Harvard University has been writing about Wellesley College since 1884, nine years after Wellesley’s founding. And they haven’t stopped since: if one were to go through the archives of the Harvard Crimson, one would find multiple anthropological studies in the guise of think pieces dedicated to unravelling “the Wellesley girl.” On Nov. 20, yet another piece was added to this venerable genre: “To Bed, to Wed, to Talk to,” an investigative article featured online on the Crimson Magazine’s page. The author attempts to break new ground by interviewing non-Harvard students –– including Wellesley students –– about why they come to the parties hosted by Harvard fraternities and final clubs. Why do they subject themselves to an elitist and sexist institution that survives through their active participation? While the Wellesley News agrees that college party culture –– especially Harvard’s –– can be incredibly problematic, the author doesn’t shed any new light on this phenomenon, or on the role that the male Final Club and fraternity members play in perpetuating sexism in the college social scene. Instead, she adds to the issue of sexism by placing the blame on women seeking to carve a space for themselves in a predominantly male social scene.
At the beginning of the piece, the author makes a point to distinguish herself from the subjects of her study. In the introduction, she refers to the women waiting at the door to parties en masse as “them” describing their clothes, movements and mannerisms as if she were a zoologist narrating a documentary for National Geographic. She suggests that the non-Harvard women are easily distinguishable from Harvard students because they display “ …fractures in confidence, sideways glances, body language that says I am uncomfortable here.” Not only does the author use this phrase to cast these women as ‘other,’ she insinuates that because she attends Harvard University and these women do not, she is somehow exempt from the patriarchal system in which they exist. This attitude alone supports the elitist culture that exists at Harvard –– a culture that the writer seems to take issue with to some extent. However, her critique falls short because she fails to see her non-Harvard subjects as her equals. Rather, they are mere party girls who wear “some iteration of the same uniform: High heels, short dresses, and low tops …” instead of the outerwear coat the author wears because –– unlike them –– she is sensible.
The previous example alone illuminates a deep contradiction that is present throughout the piece: even though the author finds the male-centric party spaces problematic, she blames the women who attend the parties for the existence of the parties. This contradiction brings to light an important point that is mentioned in the article as a throwaway quote, but deserves to be unpacked more since it gets at the heart of the author’s issue. According to Wellesley student and former News Editor Isha Gupta ’21, as quoted in “To Bed, to Wed, to Talk to,” women have been socially conditioned to be pitted against one another. Gupta’s quote is one of the most salient sections in the entire almost 4000-word piece, yet the author hardly investigates it beyond one throwaway phrase. Instead of focusing on the way non-Harvard women choose to navigate this complex social scene, she should focus on the social conditions that bring about this kind of culture in the Boston area.
More often than not, if Wellesley students want to party off campus, they need to have connections in Boston. Unfortunately, a lot of the social scene is dominated by men. Therefore, women have created their own social scenes at these parties and do not allow the patriarchy to squander their right to a good time. For example, many of the women interviewed in the piece stressed that they simply used the connections to have a good time dancing with their friends from their schools. Bottom line, the girls at these parties just wanted to have fun and the author of the piece just wanted to judge them for that.
No final club or fraternity members were interviewed for this article, though the author does state that she attempted to speak with some and was declined. This, however, seems like a failure to truly interrogate those systems which decide which women can go to Harvard parties, and which can’t — who’s in, in this elitist system, and who’s out. In spending the bulk of her article not on those orchestrating the parties but on the idiosyncrasies — down to even the outfits — of those attending them, the author unwittingly places the blame for this sexism and elitism not on those creating it, but on those often turned away by it. Rather than joining the incredibly long legacy of studying Wellesley students like exotic beasts, Harvard Crimson writers’ time would be better spent investigating the sexism and elitism within their own institution that compels women attending these parties to jump through so many hoops just to be included.