BY CAROLINE GENTILE
The culture of sexism and social life at Harvard
This past weekend, my friends and I were invited to a themed party. Like most college girls, we relished in dressing up for the theme. We all donned tight black A-line skirts and fancy tops, and debated whether or not to wear black pumps or black ballet flats. Once we settled on the flats (who wants to walk around cobblestone streets in pumps, anyway?), we set off for the party. The theme was “CEOs and Corporate Hoes.”
Now, my friends and I, as would most women (and men) at Harvard, consider ourselves feminists. We believe in both the empowerment of women, and in, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in the song, Flawless, “the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” So what the hell were we doing going to a party with such a degrading theme to women?
Well, first of all, we went as CEOs. Of course, we recognized that the theme for the party was chauvinistic, but we didn’t have any other options, and we wanted to go out that night. That sounds like a lame excuse, but in all honesty, there are not many social opportunities on the weekends that promote feminist ideals at Harvard. The all-male final clubs and fraternities essentially control the weekend social scene, and when there isn’t anything going on at the clubs, there are sometimes themed mixers and dorm parties, but even some of these kinds of social events can prove chauvinistic.
The final clubs have gotten a lot of flack for being anti-feminist places. They don’t permit female members, and the male members have a reputation for objectifying women. These two aspects certainly conflict with the idea of empowering females. After all, how empowering can it be to rely on a male group to throw a party for which you may or may not be on the list? How much equality of the sexes can there really be if one of the sexes has to rely entirely on the other for the opportunity to go to a party? But final clubs shouldn’t take all of the blame for not upholding feminist ideals in their social endeavors.
The party my friends and I went to was not at a final club, and yet the theme was more degrading to women than any theme I’ve heard of for a final club party. It was just a regular dorm party, albeit one in an all-male room. Clearly the chauvinism that is usually attributed to final clubs is present in the broader Harvard social scene. “CEOs and Corporate Hoes” is, after all, just one of many questionable party themes used at Harvard (or any other college for that matter).
Perhaps one of the reasons that these anti-feminist elements persist is the fact that when a female and a male social group mix, the male group typically buys the refreshments and usually provides the space. This may not apply to every situation, but a good example is when sororities mix with final clubs or fraternities. The male group with which they co-host an event actually has to provide the space, since the sorority itself doesn’t have access to a space in which to throw parties. In other words, the female group literally depends on the male group in order to throw any sort of co-ed party.
Although the idea of depending entirely on a group of guys in order to go to parties directly conflicts with many female students’ fundamental beliefs, they are usually their only option to be social. Yes, women could (and do) throw their own parties in their dorms, or, if they are 21 and over, go out to bars. But these social opportunities are a very small part of Harvard’s social scene as a whole. The problem at hand is the fact that such a large part of Harvard’s social life is pervaded by inequality of the sexes, whether that inequality is represented by a party theme or by who is actually able to provide the space and the drinks.
So how do we level the playing field? If female groups had their own spaces, perhaps they would be able to throw parties without having to co-host with a male group. Or, maybe when two groups co-host a party, the female group should ensure that the theme of the party is more appropriate. One approach may even be to altogether boycott parties that have an anti-feminist vibe. The approach my friends and I took when confronted with such a party, which was not necessarily the right one, was to just ignore it and have fun. Although the theme of the party was sexist, the male group that hosted it was not at all, and we had a pretty good time. We didn’t like that the theme of the party was sexist, but we are strong, confident women who just wanted to party. We didn’t take it to heart that we were supposed to be the corporate hoes, because we know that we, too, can be the CEOs.
Caroline Gentile ’17 (cgentile@college) ain’t no corporate hoe