Kate Taylor does not tell us anything we didn’t already know.
Still, everyone will be reading her New York Times Magazine article on the hookup culture at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend. It’s a good thing. To her credit, Taylor does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the issue.
As Taylor portrays them, today’s elite young women are so completely focused on future success in the marketplace that they have neither the time nor the energy to conduct a relationship. One gets the impression that they have sold their souls for the prospect of money and power.
Taylor describes them:
Typical of elite universities today, Penn is filled with driven young women, many of whom aspire to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers or corporate executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. Keenly attuned to what might give them a competitive edge, especially in a time of unsure job prospects and a shaky economy, many of them approach college as a race to acquire credentials: top grades, leadership positions in student organizations, sought-after internships. Their time out of class is filled with club meetings, sports practice and community-service projects. For some, the only time they truly feel off the clock is when they are drinking at a campus bar or at one of the fraternities that line Locust Walk, the main artery of campus.
These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends (never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.
In this context, some women, like A., seized the opportunity to have sex without relationships, preferring “hookup buddies” (regular sexual partners with little emotional commitment) to boyfriends. Others longed for boyfriends and deeper attachment. Some women described a dangerous edge to the hookup culture, of sexual assaults and degrading encounters enabled by drinking and distinguished by a lack of emotional connection.
Of course, none of these women was sufficiently proud of herself or sufficiently willing to challenge “sexism” to allow her name to appear in The New York Times.
Since they are younger and more naïve than they think they are, they all imagine that they are going to wake up one morning, slightly before they reach the ripe old age of 30, find a man to marry and start a family.
To my mind, it’s intuitively obvious that building a life together is easier than merging two fully-formed lives, but these women are willing to bet their future on the alternative theory.
Taylor quotes one woman:
“‘I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible.
“I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”
It ought to be clear by now that feminism has fostered the hookup culture. If a woman chooses to defer marriage in favor of career advancement—the basis of the feminist life plan— she will invariably gravitate toward meaningless random sexual encounters. Also, she will avoid men who are relationship material or who would make good husbands.
Taylor quotes a woman she calls, A:
In the meantime, from A.’s perspective, she was in charge of her own sexuality.
“I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve regretted any of my one-night stands,” she said.
“I’m a true feminist,” she added. “I’m a strong woman. I know what I want.”
Recently, Princeton alumna and mother of Princeton students, Susan Patton wrote an open letter to Princeton coeds recommending that they use their college years to find husbands. Patton blamed the hookup culture on feminism, and naturally, feminists rose up to jeer at her idea.
Taylor presents Patton’s point of view:
They have gotten such strong, vitriolic messages from the extreme feminists saying, ‘Go it alone — you don’t need a man,’ ” she [Patton] added.
Obviously, if the situation were good for women, feminists would be rushing out to take credit for it. If it looks as though feminists are pimping out coeds for the cause, feminists will shift the blame.
Responding to Patton, Taylor says:
But, in fact, many of the Penn women said that warnings not to become overly involved in a relationship came not from feminists, but from their parents, who urged them to be independent.
“That’s one thing that my mom has always instilled in me: ‘Make decisions for yourself, not for a guy,’ ” one senior at Penn said.
And where, pray tell, did their mothers learn it?
If we accept, as Taylor points out, the hooking up is the province of the upper classes-- the academic and social elite-- then we can surmise that the parents of these young women attended elite academic institutions themselves. While there, they would surely have suffered the influence of feminism, in women’s studies, in Humanities courses, in sensitivity training sessions.
Some upper class mothers abandoned their careers to raise their children. They might, like Lisa Endlich Heffernan, try to pay off their debt to feminism by guilt tripping their daughters into following the feminist life plan. (See my post on “The Feminist Guilt Trip.”)
The parents of students who come from less privileged backgrounds did not go to the best universities, did not suffer the same indoctrination during their formative years and did not force their ideology on their children. Thus, Taylor reports young women from such backgrounds are far less likely to involve themselves in the hookup culture.
Taylor began her article by presenting the best case for the hookup culture. I have no problem with that. But then, she offers the fact, noted many times by others, that these strong, driven women, women who know what they want and are in control of their sexuality, must get drunk before they can hookup. Alcohol is hookup lube.
In her words:
Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk. One girl, explaining why her encounters freshman and sophomore year often ended with fellatio, said that usually by the time she got back to a guy’s room, she was starting to sober up and didn’t want to be there anymore, and giving the guy oral sex was an easy way to wrap things up and leave.
Suddenly, it all seems less glamorous. Doesn’t this tell us that a woman who is in control of herself, who has her wits about her, who is following her moral compass… will not be capable of hooking up.
Worse yet, the alcohol-fueled hookup culture leads to sexual assaults:
In November of Haley’s freshman year, a couple of months after her first tentative “Difmos,” or dance-floor makeouts, she went to a party with a boy from her floor. She had too much to drink, and she remembered telling him that she wanted to go home.
Instead, she said, he took her to his room and had sex with her while she drifted in and out of consciousness. She woke up with her head spinning. The next day, not sure what to think about what had happened, she described the night to her friends as though it were a funny story: I was so drunk, I fell asleep while I was having sex! She played up the moment in the middle of the night when the guy’s roommate poked his head in the room and asked, “Yo, did you score?”
Only later did Haley begin to think of what had happened as rape — a disturbingly common part of many women’s college experience. In a 2007 survey funded by the Justice Department of 6,800 undergraduates at two big public universities, nearly 14 percent of women said they had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault at college; more than half of the victims said they were incapacitated from drugs or alcohol at the time.
Another victory for contemporary feminism!