‘Blurred Lines’ Identifies the Problem, Not the Solution
I’m a senior at the University of Texas in Austin, a gigantic party school that tends to funnel in fratty upper-middle class high school heroes who found themselves in the top ten percent. Along with about 50 of my closest friends, I’ve encountered sexual harassment as a college student. This probably explains why I found it so difficult to connect with Vanessa Grigoriadis’ objective prose in Blurred Lines, her exhaustively reported book about the ongoing struggle to define, prosecute, and stop sexual assault on college campuses.
This book is not for excruciatingly woke, yet still realistic, girls like me. It aims for older readers who want to understand why their daughter is suddenly talking back at her uncles and spitting nails about Brett Kavanaugh. Grigoriadis, a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, pays admirable attention to detail as she recounts the experiences of students from schools across the nation. But she really sets herself apart from her subjects, in a way that brings to mind a Lena Dunham meet-and-greet at ModCloth in San Francisco. Her back in my day, kids walked miles to school in the snow and didn’t demand accountability from their university officials perspective only works for so long. I can get the same stuff from an hour of coffee with my girlfriends, all without the out-of-the-loop, journalistic style she tends toward.
Grigoriadis details the coeducating of fraternities at Wesleyan, which, objectively, sounds like an absolute dream were it to happen at UT, but is fraught with its own organizational problems. She lauds the disjointed Twitter activism of the Wesleyan art gurlz she follows around, spending two pages admiring the kitschy, smash-the-patriarchy accoutrements of some art fair that her favorite knock-off Gloria Steinems take her to, basking in the self-love and white-male-hating atmosphere of it all. She describes her Wesleyan subjects in almost entirely abstract ways, admiring their confidence and bravery and DGAF attitudes.
When she transitions over to her interviews with sorority girls at Syracuse University, though, her writing invokes that of the journal scribbling of anti-establishment teenage girls. Grigoriadis mocks their effervescent speech patterns and writes a very long-winded, cynical, and poorly-executed account of Bid Day. The aspect that shocked me most is her odd focus on her conventional sorority subjects’ Anglo perfection. She writes, “at Syracuse, the university gym is filled with girls plucked and waxed to perfection…” She spends long moments enviously assessing her interview subjects’ blond hair and figures, denouncing ‘selfie culture’ and evoking a “not-like-other-girls” attitude.
Next comes chapter upon chapter of very dry prose that summarize important sexual harassment research, failed efforts on college campuses to mitigate toxic masculinity and campus rape, and so on. She devotes dozens of pages to anti-frat rhetoric—albeit very relevant and, more often than not, true—peppering her logic with Wikipedia percentages and interviews with university officials and different well-known activists, yada yada yada.
I pretty much learned all of this stuff through UT’s consent seminars and online articles, but Grigoriadis does us all a favor by synthesizing it all into a little bit under 300 pages, providing an opportunity for those who do not have access to this material that often. She really drives her point home after about the 30th horrendous and saddening rape anecdote, but some of her writing reads like the scientific journal articles that I already have to read for my sociology classes.
I’ve lived this kind of stuff and am already pretty aware of what works on campus and what doesn’t work. When I hear horror stories of UT frats spiking their jungle juice with Ketamine, Xanax, and Everclear, I’m not surprised. Many a frat boy writes #NotOnMyCampus on their palms for an Instagram picture and resumé boost. It does nothing. The truth is, girls still get sexually assaulted in college. No matter what policies schools adopt, there’s a long way to go before that changes.