“Our brains are identical to the ones that emerged from Africa 100,000 years ago. You take a caveman, shave him, give him a three-piece suit, and put him on Wall Street, and he looks like all the others barbarians on Wall Street. Our brains haven’t changed at all in the last 100,000 years.”
Michio Kaku, Theoretical Physicist
In order to succeed in any undertaking, it’s crucial to identify obstacles, and to formulate a plan for maneuvering around them. For girls who want meaningful relationships with guys in the age of hooking up, it’s important to consider each obstacle as its own particular challenge. Today we begin to explore the root causes for the development and pervasiveness of the hookup culture, and the resulting power imbalance between the sexes. For the most part, the forces that promote hooking up are not within your control. The only thing that you can control is your own response, your own choices. You can improve your chances of finding a great relationship by taking an active role in defining what you want and being smart about meeting these challenges head on.
It’s important to remember that you are not powerless. Women hold one very important card:
Women still control the supply of sex. This is true in every culture and throughout time. Men have a strong desire for sex, and women control men’s opportunities to get it.
We begin reclaiming the upper hand in dealing with boys by understanding what has led us to a culture where hooking up is the norm and dating is dead. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that got us here:
Men are biologically programmed to want sex with a variety of women. It’s in their DNA. Their purpose is to inseminate as many women as possible to produce children. When a man is monogamous, he is giving up something he wants.
For women, who give birth, it is important to choose a man who can be counted on to help raise her children. Of course, young women today are not looking at guys and thinking about their parenting skills. All of that is way into the future. But we can’t escape our DNA. Over thousands of generations, a preference for men who showed signs of being willing and able to commit evolved in women. The modern woman can and often does choose to have numerous sex partners before marrying. But it is in her nature to view those men through the lens of relationships.
Traditionally, dating has been the way that men and women found common ground. It gives women a way to test out different men. Because women control the sex supply, men have sought ways to please women through romance. In the hookup culture, guys are receiving the message that girls are satisfied with hooking up, and have no expectations of them. In sending that message, girls forfeit the most powerful leverage they have over men: controlling the supply of sex. If girls demand love and kindness in return for sex, they will get it.
Today, the market value of sexual access has plummeted. Sex is so readily available that men are not willing to give up much of anything to get it. Women need to start behaving in such a way as to increase the market value of sex to level the playing field and regain some control. The only way to achieve this is to restrict the supply.
The Sexual Revolution
The unintended consequences of the Sexual Revolution are another major influence on today’s sexual norms. The introduction of the Pill in the 1960s meant that for the first time women could choose to have sex without fear of pregnancy. At the same time, the Women’s Movement enabled women to make great gains in earning power. They didn’t need men to provide for them in the same way anymore. Men found to their amazement and delight that women no longer expected much in return for sex. This newfound sexual freedom led to a “market correction” and changed the rules of the game.
The Women’s Movement brought about many important changes for women. But that does not mean we are beholden to experimental notions of “free love” if they do not work for us, and do not give us what we want. These cultural forces are powerfully entrenched in our culture. To begin to change the culture, women will need to defend their right to be valued: to be treated with respect, honesty, and decency.
Women outnumber men in colleges today by 56% to 44%. At many small liberal arts colleges, the percentages are more like 60% to 40%. This imbalance is huge. It means that even if traditional dating were still the norm, the numbers favor the guys right now in a big way.
Americans are also getting married much later than they used to. In the last forty years, the average age at marriage has gone from 20 for women and 23 for men to 25 for women and 27 for men. That means that you are much less likely to meet your spouse in college than you were forty years ago. Today the college experience is about studying abroad, getting good internships, and preparing for graduate school. Chances are that any boy you meet in college will not live in the same place you do for the next five to ten years. So it makes no sense to get too attached now, because there is no way it can last.
Finally, your generation is under enormous pressure to achieve. The American Dream dictates that each generation do better than the last. You are the children of the Baby Boomers, a very high achieving group. Your parents have extremely high expectations for your future, and you’ve always understood this. It is important for you to get good grades and focus on excelling. Of course you’re interested in boys, but you’re worried that you really don’t have enough time for the demands of a high-maintenance relationship on top of everything else. Boys in particular feel that college is a time to have fun and let off steam, and they say they don’t want the commitment of a relationship.
Rapid changes in technology are having a profound effect on the way young people communicate. Notwithstanding the benefits of social networking sites, text messaging, instant messaging, etc., taking more of our interactions electronic has served to make communication less personal. We don’t talk on the phone as much. We make most of our plans via text, which is devoid of emotion.
Guys love this! When a guy shoots you a text, he’s not risking very much. Even if you blow him off, the rejection doesn’t even begin to compare to your looking him in the eye and saying you have no interest in dating him. When he does text, he’s likely to say, “What are you up to?” rather than “I’d like to see you.” He may talk about meeting up later. Or say he’ll text again once he knows what his plans are. At no time does he need to say straight out that he really wants to see you and is willing to make a plan for a specific time.
This sucks for girls. They feel like they can’t initiate the conversation, and so are often left hanging as the night wears on. It’s very hard for girls to interpret these messages or the intent behind them.
Your generation has been raised with unprecedented access to sexually explicit material. It boggles the mind to imagine that men were ever aroused by the glimpse of an ankle. Today, young men view porn together as a way of bonding. Porn scenarios almost always show the woman subservient to the male. And porn focuses on the pleasure of the man; the woman’s pleasure is secondary and automatic. As proof that porn is now totally mainstream among guys, many of the theme parties on college campuses are taken from porn plotlines: CEOs and Office Hoes, Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes, Cowboys and Schoolgirls, Doctors and Nurses, etc. Research shows that watching porn is actually deadening guys’ libidos. The number of young men seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction is skyrocketing. They literally can’t get it up with a healthy, normal girl because no actual sexual experience can match the arousal they feel watching porn.
Porn has raised the bar so high that many women work hard to arouse men so that they, as women, can feel empowered and desired. From dressing extremely provocatively to baring it all in Girls Gone Wild videos, girls are offering themselves up as fresh meat. If you want to be treated as a piece of meat, just follow along. Everybody’s doing it. If you hope to expect more from a guy, you will have to expect more from yourself.
So we’re up against some pretty big obstacles: our DNA, a 1960s hangover, long odds, the objectification of women in the media, and technology that lets boys act so passive they’re almost invisible. But we know that men and women will continue to mate. The show will go on. The next post in this series, Understanding the Hookup Environment, will ask “What’s Dumb About Hooking Up?” You may be stuck with it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit quietly and like it.