Bad girls on campus

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The Article

Feminism has revolutionized the demography of the university. Women now constitute 59% of the undergraduate population in Canada. In English literature, 83% of undergrads are female; in social sciences, 68%. Apart from maths and hard sciences, women now rule on campus. This should be wonderful news for liberal parents of girls, who remember their generation’s more skewed reverse ratio.

But before they blithely commit the approximately $60,000 it takes to send the average young woman off to reside for four years at one of Canada’s “sacred groves of academe,” parents should buy the University Student Issue of Maclean’s (June 26, but available on newsstands until Aug. 31).

Skip the articles with all the graphs. Go directly to pp 51-54, where you’ll find the chronology of a typical campus day through the eyes of a woman student. Nineteen-year old Hailey Wojcik from Guelph is supposedly “studying” Sociology and Communications at Toronto’s York University. But mostly she’s trying to find a public space where she doesn’t feel sensorially or territorially besieged.

She begins her day with the pre-shower “towel dance” in the co-ed bathroom. Sometimes in the neighbouring shower stall, there’s “that couple that has to ruin it for everyone…‘What the hell is that noise?’ And then, ‘Ew, awkward.’”

Later Hailey wants to study, but her residence room is too distracting—MSN, TV, phone, constant visitors. In the library, even in the stacks, the chatter of cell phone users chases her away. (Cell phones are banned in theatres and concert halls, but not in university libraries?) There’s a nice study room in the basement of her residence, but sadly “There’s this couple that comes in and hard-core makes out…”

Never mind, it’s now mid-afternoon and time for pot, literally at 4:20 p.m. every day. Pot isn’t Hailey’s thing—she prefers booze—but anyway all drugs are readily available, to those of legal age or not. Thursdays it’s karaoke in her room, then serious puke-level party time. Finally, after a techno-intense day of surfing Facebook.com, text-messaging in 500-strong classes (those she attends—notes are available online, so…) and partying, Hailey is naturally exhausted: “Collapsing into bed, [Hailey] has a direct view of her roommate’s enormous collection of empty liquor bottles.” Later she awakens to the roommate having sex with a guy (“Whatever.”) But when they get into “X-rated activities” and the guy suggests the roommate ask Hailey to join in a threesome, Hailey bolts from the room “and I just hid in the stairwell.”

Hailey doesn’t use the word, but she has been “sexiled,” the neologism coined in I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe’s extravagant satire of campus life in the U.S. The novel was assumed to have been wildly exaggerated, but if Hailey is a “typical” freshie, then Wolfe’s assessment seems spot on target. As Wolfe correctly observed, it isn’t actually women who rule on campus, it’s ideologically ramped-up sexual brinksmanship that rules women. Girls are behaving in ways that run counter to their instincts and self-interest to prove they are men’s equals.

Since men of any era are always eager to “get lucky,” but take their cues as to acceptable levels of sexual aggression and wantonness from women, today’s campus men are in promiscuity heaven. But women? The pattern that emerges is—exactly as laid out in Wolfe’s novel—one of male delight, female anxiety.

Hailey Wojcik never seems confident or even cognizant of her right to personal dignity and modesty. Why, in spite of her discomfort, does she meekly tolerate shower sex 10 inches away? Why does she displace herself from her own bed and room to accommodate her roommate’s noisy hook-up? (Why for that matter cede the library to the cell-phone users?) Hailey’s experience is a depressing gloss on women’s vaunted “empowerment”: She has the “power” to join in the social campus norm of promiscuity and indecency or slink off into voluntary sexile. Some power. Some feminist triumph.

Hailey’s ambition is to open a traveller’s hostel in Australia. Why wait? Running her own business will mean real power and self-worth, an actual return on investment for her $60,000 rather than the moral and psychic debts she’s accumulating as a “beneficiary” of feminism’s counter-productive endowment to campus life.

Barbara Kay
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