Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overcoming the Hook-up Culture

If you, like me, can barely remember what it was like to be in college, you, like me, will find the dating experience of today’s college students to be too depressing to be true.

Apparently, it is true. So explains Patricia Vanderbilt in an excellent column about the problems with the hook-up culture on college campuses.

Vanderbilt is not the first to analyze this situation. There are excellent websites dedicated to the issue. Among them, my personal favorite: Hooking Up Smart.

Vanderbilt, however, offers a first-hand account that I find especially insightful.

First, she explains that when hooking-up is the norm, dating feels abnormal.

In her words:

When short-term flings are the expected mode of sexual interaction, we tend to regard other, more slow-paced forms of romance as abnormal. A girl asking a guy out? Weird -- not because of gendered social norms, but because going out on dates before hooking up is weird. If a student met someone he is attracted to at the dining hall, talked to her through lunch and thought that he might want to spend more time with her, he probably wouldn't ask for her number. More likely? He'd hope to catch sight of her at a frat party that coming weekend.

Second, she describes how a hook-up culture creates a situation where students come to believe that they are being forced to choose between two extremes: hooking up or nothing.

Vanderbilt writes:

Hook-up culture creates a strange binary: on the one hand, students are having casual sex. On the other hand, students are having no sex at all. With the exception of an occasional long-term relationship, there is virtually nothing in-between.

Obviously, this is a depressing state of affairs. Life exists in the “in-between.” If college students are trained to think in all-or-nothing terms or to function in a culture that forces them to choose between two unacceptable alternatives they are being put on the road to depression.

Third, Vanderbilt explains that the atmosphere promulgated in politically-correct classrooms contributes mightily to the tendency to hook-up.

We're also taught in class to analyze every word. As a result, we are terrified of sounding pretentious, ethnocentric, heteronormative, orientalist or anything else that is insensitive, not politically correct or just plain stupid. It's a wonder that we find anything to talk about at all.

The hook-up is an attractive option when we consider these anxieties. We don't have to prove our intelligence or our sense of humor. There's something safe about this anonymity (though at a school of 1,596, nothing is really anonymous).

Political correctness stifles speech. Who knew? For all the talk about free and open expression we have allowed university students to be terrorized into speechlessness by radical professors.

What can be done?

Try reading Lysistrata. Perhaps if all the girls on the Whitman campus went on strike and chose to withhold their favors for a time, dating would come back into vogue.

One does recognize that on a campus like Whitman, where women outnumber men by 3 to 2, the sex ratio makes women more desperate.

But, there is no rule that says they need to act on their desperation.

But, why not try something new, like a sex strike. The hook-up culture cannot exist without the active participation of a sufficient number of women.

On their own, men are not going to put a stop to it. Women of the campus should take responsibility for their own behavior and put an end to hooking up. It’s well within their power.

At the least, it’s worth a try.


Robert Mitchell Jr. said...

That solution is doomed to failure. It might work if the women and men were "hooking up" uniformly, but what is going on is more like a pyramid, with a few mansluts on top, most women getting their turn with the mansluts, and the vast majority of men not getting any at all. It is the women, not the men who don't want to date. I don't think there's a solution as long as women are so terrified of commitment and growing up. So it goes....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

You're probably right. But, at least no one will ever be able to accuse us of not offering a constructive way to try to solve the problem.

Robert Mitchell Jr. said...

Really? You see an end to "Men are Pigs" and "ManChild" articles in our future?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Honestly, I don't know, but I suspect that you are right... that type of article will surely continue. Surely, Vanderbilt offers a glimmer of hope.

Anyway, all that I (or we) can really do is offer counsel... if people don't want to take it, then cannot accuse us of having remained silent.

Susan Walsh said...

Thanks so much, Stuart. I've toyed with the idea of Lysistrata. While I don't think it would end hookup culture, it might be a great way to publicize how women really feel about casual sex. The data suggests that only a small minority of women regularly engage in casual sex - though most would say it's a large majority. My most recent post addresses this.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I enjoyed your post too, Susan. If the data is correct then something very strange is going on. As you say there is much less actual hooking up going on than people think is going on.

I do wonder about the statistics, and about how many students admit to themselves what they are doing, but, be that as it may, somehow or other, dating seems to have gone out of fashion, and therefore I ask myself how much hooking up there has to be before people decide that dating is a waste of time.

It could be that students believe that so much will be expected of them on a first or second date that they are afraid...

I am not sure about this, thus, I keep reading your blog....