A recent study revealed that Harvard students are unhappy. I suspect this lack of happiness may be due to strained male-female relations on campus. The real gender issue at Harvard does not concern any supposed innate differences between men and women. It concerns the innate awkwardness and incompetence of most Harvard students, men and women, in dealing with members of the opposite sex.
Consider last night’s “First Chance Dance,” the first big senior spring event. Harvard students can read “Ulysses” like it’s a children’s book, but when it comes to sexual signals, many are functionally illiterate. Thus, we have color-coded dress requirements, where red is for those with significant others, yellow is for the shy and ambivalent, and green is for the horny and desperate. Didn’t we first learn with colors in nursery school? (Some friends of mine considered wearing yellow in order to maintain the “challenge.” Bad idea. We’ve spent four years challenging ourselves: it’s time to relax and reap the rewards. You want a challenge: take Orgo.)
At the “Last Chance Dance,” which will take place in June, desperation will reach new heights and an even more convenient system will be put in place: a website where every senior will be able to submit a list of those they want to hook up with. Each student will then be alerted of their matches and can seek out their newfound soulmates for a final attempt at consummating this deeply felt attraction.
At this rate, why not be even more direct? We could create some kind of a hand signal that indicates: “Let’s have sex, right now.” Or we could have students hold up signs reading: “I enjoy it from behind,” or “Really don’t want to graduate a virgin—anyone will do.”
Harvard students go through a lot just to prepare themselves to hook up. We imbibe tremendous amounts of alcohol to facilitate our sexual encounters (though some men take Viagra when alcohol hinders more than it helps). As much as we complain about the lack of attractive people at Harvard, we don’t get drunk to don our beer goggles—which simply enhance our Harvard goggles—or any other magically corrective eyewear. We get drunk, sadly, because we just don’t have it in us to engage in normal sexual behavior, and many of us prefer a stress-free drunken hookup to more meaningful relationships.
The ineptness of Harvard students in this regard is exacerbated by tools like thefacebook.com, which allows us to avoid getting to know anyone while simultaneously stalking them online to discover their favorite movies and books. Of course, thefacebook.com occasionally provides some startling information the morning after random sexual encounters: “If she was born in 1987, that means… oh God!”
We need these tools because we are thoroughly incompetent at cohabiting on our own. Unlike Saddam’s Baathist regime, Harvard students are armed with an unlimited supply of WMDs, a fully-stocked arsenal of H-Bombs. Unfortunately, because we all have them, the Harvard dating scene must abide by the M.A.D. principle of Mutually Assured Dorkiness: we’re immune to each other’s attacks. With our nuclear weaponry neutralized, we are effectively neutered, and so we need all the help we can get; hence the “Last Chance Dance.”
Why are we so sexually maladjusted? (I realize I may simply be projecting my neurosis onto all Harvard students. If that is the case, I apologize.) Is it because Harvard students are too career-oriented and business-minded, performing a cost/benefit analysis before deciding to hook up? Are meaningless, casual encounters so common because we’ve internalized a post-modern sexual ethos where the author’s intentions are irrelevant, leaving us with nothing but the sex?
One solution to this problem may lie in the restructuring of our Core Curriculum. Screw foreign cultures (not literally, I’m not an imperialist), what we need is Sexual Studies A and B. “Sex Studies A” will deal with broad-based themes, like sexual chemistry, trust, compromise, dialogue, and the development of mature relationships. “Sex Studies B” will examine more particular issues, like foot fetishes in rural Mongolia.
The alternative would be to accept the reality and deal with it, a la putting condoms in high school bathrooms instead of preaching abstinence. In this regard, Harvard should do everything its power to turn sexual intercourse into frivolous fun. We should turn our dorms into the sexual playpens of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where students can engage in hetero- and homoerotic activity to release tension before they are drugged off to sleep to get ready for the tough day of work ahead.
That we need to manufacture scenarios for superficial hookups to occur is a sad commentary on our social life. In many ways, we are a pathetic bunch. Tell a Harvard student to “get busy,” and they’ll start doing a problem set. We often have to work hard to enjoy ourselves. Yet in senior spring, we seem to have figured things out. I told some friends of mine back home about the “First Chance Dance” dress code and the “Last Chance Dance” on-line matching.
“That is awesome,” said one. “You Harvard kids are brilliant,” said another. It seems that we are putting the entire weight of the IT industry behind this effort to facilitate sexual activity. With a $22.6 billion endowment, it is only natural that Harvard allocates its valuable resources to encourage last-ditch dance floor make-out sessions and spring flings. Just think, we can augment the Widener renovations to include mattresses and cushions in the stacks. Who knows, when students are tired of intercourse, they might even pick up a book.
David Weinfeld ’05 is a history concentrator in Quincy House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.