Sleeping My Way Out
How Sex and Social Capital Ruined My Academic Career
Cynthia Spencer dropped out of college after a hellish second year, when she was bullied and slut-shamed by her housemates at the feminist collective. Was she the villain or the victim? The thing about trauma is that you’ll never know.
In the fall of 2008, I was sitting in my freshman seminar talking about structural inequality and the social construction of identity, when the professor suddenly interrupted the discussion with an urgent look of concern on her face.
“Wait. Do any of you know what’s going on? Have you picked up a newspaper in the last six weeks?” The room blinked back at her silently. She explained to us that Lehman Brothers had just gone bankrupt, and that we were entering an unprecedented economic crisis. “I know this place is a bubble,” she said, “but, my God. Where have you been?” We were thoroughly shamed for our apathy and cluelessness, as though the college experience we’d purchased from that institution had anything to do with awareness of the financial power structure.
I know what I’d been doing: I’d been trying to get my number up. I entered college having slept only with two people and it seemed absolutely imperative that this be multiplied as many times as possible. To me, this meant proving that I was not only sexually desirable, but worthwhile in general. That my existence could be shown not a complete mistake, purely a waste of resources. That my body could be anything but a problem: fat (my dysmorphic mind told me), pained, abused, incapable, unwelcome. I wanted to be smart too, of course, and if anyone had asked I would have said this was more important to me than approval from others, but I’d been told I was smart my whole life. I needed to see that I could be beautiful or wanted or experience love, even in the way that a one-night stand sometimes passes for it.