Not so long ago that the media was all atwitter about the hook-up culture on college campuses.
Certainly, it existed. Certainly, the old custom of dating had fallen by the wayside. Certainly, the hookup culture was embraced by sex-positive feminists as a sign of true liberation. In their minds women’s liberation meant having sex like a man, or, like whatever they thought men did.
In truth, there was less hooking up than everyone thought, but once the discourse infected the media—the prurience quotient was undeniable—it begat more hookups. It also created an environment where young women were expected to hookup, whether they wanted to or not.
More than a few women who would never have imagined dropping to their knees at a fraternity party to service a young man they had met a half-hour before did just that. But, to do it, they needed first to imbibe large quantities of alcohol and to consume disinhibiting drugs.
One professor even suggested that equality, in the modern sense of the term, meant matching a man shot for shot.
Now the hookup culture is fast becoming a relic. It is being stifled and suppressed by what is called the rape culture.
Again, we are speaking about a concept that has come to dominate media commentary and general discussion.
Heather MacDonald explains that there is no epidemic of campus rape or of off-campus rape. And yet, once the characterization takes hold students expand the definition of rape and sexual assault to include actions that would not normally be categorized as such.
By her reckoning, most college rape accusations are not taken to criminal court because they are not strong enough to prevail in that venue.
MacDonald recounts an incident from Occidental College, one that I have referred to in the past, where a young woman declared herself to be the victim of sexual assault after she did the following:
Now someone who asks a male if he has a condom, who conspires with him to have sex, who announces to a friend that she intends to have sex, who voluntarily goes to his dorm room in order to have sex, who has sex through no coercion or force on the male’s part, is as voluntary and responsible an agent in that sex act as the male.
MacDonald believes that we should all be cheering the shift in the discourse about sex on campus. She sees it as a way to free coeds from the obligation to hookup and to make male college students more gentle in their treatment of young women.
Her point is well taken, but only by a half. True enough, it is good thing that the hookup culture is being thrown into the dustbin of history. And yet, the concept of a rape culture, with its caricature of all men as potential sexual predators and rapists is not such a good thing.
First,it suggests that the primary responsibility for the hookup culture belongs to men. The fact is, women bear some responsibility for their own behavior. In particular, MacDonald points out, the sexual revolution, coupled with feminism has contributed mightily to the ethos that defines sexual behavior on campus.
If a man had come along to recommend that young women engage in random, anonymous sexual encounters he would have been widely excoriated as an agent of patriarchal oppression.
Second, the hue and cry about a rape culture might not be the right way to induce young men to start behaving more courteously and respectfully toward women.
Telling men what not to do does not tell them what to do. Worse, when you try to regulate human behavior with taboos, the enterprising human mind sees a challenge: how to get away with circumventing the taboo. Surely, the detailed prescriptions for consent contain loopholes, don’t you think? If they don’t, some men will surely set to work trying to create them.
Also, filling male minds with images of rape and sexual assault is probably not the best way to produce more courteous and respectful toward women. It might do just the opposite. Allowing men to think that they are naturally inclined to rape women is not the best way to induce good behavior.
In the meantime, MacDonald offers a masterful comparison between dating culture before and after the sexual revolution and second-wave feminism.
First, she describes the situation as it was in the early 1960s:
Males and females were assumed on average to have different needs regarding sex: The omnivorous male sex drive would leap at all available targets, whereas females were more selective, associating sex with love and commitment. The male was expected to channel his desire for sex through the rituals of courtship and a proposal of marriage. A high premium was placed on female chastity and great significance accorded its loss; males, by contrast, were given a virtual free pass to play the sexual field to the extent that they could find or purchase a willing partner. The default setting for premarital sex was “no,” at least for females. Girls could opt out of that default — many did — but placing the default at “no” meant that a female didn’t have to justify her decision not to have sex with particular reasons each time a male importuned her; individual sexual restraint was backed up by collective values. On campuses, administrators enforced these norms through visitation rules intended to prevent student couplings.
As I have occasionally mentioned, there were no co-ed dorms at the time and parietal rules regulated how late a woman could stay out at night.
Then, the sexual revolution and feminism changed it all. Most interesting is the way that it undermined a woman’s No:
From then on, males and females would meet as equals on the sexual battlefield. The ideal of female modesty, the liberationists declared, was simply a cover for sexism. Chivalry was punished; females were assumed to desire sex as voraciously as males; they required no elaborate courtship rituals to engage in it and would presumably experience no pang of thwarted attachment after a one-night stand. The default for premarital sex was now “yes,” rather than “no”; opting out of that default required an individualized explanation that could no longer rely on the fact that such things are simply not done. In colleges, the authorities should get out of the way and leave students free to navigate coital relations as they saw fit.
Her point is well taken. The fundamental difference lies in the default position. In the one culture women are assumed to mean No unless they say otherwise. In the other, women are assumed to want sex just as much as a man and to want to have sex just like men do. There, the default is Yes unless the woman says No.