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January 20, 2006

Comments

Lori

I think that people in general tend to gravitate toward those who are like them, which can really narrow one's perspective. So attending the seminar might be a good thing. You can always leave if you don't like it--just have a Plan B for something else to do.

Erin P

What Doesn't this course cover? It sounds messy and ill-defined to me. My opinion is don't waste your Harvard education on it, esp. if it's taught by a "visiting professor."

And what are "confidential class discussions" anyway? Is this a counseling class? Someone's gonna need therapy coming out of it...

I've actually had a similiar experience in the past. Senior year of college I dropped an English class that involved reading hard-core pornography as part of our curriculum (translated from the Italian of course).

Why is there a growing trend in these alternative (very immodest) classes?

L.B.

I find myself wondering about the "field trips." For some reason, it gives me a mental image of a college seminar of women traveling to a sex toy shop or a strip club. What a strange picture to have in my head.

I don't think that learning and talking about sexuality in a safe, all-female space is necessarily a bad thing. But it seems to me that a whole seminar on the subject would only draw a certain category of feminists, and lead to a lot of groupthink.


A.

Group-think what does that mean? I assume it implies some sort of conformed thought process. Anyway wouldn't that mean that if a group of modest women got together to discuss a certain topic pertinent to their way of thinking that it would also inspire group-think? Just wondering?
A

Wendy Shalit

A,

This is a really interesting question. In my experience, women who are more personally conservative seem more willing to justify their beliefs, whereas liberal women--again I mean personally liberal, not politically--sometimes tend to bite the heads off of people who challenge them. Meaning that a bunch of conservatives shmoozing does not as readily lead to groupthink the way a pow-wow with more sexually liberal women can.

This is not true in all cases, to be sure, but in general, five conservative women plus one woman from the Women's Center will equal a discussion, whereas five women from the Women's Center and one conservative woman tends to equal social ostracism.

I know this is a touchy subject and I'm sorry if this statement offends anyone, but this is what I've seen both in my experience in the experience of college women who have written to me.

At smaller schools this pattern is pretty predictable; however, the larger the school and the more opportunity there is for real diversity of thought, the less this is true.

stigma-d girl

Yes, I agree with this. Proof is, just compare the discussion if you call it that on Coco's website (from the Lindsay Lohan blog) with the discussion on this blog. Coco disagreed and people here were having a discussion with her, but her personality is just to attack other people instead of justifying her beliefs. This happened to me in college alot, where people just make fun of people who are more conservative and that is the definition of GroupThink in my book. Just laugh at others outsdie your "circle."

Jayme

I think the course sounds rather interesting myself. I of course, have those concerns in the back of my head as well. I suppose asking the professor or those involved in such a seminar your specific questions would be best, instead of making assumptions. Were I the professor I would rather enjoy having someone in my class who could readily analyze, discuss, and challenge the class as opposed to just absorb and accept the information.

L.B.

Wendy,

You raise an interesting point about the quality of discussion on college campuses. I find myself sitting on a lot of fences, and have found myself in situations where I am the most liberal person in the room, and where I am the most conservative. It's a strange position to be in, but it gives me interesting perspectives.

I think your view might be a bit biased because of the kind of young woman who would be likely to write to you
about situations she finds herself in in college. A young woman ostracized for sleeping around at a conservative religious school is less likely to confide in the author of a book on modesty. Or maybe not.

At my college, I never saw the conservative and liberal sides mix much. Casual sex was taken for granted among everyone but the deeply religious, and they kept to themselves for the most part.

People want to spend time with those who validate their own choices. Isn't that why many of us here read this blog? Sometimes I wonder if it's masochism or intellectual maturity that leads people to seek out discussions and reading materials that do not reflect their own worldview. (which is why many other people read this blog!)

Meghan Grizzle

Just to clarify, this is not an academic class for credit, nor is it taught by a professor. It is a seminar run by students and taken I suppose just for the heck of it (or to learn how your sexuality relates to your identity).

Wendy--I'm not so sure if Harvard has diversity of thought, even though it is a moderate-sized school (6500 undergrads). There may diversity within one type of thought, but it seems like most people are on the same wavelength.

Anyway, I don't think I want to hear anything more about school . . . I have one more final and then I'm free!

Wendy Shalit

Actually to me, the really shocking thing is how even at "conservative" colleges nowadays the student body is bound to be quite (sexually) liberal--when it comes to outlook and behavior. For example, a bunch of girls at one "conservative" college told me that the male students maintained a list of the freshmen girls. On the list were those reported to still be virgins (um, not with the goal of marrying them).

So when it comes to all other issues I agree with you that there may be a modicum of balance, L.B., but when it comes to sexuality, it's very hard to find a place where people who believe in modesty can escape ridicule, know that they're not "alone," and get support for their choices. (That's why I started this website.)

Yes we can learn a lot by discussing and defending our ideas to people who disagree, and I obviously believe in that because that's something I do all the time. However, something I've also learned to appreciate is, if you constantly live your life on the defensive, it's not only unpleasant but you can't really develop. Everyone needs environments where they can exchange ideas and learn and just be able to "be" themselves in a safe space without constantly having to justify their existence to everyone on an hourly basis.

Everyone deserves that whether on the Left or the Right.

That said, not all communities are created equal. As someone else pointed out above, in some blogs, people clearly exchange ideas whereas in many others, people just make fun of those they disagree with. So on the surface, two groups may seem similar, as if they are confirming preconceptions, but when you look closer you see that in one, people are actually thinking whereas in the other, their knees are just jerking.

The proof that we aren't "Groupthinking" is that not everyone on this blog agrees on everything. But thanks to all of you, we are having civil and interesting discussions anyway.

But you do pose a fascinating question: if we all did agree, would that make it Groupthink? To me, Groupthink is when people refuse to engage issues on their merits and instead fall back on whatever they're comfortable with.

But thanks for raising a great issue--several people have emailed me privately that you are one of our most interesting commentators, L.B, and I agree!

Catherine

Hello Ladies,
I happened to stumble upon this discussion nearly a year after the fact, but I still thought I'd voice my opinion. I have taken the FemSex class in it's orginial forum at UC Berkeley, and it was easily one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career. It was an incredibly safe, unbaised and open discussion about the experiences we all share being women. It was not all about swapping sex-stories. It was about knowledge and empowerment. We learned about giving birth, self defense, violence against women, how to politely decline a pick up line, birth control, infections and diseases that are common among women, ways to maintain a healthy relationship, communication and yes, we talked about sex-mostly in regards to answering peoples questions. I do not have experience with Harvard's class, but from my personal experience, FemSex is one of the most amazing resources out there for women, and I wouldn't knock it till you tried it.

J

I took it at Harvard, or am still taking it to be more precise. It's not about swapping sex stories. In terms of my sexual history and experience, I have very little.
I have read about the True Love Revolution, and although it's not exactly how I would describe it in my mind, it's not far off from my personal philosophy.
I am glad that you write about questions about it, without knocking the idea entirely.
It does empower the women in it... to speak their minds so as not to be taken advantage of and to be able to defend oneself (to some degree). It also creates a great support system that is not connected with your friends, where you can experience a different kind of openness.
Yes, I met someone who is a professional dominatrix, I am by no means going to even consider that lifestyle. But I do think that the best life education comes from learning more about many sides, and think that FemSex does that well.
In class, we discussed menstration, various birthing options, and, yes, contraception -- including abstinence.
Although the class might not be right for you, or it might be, it is definitely not the class that its reputation at Harvard claims it to be (and from the people I have talked to who are creating the negative reputation, most base them on unfounded assumptions).

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