve had sex in the past, you enjoy sex, the idea of sex is pleasing and at this moment in time you don’t want it. However, whoever you’re with wants to have sex with you and is somehow aware this isn’t your first time and won’t accept denial. You’re pressured and coerced into a sexual situation you didn’t want to participate in. You feel more than just confusion, though. At the very least, you probably feel sad, violated and dirty.

Yes, there’s the “no” scenario, in which you sat down and denied the cupcake from the start or made the personal decision sex wasn’t in the cards. But you’re still there, you placed yourself in that situation and you must accept the cupcake or sexual advances. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had a cupcake or sex before, what matters is you’re there with someone who wants you to take the cupcake or have sex. The end result is all the same, you stuck to your guns or you caved.

This concept is so hard to grasp.

I can count those who walked out cupcake-free on one hand, I remember the ones who excitedly ate what was left of theirs and I remember everyone who looked at me so disgusted when they asked if they really had to finish it. There was a trash can, I didn’t force any of them to finish what was started. But I wanted to listen when I asked, “do you know what happened in there?” I can’t forget the faces who looked me in the eye and got it dead on, nor will I forget those who timidly asked if it had anything to do with emotional or psychological manipulation. What will stick with me most, though, was the shock I saw in every single set of eyes when I softly spelled out the concept. There is no way to put words to what I felt with each human when I knew I had truly touched them.

Every person who picked up a card and wrote their stories broke my heart a little bit, I felt for all of them. They were taking their stories back, though; they were healing. I can’t and won’t take credit for their willingness to be open but I will applaud them and all to come for their braveness.

The complexity of sexual assault it what made Cupcakes on the Third Floor so easy and so difficult. How simple is it to make others feel uncomfortable but how complicated is it to draw a clear parallel to rape? To be completely honest, I don’t have all the answers.

Thank you from the bottom to my soul, everyone.*

*Special thanks to those who made it possible:

The donors:

Glori Fitch / Robin Price / Barb Lochner
Jennifer McNally / Jennifer Reeder / Kim Keiser
Pam Keiser / Andy Beachler / Anthony Hodge
Dana Schmalenberg / Brooke Lipnos / STUMP

The people:

Clare Nedjedly, who literally made this work by sitting at a table for hours, destroying cupcakes and never taking “no” for an answer. / Matthew Mohr, who never let me give up and nearly pushed me to my breaking point every day for months. / Those who were willing to let me record their very personal stories of assault before any of this really came to life. / Annie Abraham, who helped me understand my stories are part of me and I have every right to share them just like everyone else. She taught me to begin to get over my shame. / Everyone who has become my spider web of a support system in every way, shape and form. / My mother, most importantly, who looked me dead in the eyes when I was 18 years old and said, “don’t let this break you.” She’s the reason I’m still here. She’s the reason Cupcakes on the Third Floor exists, because I never let anything break me.