Sunday, August 11, 2013

Long live debauchery!

Caroline Kitchener describes on the Atlantic web site the gross hazing rituals many female students submit to in order to join the “frattiest eating club” at Princeton (““There Is No Pressure for a Girl to be a Girl”). The club is known for the heavy drinking, and all the accompanying (often naked) shenanigans it encourages; and Ms. Kitchener (herself a Princeton student) says women already outnumber men among the aspiring applicants. What do all these exceptional young women pursue as they apply for membership in a club with somewhat questionable reputation? Apparently, they now want to “join for the debauchery, not in spite of it”; and few look back with any regret. So, why would this kind of debauchery be so attractive, even to stellar female students at Princeton?

Ms. Kitchener essentially accepts the answer given by some of the proud female members – they need a temporary refuge from being judged all the time on the basis of outdated gender stereotypes; and they want to be able to relax, be themselves, and be free to indulge in this and that, without being criticized by anyone. This sounds plausible, though judgmentalism has long become a (or perhaps “the”) new mortal sin in highly educated social circles. But the explanation Ms. Kitchener endorses sounds too much like a self-serving rationalization (and excuse) for the behavior she describes – and, naturally, does not quite criticize.

According to psychologists and neuroscientists, the capacity for self-control is a limited resource; and when it is chronically overtaxed, the result is often loss of willpower, or – in scientific jargon – “ego depletion.” So students who find themselves in this predicament may be more likely to succumb to – or even seek – all sorts of avenues for self-gratification. For obvious reasons, this tendency would be stronger at Princeton or Harvard as opposed to, say, Florida Atlantic University; but it may be a lot broader – and could even partly explain the whole counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s.

In all sorts of academic and professional environments women still seem to face stronger pressures than men – but men in highly stressful jobs have long sought ways to unwind or rejuvenate themselves, too (with alcohol, drugs, and orgasms; but also through sports, punishing fitness regimes, “fight clubs,” extreme competitions, etc.). And if now young women want to join in on some of these activities, why should they be judged? Perhaps the time has finally come for what one male member of the Princeton club describes as “equal opportunity slobbery” – so that the first few waves of feminist activists did not fight in vain…