The New York Times, in a recent article entitled, “Sex on Campus, She Can Play that Game, Too”, breathlessly announced the obvious:
“That traditional dating in college has mostly gone the way of the landline, replaced by ‘hooking up’ — an ambiguous term that can signify anything from making out to oral sex to intercourse — without the emotional entanglement of a relationship.”
However, the thrust of the Times article is that contrary to “conventional wisdom that the hookup culture was driven by men, and that women were reluctant participants, more interested in romance than in casual sexual encounters — there is an increasing realization that young women are propelling it, too.”
I am reluctant to call into question the New York Times, and especially its recent discovery that women on American campuses are driving sexual encounters. After all, it is the American paper of record. However, I must take issue with The Times’ recent campus sexual revelations.
I suspect that young women have been calling the shots on sex on campus, ever since American women first invaded those hallowed halls of American academia. Probably dating back to the founding of one of America’s first universities and Puritan playground, Harvard College in 1636.
Of those times I can only speculate. But Harvard, in the early 1970s, I have no doubts.
My friends and I were fortunate to be undergrads at Harvard in the early 1970s.
My tragicomic experiences and their experiences clearly and without equivocation, prove hooking up was the rage during that time.
And that we poor naïve innocent schmucks were mere pawns and sexual playthings for our more sexually-driven and aggressive Radcliffe classmates.
(Back then, we called it “hitting the sack” or uncharacteristically for us urban dudes, “rolling in the hay”.)
You see my experience was not unique. Admittedly, I had some skills. Had some game. I was not bad between the sheets. My skills were good, though not remarkable. Like most of my fellow Crimson men.
So I have no trouble generalizing my experience. And that of my Harvard friends.
But first we need a little context. A little background.
Over 95 per cent of Harvard men and Radcliffe women in the early 1970s lived on campus, in co-ed residences, known as Harvard Houses or Radcliffe Houses, during their sophomore, junior and senior years. Normally, in the same residence for those three years. Each residence had about 300-400 co-ed students, roughly 4:1 ratio of men to women.
Over the years, some of these residences developed very well-defined characters.
My roommates Mark and Jeff and I, lived in Lowell House.
Which was one of the more popular residences.
It also was known as one of the most conservative, conventional, traditional and preppiest residence at Harvard.
In my day, Lowell House was run by Master Zeph Stewart, a wonderful and traditional Classics Professor. Master Stewart was a Hotchkiss and Yale man. And brother of former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.
Lowell House reflected Zeph. It was Waspish, charming, tasteful and very diplomatic.
Most Thursdays, the students would dress in their academic robes, sip sherry and have High Tea.
And engage in sophisticated chit chat with the Master, his wife, Lowell House professors and various notable guests, (judges, lawyers, academics, diplomats) who dropped in to share with us their world-weary experience.
Accordingly, the student residents, especially the Radcliffe women of Lowell House, were also very intelligent, conventional, conservative, and quite Northeastern Waspish preppie, in a Boston Brahmin noblesse oblige way.
Even if they were neither Waspish, nor descended from the original English settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Lowell House parties, or “mixers” were subdued genteel affairs.
In this milieu, you would think that the conventional Radcliffe women of Lowell House would enjoy traditional dating, ie. a romantic dinner at a Cambridge bistro, followed by Bogey’s “Casablanca” at the Brattle Street Theatre. Or lobsters at Locke- Obers, a famous Boston’s seafood place, followed by dancing and cocktails at the top of the John Hancock Tower.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong, Grasshopper.
Let me illustrate.
In those days, Lowell House women were not interested in long term or short term romantic relationships.
Not even “one on one” dating.
They were very smart, independent, highly driven and career-oriented.
They were pre-med, pre-law, even pre-B School.
But with me — not sex, pre-marital.
Until one night, at about 11:45 p.m., a fellow sophomore, Ellen knocked on my suite door.
Ellen was a very quiet, studious and serious pre-med student.
Your typical Bio-Chem lab wonk.
And seemingly very virginal, moral and pure.
Shakespeare’s virtuous Isabella of “Measure for Measure” comes to mind.
We had chatted amiably on Darwin earlier that evening in the Lowell House library.
However, at that moment, from Ellen, I sensed our relationship had rapidly evolved.
Before I could properly fire up my Bunsen burner, Ellen had motioned me to my bed, shook off her chemise.
And deftly undressed me.
Normally it takes me about six months of movie dates, to get to this point in a relationship.
Caught unawares, my performance was hardly sterling. The journey, not long lasting.
I recall the midnight chimes. In those days, in my early 20s, recovery time — 30 minutes.
With juice — 20 minutes, tops.
I recall trying to negotiate with Ellen. An encore.
I assured her. The next time I would have a better lay of the land.
My stroke would be more sure. My drives, longer.
I am always better on the back nine.
But to no avail. Ellen picked herself up. Zipped up her jeans. She straightened her chemise and informed me that it was fun, but she had to return to her bio-chem lab report.
She just needed a little release. A little break.
And no, a follow up dinner or movie was not necessary.
For the first time in my life, I felt objectified, exoticized and sexualized.
Perhaps for a brief moment like Eternity Martis who wrote in Huffington Post, “Why I Don’t Sleep with White Guys”.
I had been treated like a piece of meat.
Is this how women sometimes feel?
But this was no aberration for me in Lowell House.
Over the next three years I would experience similar sexual, but emotionless couplings.
One night Fazia, an Egyption woman and I were prepping for a quiz in our Middle East government course, in Fazia’s room.
The next moment Fazia, a strict Muslim Egyptian woman, from the finest Arab family this side of the Nile, is stepping out of her loose skirt and is revealing the most wondrous bod. Clearly, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
She had never known before, a young man with my Hebraic background, let alone slept with the enemy.
She was very curious.
Before I knew it, she had tunneled under my defences, breached my Wailing Wall and took me all the way to Tel Aviv and back.
I felt so invaded, but in a good way.
On another occasion, in senior year, a Radcliffe sophomore and I were doing a joint English literature project, in her room.
All of sudden she wanted me to role play.
And play the gamekeeper in “Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover.”
She sprawled face down on her bed.
Fortunately, I kept up my end of the bargain.
And silently thanked Harvard for insisting that I expand my core curriculum outside of Government to include English Literature.
Or I would have not appreciated the literary reference.
And I would have been left behind.
Lastly, my roommate Mark had similar “hooking up” flings with Radcliffe women.
One such woman, Kit, refused to go on traditional dates. Instead she preferred extreme casual outdoor sex.
We are not describing discreet coupling under a blanket on a Cape Cod beach or even by the Charles River.
Kit preferred lovemaking on cold sidewalks, in the bushes and mostly near crowded thoroughfares.
Behind the news stand in busy Harvard Square, was one of her favorites.
As I stated, my Harvard experience was not unique. Nor were Lowell House women unique.
Many Radcliffe women in the 70s were sexually adventurous, independent and knew what they wanted.
I would not have had it any other way.