[Update on the fallout at UNC as a result of the article discussed in this post can be found here.]
Okay. So I know I promised no romance stuff until February 15th. And I will hold to that promise. You will get no romantic affirmations, no gooey-ness in response to seeing men with babies, or bemoan-ment of my single fate. Apparently The New York Times didn’t get the message.
Today in the Sunday Styles section, the NYT published a front section article called “The New Math on Campus.” I was expecting something about mathematics becoming sexy again in college culture, or maybe a feature on mathematician, former chid actress, and great role model Danica McKellar‘s work to encourage women in math and science. Instead I found this, a story about how the 60-40 female to male ratio on college campuses is creating a situation where
“Women do not want to get left out in the cold, so they are competing for men on men’s terms,” she [Kathleen A. Bogle, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia] wrote. “This results in more casual hook-up encounters that do not end up leading to more serious romantic relationships. Since college women say they generally want ‘something more’ than just a casual hook-up, women end up losing out.”
W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, which is 57 percent female, put it this way: “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” he said. Translation: more partners, more sex. Commitment? A good first step would be his returning a woman’s Facebook message.
But it’s not as if the imbalance leads to ceaseless bed-hopping, said Austin Ivey, who graduated from North Carolina last year but was hanging out in a bar near campus last week. “Guys tend to overshoot themselves and find a really beautiful girlfriend they couldn’t date otherwise, but can, thanks to the ratio,” he said.
Mr. Ivey himself said that his own college relationship lasted three years. “She didn’t think she would meet another guy, I didn’t think I would meet another girl as attractive as her,” he said.
What follows is a portrait of college life that basically offends everyone. Men are either cads who revel in “not having to work that hard” for a date or pining for dates with the school’s “enchanting, beautiful women” (whatever happened to smart, funny, kind, or talented?) that they still can only barely get (and stay with out of habit) with the math skewed in their favor. Women are either sluts who “grab men by the wrist, spin them around […] and start grinding” or shy and lonely shut-ins that are “left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box.” They also seem to only be straight.
The article paints a textbook picture of heteronormativity, or the pervasiveness of depictions and expectations of heterosexuality in our culture. Heteronormativity doesn’t just mean marginalizing queerness i.e. homosexuality and non-essentialist views of gender and sex. It also means expecting men to act like “men” and women to act like “women.” As in men are all like Stanley Kowalski
and all women are like Blanche Dubois
Let’s be honest, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a hot show, but it is also a good example of the pressures heteronormitivity puts on men and women (and everyone in between.)
Now you’re probably wondering how we got here from college co-eds, but they’re all one and the same. The NYT article involves slut shaming (the passages about sexually aggressive women or women who–God forbid!–ask men out), anti-male sentiment (men are cads, men only want to “use” women), and romantic delusions (the whole darn article.) Both suggest that life without a man, without a gentleman caller, is not complete for a woman. No sister can hope to compete for the affections of a married woman with her strapping oil soaked caveman around. Apparently, women will tear each other apart to get a good man. (Some directors have set up Streetcar as a tragic attempt at seduction of Stanley by Blanche. This is a pretty severe disservice to the play, though, since the dramaturgy suggests it is a battle for Stella, the pull between feminine history and family of Blanche and the heteronormative sexuality and magnetism of Stanley.)
Yes, sometimes women put their love lives before their friends. They’re different kinds of needs. Writing articles like “New Math on Campus” suggests that kind of behavior is acceptable, normal, while Streetcar examines these dilemmas from all angles and gives you a beautiful, tragic result.
Streetcar acknowledges that women (and men, and everyone in between) want to be wanted and, in some ways, even want to be used. It is impossible to forget the power of the iconic “STELLAAAAA!!!” scene in Elia Kazan’s film, because it is such an authentic manifestation of sexuality that allows one to forget pain, to forget the past, and to heal in the forgetting.
But, like Beyonce has told us,
I couldn’t care less what you think
I need no permission, did I mention
Dont pay him any attention
Cuz you had your turn
But now you gonna learn
What it really feels like to miss me […]
Don’t treat me to the things of this world
I’m not that kind of girl
Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve
Is a man that makes me, then takes me
And delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond
Pull me into your arms
Say I’m the one you WANT
If you don’t, you’ll be alone
And like a ghost I’ll be gone
It is much better to be loved and wanted and used than just used. And nobody should subject themselves to being with somebody just because they can’t get anything better. Saying that having to live (and “love” like that) is just an unfortunate but inherent flaw in the system is just plain wrong and offensive, as the comments on the article prove. Epic, epic fail, NYT.