Hiring strippers is also a ''joke,'' of sorts -- though there's been a lot of fuss made over the lacrosse team having done so, which most of the students I talked to found puzzling. ''I was like, wow -- I didn't realize that there was that stigma,'' says Naomi.
What people don't get, she says, is that none of this is shocking -- to her or to anyone she knows, really. Girls, like boys, tell gross jokes. They go to strip clubs -- there's one in downtown Durham that students frequent every so often as ''a joke.'' Girls also hire strippers to dance at their birthday parties or other events -- one sorority hires a stripper ''in a tie-dyed thong and a flabby stomach'' every year as part of its annual initiation rites.
''It's totally gross, and we're all like, blech,'' Naomi says.
And afterward, says Anna, ''You're like, 'That was fun. That was a fun activity.' ''
On the other hand, the girls know at some level that the guys are just using them by exploiting their willingness to give out sexual favors without doing any preliminary softening-up or post-coital follow-up , and they allow it because they're naive enough to hope that a relationship might develop out of a guy's respecting this modern behavior.
Among Naomi and her friends, a certain weariness creeps in when discussing the whole scene. ''Girls reduce themselves a lot here in order to be able to have the sexual freedom that I think they don't have by doing that,'' says Naomi. She sighs. ''There's a big difference between the global values and feminist ideals we think we should be subscribing to and the behavior a lot of us exhibit -- and I do it too,'' she admits. But maybe not as much as some of her friends, she adds. ''One of my friends thinks she's the biggest feminist, but to me she is one of the biggest anti-feminists, just because of her sexual behavior'' -- which is hooking up with several guys in the course of a weekend, including one, a ''regular'' who ''really treats her like shit.''
''But, you know, she's doing it out of fear,'' says Anna, smiling a bit. ''It's like, 'Oh, yes, consistent sex -- that's great. And maybe he'll invite me to this big frat formal that's coming up that everyone wants to go to.' '' She chuckles condescendingly.
These kids may attend a prestigious university, but they're lacking a certain level of basic common sense. Why should a guy commit to one of them if he can get the goods for free? But even if one popular girl decided that she wasn't going to put out without some sort of guarantee of exclusivity, she'd have to get the other girls to go along with her so that they'd have collective bargaining power over the men. And there'd have to be some sort of stigma attached to girls who slept around without a guarantee, because she'd weaken the position of every other girl by making no-strings-attached sex available. The women need to be the guardians of their own interests.
I've been reading a book about Iraqi village life: Guests of the Sheik, by Elizabeth Fernea. Mrs. Fernea spent the first two years of her married life in a small village with her anthropologist husband, and while he studied the men of the tribe, she became accquainted with the women. In a culture where a woman's virtue was often worth more than her life, and in which it was desperately difficult to raise children and run a household without the support of a man, the women understood the damage that even one or two promiscuous women could wreak and actively worked to keep even the taint of scandal away from any member of their set. Coming from a different religious, philosophical, and cultural background, many of their precautions felt draconian to me, but there's no question that these Iraqis had a grasp of basic human commerce and social reality that seems to have eluded their liberated, wealthy, Ivy Leagued sisters.
I told a friend at one point thatI would never have sex until I was married because I wasn't going to give anyone the goods until he was obligated to take care of me and provide for any children -- the reverse of the "why buy the cow" scenario. I wanted a signed contract stating that Joe Husband was legally bound to me and his offspring. That's just common sense.
"But that's so cold!" she said.
"Is it?" I asked.
"What about love?" she rejoined. "Does Darwin know this?"
"Of course he knows!" I exclaimed. "Do you think he would have it any other way? We're engaged, aren't we?"
Cold, hard realism about the social protections and restrictions of a contractual sexual relationship doesn't mean that there's no love involved. And thinking sex without commitment equals either sexual equality or happiness is not liberation. It's just stupidity.