Friendship on Campus

Just read today’s NYTimes article on college sex by Kate Taylor.  Sex is nothing new.  Sex when drunk is nothing new.  Sex without love is nothing new.  It has been going on forever. The article is new and begging for comments.  I’ll fall into line and make mine. 

What’s missing from this article is that women and men on both high school and college campuses, unlike when I was a student in the sixties, can be friends — not just loving couples or hookups, drunk or sober.  Or at least the boys and girls/men and women of my son’s school years –the nineties and two thousand naughts — were friends.  To me that possibility is the most important change in male/female relationships in the past fifty or so years since the women’s sexual revolution.

The sixties opened the door wide for pre-marital lovemaking without guilt or shame.  This eventually became acceptable in the minds of all.  Well not all.  Not those who truly believe in and practice abstinence until marriage, and we should all respect their choice.

Free sex (again what the feminist movement brought about) was certainly not acceptable in the minds of those who had a problem with equality of the sexes.  They took it as a perk.   A dirty perk.  They still do.  Lately with the nonsense coming out of the mouths of our politicians, and the medieval stances being made by legislatures across our land, one might think they are the majority.  Can’t be.  They are just the loudmouth bullies who were loudmouth bullies when they were younger.

Good and bad came with women’s sexual liberation.  On the bad side were the abuses of all those young women and men who wanted to express their trust and love, but who were too immature and innocent to understand that not all the people with flowers in their hair were as pure in heart and mind as they were.  There were bouts of loss of self-esteem, “degrading encounters,” and the hurt and depression that come with miscommunication or lack of communication about expectations or outright lies, conflicts with family and perhaps future partners.  Same as now.  Were there increases in venereal disease or unwanted pregnancies or extra-marital affairs?  There could very well have been.

A lot of college men in the sixties were heavy, heavy drinkers.  What has caused this increase in the female student population?  Is there an increase?  I don’t recall any of my classmates ever saying “If I’m sober, I’m working,” as one college woman is quoted in the article.  Does that reverse into “If I’m not working, I’m drinking and having sex?”  Doubtful. An increase in drinking among today’s female students might stem from a sense of futility, financial pressures, lack of opportunity and lack of encouragement from the leadership and powerful that have emerged from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  Being young doesn’t mean you are stupid.  There are just not many places for them to go.

On the good side, the women’s sexual revolution of the sixties enabled students and young adults in their twenties and thirties to delay marriage and experience the freedom of being single and independent before marriage.  The youth of my day were free from internal and external pressures to do things the way our parents did.  A person learns a lot about him/herself and the partner he/she wants and needs by experiencing relationships with different people.  This goes both for personality and lovemaking.

We had time on our side.  We could grow into ourselves before our marriages, not after a divorce as so many of our parents. 

Perhaps the above thought is out of date. Today’s college students can’t do things the way their parents did.  There is little on their side.  Where are the jobs?  What do they do when they graduate?   What fields are open?   They can sell their souls and work for Monsanto or Exxon or Bank of America.  They can teach but only if they agree to deny science and teach lies.  They can go into the arts but only if they have a corporate sponsor which means they are censored.  They can try to change the system but only if they are strong (or crazy) enough to be publicly persecuted and harassed.

Opportunities for high school graduates are even bleaker.  They pay little, offer little chance of advancement, and provide no security or benefits.

Perhaps experiencing life so that you can be a better person and make a better partner choice no longer matters.

Girls and boys were not friends in my school days.  Girls wanted boyfriends, steadies, a class ring, an athletic letter, dates on Saturday night, a club jacket, husbands along with diplomas.  That’s what girls learned from their parents, the TV, the love songs on the radio. Boys wanted someone who would put out or they were too shy to want anything at all.

Somewhere between the sixties and the nineties something changed. 

Both my boys have had girl “friends.”   They’ve been to my house and have spent the night and I know they have not shared a bed, but often a bedroom.  It took me quite a while when they were in high school to believe that all was innocent.   

It was such a great change, a very needed change.  I wish I had had boy “friends” when young.  My first male “friend” was gay and I was in my late twenties!  Even now I’d feel a bit of a flirt and a bit deceitful meeting a man “friend” for coffee or for a walk along the river while my constant companion was at home.

Am I that different from my son’s girl friends?  I wonder. It has come to seem perfectly natural that my sons can have females as friends.  I wonder it if is perfectly natural that other women’s daughters can have males as friends.

Are today’s students so different from those of just ten years ago?  Please don’t tell me so.  Please young women and men of today.  Hang on.  There is no one way.  There are many ways.  Some just wander around a little more than others.

Classmates of the opposite sex are not just marriage partners or hook-ups.  They can be friends – friends for a year, friends for life.    You don’t have to swear to love each other until death do you part.  You don’t have to be committed.  There are chapters in your lives.  Live each one to its fullest.  Friends are fun in good times, they are there in the bad. They are very nice.  It may take a little more effort than getting drunk and doing it standing up in the bathroom.  You may still argue and go different ways, but after making the first friend, you will find it gets easier.  And you won’t have a hangover in the morning.

If you don’t have sex with each other, that’s wonderful.  If you do, that’s wonderful too.  

Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild -- credited with the the words Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild — the woman behind the title — google her name

My after college friends, the two women I hung out with in Boston from 1969 until 1975 when I finally moved out, having had it with doggie poo on the streets, a discouraging proportion of gay to straight men on Beacon Hill, and a neighbor across the alley who hosted orgies with the windows wide open, were okay attractive, intelligent, liberal thinking, book-reading, professionals with masters degrees making decent salaries.

MARRIAGE AND WORK

We weren’t girls who went to college only looking for a husband, but I am sure none of us would have turned the right one away had he come along.  I, for one, was engaged to a college sweetheart before coming to my senses.  Actually I was out of my senses when I dramatically, hysterical and in tears, in the presence of quite a few people, most of whom I didn’t know, at some gathering in a now-forgotten city in New Jersey, declared that our engagement was a huge mistake.  I had been building up to it.  Once said, I wondered why it took me so long to admit.

Marriage was important to us, and so were children.  And certainly, what was wrong with having someone it would be so nice to come home to.  

We were living the life of independent women, meeting for lunch at Grendel’s Den, and later for drinks and steamers at the bar in The Half Shell.  We devoured Anais Nin, Doris Lessing, and Simone de Beauvoir, but we weren’t exactly all on the same page.  They were getting fired up and fortifying their stance with Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer while I was fueling my angst and imagination with Violet Leduc and Caitlin Thomas.  

L. gave herself a birthday party with girlfriends every year.  We were all at her mother’s house celebrating.  I must have stepped out of the room, probably to attend to an uncomfortable contact lens, which was a constant source of squinchiness during my twenties.  I vividly remember returning to the kitchen where the talk was about discrimination against women in the work force:  less salary, no respect, limited prospects.  Women could be librarians, sales clerks, secretaries, and beauticians:  cooks but not chefs, teachers but not principals, nurses but not doctors.

They talked of how women need financial independence to be in control of their own destinies.  Not all women chose to marry, or were chosen to be married, and many who married found themselves trapped in uncomfortable if not intolerable situations.  If they married, they wanted the right to work even though they knew it still meant that hubby expected his working wife to be at home, relaxed and lovely, with drink in hand and dinner on the table, and children clean and done with homework every night when he returned from the job.  And so forth. 

Everyone stared at me when I walked into the room and said something like:  “It’s ugly in the work environment.  It’s stifling, stressful, competitive, demeaning, nasty.  How many men enjoy their work, or get to choose?  No man should have to wake each morning, rush off to the office or factory, squelching his spirit to make the boss happy.  Men are suffocating in mines and in bureaucracies acting out scenarios that make them cringe.  Women don’t have many choices, but if my only choices were entering the so-called man’s duplicitous work world or staying at home in the woman’s realm, well I’d rather be barefoot and pregnant.”  Or something like that. 

From then on I was Aunt Tom.

ABORTION AND BIRTH CONTROL    

In my senior year at high school I dated an older boy who adored me because of my innocence, and would have been very happy to take it away.  He thought fear of pregnancy kept me a virgin.  But my fears went deeper than that.  He gave me a book to read about abortion, illegal at the time.  It spoke to the different options available to women of different economic and social classes, and of the many reasons women chose to terminate a pregnancy, and of the disastrous outcomes of back alley botches.  It all made sense to me, but it did not have the desired effect – or perhaps he was just interested in my education?

A few years later, in a conversation about the pill and abortion, a college roommate told me her mother had had an abortion.  My ambivalence showed, and so did my roommate’s annoyance.  By the end of the conversation, however, I knew if an untimely or inappropriate pregnancy should occur, I would opt for abortion – even an illegal one.  I was still lily white at this time.

I did go on the pill almost immediately when I met that college sweetheart.  The local doctor in my college town refused to give me a prescription and shooed me out with a moral berating.  My beau’s sister lent me her wedding band and sent me to her own ob-gyn and all was well – for me, and for her family who really didn’t care very much for me. 

No one in my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, favorite authors, or historical heroes truly believed that the decision of whether a woman got pregnant or ended one had anything to do with the law.  The law was just something to work around – an outdated nuisance.  And this law was based on religion beliefs.  Everyone knew from seventh grade American history class that there was a separation between church and state.  We read The Scarlet Letter, a tale of adultery taking place in a Puritan colony in 1642, before our enlightened founding fathers wrote the Constitution setting the separation of church and state in stone!  

Curious about when the pill was first available to women in the United States I asked the computer.  The FDA approved it for contraceptive use in 1960.   I also learned that Eisenhower thought that birth control was not in the government’s purview.  At least that’s how I interpreted his words the first time I saw them out of context on The Pill.  He was quoted:

I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a
proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility.

Miraculously discovered  in Mom & Dad's matchbook collection two days ago.

A timely discovery in Mom & Dad’s matchbook collection

Wow!  Eisenhower was once more on my side.  Birth control was not a government issue. 

When I went back online to do some research, I found more.  The sound bite was taken from Eisenhower’s response to a question at a press conference in 1959.  He was asked for his reaction to the recommendation that the United States provide information on birth control to countries asking for help to alleviate crippling overpopulation.  The rest of his answer:

This thing has for very great denominations a religious meaning, definite religious tenet in their own doctrine. I have no quarrel with them; as a matter of fact this being largely the Catholic Church, they are one of the groups that I admire and respect. But this has nothing to do with governmental contact  with other governments.  We do not intend to interfere with the internal affairs of any other government, and if they want to do something about what is admittedly a very difficult question, almost an explosive question that is their business.  If they want to go to someone for help, they will go unquestionably to professional groups not to governments. This Government has no, and will not  as long as I am here have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control. That’s not our business.

Margaret Sanger, at the age of 80, challenged Eisenhower to a debate “to put him straight on the question of planned parenthood.” 

Googling on, I found that Eisenhower’s words have been used to back up both pro and anti-birth control constituencies throughout the years.   

What did he actually believe?  More than that, what did he actually say?  I see the words, but what is a “positive political doctrine?”  What about a “negative political doctrine?” Did he choose his words carefully or was this an Obama “You didn’t build that” moment. 

As a former archivist and one who loves finding the answer, I know this topic requires more in-depth original document research.  What I’m finding online are various bits and pieces of history strung together to promote opposing agendas.  It is hard enough to approximate the truth in news and history when it is written by journalists and scholars with high standards for their work.  It’s impossible when writers and news commentators and our politicians lie outright, and twist and contort words and make up facts to promote themselves or promote fear.  Eisenhower is merely an interesting aside here.  This is not a dissertation, just my silly blog post, and I can’t devote weeks to find the answers. I’m clearly pointing out that I know not of what I write.  And neither do a lot of  “experts.” 

Eisenhower Birth-CurbWhatever his personal opinion on birth control – his official answer to the US getting involved in population control overseas was “no.” 

A few years later however, Former President Eisenhower, along with Harry S. Truman, “agreed to serve as co-chairman of the honorary sponsors council of Planned Parenthood-World Population,”  co-chair of Planned Parenthood, or co-chair of a financial campaign for Planned Parenthood – take your pick.  It depends upon where you look.

He did say, however, in a message to Planned Parenthood in 1968:

“Millions of parents in our country — hundreds of millions abroad — are still denied the clear human right of choosing the number of children they will have. Government must act, and private citizens must cooperate urgently through voluntary means to secure this right for all peoples. Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering, and bring down upon us history’s condemnation.”

Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet on Republicans on Choice, Family Planning, and Privacy, a teacher’s aid, interprets Eisenhower’s words as his seeing “reproductive rights for what they are — basic human rights.”

Yes!

But according to Donald T. Critchlow in The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (1996) Eisenhower agreed “after some hesitation” which is interpreted in wiki.answers that he agreed “albeit reluctantly.”

It is outrageous that abortion and birth control are still controversial political issues.   The people who vote for political leaders who hold women in such contempt that they deny them safe and simple health care and control of their own bodies are living in a fantasy.  It may be a religious fantasy.  It may be some sick sexual fantasy.  Or it may be something as simple as the fact that their parents voted Republican, and so then do they.

However, the stupidity and the level of hate and fear shown by today’s outspoken anti-women’s leaders in the Republican Party and the church do not reflect the opinions of the majority of voting Republicans or churchgoers, and certainly not the opinions of most Americans.  The leaders of Republican Party in past decades were more realistic and compassionate (before George the 2nd changed the meaning of the word) in their approach to women’s health, family planning, unwanted pregnancy, and unwanted children.   Check Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet again.   Of course, PP also knows how to cut and paste to their benefit.

AND SO?

I was about thirty years old and sitting at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table.  Two of their sons were my age and married.  They were curious why I wasn’t.  I said because I have everything I need – money, a job, a home, friends.  I’ll marry if and when I find the right someone or the right man with whom to have a child.  I wasn’t big on single motherhood. I’m not sure what they thought of my answer or of me.  It was spontaneous but it still seems right.

Who knows why I married?

Reading about the life of the late Shulamith Firestone I was struck by all that the feminists of my day accomplished and how doggedly our government is nibbling away at women’s rights — basic human rights.   I was also struck by how so many of those activist women’s lives turned tragic.

No, I was not a feminist.  But because of the feminists I am the woman I am now, and I am fed up.