Yes, I know: what a predictable headline. But, it was irresistable! Today’s blog post is a letter to all of the single college ladies, especially those of the heterosexualist persuasion. Thanks to reader Indyanna and Tenured Radical for alerting me to this, and asking me to weigh in!
Dear undergraduate women,
You may have heard all of the buzz about the “new math” on college campuses where women undergraduates outnumber the men. I’m here to tell you that this is a manufactured “problem.” I went to a women’s college, where undergraduate men were outnumbered by 100%. Even if you include the co-ed college with which we had a cooperative relationship, the numbers were approximately 70 to 75 percent women to 30 or 25 percent men. And yet, this “imbalance” rarely came up as a topic of conversation. There were women who always had boyfriends. There were a lot of women who had girlfriends. (Some had both boyfriends and girlfriends.) And yet, most people–male and female alike, bi and gay as well as straight–were unattached: interested in romance, but more interested in the other things that we did in college. Some of those things were intellectual–but only some were. Other things were artistic and creative, others were journalistic or political, and of course, a lot were just plain silly. (For example: menthol cigarettes, diet Dr. Pepper mixed with rum, streaking on the green or skinny dipping in the tiny fountain in the cloisters, and reading Walt Whitman and Radclyffe Hall, just to name a few examples.)
To tell the truth, I was one of those who always had a boyfriend–and how I wish I had spent more time on just about anything else in college. The men in question weren’t the problem–they were perfectly nice, for the most part, and we had a lot of fun. Dear readers, it was I who was to blame, because it was my lack of imagination and yes, an absence of courage, that led me down the dull path of early heterosexuality. I didn’t believe it when I was eighteen, but I had the rest of my life in which to be a practicing heterosexualist. Please understand: I’m not advocating abstinence until marriage here. I’m advocating imagination, creativity, intellectual challenge, and the occasional semi-drunken streak across campus with your friends, of whatever gender or sexual orientation. Pairing off in college like you’re boarding Noah’s Ark is for the most part a waste of time. Most people don’t marry or form a lasting partnership with their college boyfriends or girlfriends. That’s not to say that these relationships are useless–merely to suggest that they’re just a small part of what life in college should be.
Now let’s take a critical look at the linked article, and wonder why people twice and thrice eighteen thought it important enough to print in the New York Times. What is the effect of portraying college life as a catfight among straight women? In whose interest is it to describe the relationship among straight college women as essentially competitive and perhaps to blame for bad behavior on the part of college men? Why, I wonder, in all of those centuries in which higher education was largely, if not exclusively, reserved for young men, was the heterosexual meat and/or marriage market never described as a major social problem in the New York Times? Heterosexuality has historically worked largely, if not exclusively, through men’s laws and men’s money in men’s interests in spite of the fact that women were a minority on college campuses, if they were there at all. So, do not panic. (Also, please ask yourself: how is it that men dominated heterosexuality on campus when they were in the majority, and now they allegedly do on campuses in which they are a minority? This “new math” doesn’t appear to work, or to explain very much at all now, does it’?)
This story–in which academically and/or professionally successful women are warned WARNING! WARNING! DANGER, PENNY ROBINSON! warned! that their success will doom them to a life devoid of a man’s love, bereft of babies, and shorn of the traditional accoutrements of bourgeois heterosexual success–is just one of many articles like these you’ll be reading for the rest of your lives. (Remember: as E.J. Graff has shown, the New York Times has specialized in these stories for decades. This is the paper that believes that some day, any day now, all of us b!tchez will finally decide that we’re going to go home quietly to bake casseroles and pick up the dry cleaning for our much more successful husbands, and like it.) In whose interests do these narratives operate? Are they in your best interests, or not?
I say these narratives are not in your best interests. They’re designed to knock you off your game, or even to get you to question whether you’re in the right game in the first place. So if you’re lucky enough to go to college, make the most of it. There really is life after age 22 or 23, like it or not, and it’s mostly great. Out of three freshman year roommates, I’m still in touch with two, and consider them some of my lifetime all-time BFFs, as the kids like to say nowadays. Out of two (and a half? Not sure about that one.) boyfriends, I’m in touch with exactly none. (And that’s OK by me–really, it is. So that should tell you something about my misspent youth, as well as prove that I’m not on FaceBook.)
Dear readers–what’s your advice for “all the single ladies?”
UPDATE, 2/10/10: Cattyinqueens wrote in today with a link to a Gawker story in which the young women quoted in the article complain that their quotes were taken out of context. More disturbingly, they’re being attacked and blamed for the article, not the New York Times or the reporter who wrote the story:
“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. “My response is when I interview people and record people I wouldn’t do this.”
Sing it with me, boys and girls: cherchez la femme! How would we explain the ills of the world to ourselves without women to blame? Like I said above, you young women need to get used to hearing this, so that you can block it out. Patriarchy is the insidious elevator music in the soundtrack of your lives.