On February 11th 2003, a group of female Harvard students apparently ‘dismantled’ a nine foot high snow penis built by fellow (presumably male) undergraduates outside the Tercentenary Theater. The story was later picked up by the press, eliciting comments from journals as highbrow as The Economist, from which the following quotes are taken:
“It was offensive because it was pornographic” said one of the ‘dismantlers’, continuing “As a feminist, pornography is degrading to women and creates a violent atmosphere.” She then bizarrely followed this up with the comment “Men think they have the right to force that on you – it’s a logical extension.” (I have checked, and Harvard’s philosophy faculty did at the time run an undergraduate course on logical thought, but maybe she missed it.)
I would like to focus your attention on her use of the phrase ‘As a feminist.’ Does this imply that if one is not a feminist, pornography is not degrading? Is she admitting that whether pornography is degrading or not is a subjective opinion? Or is she simply trying to add weight to a fundamentally flawed argument by allying herself with an ill-defined semi-political movement that I would question her understanding of? I suspect that she is under the impression that being part of a group improves her argument.
I intend to try this gambit myself in future, as I feel that my arguments often lack a certain gravitas. I have heard that many politicians have had considerable success with this technique, although it is apparently easier if you choose a group that has broadly-defined or, better still, not widely known, views and opinions. So, as a regular squash player, I think that there is a place for pornography in a free society.
So, my first question for you to ponder over the coming week is this: is a giant penis made of snow pornographic?
In 2005 the President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, questioned whether the fact that men and women’s brain are different may be related to the fact that they are proportionally less likely to become tenured faculty members in science and engineering departments. This was picked up by the world’s media under such headlines as ‘Harvard Dean (sic) says women are not as smart as men’. Which is, if I may point out, a slight distortion. At the same event he also mentioned that it was his belief that Catholics were underrepresented in investment banking, but for some reason no one picked up on that.
Lawrence Summers has since been replaced by Harvard’s first ever female President.
There is extensive research in fields from evolutionary biology to neuroscience into the extent, sources and effects of the physiological differences between male and female brains. There are also a lot of jokes about women being unable to read maps and men being incapable of asking directions, or women being bad drivers and men forgetting birthdays. 50% of the student body of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is female, but women only make up 34% of the HBS Class of 2007.
Second question: why do so few Catholics go into investment banking?
At the beginning of this semester, I was asked to write the ‘Women’s Perspective’ section of the HBS Survival guide for the class of 2010 (which I incidentally did on a beach in Belize over Spring Break). I found this difficult, even after speaking with several of my sectionmates, as I couldn’t find very many situations where a woman’s perspective was any different from anyone else’s. I certainly don’t think it is central to my HBS experience, and I had trouble coming up with much relevant advice and information. I eventually came up with a few things about campus safety, which is generally (and quite patronizingly) considered a more ‘female’ concern.
To illustrate just why it was so hard to find experiences which are genuinely female-specific, I have included a short exerpt below in which I have replaced the word ‘women’ with ‘strategy consultants’.
My most important piece of advice is to make the most of strategy consultant only social events: not only because it’s a really great way to bond with all your buddies, but also because you will get the best gossip and some very funny and candid conversations. There will be precious few times in your life when you will get the opportunity to spend time with such a diverse group of intelligent, successful and interesting strategy consultants.
Regarding academics, there are some cases where strategy consultants definitely have a general knowledge advantage, and in classes dealing with leadership style, strategy consultants often have a different viewpoint and approach.
There are many things which I believe define my time at HBS, but being a woman and a strategy consultant are only two of them. I am also British and a member of the European Club, which incidentally throws much better parties than the WSA or, I suspect, the Consulting Club. I don’t think there is anything I wish I had known before coming here that wouldn’t be equally useful to a man, with the possible exception of the location of the ladies room on the second floor of Aldrich.
Final question: what exactly is the point of the WSA?