A Harvard Boy's Life at Radcliffe: Finding What Girls Are All About
YOU could die in your room at Radcliffe and, if the door were closed, no one would know about it until the stench from your decaying body became so unbearable that it offended people out in the hallway.
Life at the Cliffe is very different from life at Harvard. Much of the difference is built into the structure of the dorms. In the old brick buildings like Briggs, where I have dwelled for over a month now, there are no living rooms. Bedrooms are arranged in rows along corridors, much like those in an expensive psychiatric ward. To visit someone, one must be in a bedroom where the owner of the room is clearly in the dominant social position. In Harvard living rooms, all are equal and more at case.
The structure of the dorms is one of the fundamental factors in the difference in life at the Cliffe. The famous Cliffic depression and loneliness, the jealous guarding of privacy, the abhorrence of noise in the corridors, the pall which hangs over the halls after midnight, and the excruciating desire to escape to Harvard or off campus are all phenomena relating to physical environment.
How at least one Harvard boy, and he is still a boy, reacted to this environment is the subject of the following, often factual, account.
Sunday: I got back from intercession and suddenly realized that what had once been merely my name on a sheet of paper was about to mean a radical change in my life style. From the rooms and roommates at Adams, where I had lived for a year and a half I would now have to move to the Cliffe. Setting myself adrift in a sea of unfamiliar names and faces I would have to begin a new life. The chaos and confusion, mixed with a feeling of hope and adventure, could only be matched by freshman year.
Yet in freshman year at least we all had something in common. All new freshman face the same lack of social structure, while at Radcliffe it was a group of fourteen invading a set system with firmly established mores and ground rules.
I MOVED in on a Sunday, with a bright blue sky overhead and not a soul in the dorm. The only sign of life was a small notice taped to the hallway where the boys lived which read, "Mamma Sara, third floor for sewing, brownies, ironing, and tea and sympathy." Never one to turn down a little tea, and in need of a little sympathy I became Sara's first customer.
Because of the size of the rooms and the nature of the occupants, certain rooms in Briggs are known as "people caters," and one is unable to walk by them without going in. There are always people there, talking, smoking, napping, or just playing. Sara's room is one of those.
In addition to occupying one of the "people eater rooms," Sara is a freshman. Freshmen do things together-go to plays, movies, and mixers. They still have the group sensibility which is an integral part of Harvard life but which is lost to Cliffies by their sophomore year. They still have a bright optimism which shines in their faces. The freshmen make me feel old-not wise or jaded, just old.
Tonight I had my first meal as a Cliffie. I had of course, eaten in Radcliffe dining rooms before, but never had I been so overwhelmed by the female presence. For the first time, I think, I felt a little of what it must be like to be a member of an obvious minority group. Unreasoned paranoia set in. I figure I will last maybe three more days here.
Most of that night I spent meeting the people on the floor living with me. They put the boys on the fourth floor where they occupy one end of a corridor. In a basic instinct for survival we moved some of our furniture out into the halls and declared that the halls belong to the people. The girls who came to visit and say "welcome" retired by midnight and the rest of the night I spent meeting the boys.
We had come to Radcliffe for a variety of reasons: to support the coed living plan, to meet new people, to find out what it was like, and to get away from roommates. Above all we had come to find out about girls. We were preppies and heads, jocks and students, lovers and lonely. We were, I think, a good cross section of Adams House.
Monday: Picking new courses and going to classes is a pain in the ass. The walk to classes, previously so short as to be almost nonexistent, is now a trip in itself. There is time to walk, sing, or think. Above all it is cold. Walking through the Common tonight I could not find a degree anywhere. I looked under bushes and behind lampposts, but there weren't any to be had. Next time I'll remember to get dressed up, though I won't go as far as some of my cohorts and buy a bicycle.
Tonight we had a dorm meeting. There is no such animal in Adams House. We males, in common terror and with tongues in cheeks, banded together in the "Male Chauvinist Party." We were crushed. I had wanted to run for fire captain-for the honor, not the job. I could just see it, running through the halls in a red hat and underwear making sure all the rules were obeyed during fire drills. What a gas. But the meeting decided that the present fire captain would remain in her post.
The next blow to the fledgling MCP came in the decision on dorm elections. Last year, in a disputed and unprecedented election. Briggs Hall had elected a boy co-president. This year, however, it was decided that only girls could run for the office and a special office of vice-president was created for the boys.
COMING off this defeat with heads reeling, the MCP received its final blow of the evening. Sara, Sharman, and some of the other freshmen had conceived the idea of a boy's playroom to be located in the basement. Ever jealous of their privacy and quiet, the girls had devised this scheme to keep the boys, and the noise, as far away as possible. Over our hisses, boos, and "nay" votes the proposal was railroaded through, only to be voided by a strict passive resistance on the part of the fourth floor.
I think some of the girls here look on us as big pets. We are fun to play with, but when it comes to serious business we must be put in our kennel.
After the meeting one girl came up to me and said in a hushed but agitated voice, "You guys joke about male chauvinism, but it's a pretty serious thing, you know."
I do know, but it seems to me that most girls really don't exactly know what male chauvinism is. On the national level or the institutional level the issues are clear. Women are discriminated against, and this must stop. But on a personal level the issues are much more complex. Most girls I talked to still like to be helped with their coats or have doors opened for them; yet this is surely a product of traditional male chauvinism. I think it would be much easier for us to deal with chauvinism on a personal level if girls made it clear that they did not want us to act in chauvinist ways. As it is, however, many of the traditional intersexual practices will continue until women decide to end them.
Tuesday: There are lots of little things which make life here difficult, and Tuesday is raining and a good day for making lists:
There are no urinals in the bathrooms.
The dining room is arranged so that it is impossible to sit anywhere and not be in someone's way.
Doors here are always closed and often locked, including the front door.
The showers are somehow related to the toilets so that whenever a toilet is flushed it cuts off all the cold water in the shower.
The walls and floors are thin as hell, making it possible to hear conversations and other noises in adjacent rooms.
Mrs. Bunting comes to dinner fairly often, and all the girls seem to like her.
Girls eat breakfast in their bathrobes, while boys always seem to get dressed before eating.
The toilets all have signs saying, "Do not throw anything in the toilets; the plumbing, advertisement to the contrary notwithstanding, cannot take it. Please use paper sacks." Someone has stolen one of the signs in the boys bathroom.
Doing bells is fun.
The "Sha Na Na" album is the most popular.
It appears likely that Hollis McCloughlin's room will come crashing down upon Mary Littlefield's, directly below. I hope I'm there.
I have the feeling that House residents are paid by the Radcliffe administration to provide an example of wholesome, all-American-type living for the girls. They are provided with babies and all sorts of other propaganda weapons.
Wednesday: I think I'm dividing all the girls into two categories: Those I love and those I don't. The instincts to pick one and mate are very strong. Equally strong are the fears that once I've established any kind of sexual relationship with one girl, all the others will write me off as lost. A fantasy perhaps, but one which is shared by many of my comrades.
WE HAD a big, spontaneous party tonight. There was plenty of booze, but not much grass. I think that drinking has increased and smoking decreased while we have been here. Both males and females have a strong urge for the type of physical activity brought on by booze. The party tonight brings back memories of freshman year. By about 3 a. m. couples are making out all around me. Like high school. Or a freshman-year pickup.
The next morning those who were involved in the late-hour frolics report that it went just so far and then was cut off by girls protesting that they didn't want to get involved. I don't quite understand since loneliness is such a common complaint here. I suppose I'll live to learn, though.
Thursday: The unattractive girls are becoming less tolerable every day. Maybe it's my fault, but it just seems that there comes a time when the carnival atmosphere has got to stop. Mixers can be tolerated for only so long.
It's partly my fault. I have been responding in a rather asinine way to the little games which are played around here. No more. From now on the girls are people; if they act like asses, so be it.
Walking back through the Common from the CRIMSON at about 4 this morning I suddenly realized that I had forgotten my dorm key. This is an unforgivable sin. Discovering that Briggs Hall is not only impregnable, but also uninhabited of this hour of the morning, I gave up in despair and began to head back to the CRIMSON couches. As I left the quad I saw a couple returning to Briggs. In jubilation I asked them if they would let me in. "No," said the girl. "But I live here," I answered. "Let's see your bursar's card," she demanded. "But you know me," I said. "Let's see your bursars card" she repeated. Fumbling through my crowded wallet I discovered my CRIMSON press pass. "Is this good enough?" I asked. A shake of the head was the only reply. I was finally able to find my bursar's card and after she checked the name against the dorm list I was admitted into my own dorm. Laugh it off, if you will; I tried without much success.
Friday: Tonight at dinner they served turkey and fish. Johnney, who lives next door to me, had fish on the first go around. On the second he asked for turkey. "You had fish so you must stick to fish," was the answer of the unmerciful and unsmiling serving ladies. Sharman, sitting at the table with us, fetched a plate of turkey for poor John. Ever watchful, one of the serving ladies swooped down on him, grabbed the plate and headed for the kitchen, leaving a table full of astounded diners.
The food may be better here, but I miss Mary and the other serving ladies of Adams.
I went out tonight with Mary Littlefield. She is a tall, striking blond with spaced-out blue eyes. She yearns for escape from Briggs. I am beginning to feel that the girls I get along with best are those who have already moved out or would like to.
Saturday: "Saturday afternoons are the loneliest." one of the girls informed me shortly after we had moved in. So today I invited her and anyone else within hearing range to go to the Aquarium. The trip was enough of an up to give me the strength to face what I had been warned would be the worst experience-Saturday nightat the Cliffe. Up till now I had made a practice to be out of the dorm as much as possible on Saturdays, especially at night. But curiosity won out.
Upstairs was a zoo. Bob Ash was sitting in the john puking his guts out. It seems that one of the girls had stood him up for what would have been his first real "date" since coming to the Cliffe. Three girls and two guys were in his room finishing off the remains of a quart of Cutty Sark in between halves of a hallway hockey game.
Downstairs was no better. The slaphappy laughter and pink fuzzy slippers couldn't hide the real sorrow of the tiny group of girls huddled around their milk and cookies. Saturday night at Harvard is really very little different from any other night. It does not carry the onus of "date night." But at Radcliffe on Saturday night the dorm is depopulated and only a few remain. It may not be, in fact, terribly sad, but it sure seems that way.
Sunday: Today I escaped back to Adams and my old room. Next year I shall be back here to stay. In a sense, what I have gone through thus far has been a fantastically rewarding experience. It has taught me to appreciate just how vital Women's Lib really is if women are to take their rightful places in society as people, not as girls. But there seems little I can do about it. The struggle for liberation is one which women must wage for themselves, and men can only urge them on.
I feel that the coed experiment is a definite step forward for women on the path to liberation and for men towards understanding the special problems of women in this society. In Briggs Hall the experiment has been only a partial success. Other dorms have had brighter results. In Moors, for instance, boys are spread out through the dorm, and much of the paranoia of males as a minority has been eliminated. A ratio closer to one-to-one would also help. The Kagan Committee and others in power should consider these problems in future coed plans. The boys still at Harvard should realize that there is another world just around the corner. They should come see it if they can.
Many of the girls are liberated: those I have come to appreciate as people certainly are. I have learned what it is like to live in the Quad and what a Cliffie means by the loneliness and what she means when she says she will do anything to get out of Radcliffe I'm lucky: next year I will.
I think I've become a Cliffie.