Sex and the Social Network

Intimacy, community, and justice

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.


Recommended Articles