Certainly, it feels harsh to say, as I have been wont to, that young women, especially college coeds are being pimped out. Others prefer to use the slightly more glamorous name of the hookup culture. Whatever you call it, it seems decidedly disrespectful of young women.
I have also had occasion to say that the current furor over “rape culture” on college campuses seems to be an effort to shut down the hookup culture. One would think that raising the cost basis of random drunken sexual encounters would diminish their appeal and their frequency.
I may have spoken too soon. After reading Suzy Lee Weiss’s account of her freshman year at the University of Michigan, I am having doubts. ( via Maggie’s Farm) Apparently, the hookup culture is alive and well. One would like to call it drunken debauchery but it sounds like much less fun than that.
As Weiss describes it, that college administrators and the fraternity system have conspired to sacrifice the honor and dignity of these young women.
Even before these first-year coeds are thrown to the tender mercies of the fraternity system the university prepares them. Should we say that the administration, in a strange way, grooms them? Or that the administration, acting in loco parentis, is setting down guidelines for good sexual behavior… in a context that does not involve dating.
Weiss describes her experience:
During the first six weeks of my freshman year, I attended no fewer than four "safe sex" seminars. I've watched a sex educator slip a blue condom onto a dildo before a room of 200 18-year-olds; witnessed a 30-minute fight between a student and a peer advisor over whether a nod counted as consent; and participated in a mock date proposal to practice how to politely turn someone down. ("No, thanks.")
I've clicked and peer-discussed my way through myriad sexual scenarios, many of which explored the gray zone of drunken sexual encounters. What if it's happening late in the afternoon on a Sunday after four shots, but before a solar eclipse, and she said she didn't want to go too far but seemed really into it?
If the statistics and headlines are to be believed, never has there been more assault and rape on American colleges campuses. Yet the same time, never before in the history of the American college student has there been more open, and increasingly procedural, talk about how to have sex.
Of course, the statistics and headlines have been vigorously contested. Be that as it may, one comes away with the impression that the college administration is telling these young girls that it is good to have sex… consensual, of course… protected, of course… because it is the normal thing to do.
Since college freshmen are especially desirous of fitting in, of being like the other students, any official message that tells their vulnerable souls what they need to do to fit in, will exercise an outsized influence on their behavior.
Can there be any doubt that these young women are being told that they should put this knowledge to use, that it is normal to do so?
Somewhat timidly, Weiss suggests that the college administrators’ emphasis on the mechanics of sex and on which words might or might not constitute consent among drunken teenagers ignores the emotional side of the equation. Assuming that the emotional connection is especially important to young women, the lectures are treating these women as though they were men.
Or better, a caricature of men. By ignoring the relationship side of the sexual equation and failing to respect human beings as something more than organs and orifices, educators diminish and demean everyone, but especially women.
With free STD testing and countless free condoms lobbed down the stairwells of dorms across the country, there is doubtlessly more "safe sex." But dental dams don't protect feelings. I'm not talking here about sexual assault, but about sex of the consensual but haphazard variety.
Weiss continues to describe what is called the “date party.” She makes it sound more like choosing an escort for the evening than like what used to be called mixers:
Take the date party — a traditional rite of passage of [insert your favorite Greek letters here] — in which pairings are arranged through mutual friends. Everyone wants to get invited, but a girl will only be asked if she is all but certain to put out. Often times, a boy's profile picture will be posted in a sorority-wide group text, with a comment along the lines of: "Who's interested? His date party is this weekend."
Then, a few texts will be exchanged between the duo. "What type of alcohol do you want?" and "The pregame starts at 8" are among the vital logistical concerns. No one goes to date party to talk about their childhood dreams in a corner of a loud dance club or the basement of a frat.
Combine the unspoken promise of some sort of sexual encounter with a heavy pregame- and sometimes even a pregame to the pregame — and the result is exactly what you'd expect. Order your Ubers early, ladies; chances are no one is making you pancakes. And certainly don't expect a text the next day.
Call it the Walmartification of sex: It's cheap, quick, easy and not built to last.
“ … all but certain to put out…” about what kind of women would you use that phrase?
Naturally, Weiss finds someone to hook up with. She does not call it a friends-with-benefits arrangement, but clearly she is being used. Of course, this is what her sex educators and peers were encouraging her to do, so she keeps hoping that she is involved in a relationship:
The weeks proceeded, our awkward daytime interactions a necessary hurdle to get to the parties and late nights where our "romance" would flourish. Coming back from a suspiciously non-communicative winter break, I found him distant and brusque. A few days of nervously — and obsessively — checking my phone culminated in pathetic display of waterworks and pent-up hysteria on a frat house lawn.
I imagined an enthusiastic reunion. Or at least a wave. He simply walked away, leaving in his wake the girlish monster we had both created.
The sad part is that he technically did nothing wrong. We weren't dating and hadn't even defined ourselves as exclusive for fear that if either of us assigned a label it would indicate that we wanted to go stroller shopping for our future child the next day.
One friend was similarly stung when she found out the boy she had hooked up with was in an open relationship with someone else. Another slept with someone all year who would only commit to the cringe-worthy expression "hanging out." The vast majority refused to be tied down in any way, citing a desire for "the real freshman experience."
Are we talking about a real freshman experience or a girlfriend experience?
I do not think that we are stretching things to say that Weiss might very have come away from her initiation and grooming feeling used, abused, disrespected and even violated.
Since she was fully consenting she does not see it that way, but she is right to object that her initiation into college sex was a transaction where she gave herself up and got nothing in return, not even a nod of recognition.
But she is not correct when she writes this:
Sexual assault-and various shades of not-totally-consensual episodes — is a real problem on college campuses, including my own. And I don't think that a return to old-fashioned mating rituals would do away with the problem.
In truth, the current college sexual scene, which resembles something that used to be called a meat market, came about because certain people decided that old-fashioned mating rituals were disrespectful to women. Would a return to the latter solve the problem? It would certainly go a long way toward that end. Compared to today’s hookup culture, old fashioned dating rituals were a model of decorum and respect.
Be that as it may, Weiss ends her essay with a cri de coeur to her feminist foremothers:
As a feminist, I ask: Is this the victory feminism imagined for itself?
I am confident that this is not what feminism imagined. And yet, as the old saying goes: you broke it, you own it. Feminism overthrew the old mating rituals. Even though feminist opinion is sharply divided on these questions, feminism bears some responsibility for the way Suzy Lee Weiss and her fellow coeds were pimped out in college.
If you prefer not to think such thoughts, you can also ask yourself whether Weiss-- had she not been a feminist-- would have done what she did.