We ARE human beings first of all. We all began naked, wanting to be able to tell the truth without hurting anyone, to rejoice, to live decent lives.
Our education should tell us what we want to know. And what we want to know is: Why is so much punishment inflicted on these human beings to make them secretaries, students, deans, janitors, parents, professors, alumni? Why these suits that are so ill-suited to our bodies, these conventions that prevent us from coming together? Why do some people acquire wealth and privilege they can't enjoy, at the expense of their poor brothers and sisters? Why are we asked to kill starving people in order to protect our unhappiness?
Our parents and teachers teach us more by their example, by the content of their lives, than by their intended lectures. Explanations of the society we were given come outside of class. Imperialism, racism, capitalism are ideas that seem at least to describe the inhumanity we slave under. For many of us this year at Harvard, education included the idea of Women's Liberation.
A girl was asked, "Oh, are you involved in Women's Liberation?" She answered. "All women are." All men are too. Each of us throughout his life has been executor of oppression of women. Enough has been written by men misrepresenting Women's Liberation, so I will not try to represent it at all, but rather react to it, to suggest how it relates to men, to men at Harvard in particular. I think it necessary that men talk to women and to each other about Women's Liberation, about how men can live it.
Men are taught that women are irrational. What other explanation could there be for the constant yet seemingly unreasonable fighting with girls about possession, jealousy, sexual protocol, social protocol? Why else are mothers so helplessly trying to control, "protect," their children? Why else are secretaries so "self-important" and "bitchy?" That is, how else can we explain the inhuman relationships we have with women?
The insights of Women's Liberation provide the needed alternative explanation. No person can be molded into what schools and advertising define as a good mother or good wife or good husband without being deformed. People are fighting to maintain the little dignity they have been left with. Girls have been taught that their worth is in their "reputations," in their looks, in their ability to catch a man. Mothers have been taught that, while their husbands are out working, their worth is in bringing up the children. No wonder they fight to make that seem like a lifetime job. What else do they have to live for if they admit that their children are grown up? Secretaries are taking out their resentment that they are just another office machine. They act "self-important" because they are and are treated as if they were not.
Most people I know are fighting these fights so frantically because, unhappy in their roles, they are sure that they have failed. But it is the roles, not they, who have failed. It is sexist society which has failed to conform to us as human beings.
Men are hurt because they cannot have human relationships with women. Men's roles are dehumanized too. We must conceal our weakness, maintain a myth of omnipotence. But we have been taught that our dealings in the "man's world" are what is really important anyway. Within the context of this dying society, we are the beneficiaries of sexism. While we become rich, famous, powerful, the shitwork will be done for us by "our" women, changing diapers, typing reports, washing dishes, scrubbing the floors. (If we are rich enough, we will let our wives out of some of these jobs by paying an even more oppressed woman to do them.) Harvard is part of a long process to prepare us for this.
DURING MY second week at Harvard, a well-respected student politico and House social chairman came to sell me and my roommates HSA Harvard rings. He advised, "Better buy one before the mixers. All the girls in Boston are dying to go to bed with a Harvard man." His sales pitch neatly merged our past experience with what we were to find at Harvard.
In public high school even the girls who had been Achieving academically began to be trained that dating us and preparation for marriage was the only proper area for their self-fulfillment. Segregated prep schools would not exist if it weren't considered important to instill different roles in boys and girls.
At Harvard, women do not speak much in class. In a large lecture hall, everyone faces forward during a question-and-answer period unless a girl begins talking. Hundreds of surprised faces turn to look because it has been made a part of us that it is more important what women look like than what they say or feel. Rooms at Radcliffe are small, only bedrooms, often two girls to only one room. Rooms at Harvard are suites with living rooms. The idea is that women do not need to have female friends. If people want to live together, the girl must move in with the body, adopting his friends and his life. On weekends, women can eat at Harvard but men cannot eat at Radcliffe.
Women are here to listen to us talk and to sleep with us. Other women get paid a few dollars an hour to serve us more potatoes, sir, or to do the paper work necessary to record our decisions and make our success easier. It is not necessary to wonder how demeaning their roles are, for they are meant to stand behind our success.
THIS CHARACTERIZATION of the role of women at Harvard and of Harvard in this sexist society is not merely extrapolation from disconnected experiences. It is consciously taught to us by our "teachers," our predecessors. This year the idea of female inferiority was more clearly articulated than ever before, chiefly because of the issues of merger of Harvard and Radcliffe and equal enrollment of women and men. President Pusey said that we could not have equal enrollment because of our duty to the nation to provide leaders. Last Fall, Dean Watson told me that I was so enthusiastic about merger because I didn't realize how much it was going to decrease my benefits as a Harvard student. Chase Peterson, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, told a Faculty meeting that continuation of co-ed housing would be dependent on renovation of Radcliffe dorms and provision of bus service from Radcliffe to the Yard. Men could not be expected to tolerate conditions women have lived under since Radcliffe's inception. Then, in February, a Faculty-alumni committee headed by Dean Peterson issued a report on the question of merger as it relates to Admissions and Financial Aids. An abridged version of the report appeared in the March 2 issue of Harvard Bulletin and was followed up by a letter to the Editor from Dean Peterson.
The report opposed merger because it would inevitably lead to a change in the male-female ratio:
One of the particular concerns we feel is that...the act of merger would stimulate the forces of change, and that, although at present there is no illegality in controlling such a ratio, it would be increasingly difficult to do so. The 4 to 1 ratio in admission of men and women has drawn little comment in the past because it represented essentially the housing capacity of the separate institutions.
The practical reasons given in the report for maintaining the present ratio were excruciatingly revealing. An increase in total enrollment to 9000 was convincingly dismissed because of the drain it would cause on money and on Cambridge housing space. But the reasons given against equalizing male and female enrollment at 3000 each had no foundation other than male supremacy. The first was based on the idea that only male companionship is important for both women and men. (Remember the construction of dorms at Harvard and Radcliffe.) A decrease in the number of men, the report argued, would mean that the remaining men, especially those in racial, geographical, and class minorities, would be so small in absolute numbers that they would have no male friends. In fact, the committee threatened, admitting more women "might force us to eliminate a number of such distinctive groups entirely." Not only were they saying that women from minorities need no female companionship so 1200 women is enough while 3000 men is too few, but they were dusting off the familiar tactic of dividing one oppressed group's fight from another's.
The second reason was that the departments now restricted by socialization to men would suffer from decreased male enrollment. Even for those who believe that a department can "suffer," the report was simply admitting that equal enrollment must be accompanied by abolition of all sex discrimination in the University, in employment, on the Faculty and Administration, and in the graduate and professional schools.
The committee also said that Radcliffe should be preserved as a women's voice, that if it did not exist, it would have to be created anew. It is true that women need to meet, talk, and act collectively, but Radcliffe, like a company union, does not serve that purpose. Radcliffe perhaps serves to help a few women escape a few of the worst effects of sexism. But in its size, its housing, its administration, it is an integral part of Harvard sexism, and certainly not a force demanding or teaching equality for all women.
Besides the practical reasons against equal enrollment, Dean Peterson and his committee alternated between two theoretical or philosophical reasons, the pluralism idea that "women are different" and the straightforward declaration that women are inferior.
Pluralism is a common way of obscuring power relations. A warden doesn't have power over his prisoner; they have just have different roles within the prison system. The reasoning is that women fill different roles in society so they must be different. And if they are different they can have their own colleges and shouldn't be at Harvard. Women's Liberation explains how social roles have prescribed women's behavior, not vice versa. Dean Peterson does not even pretend that Harvard and Radcliffe are separate but equal, just separate and different. He wants to maintain the 4-to-1 ration not because they are getting an equal education elsewhere but because they can be better kept in their place elsewhere.
As euphemism, as politeness, the argument that women are "different" is sure to become the most popular argument for men to use against Women's Liberation, but Dean Peterson does not stop there. He teaches outright female inferiority:
'Would increased enrollment of women be a fairer policy'...If the question was taken to its logical conclusion, then all identifiable groups should receive representation proportionate just to their numbers at large and not to the ability and potential of the individual applicants within a group, race, or area.
This pure sexism is the same as Agnew racism. In its theory it sees a choice between admitting members of population groups according to numbers or according to ability, as though ability is naturally distributed unevenly between men and women, for example. And in its practice, it means channeling women away from preparation for Harvard from the day they are born until the end of high school, and "discovering" that they don't meet "admissions standards," or that they can better find what they "want" elsewhere.
DEAN PETERSON and other "teachers" have begun our education about Women's Liberation. We can see that Women's Liberation does not mean more sex or less paying for girls on dates, that is, not merely less inconvenience for men, but a whole revolution in our attitudes and practices. Men need to take Women's Liberation seriously. If there are jokes and sarcasm they should be directed at men who live male supremacy and not at women who live women's liberation. We have to develop alternatives to the nuclear family which imprisons women. And, for the benefit of all of us, we must make ourselves those "forces of change," changing ourselves, changing society, changing Harvard beginning with equal enrollment immediately and moving toward general sex, race, and class justice in every aspect of this University.
We have been promised by President Pusey that alumni will be our greatest obstacle in obtaining equal enrollment. It does not seem that their world has been so happy that they could not benefit from Women's Liberation. Surely their wives and maids and secretaries will. But it seems clear that most of them do not and will not reject their roles and their security. We have images to help us understand the strength of the socialization that makes rich, privileged people continue to put everyone else and themselves through such inhuman punishment, through such hatred and violence, through racism and sexism and pollution. The most useful image is of "interests." Not interests of the human beings involved, but interests of the roles we serve and have become.
But it must be said that, whatever the alumni's interests, whatever the interests of the Faculty and Administration, they must understand that in the face of sexism, racism, pollution, and imperialist wars, the very survival of our generation as human beings capable of love, dignity, and sanity is at stake. It may be that most of them will not remake their own lives, but we must remake ours and cannot afford to let them block our way.