Jack and Jill: An Uphill Battle
By Lydia Chammas, Contributing Columnist
Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Lots of things have been said about the Dartmouth Woman: She can drink as much as any frat boy but look good while doing it, sink a pong cup and hook up without expecting the courtesy of a morning-after Blitz. For many, this description is empowering. For others, it is disturbing.
Whether you approve or not, the Dartmouth Woman is merely doing what she can to navigate the waters of the good ole boys' club that is still very much the Dartmouth social scene. Little has changed since 1972: Men still own and control most of the social spaces and therefore indirectly set the terms for male-female relations. This reality forces many women at Dartmouth to perform a precarious balancing act; they juggle their femininity and outdoing Joe Frat Boy in a less plain-Jane form of feminism that includes chugging beers and playing the field "like a man."
But in this process of integration, women have sacrificed their own standards of respect and tolerated less than satisfactory treatment from the other gender.
An article entitled "The Alpha Effect" appeared in Newsweek last month that commented on gender relations at Dartmouth. The author, Evan Thomas, quotes a female dean at Dartmouth: "She had hoped that the women would civilize the men. Instead, the opposite happened: The men made ruffians of the women." Thomas goes on to say that "girls have sacrificed qualities that more boys should aspire to or seek to emulate."
I am torn between indignation and reluctant agreement. The dean's quote -- and Thomas' conclusion -- suggest that women are inherently gentle, a "model minority" that can be put on a pedestal. But there's only so much a woman can do to check instances of offensive male behavior. Ultimately, real change has to come within the male community itself, and women shouldn't be held responsible for that.
But if Thomas is accusing Dartmouth women of being too passive about their expectations for men, he may be right. In the case of heterosexual women, I fear that this is especially true when it comes to sex.
In a culture of frat basements and alcohol, the hookup is the norm of dating at Dartmouth. Yes, some women here can hook up with no strings attached -- that's not a purely male thing to do and some women are willing to play that game. At most places, this wouldn't be a problem, but at a school where men are the primary guardians of late-night spaces, how do women fit into the hookup equation?
It's precisely in trying to "fit in" that the problem lies. If trying to play by a man's rules, then women are fighting a losing battle, no matter how much agency they think they have. That isn't to say that women should wear chastity belts or attempt to become born-again virgins, but they should be more firm and less complacent when a man isn't meeting certain expectations.
For instance, women on campus have become used to hooking-up without expecting any follow-up Blitz -- but I doubt even the most detached girls out there wouldn't appreciate it if that changed.
Believe me when I say that most women at Dartmouth have long given up expectations of romance, so a checking-in from time to time will not be seen as a marriage proposal or even a lead-in to an awkward dinner at Homeplate. Rather, a Blitz every once in a while that isn't a "booty call" is a form of respect. It says, "Hey, I'm not interested in you in a romantic way, but I also don't want to treat you purely as a sexual object at my beck and call."
If she's not getting one of these, a woman should let a guy know what she is expecting. If he refuses, then she can decide whether it's worth it to continue playing. By being firm, a woman can help level out the playing field for all women.
To the men reading this: I am by no means accusing you all of disrespect, but in large part, you happen to have a great deal of power in the social scene at Dartmouth. And, as Peter Parker's uncle says in Spider Man, "With great power comes great responsibility." So learn how to use it best. And ladies, let them know if they get it wrong.