By ALLEGRA HANLON
It was the very first orientation week of college. Nerves were flying around the dorm room as you and your roommate got ready for your first real party. The word on your floor was that that night’s party was at “one of the really good frats.” So you had to look hot. If you didn’t look hot enough, then the guys at this frat wouldn’t pay attention to you and then you might not get into a good sorority and your social life would be over – at least according to your roommate, who seemed to already know everyone on the top two floors of the building.
In the end, you both wore black bodycon dresses with push-up bras underneath and a flannel on top (for the trying-not-trying look). A couple of hours and three shots of Svedka later, you stood just inside a large fraternity house that you would have mistaken for a giant lodge save for the endless gaggles of girls in similarly short, tight black dresses just outside the door.
It was unbearably hot in there – not just because it was still summer outside but because of the bodies pressed against you, boys and girls in cut-off shorts and sweaty skin, trying, just barely, to move to the rhythm of Drake blasting through the speakers. You got on your tiptoes and looked around but you couldn’t find your roommate or her friends that you came with, so you found an opening in the crowd and escaped into an even darker hallway separate from the room designated as a dance floor. You leaned against the wall for a second and closed your eyes, thankful for the sudden rush of air cool in comparison to the cramped dance floor, for the darkness that embraced you. You listened to the sounds of people talking in the other room until suddenly, they were in the same space you were and their laughter died abruptly as you heard some guy say, “Yo, fresh meat.”
Your eyes snapped open, and there were four guys at the other end of the hallway ogling you, and you desperately regretted having worn a dress that barely covered your body. You had tied your flannel around your waist because it was so hot, but now you anxiously pulled your arms through its sleeves and wrapped it around you as the group of guys approached.
“Hey beautiful, what’s your name?” one of them asked as he sidled up alongside you. He had intense, bright blue eyes and a shock of wavy blond hair, the kind that was just perfectly styled enough for you to know he must’ve spent time on it, but his eyes looked glassy and he reeked of beer. Before you could answer, another guy appeared on your other side, and your head began to spin, finally beginning to process the alcohol you drank at the beginning of the night.
“Damn, girl, you must be a freshman, because no senior around here looks like that,” he said with a smirk, and as you looked at him, the only feature you could confirm was dark, curly, curly hair. You knew this because the curls that bounced around his face as his eyes moved from your chest down to your legs kind of reminded you of the springs on a trampoline.
“Fresh meat,” someone behind him said, and you didn’t have to see him to know just from his voice that he was practically smacking his lips.
In those moments, somewhere inside you, with your propped whatever way necessary and cooked to the liking, molded and trimmed according to whatever said boy might want.
Why is that? What is it about freshman girls that upperclassmen find so appealing? Who even came up with the phrase “Fresh Meat”?
My theory goes back to the centuries-old ethos of innocence and purity. In Paradise Lost, the epic 17th century poem by John Milton based on the Bible, the concept of lust was centered around Adam and Eve and the fact that God basically condemned all women to have periods and for birthing to be painful because Eve seduced Adam into eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
For many men, the idea of a young woman as innocent, as yet unblemished by other potential suitors is attractive. Desirable. The Middle Ages saw the advent of chastity belts, which were specifically meant to prevent women from having sex and to control their “promiscuity” while knights went away on battles or pilgrimages. In 1934, Fortune came out with the earliest polling questions about sexual attitudes, and over 50% of men considered it “unfortunate” for young women to have sexual relations before marriage. Today, this fascination extends to college culture, where guys like to be the “first” before anyone else to take away that innocence.
It comes perhaps from a patriarchal culture teaching men that women’s bodies are something to they are entitled to, something to be dominated and used as they please. When I was in 8th grade, I found a list –a point system – that awarded boys certain points for the sexual advances they made on other girls. Kissing a girl on the cheek was worth half a point. A kiss on the lips was one point. A make-out session on a school trip was a whopping five points. If you had sex you could win the game. This idea of “scoring” with women has been replicated even on Cornell’s campus with fraternity Zeta Beta Tau’s Pig Roast, where the rules were simple: new members earned points for having sex with overweight women, and in the event of a tie, the victory went to whoever had slept with the heaviest women.
Obviously, not all men in general, or even upperclassmen, in particular, are out to take advantage of girls, freshmen or otherwise. But there is something to be said for the fact that the expression “fresh meat” even exists. It means that there are groups of people, of upperclassmen, that historically scope out freshman girls on campus. And it’s a big enough group of people for the phrase to be a part of pop culture – the Netflix show Fresh Meat deals with the travails of six freshmen (boys and girls) at a university in England as they learn to adjust to life in college.
“It’s the idea of fresh faces,” I was told by another senior when I broached the topic with him. “Potential upgrades from the current scope of people on campus.”
Fresh are the faces of freshman – innocent, unscathed by stolen drunk kisses and dark moments in closets that later spread rumors like wildfire and brand them with labels like slut, nasty, whore, that render them “tainted” and undesirable. The film Easy A is a good example, as Emma Stone’s pretended flings, no matter how secret they were meant to be, lead to brutal ostracism meant to be comparable to that of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Of course, it’s important to point out that Emma’s easiness actually makes her more desirable to the guys in her high school – but that’s because her reputation as easy came with the very real expectation that she would in turn also fulfill the sexual desires of whoever asked her. An inexperienced freshman in her first year of college, therefore, is expected to be innocent, doe-eyed and pure, and, as a result, easier to pressure into having sex.
I’m not sure what the solution might be to this spirit of conquest, of control that promotes young freshmen girls as cattle, eager-eyed in their guiltlessness, new to the type of slaughterhouse that some of these college parties become. But I do think it starts with a conversation. Not just the one I’m trying to facilitate right now by writing this article, but an actual conversation at a party. One where yes, an older guy comes up to a freshman – perhaps during O-Week. But instead of his eyes dipping to her chest, measuring her worth as he wonders how many other guys she’s been with and whether she’ll amount to a decent story for his friends in the morning, his eyes stay on her face, where they’ll talk like human beings. Sounds like a nice guy, right? Maybe the start to a solution is a conversation rather than a fuck, a “how are you doing” rather than a “wanna sleep over,” because us women are so much more than our bodies, and maybe it takes conversations like those for other guys to see that.
At some point, we’ve all been fresh meat – whether as the youngest person on campus, or the newest member of our sports team, or even as the incoming analyst for your new job next year. If you’re not “fresh meat” now, you surely will be eventually, because it’s the cycle of life, and each and every one of us has experienced some sort of dehumanization. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Or even desirable.
I can tell you that most, if not all, of my female friends would be far more inclined to spend time with a guy if, instead of approaching her like fresh meat, he approached her as a fresh name, a fresh mind, a fresh person to meet and have a great time with.
After all, fresh meat eventually goes bad.