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A Study in Social Behavior

Veena Thomas

It’s Friday night on campus, and something is definitely different. There are at least eight open parties on campus, between the many frats and Weekends@MIT. It’s probably because it’s the first Friday after classes started, and every fraternity wants to make a good impression. Everyone seems to be out with twenty of their closest friends. A campus usually replete with students with little fashion sense has been transformed into something out of GQ. Females spend hours getting ready, transforming themselves with makeup and using two kinds of styling products to achieve that natural “my-hair-is-casually-messy-and-undone” look. Take any undergraduate, get rid of the sweatshirt, dress her in a tube top and short black skirt with a slit up the front, and she’s ready for a night out on the town. Guys have it slightly easier -- they shave, comb their hair, and change out of their favorite Maxwell’s equations T-shirt before heading out to pick up women.

Having been disappointed by the dearth of parties on Reg Day (I wasn’t about to go to Reg Day Porn), I was rather excited about the prospect of hitting up the frat parties on Friday night. I got together a group of people and planned to have a wild and crazy night going to party after party. We went out to dinner first in order to gather enough sustenance to hold us over for the night. For some reason, two-thirds of the group decided not to go out with us after dinner. Guess frat parties just weren’t for them, or maybe they already knew what I was about to discover.

We returned from dinner at 10:30, but deemed it too early to go out again.

Even if a party officially starts at 10:00, everyone knows that no one will be there until around 11:30. That’s social psychology for you -- if everyone arrived at the party right when it began, there would be enough people to really get a party started. Instead, everyone hangs out somewhere else until it is deemed socially acceptable to arrive at the party, fashionably late. We ended up just hanging out on the Student Center steps. Two guys I know walked past, heading back to the dorms from the Student Center. I asked them if they had been to Arrival, the party in the Student Center.

“Actually, we were just there. We think we look too nerdy, so we’re going back to change,” they said.

Sitting on the steps gave me plenty of time to observe the natives. I was struck by the endless parade of females, dressed virtually alike. There seems to be an implicit dress code for parties -- either tight black pants or a short black skirt, and a tight tank top. The basic premise is to reveal as much flesh as possible. I guess exposing just your staggering intellect at a frat party isn’t enough to attract the guys. I started to worry. My shirt wasn’t all that revealing, and my short skirt with a slit up the front was gray, not black. I realized with interest that I wasn’t really concerned with what the guys thought of my outfit, but rather, what the other females would think.

Sometimes I think that women pay more attention to what women are wearing than the guys do. Take, for example, a woman wearing a crop top. The other women will scrutinize her, looking for any sign of flab on her midriff, and if they find any, they’ll talk about her in the bathroom. “Just who does she think she is, wearing a shirt like that? Her stomach isn’t even flat!” However, many of the guys looking at her will simply think excitedly, “Whoa! I can see her belly button!” and leave it at that.

We passed close to an hour on the steps, just hanging out. I realized the truth of my social observation when a group of women walked past, dressed in their short black skirts. We started talking about the social pressure placed on women to look sexy when they go out. “Yeah, I mean, those girls who just walked by were really, uh, dressed to go out,” remarked one of my friends, his eyes widening. I laughed.

The two guys returned from the dorm, looking sufficiently suave. “Hey, look, Cool Tom just showed up!” my friend joked. (Names have been changed to protect those who fear they look nerdy.) By this time, we figured it was time to leave the safety of the steps and venture out into the scary world of frat parties.

Our frat party of choice wasn’t quite what I had expected. I inexplicably build up frat parties in my mind until the actual party has little hope of comparing. My image of a typical frat party includes tons of people, all meeting everyone else, good music, and everyone having a great time. I have yet to attend a party that manages to play truly danceable music. Some people appear to meet others at these parties, but more often, people come with a group, hang out with the group, and leave with the group.

Upperclassmen tell me that parties have changed dramatically in the past few years. Perhaps there is a great deal of truth about the use of alcohol as a social lubricant. Between people looking more attractive through beer goggles, and alcohol giving even the most socially awkward guy the confidence to approach that group of girls dancing, parties are probably a lot more fun with alcohol. As a nondrinker who manages to act drunk even when cold sober, I think it’s a shame that people need to use alcohol to have a good time, but perhaps it’s the truth. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, allowing people to be their wild, crazy self.

We ended up not staying at the party for very long. I was rather traumatized by some of what I saw at the frat. (Note to partygoers: Just because the song contains the line “I want to take you from behind” doesn’t mean you need to simulate it on the dance floor.) Besides, I was feeling kind of out of place. Where did the rest of the female population come up with the outfits they were wearing? Commented a girl on the SafeRide, “Yeah, I just took out my skank for tonight.” Is there some kind of skank store I don’t know about? I would think that consuming large amounts of alcohol would be a prerequisite for wearing some of the clothing I saw at the party.

I returned to my room, marveling at the intricacies of the frat party scene. You’d think that anyone could just show up at any party, wearing whatever, abstain from drinking, and have a good time. In reality, however, there’s an unwritten code to be followed. Perhaps it really does require more than just tight clothing to attend a frat party -- you just need to have the intelligence to figure it all out.