To the Editor:
Harvard sexism? For those naive souls who still think this to be an oxymoron, last Friday night's 10 p.m. showing of Love Story demonstrated clearly just how pervasive gender insensitivity is in this community.
Love Story: A Harvard tradition. Unfortunately, we found out five minutes into the viewing of this movie that this would not be one of the benign little in-jokes like the Statue of Three Lies or pained quips about trekking to the Quad. This was a Harvard tradition like the presence of concentrations that are notoriously uncomfortable for female students, like the lack of a women's center bigger than a coat closet and the dearth of tenured women and minority faculty members.
The commentary that accompanied the screening, initiated by the Crimson Key Society, displayed an extraordinary phallic bias. The following attitudes espoused by members of the audience showed just how "traditional" Harvard students can be.
1) Strong women who reject the stereotypical stance of demure femininity should be called "ugly bitches." The audience was evidently so uncomfortable with Ali McGraw's assertive portrayl of Jenny that it felt compelled to call her ugly or a bitch every time she opened her mouth.
2) If a woman is intelligent--and, worse, refuses to lay aside her intellect in worshipful reverence for the male ego--she should be immediately put in her place. How? Of course--deprecate her appearance! Call her not only ugly, but also give her the scarlet brand, the ultimate insult--call her "fat," as many did in response to her initial sarcastic dismissal of "Ollie," the prototypical Harvard Man--which is not only ludious, but is also illustrative of the attitude that appearance, and especially ideal body weight, is a key determinant of value in a woman.
3) Women are instruments of male sexuality. (The above are corollaries of this fundamental assumption.) Women who do not compliantly offer up their bodies to the male sexual appetite are "frigid." BUT, it is important that sex be for his satisfaction only. Women who control and enjoy their own sexuality are "whores." This leads to a rather complicated emotional response to female sexuality--ambivalence as to whether there is a desire for "virgin" and/or "whore," but objectification in either case, leaving no roon for normal, healthy sexual response on the part of the woman. Thus the dorm from which Jenny emerges, demonstratively glad to see Ollie, is the "Best Little Whorehouse in Radcliffe," while a shot of her inert body in the hospital elicits the derogation "typical Harvard woman in bed."
That this behavior is promoted by the Crimson Key Society, the organization for introducing freshpeople to Harvard, during Freshman Week, is all the more insulting, even dangerous. Sexist attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. They affect our behavior in ways that are damaging to both men and women. Studies show that acquaintance rape occurs more frequently among college students, particularly freshpeople, than in any other age group. Freshpeople should be currently undergoing sensitizing experiences such as date rape education workshops rather than being encouraged to cultivate sexist assumptions.
We refuse to take the insensitivity shown last Friday "in the spirit of things." Tradition is no excuse. The annual showing of Love Story should be revamped. No one needs to wallow in pure, unadulterated sexism.
Dulcy Anderson and Serena Volpp
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