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Being a Girl

My alma mater had many positive offerings, but what it did not offer was a wealth of traditions passed down through the ages that bound us together as one.

At least, this was the opinion of parts of the administration, who therefore decided to form a committee on Social Life and Traditions. The first stage was an exhaustive survey which we completed in residence hall meetings (not dorms – they’re not just for sleeping, we reside there). The survey asked us if we had suggestions for new traditions, fond memories of existing rituals at the school, new ideas. I filled mine out very thoroughly. Respondents would remain anonymous.

A couple of weeks later, I was interviewing to be a resident assistant – several  of us had made it to the “group interview” stage, in which we sat around a conference table and demonstrated our ability to exchange ideas from diverse perspectives in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration. We made polite conversation while the dean shuffled through her papers to prepare for the formal interview.

All of us happened to be female.

Halfway through the interview, the dean set the script aside and invited us to lean in for a frank discussion of the survey on Social Life and Traditions.

“I have to tell you, ladies, we are up against some obstacles here.”

She panned the room conspiratorially.  “Would you like to hear what some man wrote on his survey?” She opened a file folder and read:

It is unclear to me why it is necessary for the administration of this university to impose traditions upon the student body when the point of traditions is that they develop organically as a result of shared experiences. I can’t help but wonder how successful this effort will be given the extremely artificial nature of the entire enterprise…

I blushed. Tried to look merely curious, and stammered, “Are you sure that a man wrote it?”

“Oh, ho, ho! Yes, girls, I’m sure that a man wrote this.” I contemplated the years I’d spent developing a fluid, curlicue-based handwriting –  in hopes of beguiling suitors with carefully penned letters – and realized they had all been wasted.

“Well, but I mean, it could have been…oh, never mind, I guess it doesn’t matter.”

I wanted the job. And I knew the committee would be dead in the water by the end of the semester.

I realize that most of the characteristics I dislike about myself are also characteristics I associate with stereotypical femininity, and that’s…not really healthy, I’m sure.  And yet I decided to put “All you need to know is that I’m a lady” as my descriptor here, because – well, there is something to be said for being a lady – certainly versus a gal.

I don’t know, I just can’t seem to stay on the straight and narrow lately, I just keep going off-road with all these “what if I had (insert rejected opportunity)?” detours and coming back to “hmmrhph smrf hmph, MEN don’t have to make these decisions,” which: also not really true. And then there’s the Annual Christmas Freakout, which really is a thing, and consists of making EXTREMELY BOLD PRONOUNCEMENTS about THE STATE OF THINGS.

I just keep thinking, “WOMAN. Get ahold of yourself!”


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    She also attended tea parties in her dorm where the residents would remove tea cups and cloth napkins from assigned pigeon holes.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    This I believe.

  3. Jonathan Webb says

    In conclusion, thank you for the post and they should have been thankful for your membership.

  4. This reminds me of a tale from college …the one when I was on Panhel committee, and got chewed out by campus feminists for:

    1) Suggesting a vote before panhel did away with the barbaric ritual of sorority “kiss-ins” (whereby frat boys saluted new sorority pledges by offering a carnation in return for a kiss). Most of the gals enjoyed that barbaric ritual (which was voluntary) but the panhel pres thought it was anti-feminist.

    2) A couple weeks later, I drew attention to another barbaric practice in the frat system whereby upper-class boys schooled the underclassmen in cunnilingus techniques as a means of proving they were the most manly frat house during Rush.

    The campus feminists were angry and confused, because I had proven not two weeks earlier that I was anti-woman, and now I was trying to play both sides of the field by opposing oral sex class in the frat houses. So what was I?

    I still don’t know.

    • Just to clarify: the campus feminists were angry because they found the idea of teaching cunnilingus techniques to frat boys to be a deeply feminist act, yes? One which gave some consideration to the woman as something other than a simple pleasure delivery device?

      • I should clarify this: the campus feminists were one and the same with the panhel executive committee. And the Panhel advisor was a fem lit prof. They became angry with me personally because of what they saw as in an incoherent theory on female objectification.

        They thought kiss-ins objectified women. I thought deciding on behalf of all women in the Greek system that they would do away with the practice without a vote suggested that the Panhel system did not have enough faith in individual women to make their own decisions about whom they should kiss. All told, if I had it to do over, I probably wouldn’t have raised a stink about it. But it felt like we were being strong-armed into doing away with a relatively harmless tradition because it promoted stereotypical gender roles (again, the kiss was voluntary, and if the girl wanted to just take the flower and go, she was free to do so–or she didn’t have to show up to the event at all if she didn’t want to).

        This was all going on around the time of the Antioch college date rape crisis,– “no means no”– and panhel was teaching everyone the script:

        “May I touch you here?”

        “Yes, You may touch me there.”

        I believe I was in agreement with the Panhel exec committee about the negative effects of using oral sex class as a Rush tool–but since I had established myself as someone who was, by their definition, pro-objectification of women–I shouldn’t have had a voice about it.

        • Southern Expat says

          Right. See, in the first example, instead of acting as a change agent and speaking truth to power, you facilitated the self-negation of your sisters in oppression by allowing them to submit themselves to antiquated rituals symbolic of the gender disparity foundational to ritual courtship.

          Whereas, in the second example, the root of the problem was that these educational sessions were organized by men, for men, within an inherently privileged social structure, when they should have been the culmination of a series of gender-neutral, non-gender-normative classes.

  5. Jonathan Webb says

    1. Change Agent
    2. Truth to Power
    3. Self-negation
    4. Antiquated Rituals
    5. Gender Disparity
    6. Ritual Courtship
    7. Non-gender-normative

    Got it.

    • See, once you realize that these apply to every situation in which you, qua Jonathan, may find yourself, then your true education may begin.

      • I appreciate, Expat, your refusal to adopt a party-line–the way you have steadfastly remained “Southern Expat”–a unique creation made in the image and likeness of Mother/Father God. Heh.

        • It is because I myself am an expatriate from the confines of traditional Western patriarchal life here in the 21st century C.E.

          Also, I have to admit that I snicker when I see in the “recent comments” over on the sidebar, “Jonathan Webb on Being a Girl.”

  6. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    (Note to Mr Southern Expat: Time to replenish the Ivanakvetch.)

    • That is an excellent suggestion. He actually upgraded me to Bombay Sapphire. We also are currently in a state where Yuengling is sold, so I may be back to my usual level of pleasant equanimity very soon.

  7. notrelatedtoted says

    Uh, so when can I get that sandwich?

  8. Jonathan Webb says

    Even if you move back down South you would still be Southern Expat.

  9. When I was at Gonzaga I was asked to represent campus ministry on the Take Back the Night [FROM MEN WHO ARE ALL RAPISTS] committee. The committee’s rage at all the rapists/men was not mitigated by the fact that there had not been an actual rape on campus.

    No, Gonzaga was plagued with “date rapes.” Now, date rape is a horrifying thing. But these “date rapes” were 100% drunken hookups that the girl regretted the next day. And we’re not talking about Everclear-in-the-punch drunk, but shit-faced-every-night-on-purpose drunk.

    So, a girl sets out with the intention of getting drunk and maybe hooking up, and then she hooks up, and then somewhere along the walk of shame she regrets it–she’s an innocent victim and he’s a rapist.

    And if a boy sets out with the intention of getting drunk and maybe hooking up,and then he hooks up, then he is 100% responsible for not just his actions but also hers.

    Got it?

    But justice issues aside, wouldn’t it be in the best interests of women to change the drunken hook-up culture? Shouldn’t the committee address the issue of binge drinking, especially as most of the undergrads were underage? Had there been a single claim of date rape that didn’t involve drunkenness?


    Womyn: Do you feel liberated?

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      This is an interesting comment. This comment (and the whole post) is about politics. I am kind of curious how much of this activity was going on?

      For the time being, I’ve kind of gone extreme in my belief that politics is so corrupt and so special interest that it is useless to the individual. Also people who really get into this kind of stuff have the replaced religion with politics.

    • Peacock, I’m not sure I’d identify as one of those womyn, but it does sound as though you’re saying that a woman gives tacit permission to whomever might want to screw her by becoming intoxicated. And I strongly disagree. Whether she’s a drunk underage co-ed or a drunk married woman with children, or anyone who is temporarily or permanently mentally incapacitated, it’s always wrong to take advantage of her sexually.

      I also strongly disagree that “hooking up” with someone automatically means you want to have sex with them. For good or ill, there have always been stair-step levels of intimacy through which couples pass with or without mutual agreement. Letting a man into the living room does not automatically grant him passage to the bedroom without an invitation.

      I think you were right to address binge drinking, and the hook-up culture as ills in and of themselves–that are also, more often than not, related. But drunkenness, even paired with poor judgement does not negate the seriousness of someone forcing sex on you.

      Also, Biologically speaking, intoxicated men–correct me if I’m wrong, but, I don’t think I am–would have some “difficulty” raping anyone. So if drunk sex does take place, we can assume the guy is a bit more sober than she is.

      • Betty – Shakespeare addresses your last point. Liquor “makes him stand to and not stand to.” Sometimes one way, sometimes another. A guy can be pretty darn lit and still function.

        • — I stand corrected–

          Though, if it’s sometimes one way, and sometimes the other–could we say that male intoxication lowers the date rape odds by a certain percentage?

        • Also, Betty, there is at least some indication from those of us who wallow that, outside of a dating relationship, “hooking up” without granting satisfaction to the gentleman through one means or another is bad manners.

          Also, Peacock is not saying anything about tacit permission that I can see. She says that date rape is a horrifying thing, and then claims that the acts termed date rapes that she is addressing “were 100% drunken hookups that the girl regretted the next day.” Meaning that the girls were not forced, but made decisions they regretted. I can’t speak to the truth of her claim, but I think it’s clear that she is not saying that forced sex is ever okay.

          • Clarification: that first graf is an assessment of current collegiate mores, not a positing of the way things ought to be.

            • Yeah, again, “hook-up” is not synonymous with “screw me.” Sex not paid for is not guaranteed. And clearly, in the hook-up culture, all manners are subjective. But I realize you’re just quoting Tom Wolfe (though I have serious difficulty accepting him as an authority on college hook-ups).

              I think it’s admirable that Peacock addressed the problem at the root: alcohol and pairing up with strangers is not a good idea. It’s always a bad idea because, for a woman, it can lead to a) having sex she may regret and/or b) being taken advantage of. The two are not the same, and that’s where I disagree with Peacock.

              For a man, it can lead to a) having sex with someone who does not have the capacity to make a wise decision on the issue, and b) facing possible criminal charges for date rape. It’s not just tough shit for the guy. He knows what he’s getting into when he takes a girl back to his room.

              • But Peacock didn’t say they were the same. She said that date rape was horrible. She then said that what she was protesting were cases of scenario A: “having sex she may regret.”

                I understand your hesitation about Wolfe, but he did do his homework. I did a bit of my own while writing about college kids, but didn’t want to cite myself as an authority. Suffice to say my research sort of matched his.

                • “Now, date rape is a horrifying thing. But these “date rapes” were 100% drunken hookups that the girl regretted the next day. And we’re not talking about Everclear-in-the-punch drunk, but shit-faced-every-night-on-purpose drunk.”

                  Now see, to me, this reads: Date rape is when a man rapes a sober woman who agreed to make out with him on a date. But if a man rapes a drunk woman who agreed to make out with him, she was asking for it.

                  I know Wolfe did his homework. And you did yours. And I did mine. But there’s also this: most girls are pretty naive, at least in the beginning, about male expectations, especially skeezy college male expectations. Is she stupid if she gets burned? Probably. But she’s also not the only culpable party.

                  • I’m not sure how you get that reading out of those words. I think the term “regretted” gives the lie to your reading. It indicates a decision made and then thought better of later. The decision in this case being drunk sex.

                    • p.s. I’m gonna bow out here. Peacock can, of course, speak for herself, and this is too fraught a topic for me to go speaking for her the way I am.

                      I do wonder if the kids are as naive as you think, Ms. Duffy.

                    • Well, perhaps I’m reading it wrong. But the only alternative reading would be that every girl at Gonzaga who reported a date rape was actually lying. There’s no way to corroborate that claim. It’s an imperfect science anyway–figuring out what drunk people think when they’re hooking up–which is why Wolf’s research (or yours, or mine) really doesn’t say too much.

                    • I’m bowing out of here too–

                      I just wanted to say that my comments didn’t sound as combative in my head as I read them here in these comments.

                      I’m sorry for being a jerk, Peacock.

                  • Step away from the keyboard for a few minutes, and look what happens!

                    Okay, so I didn’t craft my post all that carefully and I deserve to get flamed. There’s a lot more to this story, of course, than I could relate in a blog post.

                    First, I didn’t mean to say that all girls who claim date rape were lying. Date rape happens. I know women it’s happened to. They were either physically forced or drugged.

                    The women on the committee insisted that rape occurs anytime a woman doesn’t want sex to happen–even if she decides after the fact, even if there was no force or drugging involved. In short, they were saying every act of seduction is rape.

                    I’m not a fan of seducers, but they are not rapists. It is a difference in kind, not degree.

                    The chances of a college-age man becoming a seducer are greatly increased by alcohol and the presence of drunk women. The chances of a woman letting things go too far–leaving her vulnerable to both seduction and rape–are greatly increased by alcohol and being with female friends who are hooking up.

                    (BTW, in this context “hooking up” meant having a sexual encounter, not just making out.)

                    Living in a culture where binge drinking and hooking up are a part of daily life breaks down the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable sexual behavior, and bad choices get made.

                    My whole point in my original post was that the women on the committee weren’t actually interested in keeping women from getting raped or seduced. They were interested in man-hating.

                    Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for a good man-bashing from time to time 😉


                    • Peace, of course! Thanks for the clarification.

                      Considering the difference between rapists and seducers–I’m recalling the recent post here on the French honoring Cassanova as a feminist–and it now sounds exponentially more absurd.

  10. You know, I read this blog to *escape* my life, thanks. 😉

  11. Jonathan Webb says

    The Smiley Face reminds me of The Comedian in Watchmen. I saw it again last week and I thought, that’s Robert Downey Jr. But, it wasn’t. It was some guy from Gray’s Anatomy and he was very good. I think they were going for an Ernie Kovacs thing.

    44 comments for this post and well deserved.

  12. Southern Expat says

    One of the things I originally was thinking about when writing this was that the administrator in question repeatedly addressed us as “girls,” “ladies,” etc., while ostensibly speaking to us in a professional capacity. But the bigger thing was the assumption on her part that, due to our gender, we would all think the same way on the topic at hand. I find that such a contradiction – feminism means women can do anything! We can be anyone we want to be! But we’ll still…have the same fundamental worldview!

  13. Jonathan Potter says

    For the first time, I feel Korrektiv has had a truly co-ed moment here. There’s hope for us yet!

  14. Cubeland Mystic says

    Hi Expat
    There is truth, and then there is politics. Politics seems to be about associating our idiosyncrasies to the mechanisms of power for the sole purpose of gaining power. That is why I am cynical about politics.

    There is no truth in identity politics (if that is the right term.)

    • Southern Expat says

      Cubeland, are there things about which you are not cynical? Other than babies and daffodils. Or maybe that’s me.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        He seemed pretty gung-ho about Facebook.
        Or maybe that was Potter.

        • Cubeland Mystic says

          I am not cynical about puppies and kittens. I think Little Bear is pretty good.

          Things don’t make sense. Look at the bees. The bees tell you about the state of the world.

          • Um. Because they buzz? sting? stop and smell the flowers? make honey? work in Marxist precision?

            • Matthew Lickona says

              Are essential to plant growth, and are disappearing.

              • They also invade Florida beach houses by the ten thousands, building complex mazes of honeycombs in the beams underneath houses on stilts and then swarming up around the baby window to frighten impressionable youth.

                Or so I have heard.

                • Matthew Lickona says

                  Man was never meant to live in Florida.

                  • Cubeland Mystic says

                    Yep Bees have suffered CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists think it is a combination of things like industrial farming practices pesticides out of season work etc.

                    Again I mistrust big systems. Said it a bunch of times, and most recently about facebook with JP. We lose sight of people in the process of serving the system.

  15. There is also the fact that, in the fraternity culture at the school which I attend, there is the practice of deliberately getting a girl drunk out of her mind, or prowling till one is found, then taking her back to the room and screwing her. This may or may not be bragged about at meetings later.

    Of course there are regrets on the girl’s part–that she got drunk, separated from her friends, that she flirted with a predator, that she drunkenly and therefore invalidly gave consent. But that does not make it any less rape.

    Then there is the case where a girl, perhaps fairly sheltered and naive, perhaps not, soberly decides to be alone with a guy and make out with him–and then he won’t stop, and no one can hear her scream, or she’s too frightened and shocked to make a noise.

    Neither case is seen as a big deal by the fraternity and alum establishment, although it has happened to at least half of my acquaintances–a fairly wide cross-section.

    When girls do come forward with such allegations, they are dismissed as sluts with regrets. Which is why Peacock’s comment, while perfectly legitimate and correct on its own merits and entirely devoid of malice, makes me feel a little nauseated.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      I am so sorry for your experience of that culture, and for the suffering of your fellow students.

    • Clare: I sincerely apologize. I understand the nausea you feel. I’ve lived in that culture and seen what it does to girls. That’s why I was so infuriated by the adults who were supposed to be protecting them. They were more interested in their political agenda than in the young women in their care. Therefore, it was more important to come up with clever man-hating slogans and broadcast sketchy statistics than to help the real women in front of them avoid dangerous situations.

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