From my friend Emily Esfahani Smith over at Acculturated, a new group blog that’s providing engaging cultural commentary week after week with one interesting piece after another, “Is the Hook-Up Culture “Empowering”?:
In 2010, Hanna Rosin wrote a pretty devastating feature article in The Atlantic titled The End of Men, which argued that women are outpacing and outperforming men in the postindustrial economy. That article has since been transformed into a book by Rosin that will be coming out next month.
Her most recent article in The Atlantic, Boys on the Side, is adapted from this forthcoming book. In the piece, she takes up what are, to her, the merits of the hook-up culture. That the hook-up culture is thriving on college campuses–thanks, in large part, to the women who drive it–is another sign that women are replacing men as the alphas of society. So Rosin’s argument goes.
But this analysis [Caitlin Flanagan's in Girl Land] downplays the unbelievable gains women have lately made, and, more important, it forgets how much those gains depend on sexual liberation. Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-school party—are for the first time in history more successful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
Emily continues in fisking the troubling arguments of a celebrated Atlantic senior editor:
To Rosin, the hook-up culture is good because women enjoy it and it frees them from the shackles of having a relationship. So the hook-up culture, as Rosin and most feminists argue, empowers women:
At Yale I heard stories like the ones I had read in many journalistic accounts of the hookup culture. One sorority girl, a junior with a beautiful tan, long dark hair, and a great figure, whom I’ll call Tali, told me that freshman year she, like many of her peers, was high on her first taste of the hookup culture and didn’t want a boyfriend. “It was empowering, to have that kind of control,” she recalls. “Guys were texting and calling me all the time, and I was turning them down. I really enjoyed it! I had these options to hook up if I wanted them, and no one would judge me for it.”
Tali may be the exception. Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade, who did a qualitative study of the hook-up culture among 44 of her freshman students (33 of them women), concludes that most of them “were overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups. This was true of both men and women, but was felt more intensely by women.” The psychiatrist Miriam Grossman reports that the vast majority of women who have a hook-up experience later regret it. Wade confirms that the women she interviewed felt “disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.”
Read the whole thing. Emily untangles Rosin’s twisted logic, revealing the cruel, dehumanizing premises that make up the basis of her call for a life of animal sexuality.
Reading through Rosin’s article at The Atlantic, a few other telling word choices and admissions jump out:
So there we have it. America has unseated the Scandinavian countries for the title of Easiest Lay. We are, in the world’s estimation, a nation of prostitutes. And not even prostitutes with hearts of gold.
Is that so bad? Or is there, maybe, a different way to analyze the scene that had just unfolded?
Armstrong and Hamilton had come looking for sexual victims. Instead, at this university, and even more so at other, more prestigious universities they studied, they found the opposite: women who were managing their romantic lives like savvy headhunters. “The ambitious women calculate that having a relationship would be like a four-credit class, and they don’t always have time for it, so instead they opt for a lighter hookup,” Armstrong told me.
It’s “feminist progress” to return women to the “world’s oldest profession” and the primitivism of head-hunting?
Rosin — who happens to be living married and with kids herself — surely doesn’t believe this nonsense and is just cynically making dumb, trendy arguments that she knows will sell briskly to her spoiled, hedonistic readers at Slate’s Double X and The Atlantic. She concludes her piece:
Young men and women have discovered a sexual freedom unbridled by the conventions of marriage, or any conventions. But that’s not how the story ends. They will need time, as one young woman at Yale told me, to figure out what they want and how to ask for it. Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women. Even for those business-school women, their hookup years are likely to end up as a series of photographs, buried somewhere on their Facebook page, that they do or don’t share with their husband—a memory that they recall fondly or sourly, but that hardly defines them.
“Sourly?” “That hardly defines them”?
Maybe for some. But as I near 30, cherish my wife and the married lifestyle more and more every day, and my embarrassing college hook-up years fade further away, I know the unpleasant reality the Rosins of the world want to ignore: just because we were lucky enough to escape that moral sewer and take refuge within a traditional marriage, it doesn’t mean everyone does. Rosin’s advocacy of the hook-up culture relies on the fallacy that in sex with multiple partners women will find something of value.
But what’s there to discover? What does a young woman learn by imitating porn stars and mastering sexual techniques formerly employed only by prostitutes as a means of avoiding pregnancy?
The real dirty secret of the “hook-up culture” as Emily highlights:
Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade, who did a qualitative study of the hook-up culture among 44 of her freshman students (33 of them women), concludes that most of them “were overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups. This was true of both men and women, but was felt more intensely by women.”
My college years weren’t as crazy as what Andrew Breitbart described in Righteous Indignation, but like him my politically correct, leftist politics went hand-in-hand with the equally trendy embrace of a “liberated” hook-up culture. It was cool and intellectual to be a “libertine,” just ask Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp:
But life isn’t like the movies or radical chic fantasies. During the promiscuous college life three demons hang over your shoulder:
1. Sexually transmitted diseases. One of my roommates after college would regale us with tales of his conquests. When he bragged about not using condoms, I connected the dots between his self-destructive promiscuity and his alcoholism. (We’re not friends anymore. I defriended him on Facebook about a year ago when I realized he was also an antisemite — a not uncommon pairing with an exploitative sexual nature, as Mel Gibson shows.) Life in the hook-up culture is like walking a mine field — and in living it you never know when a mysterious mole is just a mole or the first sign of horrible doom.
2. Unplanned pregnancies. During my junior year of college a friend I’d known since high school got pregnant from hooking up. He was her first boyfriend, first time, and she later told me they used a condom. She still got pregnant and they eventually got married. I haven’t talked to her in years — last I heard they were separated because he had given her an STD after cheating on her. (They’d had a second child at that point and she still hadn’t finished her degree. But hey, at least she’s a “liberated” woman now thanks to her time in the hook-up culture.)
3. Unpleasant — or even disgusting — sex with someone you wish you could erase from your memory. Every first sexual encounter is like buying a lottery ticket. Chances are you’re going to lose. The person you’re with probably isn’t going to be very skillful and even if they were why would they care about your pleasure? In the hook-up culture aren’t we all head-hunters just out for our own mind-blowing orgasms? You’re just a piece of meat for their enjoyment.
The truth is that if I had to do it all over again — if I could, as John Hawkins blogged about recently, email a fact back in time to myself, it would be something like this:
Dear Freshman Year Dave,
The entirely secular, pragmatic, counterintutive case for social conservatism: making love to a spouse who knows you and your particular sexual quirks more intimately than any person on the planet will be much more satisfying than screwing some stranger who’s too drunk to even recognize you. A happier life comes from restraining sexuality and channeling it into building a family rather than in indulging the adolescent fantasies of sexual liberation.
The social conservatives were right. I just wish I’d figured it out a decade ago.
More on sex, infidelity, and relationships at PJ Lifestyle: