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Women's Lib Is Men's Lib, Too

By Matt Witt

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 past 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, howelse can we explain the inhuman relationship 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 shit-work 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 boy, 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 paperwork 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 6000 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 moreactually capable of accepting a woman who has her own life, who asks that he give her the support and help in her work that he has always demanded of her.

I have met many college-educated women who tell me apologetically that they have given up work on their M. A. or Ph.D. or are not working because "My husband doesn't like me to."

I can already hear some "independent" Cliffie protesting "But why does she take it? It's her fault." I probably would have said the same thing while I was still in college and hadn't yet seen just how difficult it is to do something about it yourself, how difficult it is to make it on your own as a woman in this society facing the psychological and physical pressures of bad affairs, social intimidation ("What's wrong with you, are you promiscuous, don't you, like children, are you frigid, didn't anyone want to marry you, etc."), and, even more important, lousy work possibilities.

Try entering medicine, law, or academics and see how women, even Radcliffe women, are treated. Or try simply getting a job after you graduate-any kind of a job that isn't totally mind-destroying.

English majors I knew who graduated from Harvard went almost immediately into editorships at publishing houses, or reportorial jobs on papers like the N.Y. Times. Their female counterparts became readers in those same publishing houses, or, if they were lucky, got to write for some Women's Page.

AS FOR the woman who happens to get pregnant, in the absence of decent abortion laws, or adequate child care facilities, she is faced with two possibilities: raising the child herself and working at the same time, or turning to dependency on a man.

Of course the problems of a Radcliffe girl confronting these things are far less than those of a working class woman or welfare mother-and yet even for the middle class woman they are traumatic and difficult.

There is a myth that it is possible to hold down a full-time job and have children.

Even if you are willing to work twice as hard as any man, it is untrue unless you can I) hire a more economically oppressed woman to do your shit-work for you, 2 work out some kind of communal arrangement (difficult in most communities where people still adhere religiously to their notions of family privacy) or 3) make your husband or man share equally in tasks like cooking, cleaning and child caring (I defy the wives of most "emancipated" men to tell me this is easy).

The existence of an autonomous women's liberation movement has helped many women, including myself, in one important way. It has given us the moral support to say once and for all that we are not inadequate human beings, selfish mothers, or castrating females for making the justifiable demands on men and on society that we be treated as full human beings, not as sex objects, nurses, or servants.

It has done this through revealing to us that problems we considered to be our own hang ups are shared by other women-to some degree by all women-and that they are part of a particular social structure rather than the inevitable outcome of biological differences.

THIS IS NOT to say that honorable relations with men are impossible, even under the present structure; simply that they are very difficult, and above all, they can never be a substitute for a life of one's own.

Women, like men, should have the option to live alone if they wish, without men, with one man, with many men, or with other women, and still feel like fulfilled people. They should know that having a child is a fine experience, but not the only fine experience a woman can have, nor necessarily the best.

All of these things can only come about for women, along with economic liberation, if we have a social and a political revolution in this country involving a change in the nature of work both for men and for women.

AT RADCLIFFE the exploitation of women is less obvious but just as deep as in other areas of American Society. At the outset, the "ideal" of Harvard elitism, borrowed heavily from the English universities, is basically one of male intellectual clubbiness-thus some common rooms are still closed to female tutors, and there are ridiculously few women on the faculty.

Fortunately, fewer and fewer Harvard men are drawn to this particular notion. Radcliffe women are not obviously passive in this community-indeed, we are often incredibly active, even while "waiting" for the right man to come along.

But we are active in precisely those safe areas which have been already laid out by men and male attitudes. Like blacks, we must behave like the dominant group in order to be accepted by them, and at the same time cater to their assumptions of our inherent weakness and inferiority (this extends to the sub-societies of radical political movements, and the editorial board of the Harvard CRIMSON).

Radcliffe women may no longer join ladies' clubs to fill their time (though some may be active in their local PTA) but our attitude towards men and our own lives may not be significantly different than those of women who do.

Finally, in the mind of one who actually believed it, the happy-matron-career woman notion promoted by Radcliffe is a dreadful illusion, and one which if taken seriously can keep us not only from developing our own possibilities, but from relating to other women. The contempt and distrust women have for each other, even when they are "friends," is the counterpart of the excessive awe we feel towards men, and part of what makes us sense that we would be utterly desolate without a man in our lives.

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