August 24 2012
The Hook Up Culture
Recent opinions in the Atlantic and Slate magazine praise the culture of “hooking up” among twenty-somethings for its presumed advancement of women. The stated view is that hooking up promotes female sexual freedom, independence, and a certain self-assurance which allows women to concentrate on grades and career goals instead of becoming emotionally involved with men.
As Hanna Rosin writes in the Atlantic, “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.”
In yesterday’s online edition of Slate Magazine, Amanda Marcotte celebrated the notion that “Young women want romance in theory but find that in practice, relationships are more trouble than they're worth.” Marcotte explains that for relationships to work, greedy, needy men need to change. In the meantime, casual sex is welcome.
Women are pushing past old norms and becoming more career-oriented. Does this also mean they really perpetuate the hook up culture? Are they really a new breed of sexually manipulative and strategic creatures, looking for temporary flings for mere temporary needs?
Indeed, Rosin’s piece argues that the hookup culture today is “… bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself…Young men and women have discovered a sexual freedom unbridled by the conventions of marriage, or any conventions.”
Rosin continues: “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.”
Aside from Rosin’s bypassing of the reality of STDS (one good reason to share information with your husband about past sexual dalliances), her piece essentially glorifies the calculating ways of young women today who can enjoy meaningless sex and zero emotional commitment to men for the subsequent reward which really matters – a career. But then this self-invested woman would at long last desire a deep and giving, even a conventional commitment, leaving the memory of unremarkable sexcapades on her social networking page…
All this proves is that while casual sex has always been a real phenomenon, Rosin’s piece more than overstates women’s exploitation of it for some perceived triumph over men. As Marcotte argues, now men need to change in order to be with women. They should come into relationships without expecting women to stroke their egos and clean up after them. “Women do want the benefits of long-term love,” Marcotte argues. “They just don't want the price to be higher than the rewards.”
What about the effects of the hookup culture on men?
This concern isn’t new. See last year’s Wall Street Journal article by Kay S. Hymowitz titled, “Where have all the good men gone?”
Hymowitz argues that these men “often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers.” They haven't had to man up and settle down because women don't want to - not quite yet. In the meantime, Rosin and Marcotte seem to think that in their hot pursuit of a career, it’s a good thing if women develop a certain callousness about love. Hymowitz, by contrast, remarks that “with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.”
It is true that because they’re pursuing higher degrees for more competitive jobs, which often demand more transient lifestyles, many male and female “pre-adults” marry or have children much later than ever before. Hymowitz argues that this period after college has resulted in “quarter-life crises” for much of America’s twenty-somethings. Even so, is waiting to settle down necessarily a bad thing? Women today “graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor's degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs… These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace.
Hooking up during pre-adulthood certainly doesn’t signify the breakdown of social order, but it also doesn’t prove that most women today have evolved to initiate “sexual careers” en route to professional dominance. This is a time of transition, especially for women, which doesn't mean that women or men shun romance, or that they wouldn’t really like to go out on a date, or be in love, or even have families one day. Rosin shows this in her own piece with the example of a college girl who admitted that after the sexual excitement of her freshman year, she simply grew tired of the hook up culture. She just wanted a guy to take her out for frozen yogurt.
Cultural norms around dating have certainly changed for today's 20-somethings, and more young people are settling down later in life in part because more women are pursuing careers, but feminist puffery on female propagation of meaningless flings (mistakenly viewed in tandem with self-confidence) need not overshadow the fact that most women and men still make serious long term companionship an important life goal. This hasn’t changed, and even Rosin admits it in her concluding (and incongruous) final paragraph: “the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women.”