For the editors of George Washington University student newspaper the Hatchet, the campus sex column poses a perennial staffing problem. "Sex is a tricky subject," Hatchet editor in chief Lauren French says. Even "the best sex and relationship columnists offend someone." So last fall, French expressed interest in recruiting a diverse army of writers, male and female, gay and lesbian; if the column was going to offend, it would at least offend equally. But the paper's first columnist, a straight guy, only made it through one column; later in the semester, he was replaced by another straight guy, Harrison Levitan. Levitan's column topics have included why men are biologically hardwired to be jerks and why campus women refuse to consent to sex with "nice" guys.
"I have no idea why it is so hard to find people a diverse group of people to write a sex column," French told me via e-mail this week. "I imagine students are worried about future job prospects when attaching their name to these types of columns." Throughout the year, French and her staff have made efforts to convince George Washington sex writers to come out of the closet: "This year we've put messages out on Facebook and Twitter, we've placed ads in the paper and we’ve e-mailed different student orgs on campus asking for writers," French says. "Maybe this well help: If you want to write about sex, please e-mail me! We would love to have you!"
Meanwhile, more diverse opinions on sex and gender have begun popping up on the paper's letters page. Last October, four students in the women's studies graduate program filed a critique of the year's first pseudonymous sex columnist. His one and only piece featured him striking a compromise between his libido and his disregard for meaningful relationships with women by agreeing to receive oral sex while watching "Shark Week." "We love sex and we think everyone should talk about it, but 'Swimming in Dangerous Waters' contributed nothing to the conversation," the students wrote, adding that the column equated sex with "humiliation and disrespect" and linked the act to "violence and inhumanity." More recently, sophomore women's studies major Paul Seltzer wrote a letter to the editor arguing that a January Levitan column "reproduces a typically sexist rationale that social roles for men and women are rooted in biology," "feeds into cultural structures that hamper social justice," and renders LGBTQ students "invisible."
Seltzer was not entirely satisfied with the impact of his missive. "The real aim for everyone who has contacted the Hatchet about the sex writing is to stop the sexist drivel that is published every month and replace it with something worthwhile," Seltzer told me via e-mail. "The current sex writing in the Hatchet is, overall, terrible" (Full disclosure: I wrote for the paper as an undergrad). In the paper's pages, Seltzer says, "women and the LGBTQ community have been voiceless for almost a year now."
So last week, Seltzer joined two fellow women's studies majors, E.V. Ellington and Cameron Bell, in making their voices heard. The result is "The Second Sex Column," a blog penned by George Washington students who are more bell hooks than Tucker Max. So far, the blog has tackled how to achieve orgasm and "The Hatchet's Role In Patriarchy." “We are a collective group of GWU students that formed together as a response to the consistently misogynistic sex columns published in the GW Hatchet," the blog description reads. "Our posts seek to be sex-positive and inclusive of all different sexual orientations, gender identities, races, classes, ethnicities, cultures and religions. This is the feminist blog"
Before taking up arms, Bell, 21, says she made an effort to join forces with the Hatchet. “During the first few months of the semester, the Hatchet advertised that they were looking for sex columnists," Bell says. So she typed up an informative piece on the benefits of lube and sent it in. Bell says that Hatchet editors later informed her they "decided to go in a different direction" with the column. Bell has not been impressed with the Hatchet's editorial vision. "The same articles keep popping up," she says. "Everyone is different, and that should be reflected in the sex columns. It's actually really ironic to me, that GW has such a high gay population, and yet all of these sex articles are all about sex between a man and a woman."
The Hatchet has now successfully inspired more diverse campus writing on sex—just not necessarily in its own pages. "I did not become interested in writing about sex for the campus community until I realized my frustration with the problematic sex column in the Hatchet was not going to cease to exist until something was done about it," says Ellington, 21. Bell's lube column has now found a home on the blog.
Though the Hatchet has yet to devote column inches to the bloggers' opinions, its editors have agreed to lend them an ear. Last week, blog editors Ellington and Seltzer arranged a meeting with French and Hatchet features editor Caroline Bowman. According to Seltzer's account of the meeting, French defended her columnist and argued that the group's accusations of misogyny reflected "just a difference of opinion." The bloggers later recounted the meeting in a fiery blog entry.
"We always appreciate reader feedback and I was happy to meet with them last week," French told me. "Unfortunately, the quotes attributed to me in their most recent blog post are taken quite out of context." French says that she has invited the bloggers to contribute to the paper, but that "as of yet, no one has accepted." Adds French: "We'll continue our search to find students to represent GW's diverse community."
For now, GW's diverse community may have found a new home for sex talk. Says Ellington: "I think it is necessary and important to have alternative media on sex and gender issues, period."