Sex? Identity? It's Complex
Slut, creep, tramp, player — these are all words that have been thrown around to describe students who engage in sexual activity at the College, often in conjunction with those who participate in the perceived hookup culture. For years, activists and students on college campuses across the nation have decried the double standard to which men and women are subjected in relation to their sexual activity — or lack thereof. Namely, society often censures women who have casual sex, while men are frequently encouraged to do so.
Despite activists’ best efforts, several students said they believe this standard persists at the College.
“Definitely I think girls who sleep around here are called ‘sluts’ or ‘promiscuous,’ whereas guys who sleep around get high fives,” Helen Nam ’17 said. “There’s not that much slut shaming because I would like to think that a lot of us are educated about it, but I think it does happen.”
While gender may often appear as the most prominent factor that determines how students are perceived in regard to their sexual decision, there are various lenses through which we can examine hookup culture at Dartmouth. Other factors such as age, ethnicity and sexual orientation also come into play in determining perceptions of others with respect to the sexual dynamic on campus.
When asked whether age plays a role in dictating impressions of people in the hookup scene, women’s and gender studies lecturer Michael Bronski described his experiences teaching at Harvard University.
“If you look at the finals clubs at Harvard, which are kind of like fraternities, freshmen women have no problem getting invited while freshmen men never get invited — ever,” he said.
The concept of underclassmen women receiving more attention from upperclassmen men is nothing new. In fact, the gender dynamics found within Harvard finals clubs uncannily resemble those that many students said can be found within Dartmouth fraternity basements. This phenomena brings to mind the “Dartmouth X” — a maybe-true, maybe-not bit of College apocrypha that dictates that the social value of a male student starts at the lowest possible point and increases over time, while the social value a female student, on the other hand, starts at the highest point and decreases over time. As Bronski’s experience demonstrates, however, this myth does not describe a phenomena unique to the College.
“The Dartmouth totem pole just mirrors the sexism in society,” Bronski said.
In terms of hookup culture, there appear to be mixed opinions regarding how upperclassmen and underclassmen are regarded. Nicole Simineri ’17 said that there is a double standard when it comes to dating younger people. While the word “cougar” describes women who date younger men, she said there is no analogous signifier for men who date younger women.
On the other hand, younger people who find themselves in relationships with older people often face a similar stigma.
“If there’s a freshman girl who’s sleeping around all the time, they come off as too eager,” Nam said. “If a senior girl does it, it’s more acceptable because she’s older and has more experience.”
Nam said she has also observed stereotypes that some races might be “more promiscuous or ‘easy.’”
While the student body includes people from a variety of races, nearly 50 percent of the total enrollment for the 2014 fall term was white. With an unequal representation of various backgrounds, certain groups of students may feel marginalized or unable to fulfill certain expectations because of their race.
“It seems like the closer you are to the white standard of beauty the more desirable you are,” Rashid Alhassan ’16 said. “There’s this ideal that if you’re a minority you are not as good looking, or even if people do find you good looking they might objectify you because of your race.”
Simineri said she, too, thinks that a “white standard of beauty” characterizes sexual norms at the College.
Race, however, is only one of several categories that can affect how one’s sexuality is perceived. Gender non-binary and queer students, for example, may have additional expectations and stereotypes placed on them. When asked about how perceptions of heterosexual and homosexual hookups differ, Bronski points out that some may choose to ignore the existence of homosexual hookups entirely.
“I think many people might rather not think about it, even though what they do is exactly what heterosexuals might do,” Bronski said. “They’d rather not think about two men or two women doing it.”
A member of the Class of 2017, who self-identified as a queer woman but preferred to remain anonymous because she has not come out publicly, said she thinks discussions of queer hookups are trivialized.
“The fact that we don’t have an open discussion is problematic,” she said. “I’m in [Sigma Delta sorority] and I’m in a coed, and those are two spaces where it isn’t true, but in general campus life I don’t think [the queer experience is] discussed to the extent that it should be.”
She echoed Bronski, saying that this aversion to openly discussing queer sexuality may be because it’s an uncomfortable topic that people would rather avoid.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily because people are bigoted,” she said. “People just don’t want to make things awkward.”
Ivan Hess ’15, who identifies as gay, said society perceives queer people to hook up more frequently, although he noted that he was wary of issuing generalized comments about Dartmouth culture.
“I will say that in our society queer people are perceived to be promiscuous and that does carry over into Dartmouth,” Hess said.
Simineri noted that it’s much harder for non-heterosexual people to meet potential romantic or sexual partners.
“Homosexuals need a doorway into that community, while heterosexual hookups or relationships can happen anywhere,” Simineri said.
This dynamic also comes into play within the Greek system, and several interviewed noted that the system as a whole often prioritizes certain identities. Most Greek houses, students said, cater to heterosexual students, which can often leave queer students feeling uncomfortable or marginalized.
As a result, Greek life can, at times, be uncomfortable or awkward for queer students.
“There’s such a system that strongly benefits young girls and affiliated men that really facilitates hookup culture for those two groups assuming they’re straight,” the anonymous member of the class of 2017 said. “Freshman pong was awkward for me because the assumption is that you play pong with a brother and something will happen as a result of that. There’s this whole layer of stuff going on about not leading people on while trying to be social.”
For Bronski, the complex identity politics that govern sex at the College are only brought into focus because the intercourse occurs in a tiny New Hampshire town.
“I’m sure people at Columbia [University] have as much sex as people do here, but it’s all over the Upper West Side, not two blocks,” Bronski said.
Simineri is a contributing columnist for The Dartmouth opinion section.