Scheherazade Goes to College

March 12, 2010

In the year or so that I’ve been blogging, I’ve heard a lot of stories. Many of the them have recurring themes. Even Shakespeare stole his stories from the Greeks; there just aren’t that many different variations on human behavior. A few weeks ago, though, I got an email from a reader that astounded me. I fired back a response and thought I was done with it, but it’s been on my mind quite a bit, so I thought we could discuss it here.

Dear Susan,

I need your help! I am in such a complicated situation, and I desperately need some advice. The past two weekends I have hooked up with a super hot guy that I’ve been crushing on forever. He was just really flirty one night so we went back to his place and he was really sweet. I knew that he had been hooking up for a few weeks with another girl, but she’s totally haggard and a slut, so I figured he’d be happy to ditch her. The second weekend we hooked up again on Friday night, but then someone saw that other girl walking home Sunday morning, so she was probably with him Saturday night.

Here’s where it gets really complicated. Last night I was out and the other girl was there too. He was there and being pretty friendly to everyone, not singling either of us out. So I’m in the bathroom and there’s this girl crying and talking to her friend. And I’m in the stall and I can hear what they’re saying. She likes the exact same guy, and she’s just found out about him hooking up with the other girl. She’s really upset, and she obviously doesn’t even know about me. I can’t believe that he has something going already with two other girls!

So my question is, how can I get him to make me his #1? I just want to get these other girls out of the way! I would appreciate any advice you can give me.


Can you see why this letter has haunted me? Holy hell.

I’d like to think that this is a description of something very rare, but I know that it’s not. Katherine obviously hadn’t read any of my posts before writing – or she would have known that I would not be the person to give her the advice she seeks. In that sense, a letter slipped through here unlike most of the ones I get, and I’m glad it did. Though it may sound extreme, there is only one possible conclusion:

Katherine aspires to membership in a harem.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Katherine aspires to membership is something not nearly as beneficial as a harem. The word harem first appeared in English in 1634, and comes from the Arabic word haram, meaning forbidden, specifically with respect to women’s quarters. From Wikipedia: “The Imperial Harem of the Ottoman sultan, which was also called seraglio in the West, typically housed several dozen women, including wives.” Because the women were forbidden to other men, they were served only by eunuchs and slave girls. One Persian harem is believed to have contained over 3,000 women.

1001 Arabian Nights, thought to have originally been a Persian book of folk tales, featured the story of Scheherazade. She literally kept her head by thinking up a new and exciting story to tell the King every night.

And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of last night’s story. At the end of one thousand and one nights, and one thousand stories, Scheherazade told the King that she had no more tales to tell him. During these one thousand and one nights, the King had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and had had three sons with her. So, having been made a wiser and kinder man by Scheherazade and her tales, he spared her life, and made her his Queen.

This is the fairy tale that Katherine is trying to live. She wants to be made Queen, having made her master a wiser and kinder man.

There’s a lot of talk in the blogosphere, especially around the topics of Game and Men’s Rights, about women increasingly living in “de facto harems” as a result of the declining marriage rate. Obsidian predicts that they’ll become a lot more common (link here). Blogger Butterfly Squash mentions harems in a recent piece as well (link here). And of course, when Tiger Woods got caught with 12 pairs of pants down, there was much talk of his having a harem (photos here).

Stuart Schneiderman of Had Enough Therapy? wrote a post called Welcome to the Harem (link here):

“If the ratio of women to men [on college campuses] is 60%/40% this will obviously have an effect on dating and relationship behavior. One effect…is that with men in such short supply those few remaining men have become empowered.

They can do what they want, when they want, with whom they want… and women, unhappy about being alone, go along because they feel that they have no other choice. If the choice is between hooking up with an anonymous male and going home alone, no small number of women are choosing the former, on the grounds that something is better than nothing.”

For the most part, I’ve always considered this to mean that women will have sex outside of relationships, even if they want a relationship, because holding out doesn’t really get women anywhere, and it’s hard to spend four years in the romance desert. Now it appears that women have found a way to be brought into the harem tent, no longer left to wander across the endless sands. Sharing the man is the price many women seem willing to pay.

Schneiderman continues:

“The gender disparity has granted men so much power that women’s voices, their needs, their interests become trivial psychocultural excrescences.”

He then goes on to make a point that is usually overlooked in articles about hookup culture:

“As Charlotte Allen points out [in her recent article in The Weekly Standard, girls] are not hooking up with just anyone. Not just any man is going to succeed at the hook-up game. A group of ersatz alpha males seems to have garnered a disproportionate number of women, while the beta and gamma males, nice guys, guys who would make good husbands or boy friends, are left out of the game.”

And here’s the apt harem analogy:

“The interesting part of all this is that a woman who engages in a casual sexual encounter with an ersatz alpha male, only to return to the comfort of the sisterhood, is acting like she is part of a harem.

  • Women are attracted to men who seem to have had many women, because that is a sign of being an alpha male. Inexperienced men, who who are awkward and shy around women, need not apply for pick-up artist or alpha male status.
  • Many of these men are not especially good lovers. This also becomes a sign of alpha maledom. If you are a pasha and can have any woman you want you do not need to be especially attentive to the woman’s needs. You are not going to see her in the morning anyway.
  • Women learn to tolerate men who never call them again, because that too is a sign that he’s an alpha male, that he is never going to be hers, but that she belongs to his harem.”

In thinking about harems, it occurs to me that we also have our modern-day equivalents of those who guard the women forbidden to nearly all the males. The guy BFF, the guy who’s always hearing, “Let’s just be friends.” We have forced those guys into playing the role of the eunuch. Except that today’s eunuchs still have their balls, and they too want a shot at one of those 3,000 women.

The slave girls are the ones who flutter around the Queen Bee, happy to be in her sphere of influence, waiting on her hand and foot, constantly demonstrating loyalty. They hook up with sidekicks of the sultan if they can, happy to be on the fringe of his court.

Hundreds of years ago, women selected for the harem did not have a choice. Today they do. Signing up voluntarily for sexual slavery to the nearest alpha sultan strikes me as a puzzling, poor life choice. At least in those days, a woman got clean sheets. Katherine is sleeping on sheets probably not yet changed this semester, containing the bodily excretions of many other women. Ew.

Needless to say, I didn’t advise Katherine on how to become girl #1. In fact, I hope she fails miserably and gets kicked out on her bottom right away. She doesn’t sound like she’s anywhere near ready to face reality, which is that she is just one vagina among many, destined for the trash heap of regrets.

Katherine, your hookup is no sultan, and you are no Scheherazade. Step out of the fairy tale and into the real world before it’s too late, while men with a genuine pair are still willing to give you a shot.