Wait, Ada, are you publicly shaming me? That is so 90s!
Well, my main thought while watching these commercials was, “No wonder college guys can be jerks! They are getting the message that they only have a few years before they are consigned to this kind of domestic dystopia.”
That’s because I was thinking about the college guys in a NYT article by my former colleague (disclaimer) Alex Williams. The thesis, articulated by Kathleen A. Bogle, the author of “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus,” is that “on college campuses where there are far more women than men, men have all the power to control the intensity of sexual and romantic relationships.”
According to the women in the article, this means girls often go further than they want to, sexually, in order to “lock it down,” in the words of one girl; girls nakedly (almost) compete for guys, who can just sit back, drink a beer, and wait for attention to be lavished on them; and girls let male behavior that they don’t like slide because they don’t want to be single.
As someone who, back in the 90s, went to a college with a huge imbalance of men to women and a more depressing dating scene than my all-girls high school, I would like to say: I concur with Bogle that this is true and I concur with the girls in the piece that this situation totally sucks.
And also that the kind of sexism that manifests when 19-year-old guys know they have the upper hand isn’t contained to the romantic realm. Especially at schools where a lot of these guys are already really privileged.
Over the weekend, when I was thinking about posting on this, I didn’t want to talk about how, as in this article, the women on my campus felt really beaten down by hearing yet another male friend crow one more time about how glad they were that their days as a drama nerd with no date to prom were over. Because if I talk about that, I really just sound like I’m talking about me. (And I am, in fact, talking about me.)
Instead, I wanted to talk about what it was like to watch the female head of the English department (R.I.P) talk to three of the male English majors–in fact, she was openly playing footsie with one–while ignoring me. Or about listening to a boyfriend talking about the super-exciting class he was taking with a beloved male professor (no longer at the school)—one I wouldn’t be able to experience even if I wanted to, because it was a special, unlisted course that was held in the privacy of his apartment–and so, you know, no women allowed, because he didn’t want to be in any kind of compromising situation. Or what it is like to hear a new administrator (also no longer there) say he was brought on to recruit more guys and that his solution was to get better sports teams and strengthen the science programs.
But I decided not to post because even without talking about the things girls did so that we could have a boyfriend, or have sex, I still felt like I sounded unconvincing. I mean, what does all of the above really add up to?
This problem of the kind of sexism so insidious and pervasive people just call it “life,”the kind that makes you wonder if you’re making things up or overpersonalizing, was driven home, hard, today when I read Doree’s Gawker article, in which some of the girls quoted in Alex’s piece retract or reframe their statements. This is partly because they feel like Alex misrepresented them. But Doree adds:
Kennard and Lynch seemed most upset, however, at how the story has been received—both on and off campus. “People are telling me I’ve labeled my entire generation as slutty in seven words, that I’m an embarrassment to the school,” says Kennard. “I had to change my name on Facebook because people were harassing me from all over the country.”
“Professors have approached me about it and said, you should watch what you say,” says Lynch.
“The worst thing about it is I’m in the journalism school here, and I’m making the school look horrible—apparently it’s my fault because I’m a journalist and I should have known this was going to happen,” says Kennard.
Okay, wait, omg, what?! So these girls talked about their negative experiences of the dating scene on campus and now people from all over the country are harassing them? Their professors are telling them to watch what they say?
Wow. That’s super fucked up. And that is totally sexist. These individual girls are being made to feel like they are betraying these powerful social formations—their generation, their school—for noticing what’s going on and then for telling. Meanwhile, the country’s education problem and the school’s recruitment problem and the boys’ (maybe benign, maybe not) assholishness problem are all off the hook.
The most basic tenet of my personal feminist ethos (thank you Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, riot grrrls and everyone else who taught it to me) is that women have to defy historical silencing and tell the truths about our lives. But not only are these girls just supposed to put up with this problem, they also apparently aren’t supposed to talk about it.
With schools like this, who needs Lori Gottlieb to tell women to settle?
On a less depressing note, Gottlieb uses words like “empowered” and “liberating.” Also, her book quotes people who have lists of traits they want their partner to have down to their curly hair. Wait, I just opened to a random page and she says “I’m just not attracted to middle-aged men.”
Someone isn’t afraid of speaking her truth! I can’t wait to read it and discuss.