In 1882, female MIT alumni raised $8000 to build women's lounges and bathrooms. This was 11 years after the admission of Ellen Swallows - MIT's first female student. The goal was to eliminate facilities as an excuse for the administration to reject female students. Today there are 73 bathrooms on campus designated as male bathrooms, 75 female, and 96 all-gender. The women's lounge created by the first women at MIT in the hope that more women will be able to attend, is a space that is no longer needed. It has been abandoned and now remains a dark, damp, decaying ruin hidden in the basement of Walker Memorial. The names of girls "ISABEL", "Hellen Sullivan", "Auzie", and Pearl" who once left their belongings here are preserved on the lockers, along with some shoes, a Season's Greetings card, a newspaper article on Romney, and various other artifacts left on the ground covered in rubble.
In 1941, MIT President Karl Compton stated that "in choosing MIT, you've taken on a man-size job, and it will take man-size effort to get it done."" By 1975, there was a pressure for change. The MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study produced a film in order to combat the masculine image of engineering by following the daily lives of female students at the school. Still, it was far from being an appropriate acknowledgement of women at MIT. A female researcher commented that it "stereotypes women engineers as being overwhelming, overeducated, and anonymous." What I can infer from the title of the film "Engineering: Women's Work" is that they simply wrote engineering with a glittery pink pen and added "for girls". After 15 years of all-girls Catholic school education and being a former "girl in STEM", I'm familiar with the tactic of trying to push girls into science and engineering in order to claim diversity as opposed to encouraging them to pursue their interests. As I've experienced first-hand and observed, the effect of this is often the exact opposite.
MIT is a place where your brain is valued. You're here because of your brain. We look past the sweatpants and career fair Google shirt worn for the nth day in a row, through the body and straight to the mind. Maybe it feels like equality, but it flattens a person to the brain, ignoring the body and all of its curves. It feeds the pressure to have to repress femininity in order to defend that you're not a dumbass slut, you know your shit and you deserve to be here. And it becomes your responsibility to cover yourself up and not provide a single opportunity for your girl body to show and distract from your brain - the only part that can be respected. In 1957, MIT's Medical Director declared that women could provide 'pleasure and ornamentation' but would struggle to match the 'high-grade intellects' by which he meant men. In 2022, femininity is no longer pleasure and ornamentation but instead, vapid, vacuous, and vain.
Ultimately, it is not possible (yet) to fully and entirely escape the body that holds your brain in the physical world. But perhaps the opposite is. To sexualize and objectify your own self is actually pretty liberating. It's a moment to forget the fight to defend your smartness and simply acknowledge and appreciate your physical form. No thoughts, just boobs and pussy. That is all. That is enough! Fuck it if you fail. Fuck it if you drop out. Fuck it if they call you a bimbo and a ditz. You are allowed to be a bimbo and a ditz. Boobs and pussy are always here for you (whether you wanted it or not). We've come a long way from Ellen Swallows and girls at MIT can now enjoy a moment of relief from having to hide their bodies. Not in class, not in interviews, but on a Friday night, they can let their femininity loose.
The 140 Year Multi-Generational Wet & Hot Man-Sized Effort is an intervention in the modern replacement of the Women's Lounge that is a bathroom labeled with both the signs "ALL-GENDER RESTROOM" and "WOMEN'S RESTROOM". Wet and Hot: Women's Work is the title of a video I made of my MIT undergrad girl friends being hot and sexy bad bitches in an explosion of hyper-femininity that takes place in MIT's biggest lecture hall because being hot? THAT is women's work. This video is playing on screens placed on the vanity in the bathroom. The screens have been taken apart and candied at various layers into a cyber confectionary. Lime jello was created inside the screen and left in the Women's Lounge to collect the bacteria that remains in the air of the abandoned space and then placed in a pink plastic pouch. The moist environment in the pouch encourages the bacteria from the 140 year old space to grow over the screens over a two week period.
The girls in the video are oblivious to the existence of the abandoned Women's Lounge - once a sacred safe space for women at MIT. What lingers of this history manifests itself through the mold that covers the screen. The generations of past women at MIT join the current students in the liberties they now enjoy by flourishing in the wet and hot environment in the pouch as the girls in the video expose their bodies. The result is a censorship of the wet hot sugary femininity that drips out of the frame. The girls are covered, blurred, and difficult to identify. But the motivation for censorship isn't exactly disapproval. It's an acknowledgement of the reality of the consequences girls continue to face from exposing themselves in the ways that they want to and to ultimately protect the girls in the video from a world that has surely changed, but not enough. In high school, my mom would would pull my crop top down a bit before I left the house. The 140 Year Multi-Generational Wet & Hot Man-Sized Effort is to love pragmatically.
Illustrative references of life at MIT for women in the past:
"In choosing MIT, you've taken on a man-size job, and it will take man-size effort to get it done." 1
"Women could bring 'pleasure and ornamentation' to campus but would rarely manage to hold their own against the 'high-grade intellects' there. 'Well-adjusted men' at MIT displayed a competitive spirit, he declared, but such aggression in women signified rejection of femininity. In short, 'except for the rare individual woman, [MIT] is an unsuitable place.'" 2
"Before 1960 women entered MIT at their own risk. If they succeeded, fine; if they failed - well, no one had expected them to succeed." 3
"Male undergraduates continued spreading stereotypes of MIT women as 'stupid,' 'ugly,' and 'stuck- up.' Coeds complained that much of the 'faculty has trouble accepting women students as women. They expect them to behave exactly like men; to laugh at the same jokes, not to be offended by sexist comments and to have the same background; e.g. be as familiar with electronics, engineers, shops etc. as men.'" 4
"In typical feminine fashion, the girls take time out to gossip about clothes and dates ... daydreaming about that new evening gown." 5
1 President Karl Compton in MIT Handbook (1941)
2 MIT Medical Director L. F. Hamilton in Report of the President (1957) from Feminism Where Men Predominate: The History of Women's Science and Engineering Education at MIT by Amy Sue Bix (2000)
3 Memo from Everett Baker in Proposal for a New Policy for Admission of Women Undergraduate Students at MIT (1947)
4 Minutes of Women's Advisory Group (1975) from Feminism Where Men Predominate: The History of Women's Science and Engineering Education at MIT by Amy Sue Bix (2000)
5 The Social Beaver (1956) - promotional film for prospective students about social and cultural activities and student life at MIT.
Audio: Hush Money by Blue Iverson