Residents Demand Answers at Council Meeting on Police Killing of Sayed Faisal


Bob Odenkirk Named Hasty Pudding Man of the Year


Harvard Kennedy School Dean Reverses Course, Will Name Ken Roth Fellow


Ex-Provost, Harvard Corporation Member Will Investigate Stanford President’s Scientific Misconduct Allegations


Harvard Medical School Drops Out of U.S. News Rankings


Sex and the Social Network

Intimacy, community, and justice

By Reina A.E. Gattuso

I think about this evening a lot. Late September of freshman year, Annenberg. The leaves just starting to turn. Maybe you remember it. Maybe you were there.

I was sitting at one of those big old wood tables with a group of people who I kind-of-sort-of-hoped were becoming my friends.

All at once, they stood up. Every single one of them. Their clothes strangely formal. Their mannerisms strangely covert. As they all left, I heard in a set of murmurs the destination: the Hasty Pudding Club.

I didn’t know what that was. But I knew I should feel bad for not being summoned there.

Freshman year I wore big pearl earrings and too-tight pencil skirts. I declaimed poetry drunk. I was ravenous, and I was here.

Harvard was my playground; my scary, scary playground. A new place, fresh, where I could mold myself like putty, where I could turn my nerves in my hands. I could make out with who I wanted to. I could sit at any table in Annenberg. I could be anything I wanted.

Except I couldn’t.

I remember feeling, after everyone left for the Pudding, that my peers must have been so much better than I was at making friends. They must have been prettier, funnier, sexier, more charming. They must have been sleeping with hotter men. I would have to step up my game, I remember telling myself, put my makeup on more carefully, drop better literary allusions, if I wanted to get ahead.

It took me years to understand that there were other words to describe what factors had made me feel excluded that night. Not prettiness, or funniness, or conversational ability. Rather: hometown. Secondary school. Class.

For every single one of us, Harvard is a strange, amazing dream. But it’s a different dream depending on where we come from. For some of us, stepping onto this campus is comfortable, if exciting—a new space filled with friends.

For others, Harvard is an alien—and often alienating—world.

Harvard is a place where we learn skills. It’s also a place where we make friends. Good friends. Deep friends. Friends who we learn from, friends we support and are supported by, friends who shape who we are.

But friendship is not just about who we party with on Saturday nights.

Who we sleep with, who we lunch with, whose club we join is not just a factor of how well we talk, how well we socialize, and what we’re interested in. A lot of times, it’s a factor of where we come from, what kinds of resources and communities we’ve previously had access to. And often, our friends dictate the kinds of opportunities we have access to in the future, from social spaces to jobs.

The network is where intimacy becomes power.

There’s been some mischief afoot: Someone, this week, posted an (apparently somewhat flawed) list of dudes on this campus in final clubs. You might have seen it by now. Besides the list, an incredibly robust discussion about gender, power, social space—and, yes, the act of posting the lists themselves—has sprung up on the site.

We can debate all day whether or not the site itself was an “appropriate” gesture. But there’s a more important underlying question here: How is this discussion about social space, about who hosts and has access to parties, who is a host and who is a guest in clubs, also a discussion about social mobility? About the distribution of opportunity on campus?

How do the networks that exist here—the networks we are part of before we even come in; the networks that exist far after our time here is up—affect, not only how we get down, but how we get ahead?

Lots of us are socially mobile at Harvard - we enter exclusive spaces with no previous connection, from backgrounds radically different than the norms of this place. And that’s amazing.

But a lot of us are not.

That’s a big problem. But it’s also a big opportunity. If our social networks can keep us back, exclude us, propel us forward, or concentrate power in the hands of the few, they can also change the world.

Intimacy, and its connections the networks that distribute resources, is power. And through restructuring the way we do intimacy, we can create better institutions here and elsewhere.

Justice in our social life is social justice.

We can be kind and respectful to our sexual partners, knowing that sex, love, and intimacy are things that can empower us or hold us back.

We can talk to our friends and peers about the discomfort we might feel about social structures on campus.

If we have access to exclusive social spaces, we can restructure those spaces from the inside to be more inclusive.

I think a lot, a month away from graduation, about that night freshman year. Me perching nervously in my corduroy pencil skirt, a battered copy of Ulysses peeking out of my brown leather bag, neck splotched with hickies, hands splotched with ink.

I have learned and grown a lot since then. I have met people I never thought I would meet, become a person I never thought I could be, loved people both within exclusive spaces and without. I’ve done well.

But we can do better. Not only for those of us at Harvard struggling to be socially mobile in a space whose norms and institutions seem calculated to keep us down, but for the broader society that our social networks, through their connection to professional power, disproportionately affect.

After all, what is Harvard—what is any powerful institution—but an extended network of friends?

Reina A.E. Gattuso ‘15, an FM editor, is a joint literature and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.