The Pressures on College Girls Today

The author of The Doctor's Job and of other books related to medicine and psychiatry, and editor in chief of Psychosomatic Medicine, Dr. Carl Binger is presently serving as psychiatric consultant to the Harvard University Health Services. His article which follows forms part of a new volume, Emotional Problems of the Student, edited by Graham B. Blame, Jr., and Charles C. McArthur, to be published by AppletonCenturyCrofts this month.

The relations between college boys and girls are a tender subject, seldom discussed between the generations. The contemporary sexual mores of young people are so different from those which governed their parents' or teachers' lives that a common meeting ground between them scarcely exists. (It is possible that the parents have forgotten some of the details of their own past experiences.) Girls seldom, if ever, discuss their sexual experiences with their parents, and when they do unless they are facing a crisis one cannot escape the impression that the parentchild relationship is a little unhealthy. To be sure, girls often come to college with standards handed to them by their mothers and tacitly upheld by their fathers. Letting a boy kiss you good night, for example, is all right, but preferably not on the first date. Here is where conflict often begins.

If the girl is standoffish and stiff, the chances are she will not see the boy again. But this is just what she wants to forestall unless he is a "jerk," and so, partly to secure her aim and partly because she is moved and flattered, she accepts his kisses, and soon after, if she has not already learned, she is taught to "kiss back."

From this point on, the boy takes over, unless he himself is very timid. He tries to impose his standards and rationalizations on her. He tries to convince her that it is both more honest and far healthier to have intercourse than to pet. He may be right. In any case, he is usually as idealistic as she is and not just out for fun or experience, but he is eager to prove himself. Since, by this time, she has been aroused the more so because the boy is usually serious and is, as the modern cliché has it, "emotionally involved," she may accede to his wishes, often; to be sure, with serious misgivings and with a feeling of guilt. ("My mother would die if she knew." The chances are that her mother wouldn't "die" at all; she might be quite understanding. It is fathers who need to be protected against the facts of life.)

The present arrangement in coeducational or quasicoeducational institutions facilitates these intimacies. Boys and girls are pretty constantly together in the classroom, in the library, at dances, at parties, at rehearsals. They drink their Martinis and gin and tonics together. They light each other's cigarettes. And they study together, often in the boy's room, and sometimes they end up in bed. Roommates are an inconvenience but seldom a real hindrance. Much that is unspoken is understood. The girl and boy become each other's property. At a dance they dance together all evening. To pursue another boy's date is to commit the unpardonable act of "birddogging." This is not acceptable behavior. Girls, as well, impose their proprietary rights on their dates. Promiscuity is not a manifestation of sexual freedom, but rather a symptom of a disordered personality.

The foregoing description is of one kind of behavior, but of one only. It is difficult to generalize here, and not too satisfactory to try to create stereotypes. None of them is fixed or unvarying. Behavior changes in response to outer impacts and inner needs and to those mores and conventions which the girl brings with her from school.

There are, of course, "popular" girls who have a different date every night and like to keep lots of boys on the string; idealistic, oldfashioned girls, perhaps with a religious upbringing, who want to keep themselves pure for the great love to come; shy, immature girls who do not date; and girls who manage to make themselves so unattractive by overeating or by their slovenly dress that they are seldom approached by boys. The boys themselves are often strikingly immature, adolescent, and dependent, and get much comfort and support from the steady affection of motherly young women.

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