For the July 2013 VANITY FAIR edition, Laura Jacobs recounts how Mary McCarthy's "The Group" shocked in 1963. The article "Vassar Unzipped" (not yet online) explains McCarthy's genius and courage in bringing to the surface all the secrets we college girls had then. Maybe McCarthy had the capacity to do that because, after an early start at a charmed childhood, she grew up a poor, tormented outsider. Her well-off parents died in the Influenza epidemic and she was shifted around among relatives who didn't want her.
In 1963, when I arrived wearing hat and gloves at Seton Hill College, in western Pennsylvania, I knew that I damn well better keep my secrets under wrap. So did all my classmates, all females since it was then an all-women's Catholic school. The secrets were so deeply embedded and so well defended that I was among those who didn't even see what was in front of me, at least if it clashed with what was supposed to be. I retained that until I had my meltdown in 2003.
Only now those same classmates, thanks to Facebook, and I can talk freely about not only our own secrets then but about what we saw. There were the lesbians who the housemother told to pull their beds apart; the chaplain who romanced students; the sadistic nuns; and the cabal of gossipers who scared anyone from doing anything.
Those days are gone. But are college women today, who live in total transparency, having it any easier, emotionally? Or are they missing, the way we did, what was in front of them?