Handbags

I can’t believe that tomorrow morning I’ll be back at Amherst. It’s been too long. I’ve been missing the classes, the social scene, my friends, and generally, the entire experience of Amherst. This is my last year, and I’m more excited to be heading back than I’ve ever been. I’m also more aware, one could say, than I have ever been – of just how enclosed Amherst can be, of strange things that go on only within the bounds of the school, and of Amherst norms that may or may not correspond with those of the outside world. Some interpret this as bitterness or a desire to find the worst in Amherst. Not so! I think it’s healthy to step back from time to time and examine oneself and one’s environment. It’s easy, especially at a place like Amherst, to get pulled into things one doesn’t want to do or isn’t necessarily comfortable with – but a little booze and repetition can wipe those feelings right out. Great! I love a good party and a game of whiskey slaps as much as anyone – but I will say that there are certain things that go on in the Amherst social scene that are not right.

 

Probably not right.

What are the necessary ingredients for a good college party? Alcohol, music, and the presence of the opposite sex are three things that come to mind immediately. I can find these parties all over campus, and I’m glad for it. Bigger schools and state schools don’t have nearly as much freedom as we do, or as much choice. People complain about the Amherst party scene all the time, but I’ve never had a problem finding booze and meeting people if that’s what I want to do. But here’s the rub: parties, for the most part, seem to be hosted by fraternities, male athletic teams, or male suites. Sports teams may ‘cohost’ parties, but they take place in the suite of the men’s team. On a typical night, here’s what I’ve noticed: groups of women pregame together and then ‘go out’ to one of these locales. It seems to be what is expected of them. The women are expected to gather, get drunk, and then show up and hang off the men like purses. Never mind if the men are so busy comparing penis size (cough playing beirut cough) that they pay the women next to no mind. These men get angry if the women are keeping to themselves or not watching their masterful beirut games or not dancing but they do not take any initiative. The women are expected to dance and the men will eventually join in without a word and latch on to various body parts like lampreys. I’ve been to parties where there is not a single conversation going on between members of the opposite sex. But as long as the men decide there are enough breasts to ogle and asses to grind against this is considered a good party.

 

In a recent New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/p9lrcY), students lashed out against this, saying things like “Boys will be boys” and “I think that this is the time in your life when you’re most experimental…I think that every person has been there, but I think when I grow up I will look back and think it’s unhealthy. Because it’s animalistic. But it’s just what happens at this stage”. Others felt that women were empowered when they went to parties drunk and scantily clad, because they a) were in a progressive society and were allowed to do it and b) could tantalize men and then refuse them if they so pleased. I’ve heard all these arguments at Amherst, too. But these arguments, regardless of whether or not they explain the issue, still don’t make this problem okay. Women in college, despite their advances in the classroom and around campus, are still stuck in a backward social scene. They are expected to appear sexually available, to stick to men like magnets, and to appear at the men’s parties. If they don’t, they have to contend with all sorts of labels – none positive.

She has been labelled. By you.

Many women seem to be relatively okay with this, though. For every woman who complains that a fraternity walking around chanting “No means yes and yes means anal” is derisive and beyond inappropriate, there are two laughing along and being apologetic, saying it’s all meant in good fun. If I call someone ‘nigger’ I’ll be beaten up, potentially arrested, and despised, but if I tell one of my guy friends that so-and-so is a slut, he’ll laugh and agree with me. Why is it still largely culturally acceptable to degrade women in this manner? Every time a man comes up behind a woman who is dancing and grabs on without even asking, he sees her as a sexual object, nothing more. And too often, the woman is okay with this! Some might argue with me, saying it’s fine if the woman doesn’t mind, or maybe that she just likes sex. But someone can love sex without being an object. The two don’t go hand in hand. And it should never be ‘okay’ to be an object in the first place. But by and large, in Amherst’s night-time party social scene, women are sometimes treated as scantily dressed objects that can be filled with booze or other fluids, and paraded around like trophies by silent, shirtless men. This shouldn’t happen.

 

Why is this so? How can women be on a relatively equal plane in the classroom and around the campus until the lights go out and the music comes on? A social scene in which men are allowed to objectify women in such ways should not be tolerated. I’m not bitter, I swear. I’m just looking for answers and clamoring for change, but sometimes I’m drowned out by the voices of the wicked.

 

Citation: New York Times, August 26, 2011, After Class, Skimpy Equality, Lisa Belkin