By Martabel Wasserman
I think about sex all the time. More than the estimated every six seconds. When I am not thinking about sex in my own life, I am thinking about it intellectually and politically. In many ways, sex governs my life. I am a Women, Gender and Sexuality concentrator, so amazing professors and students blow my mind on pretty much a daily basis. Thinking about sex can be very, very fun. Last year, for the Female Orgasm Seminar, I got to buy $1,000 worth of dildos with money from the UC and eat cupcakes with vaginas made out of frosting. I am currently in my second year as editor-in-chief of H Bomb. I hosted a naked party, photographed a porn star, and received a box of free sex toys to review.
Yet the journey to this point was adverse and disorienting. I began thinking about sex critically after an experience I had my freshman year. The initiation hazing of a certain literary and arts magazine was more traumatic for me than a hangover. I had wanted to join the Advocate so I could talk about art with other interesting and interested people. I didn’t realize to get access to those discussions I would go through an initiation process where I was blindfolded and given lethal amounts of alcohol. I woke up vomiting to realize I had had non-consensual sex while I was blacked out. The reason I disclose this personal information, without going into painful details, is because I actively believe rape should not be shameful for women. This is not easy to do in a victim-blaming culture.
The idea of standing outside in the New England winter waiting to be judged on my appearance to determine whether I could enter a male-dominated, heterosexist space to grind with some entitled fuckers was never appealing to me. The fact that most of our social spaces on campus are old boys’ clubs that act as if there is a virtue in partaking in outdated traditions is patently absurd. What I didn’t realize until after my experience at the Advocate was that most of our social spaces are fundamentally about excluding people. Whether it be the Lampoon, the Advocate or the Spee, Harvard social life is structured around exclusivity. Our sense of community is hierarchical: men choose which women can come into the final clubs and comp processes degenerate into incongruous exercises in ego and domination. Many upperclassmen try to intimidate freshman rather than help them navigate the chaos of Harvard. The Signet makes you think you need to pay $500 a semester to meet other people interested in the arts. Just because only seven percent of people who apply to Harvard get in, we students should not continually try to replicate that high of being chosen.
This competitive hierarchy is inextricably linked to the sexual landscape of our campus. When we privilege our individual success over the health of the community, the spaces controlled by exclusive organizations become increasingly dangerous. Sexual assault happens anywhere and everywhere. I am not trying to imply that it is specific to these environments on campus. It does, however, seem far-fetched to me that someone who guards the gates of a final club would be a considerate lover or that someone who is willing to lock people in a castle for a week thinks about how to have respectful relationships. Final clubs have bedrooms. What kind of sexual experience is that designed to foster?
I know that these structures are not going to change. There is too much power in owning real estate in Harvard Square. Final clubs are not budging. The Lampoon and Advocate produce some of Harvard’s most notable alums and provide valuable space for students to express themselves. However, this must not be used as an excuse to give these institutions carte blanche. There is space and opportunity to resist normative socializing at Harvard, but it needs to be cultivated continuously in order to survive. I live at the Dudley Co-op because I feel safer socializing there than within the house system. When you choose to enter a cooperative community, you take on responsibility to your home and your community. Yet one need not be a member of the co-op to experience a positive, comfortable Harvard. Radcliffe Union of Students threw a fabulous feminist prom last spring. The Queer Students Association works to make LBGT-friendly dance parties. People smoke hookah on the steps of Widener in the spring. The Women’s Center is great for free coffee, condoms and a comfortable place to work. Phillips Brooks House is full of passionate energy and is at the heart of service and activism on campus. We have alternative social spaces that try actively to be safe, non-exclusive and fun.
H Bomb has been tremendously important to my intellectual and personal development. Everyone on H Bomb’s board busts their asses because they believe it is important to continue the dialogue on healthy spaces and sex on campus. It is a hard organization to maintain and it folded once before. H Bomb aims to redistribute agency within Harvard’s undergraduate culture. While we don’t have real estate, we have the publication to express non-normative views on sex as a political issue at the forefront of our lives.
During a freshman workshop on sexual assault this year, one girl asked of the rape scenario, “If they started having sex, why doesn’t she just let him finish?” I don’t blame her for saying something offensive on so many levels. She was simply reflecting back messages of the dominant culture. Sexual politics change through dialogue, as we learned from the conscience-raising circles of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
It is our job to confront the backlash against feminism, the commodification of gay culture and the hyper-sexuality of our culture that renders the politics of pleasure invisible. If a freshman comes into Harvard thinking that girls are selfish for not wanting to be raped, she certainly should not graduate from this fine institution still believing that. That transformation should not be contingent on her being one of the 25% of women who will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during their college career. It should be because one of the many things she learned at Harvard was about was how to respect herself and others inside and outside the bedroom.