How Feminism Got Drunk and Hooked Up With a Loser

March 1, 2010

Rachel Simmons set the under-40 femosphere back on its heels last week with a column on her blog:

Is Hooking Up Good For Girls? (click here)

Ms. Simmons is an interesting hybrid – she is the advice columnist for Teen Vogue, but she is also a scholar (Rhodes) on the subject of female aggression and has strong feminist cred. In her post she expressed strong concern about the way young women are experiencing mating norms, especially in college. She relies heavily on Kathleen Bogle’s book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus, just as I did when I decided to begin blogging about relationships in the Hookup Era. From her post (emphasis mine):

“As a relationship advice columnist for Teen Vogue, I get a lot of mail from girls in “no strings attached” relationships. The girls describe themselves as “kind of” with a guy, “sort of” seeing him, or “hanging out” with him. The guy may be noncommittal, or worse, in another no-strings relationship. In the meantime, the girls have “fallen” for him or plead with me for advice on how to make him come around and be a real boyfriend.

…So what’s the deal here? Is a world in which guys rule the result of the so-called man shortage on campus? Fat chance. More likely, we’re enjoying some unintended spoils of the sexual revolution. As authors like Ariel Levy and Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin have shown, the sexualization of girls and young women has been repackaged as girl power. Sexual freedom was supposed to be good for women, but somewhere along the way, the right to be responsible for your own orgasm became the privilege of being responsible for someone else’s.

…Does that make me a right-winger? Can I still be a feminist and say that I’m against this brand of sexual freedom? I fear feminism has been backed into a corner here. What, and who, are we losing to the new sexual freedom? Is this progress? Or did feminism get really drunk, go home with the wrong person, wake up in a strange bed and gasp, “Oh, God?”

…These letters worry me. They signify a growing trend in girls’ sexual lives where they are giving themselves to guys on guys’ terms. They hook up first and ask later. The girls are expected to “be cool” about not formalizing the relationship. They repress their needs and feelings in order to maintain the connection. And they’re letting guys call the shots about when it gets serious.”

I cannot overemphasize how significant a development this is. Not only because Ms. Simmons has stepped on the third rail of female empowerment, but because the feminist response to her, while mostly negative, is far more thoughtful and measured than it would have been just a year ago. I’ve tussled with sex-positive feminists before, most notably in these posts:

Why Do Feminists Find Abstinence Intolerable?

Have Women Been Screwed By the Sexual Revolution?

Can Hooking Up Empower You?

In fact, it was exactly a year ago that Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com claimed that hookup culture doesn’t even exist: Speechifying: So-called hook up culture and the anti-feminists who love it:

I actually don’t believe that hook [sic] culture exists. What I do think is cause for worry is the way that conservative and anti-women organizations, writers, and media makers are using this myth of a hook up culture to promote regressive values surrounding gender and to roll back women’s rights.

And in August, 2008, after Donna Frietas’ book Sex and the Soul was published, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon wrote In Defense of Casual Sex:

Perhaps young women are putting feminist ideals of equality into sex by refusing shame and claiming the traditionally male side of the stud/slut double standard.

Ms. Clark-Flory, who attended a women’s college and admittedly never hooked up while there, plants herself firmly in the I can have sex like a man! school of sex-positive feminism. Aside from the fact that I don’t think women can or do have sex like men, mostly I just don’t understand why we would want to. What’s in it for us? Quite a bit of heartache, it would seem.

Now a whole year has passed, and the cry of miserable college-aged (and beyond) women is being heard by the mainstream media. Claiming that hookup culture doesn’t exist puts you in the world is flat camp. Responses to Simmons’ coming out against no-strings sex as the only viable or acceptable relationship model are more varied, and temperate this time around. Let’s have a look:

Jessica Valenti of Feministing has apparently been too busy to weigh in, but did write a quick sentence saying that Simmons has some super valid points! This served as sort of a smoke signal to other feminist bloggers that Simmons should not be dismissed out of hand.

First out of the box was Kate Harding at Salon:

From where I’m sitting, the problem that needs solving isn’t hook-up culture, but the intense pressure on girls and women to focus on getting and keeping a guy, rather than on getting and keeping whatever they want. Media aimed at the female of the species from adolescence on up hammers on a few simple messages. 1) If you’re not heterosexual — or for some other reason don’t see landing a boyfriend as your primary purpose in life — you don’t exist. 2) Landing a boyfriend is about understanding What Guys Want and doing whatever it takes to become that. 3) Keeping a boyfriend is about continuing to be What Guys Want, and if your relationship fails, it’s probably because you did something Guys Hate.

Newsflash: Most girls and women want guys. They want sex and relationships. They don’t always want both at the same time, it’s true. The problem is that there is a giant sex dispenser on every college campus, but the relationship dispenser is OUT OF ORDER. And if a relationship is what a woman wants, then she’s SOL. Furthermore, for the record, let’s just leave gay folks out of this discussion. Gay men have always had to deal with hookup culture, and they always will, due to the male preference for sexual variety. Gay women don’t have to deal with it because they prefer relationships, for the most part. There are times when issues are heteronormative. Deal with it.

If we encouraged girls and women to place real value on their own desires, then instead of hand-waving about kids these days, we could trust them to seek out what they want and need, and to end relationships, casual or serious, that are unsatisfying or damaging to them, regardless of whether they’d work for anyone else. (While acknowledging, of course, that to some extent, heartbreak and romantic regrets are an inevitable part of growing up.)

Feminists’ knee-jerk response to concerns about rampant casual sex is to claim that a bunch of old fogeys (like me) are waving our hands in the air saying, “Something is wrong with kids these days!” They believe that we want to roll back the calendar and turn all of our young women into Betty Draper. Instead, what I see going on is real concern on the part of parents and educators (like Simmons) observing and responding to the pain that young women are feeling. That was certainly what motivated me to jump into the fray.

The thing is, if only one kind of dating “culture” is acceptable at any given time — whether it’s hooking up or old-fashioned courtship — then anyone whose desires don’t fit the mold will be left out. But if we teach all kids that there’s a wide range of potentially healthy sexual and emotional relationships, and the only real trick (granted, it’s a doozy) is finding partners who are enthusiastic about the same things you want, then there’s room for a lot more people to pursue something personally satisfying at no one else’s expense.

A doozy indeed! What might that trick be? As we know, guys having sex in college want multiple sexual partners. Guys not having sex in college are disenfranchised, shut out, virtually invisible to women. Women having sex in college are all gunning for Alpha, bemoaning his unwillingness to commit. Women not having sex in college are shut out, virtually invisible to men.

As Simmons said so well, we are enjoying the unintended spoils of the Sexual Revolution.

Next Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon weighs in:

I reject the sex-obsessed interpretation of how this struggle came to be. When I see such a large scale power struggle between men and women, I tend to think the reason is rarely biology, and usually socially constructed sexism.  Experimenting with this starting point, I think I have a much better explanation for what’s going on: Boys have power over girls in the “hook-up culture” because boys have power over girls in a male-dominated society.

Patriarchy is not the problem here! Women are outpacing men in school and at work. Boys have power over girls in the hookup culture because they dangle the carrot of a relationship as they hammer away with their sticks.

Men’s social status comes from men, and women’s social status comes from men. As someone who does remember college pretty well as it drifted into this hook-up culture, I can say firmly that getting a capital-B boyfriend was a huge source of social validation and status. But for men doing the validating, there’s not actually much value in monogamy (outside of Twu Wuv). They give something—validation—and instead of getting anything for it, they end up having to pay the price of not having their options open. Who wants that?

What Marcotte says about the derivation of social status is true. What has changed is the way men define status. What she fails to see is that two generations ago, a guy derived social status by having a steady girlfriend. That meant he was a guy with a regular supply of sex, and that was really the only way he could get it. Today, a regular supply with one woman just doesn’t cut it. Today’s male mantra is “I want multiple!”

Critics of the “hook-up culture” quietly tend to accept that while these dynamics dominate the college years, even most of them accept that something shifts when people hit their 20s, and suddenly dating and commitment become the norm. As women mature, we gain jobs and homes of our own, and become more sure in our tastes and our friendships.  For women, this is an enormous power grab.  The amount of our social value derived from male attention shrinks as more of our social value comes from our jobs and the image we project in the world. And as soon as one guy abandons the immature “girls and dating are GROSS” thing, the stigma loses its grip and they start to fall like dominoes.

Fall like dominoes? Everything I’m hearing tells me that hooking up is continuing as the norm well into the mid to late 20s. As kids weaned on hookup culture graduate from college, they export it directly into the professional and dating world they enter. This trend will continue and be magnified in coming years.

The girls are lurching in the right direction, but what needs to happen now is more attention paid to the boys.  How can we discourage young men from validating each other based on displays of misogyny?  How can we get boys to appreciate girls more as human beings?  How can we dismantle a system where social status in youth cultures is controlled strictly by young men?

Blaming men is 100% ineffective. Men are responding to hard-wired cues that give them an advantage in the reproduction sweepstakes. You might as well suggest that we tame lions into house cats. It is not in their nature, and it does not mean they are misogynist. “Lurching” doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, either.

Nona Willis Aronowitz writes on GirlDrive:

“I knew how it felt to agonize over a text message. I knew how much it hurt to hear that the guy I’d been hooking up with “didn’t do relationships.” And I knew what it was like to use sexuality to coax a guy into being with me, only to have it fail miserably.

Feminist or not, that shit sucks. And it happens a lot, to women and girls everywhere. And yet, if you consider me and the vast majority of America who eventually couple up, it seems to end up okay. What to make of all this?

…We need to admit as a culture that teens are sexual beings, and that more often than not, sexual maturity has a completely different timeline than emotional maturity. This is, to be sure, skewed by sexism and restrictive gender roles to make sexual coming-of-age worse for girls. But beyond that, maybe discovering what you want sexually and emotionally is just part of growing up–and that’s okay.

…For that matter, what’s with this still-dominant narrative that all teen girls should want a monogamous, snuggly, worshipping boyfriend? I wanted relationships from fantastic fucks all through high school and college, but something tells me that I repeatedly confused lust for love and convinced myself that I wanted a boyfriend, when really I just wanted a screwfest (although I can’t be sure).

Hmmm, just a bit of backwards rationalization going on here…

We never consider the power of cultural messages amid the mysterious phenomenon of girls wanting relationships more often than boys. I don’t think it’s biological–there are societal patterns at work here. If we’re told that casual sex is unfulfilling and that we’re going to want relationships, chances are we’ll end up wanting them.

Nona, meet Helen Fisher, noted biological anthropologist. Helen can tell you, citing dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies, and with absolutely no political agenda whatsoever, that it is indeed biological.

The stubborn insistence on the part of feminists that the sexes do not differ biologically has done much to repress women and make them miserable, as the recent Wharton study on the gender happiness gap illustrates. We wanted to have sex like men and that’s just what we got. It turns out we don’t like it much, and we probably need to make some changes.

The women’s movement ushered in today’s sexual norms. The pendulum will swing back when women fight back by making sexual choices that coincide with their long-term interests.

This is not about going back to the 1950s, or any other time when women did not enjoy equal rights.

As women, we do have a choice. And sometimes, it probably ought to involve keeping our legs together.

  • Indian Sex Cult Kool Aid Dispenser

    I disagree with Nona here: “But beyond that, maybe discovering what you want sexually and emotionally is just part of growing up–and that’s okay.”

    NOPE. “Discovering what you want sexually” is NOT part of “growing up” but rather “part of BEING a GROWN UP”.

    HOWEVER, I agree with her here: “How can we discourage young men from validating each other based on displays of misogyny? How can we get boys to appreciate girls more as human beings? How can we dismantle a system where social status in youth cultures is controlled strictly by young men?”

    … and I disagree with SUSAN’S response to that here: “Blaming men is 100% ineffective. Men are responding to hard-wired cues that give them an advantage in the reproduction sweepstakes. You might as well suggest that we tame lions into house cats.”

    ….Men are to blame for 50% of it. The other half of the blame goes to women. It takes TWO to tango. Men DO NOT HAVE TO RESPOND to “hard-wired cues”. We are humans, not animals. We have the ability to control our instincts and build cultures/civilizations. Men controlling their impulses or learning to delay their gratification (possible) is not the same as taming lions into house cats (impossible).

    You appear to be giving the boys a pass and laying all the blame and responsibility on the girls.

    And again, back to this “nice guys” thing that so many male commenters talk about, as exemplified in their posts above, how many of these nice guys have ADD, ADHD, ASPERGERS, OCD, DEPRESSION or some other such disorder, either diagnosed or not???

  • Don’t excuse men for simply responding to hard-wired clues. We have a hand in this mess, too.

    Check out Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent. She’s a lesbian who decided to pretend to be a guy for year and half. That may sound a bit like a stunt, but she actually had some interesting things to say about guys which even I as a guy found insightful and revealing. Masculinity is a tough cookie to crack and most men don’t have anyone to turn to to get guidance. Who do we look out? Our fathers? They’re out dated. TV? Well, that doesn’t help us work through our discomfort, just tells how us how we should be. James Bond? I dunno.

    Vincent suggested that the patriarchy that hurts women…well, turns out it hurts men, too! Men are forced into roles and attempting to act in ways which don’t quite fit but seem to be the norm. Men are hurt by hookup culture, too! We’re not quite sure waht the end result will be (cause there’s way less research on men…because we’re supposed to be able to take it), but I’m sure they will reveal themselves in time.

  • I’m a relationship minded guy who has spent my entire life looking for a girl to love and spend time with.

    Unfortunately, my high-school sweetheart broke up with me in college so she could participate in the hookup culture. Which sucked because women have the power to choose sex whenever they like, and have a much easier time enjoying casual sex than men – who have to deal with the flakiness of women and aggressiveness of other men.

    I was dumb enough to ask a girl who liked me on a date and she acted like I was a loser for doing it.

    Recently I messed around with a random girl at a party and was hurt that she admitted to having no further interest in me.

    I fear I’ll spend my entire life watching amazing women flock to the loser guys who they consider ‘alpha’ (AKA: no job, no future, no respect for others). Maybe I’ll marry a woman who uses me as a ‘second choice’ because she was not chosen by the large number of ‘alphas’ she slept with but needs to marry SOMEBODY.

    Also, I am a good looking guy; women are always checking me out and seem to be genuinly interested until they realize I’m legitimate. Lately I’ve been acting like a dick at parties and women seem to give me alot of play until I crack and start falling for them – at which point they start losing interest.

    I don’t blame females; their biology is what it is. However, I will fight to reserve the ONE choice us men have in the dating game. I will fight to avoid walking into Tiffany’s and getting that ring. The longer I stay unmarried the better chance I have of finally validating myself as a male by catching up to the so-called ‘alphas’ in the hookup game.

    It’s a fucked up world. Most women get to enjoy all the sex they want at relatively no cost, but get their heart broken by the men they want and settle for men they don’t want in the end. Most men get to watch indifferent, rude peers enjoy sex and attention while they wait to be locked into a relationship before they ever get to experience enough women to know what kind of girl they truly want.

    So there you go. A normal guy’s thoughts and emotions laid bare. Analyze it as you will – maybe you’ll find something interesting, maybe not.

  • @Feminism failed
    Ah, welcome! You need to click on Home and go to my newest post. There you will find many guys in exactly the same position you describe. It sucks, but you can and should learn to withhold interest until the right time. You’re showing your hand too early. As you say, this is a matter of biology, and understanding the way women think and select mates is crucial for you as you move forward.

  • Late to the party (as always and not even fashionably), but I agree with Ff. Watching women “hooking up” has made me fully reconsider marriage and it made me completely paranoid when it comes to my own relationships.

    Any woman that shows interest in a relationship with me, I now automatically assume that they were burned by a few alphas and are now ready to settle down for the beta. Inevitably, that makes me defensive and gets me thinking that I am getting sloppy seconds. It has become a vicious cycle.

    The thing that gets lost in this whole conversation, is that the biggest losers here are not women (although, they will lose in the long term when society reverts to the natural order of things and becomes Saudi Arabia), but beta men. While 20% of men get the benefit (and almost all women get to ride the alpha carrousel for a few years), there are 80% of men that have lost out. The problem is that we are the 80% that are not the most aggressive or the leader types, so our voice is the one that is repressed, and we are the 80% that drive society.

    • @Kalushkin
      I believe that 80% of women are also in the same boat. If you ignore or reject all the promiscuous women, and attend to all the remaining women, you will find many that have not ridden the carousel. Research supports this – the average number of sexual partners for a college senior is 1. Don’t come at this from an attitude of scarcity. There is an abundant supply of women seeking committed relationships who have not been burned by alphas.

  • That number is skewed because women under-report. From my experience, the gals are way more “experienced” than the guys.

    I say this as both a guy who went through college in the mid zeroes and as a young professional in the big city in the last few years. I had a guy friend in college who slept with all my attractive and even the less attractive gal friends. There was no case of that happening in reverse. Same thing happened on my fencing team in college. Almost the entire girls’ team plowed by two male team members, and in both groups everyone knew that the guy would dump the girl as soon as he slept with her (that includes the girls). In the working world, most of my male co-workers are in a relationship with the exception of Indian guys who are waiting for the arranged marriage, while most of my female co-workers get plastered every night while on the prowl.

    I do realize that a lot of this is my own fault, in that I have been too picky myself and should step down a notch to get the girls on the lower rung. However, that starts to irk me too. Why should I be the one to step down? In most cases, I am better looking, more educated, and better employed than the guys getting the tail. Surprisingly (or maybe not that surprisingly), it is when I take the train of thought that I am too good for the girls that I get almost anyone I want.

    The problem is that when I let this douche persona drop and revert to my natural beta pedestaling behavior I lose the girl. The only girls with whom I can let my inner nerd out and not have them lose interest, are the overweight ladies. I am like a magnet for the overweight, it is like everyone that is a future diabetic knows that I am a guy who has no option but to, for better or for when the insulin payments come be more than willing to share my medical plan.

    Still in either case I am living a lie. If I act like a douche I am not myself, and if I date a girl who I have no physical attraction to than I am leading her on for no reason. It is like I have to decide whether I want the attractive girl who likes a fake me, or a girl that likes me but I find unattractive. That is definitely not a winning combination. Maybe, I should blame the fattening of America.

    • @Kalushkin
      The solution to your dilemma is to stop faking it and start making it. Learning to see yourself as a prize instead of a chump is the key. You don’t need to believe that you’re too good for women, but that you are a good catch and they would be lucky to have you. Why should you pedestalize women if you know that to be true?

      If you act like a jerk, you’ll get women who like jerks, and they will dump you the minute they find out you’re a decent human being. If you get some Game, learn how to calibrate attraction – it’s a process – then you can be your delightful self and attract a woman who is compatible. There are lots of us who like some inner nerd in a man – but you have to be proud to have those interests and passions.

      It’s hard work, but you’ve already got a lot going for you – my guess is that you could make some small changes, or tweaks, and see a huge improvement.

      Whatever you do, your goal should be to eliminate pedestalizing behavior. Women don’t want it, and will punish you for it.

  • Yeah, I know that. Though, the small changes you talk about are a lot tougher than people think, and not that small.

    The problem is that we used to not have to make changes. Society was built to make us betas, the productive members of society, actually get rewarded for our production by letting us get the girl we wanted and start the family that civilization needed to go on. It was a win-win. Now it is a why the heck do I even do this, just to be a conciliation prize.

  • yumpopink

    “Blaming men is 100% ineffective. Men are responding to hard-wired cues that give them an advantage in the reproduction sweepstakes. You might as well suggest that we tame lions into house cats. It is not in their nature, and it does not mean they are misogynist.”

    I don’t understand this desire to treat men as helpless animals who are incapable of changing their behavior and actions. Is there anything more misandrist than thinking men are “hard-wired” robots who lack free-will? Humans, men AND women, are “hard-wired” to do many things in the evolutionary sweepstakes that are wrong and harm others–yet we manage to rise above. Anyone who respects men should expect the same of them.

  • jhan6120

    Most sexuality studies – most ‘cultural studies’ in general, including feminism – is a bunch of half-cocked, po-mo Marxist drivel. Not one contemporary ‘intellectual’ has ever said anything about sex that hasn’t been better said by Sappho, Shakespeare, Yeats . . . we’ve back-pedalled a hundred years because of these sheltered, government-grant-fed idiots. Gotta get these folks off the Foucalt and back on common sense.

    The problem with the 60’s inspired, conteporary feminist pro-sex movement is that it is soul-shrivelling. It leads to objectification of the self, as well as objectification of others. Funny how second wave feminists were initially so against ‘objectification’ of women re: pornography. Now they’re trying trying to convince young girls to objectify THEMSELVES!!

    I see the contemporary, pro-sex-for-young-women movement as the following: 1) A childish revege ideation against male sexuality. 2) A typical resistance toward anything that might be considered ‘traditional’ morality; doesn’t matter what the morality is, as long as there’s a ‘fight’ against it.

    My second point is important. Contemporary academic/pseudo-academic feminism is largely leftist and ‘revolutionary’ in orientation. A revolutionary’s main goal is to destroy the ‘status quo.’ Doesn’t matter what the status quo is – it must be destroyed. The feminist pro-sex movement is really only one aspect of this culture-war. In fact, if you ask most hard-core feminists on any college campus, they’ll readily admit to engaging in a culture war.

    Feminists rage at ‘abstinence’ the same way they rage against traditional religion, capitalism, etc, etc. For them, it’s all the same fight.

  • Doc

    Pardon me if I’m not politically correct, but the problem has nothing to do with men – we are as we have ALWAYS been. We want the same things we wanted 1000 years ago – to have sex with as many women as possible. Women were always the “gate-keepers” so to speak. They controlled access to what men want – and legislated against women who were willing to sell that commodity for money. So men had no choice but to play by the rules they placed upon access – we had to be in a relationship before the “gates” were open to us. Women have that same control today, as they did then.

    If women are upset about things, they need to stop blaming men, and look closer to home. The simple fact is that women have always lied to themselves and everyone else about what they “want” when it comes to men. So they say they want “a list of beta-attributes” but they reward with access to sex those men who fit a “list of alpha-attributes” – they have always done this. It’s just that today the word is out and women are upset that those alphas are now enjoying it fully. What man wouldn’t?

    This isn’t an example of “the patriarchy” but an example of what happens when women get what they really want and all of the sugar coating is stripped off. Now, I for one am happy for this change and enjoy it. And if women didn’t enjoy it too – it wouldn’t exist.

    It’s just as with lying about what they want, women are now lying about not getting what they want – if they didn’t want what they are getting it would stop – they do so it doesn’t – it really is that simple. Men, and our behavior, is consistent and is as it has always been – we want sex. You can keep your relationships – we want sex. Except that without being forced to be in a relationship to have sex – we chose not to be in a relationship. Who wants to shackle themselves? No one…

    Of course a lot of women don’t like to face facts so blame men or society… And a lot of the ones lamenting the loudest are the ones doing “the walk of shame” every weekend. 🙂

  • jhan6120

    Excellent post, Doc.

  • Maria

    It’s pretty obvious that you believe in male sexual superiority. The problem is patriarchy and we will never make any progress until we all make men take equal responsibility for it.

  • jhan6120

    “It’s pretty obvious that you believe in male sexual superiority. The problem is patriarchy and we will never make any progress until we all make men take equal responsibility for it.”

    Translated: we will never make any progress until women can do whatever they want and have men take responsibility when things don’t work out.

    That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? A continuation of victim ideology. The more women advance, the deeper feministas have to dig to keep the victim ideology going. Without the victim game, whole bunches of ideologues will lose their tenure and well-guarded sinecures. Gotta keep the narrative going!!

    This articles should be titled: “How Feminism Got Drunk and BECAME a Loser.”

  • its an individual thing—there are some women who can fuck like men and some who cant—and we being the conformist creatures that we are, cant seem to leave it at that

  • iyk

    Completely disagree, is this really about equality? Why wouldn’t the goal be for men to play by the same rules as women in terms of sexual morals instead of fighting for the rights to play by no rules as well. By rules i mean the values and morals most people are raised by that says sex is an expression of emotions between to people that care. Women are in control of who and when they have sex, much more so than men and now that now one cares about values they have nothing to check them if they decide to abuse this privalege and have sex for reasons of gratification that usually lie somewhere between validation and physical gratification. Willingly turning yourself into an object for someone else so you can use them, I don’t agree with either sex doing this. If this is about equality or supremacy or have they became one in the same. Everything i read is about her meeting her own needs but its impossible to live your life that way without trampling on other people. I do not advocate a double standard just a standard.