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As most Harvard students by now know, early last Wednesday The Spee Club sent out an invitation for a “pajama party.” The email, sent from the account of Vince T. Cooper ‘15, a member of the all-male final club, included a link to a YouTube video featuring female models in lingerie and an illustration of a “Playbear” dressed in Hugh Hefner-like garb alongside a scantily clad woman. The invitation generated tremendous controversy and campus-wide uproar. On Thursday night, Cooper issued an apology on behalf of the club “for a genuine lapse in judgment,” before Dean Rakesh Khurana condemned the invitation the following day in an email to all undergraduates, calling the group’s email “offensive, crude, and sexist.”
The original invitation itself was exactly as Dean Khurana characterized it, and we commend him for speaking out on the hypersexualization of women on Harvard’s campus. But it would be naive to suggest that this kind of insensitivity is unique to either the Spee Club or this invitation. This type of objectification is present not only in invitations from many final clubs on a weekly basis, but also in dining hall conversations, on final club dance floors, and around many facets of Harvard’s campus.
Moreover, the Spee’s apology was truly novel and reflected even more poorly on the club. Their suggestions in the aftermath of this controversy on to how best to address broader concerns about gender issues on this campus—namely “work[ing] with the female final clubs”—perpetuate the issues of exclusivity that already exist in many of these social spaces. Indeed, Cooper’s more detailed apology in his email to The Crimson, which called for the creation of an “open forum for [women] to voice their concerns,” seemed to suggest that the Spee’s invitation will be responsible for creating a dialogue on gender at Harvard.
Is the Spee simply unaware that Harvard students are already talking about gender issues on a daily basis? Has the Spee neither seen nor participated in Side By Side, the UC’s new gender solidarity campaign? Is it possible that they genuinely believe, as they claim in their apology, that this pajama party controversy made these "issues… more salient”?
What makes this incident particularly concerning is that the Spee seemed on some level unable to grasp that they were not the first group interested in starting a conversation about gender equality on this campus, and that their suggestions were not particularly revolutionary. In fact, if members of the Spee genuinely want to become more engaged in issues of gender, they should closely reexamine both their invitation and the very structure of their organization. Behind this incident is something far more concerning: a culture of parties in which women are objectified and men, often tacitly, are made to be their so-called playbears.
This is the real problem, and the Spee’s invitation was just the tip of the iceberg.
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