Hannah Rosin Understands Feminism, But Not Hookup Culture

August 23, 2012

Wharton’s White Party – Slutty enough for you?

“[Hookup culture] is an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”

Hannah Rosin


I couldn’t agree more. Women control access to sex. A promiscuous culture or norm cannot exist without the participation of women. It is women who have driven down the price of sex since the Sexual Revolution, not men.

Hannah Rosin’s upcoming book The End of Men is excerpted in the September issue of The Atlantic, the unrivaled go-to source for all stories describing the educated female’s life trajectory and meteoric rise to financial success and emotional independence. Boys on the Side is an interesting account of contemporary gender relations to be sure, but it doesn’t really hold together as a depiction of hookup culture, which Rosin says has been the norm for about 15 years now.

Let’s take the story she opens with. She attends a business school midweek happy hour. (This is presumably Harvard or Wharton. In my Wharton Class of 1983, our Thursday night happy hours were very well attended by the most social members of my class – usually around 50 or 75 of us out of 650.) Let’s compare my experience with what Rosin observed recently:

2012: Rosin is rather shocked to see that women are not appalled by a pic of some chick blowing a snowman’s penis, which she calls porn. 

1983: We would not have been shocked by that pic, which we would have called humor. I recall a pic  of an African tribal boy performing cunnilingus on a cow that made the rounds. Someone had left it in the mail folder of a real ass kisser.


2012: Someone’s boyfriend suggests going to a strip club, and then gives a buddy the finger for teasing him about marriage.

1983: Someone’s boyfriend suggests going to a strip club, and then gives a buddy the finger for teasing him about marriage.


2012: “Many of [the women] had been molded on trading floors or in investment banks with male-female ratios as terrifying as 50-to-1, so they had learned to keep pace with the boys. Women told me stories of being hit on at work by “FDBs” (finance douche bags) who hadn’t even bothered to take off their wedding rings, or sitting through Monday-morning meetings that started with stories about who had banged whom (or what) that weekend.”

1983: Ditto. My best friend from Wharton was the first female Managing Director at Merrill Lynch, in charge of Trading. Everyone, and I mean everyone f*cked everybody else. Entitled and immoral behavior from the Masters and Mistresses of the Universe is nothing new.


2012: ““Here in America, the girls, they give up their mouth, their ass, their tits,” the Argentinean said to me, punctuating each with the appropriate hand motion, “before they even know the guy. It’s like, ‘Hello.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘You wanna hook up?’ ‘Sure.’”

1983: “Here in America, the girls, they give up their mouth, their ass, their tits,” the Indian guys said to me, punctuating each with the appropriate hand motion, “before they even know the guy. It’s like, ‘Hello.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘You wanna hook up?’ ‘Sure.’ So why don’t you hook up with me before I have to return to an arranged marriage?”


2012:  She and I stood by the bar at one point and watched a woman put her hand on a guy’s inner thigh, shortly before they disappeared together.

1983: I opened the door to the restroom at the MBA House to find a female classmate giving a BJ to a married student. They disappeared shortly afterwards.


Rosin describes the females she observed as having worked for a decade already, having cut their teeth on Wall St. These are tough, ambitious broads in their early 30s. They are among the most aggressive women in America, the top 1%, those who have successfully battled to the forefront of high achievers in highly competitive environments. They are extraverts, leaders, analytical thinkers, and workaholics. Some may marry, but many won’t, and it’s fair to assume there aren’t many future mommies in the group. All this was equally true in 1983.

In other words, while many things have changed, none of the things Rosin observed are new, and none of these examples relate to hookup culture specifically. 

Rosin is more effective and accurate in her portrayal of the role of feminism:

Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-­school party—are for the first time in history more success­ful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture.

Indeed, women cannot outearn and outperform males if marriage and family are a priority.  While 94% of Millennial women cite motherhood as one of their most important priorities in life, it remains to be seen what choices they will make as they proceed through their 20s. 

Lisa Wade is a feminist sociologist who has studied hookup culture. While she is positive about casual sex and hooking up, she acknowledges that it doesn’t work for many women:

Many of the women in our sample, specifically, felt that they had inherited a right to express their sexuality from the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s. They saw college as an opportunity to enact their liberation. So they embraced sex …and the right to say “yes” to sex. And it was going to be glorious.

But many of our female respondents felt disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.

It may be that the women who actually enjoy “having sex like a man” also enjoy “having a career like a man” and have no intention of being saddled with a domestic role. 

Rosin’s next stop was Yale, where she spoke with some women protesting the “hostile sexual climate” there.

[One freshman] was high on her first taste of the hookup culture and didn’t want a boyfriend. “It was empowering, to have that kind of control,” she recalls. “Guys were texting and calling me all the time, and I was turning them down. I really enjoyed it! I had these options to hook up if I wanted them, and no one would judge me for it.” But then, sometime during sophomore year, her feelings changed. She got tired of relation­ships that just faded away, “no end, no beginning.”

This is a common tale, evidenced by the dropoff in hooking up after freshmen year, as women learn the hard way that “sex as empowerment” is a scam peddled by feminists.  When Rosin asked the girl what she would like instead, she replied, “Some guy to ask me out on a date to the frozen-­yogurt place.”

Rosin goes on to claim that in spite of their unhappiness, these women staunchly defended hookup culture, which is counter to what the recent College Life Survey of 19,000 students revealed:

Even one of the women who had initiated the Title IX complaint, Alexandra Brodsky, felt this way. “I would never come down on the hookup culture,” she said. “Plenty of women enjoy having casual sex.”

No surprise there – Brodsky is a feminist activist, hardly representative of the typical female student. As Rosin has already observed, feminism needs hookup culture. Without it, women just might refuse to prioritize their careers throughout their 20s. (Tidbit: CBS has ordered a pilot for a show based on Kate Bolick’s article last fall. It has been described as a show where being a single woman is the “destination, not the journey.” Whoo hoo.)

Where Rosin really goes awry is in conflating hooking up behavior with hookup culture, a common mistake. For example, here is how she characterizes the typical female student today:

For most women, the hookup culture is like an island they visit, mostly during their college years and even then only when they are bored or experimenting or don’t know any better. But it is not a place where they drown. The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike the women in earlier ages, they have more-important things on their minds, such as good grades and intern­ships and job interviews and a financial future of their own.

She cites researcher Elizabeth Armstrong, who describes hooking up as a “larger romantic strategy,” part of a “sexual career.” 

Armstrong and Hamilton had come looking for sexual victims. Instead, at this university, and even more so at other, more prestigious universities they studied, they found the opposite: women who were managing their romantic lives like savvy headhunters. “The ambitious women calculate that having a relationship would be like a four-credit class, and they don’t always have time for it, so instead they opt for a lighter hookup,” Armstrong told me.

…The women wanted to study or hang out with friends or just be “100 percent selfish,” as one said. “I have the rest of my life to devote to a husband or kids or my job.” Some even purposely had what one might think of as fake boyfriends, whom they considered sub–marriage quality, and weren’t genuinely attached to. “He fits my needs now, because I don’t want to get married now,” one said. “I don’t want anyone else to influence what I do after I graduate.”

Yet Rosin also reveals hard numbers that contradict her conclusion, citing the research at Stanford of Paula England (also previously cited here). England has made the following assessment of hookup culture based on a sample of over 20,000 students:

  • 11% of  students enthusiastically enjoy hookup culture.
  • 50% hook up, but do it rather ambivalently or reluctantly, some with extremely negative experiences.
  • 38% opt out of hooking up altogether.

It turns out that students have a median number of five hookups in all of college, and that includes any hookup, not just sex. Since sexual intercourse is believed to occur in fewer than half of hookups, we can estimate that at most, the median number of sex hookups is less than three in four years, and that includes relationships. 

About 66 percent of women say they wanted their most recent hookup to turn into something more, but 58 percent of men say the same—not a vast difference, considering the cultural panic about the demise of chivalry and its consequences for women. And in fact, the broad inference that young people are having more sex—and not just coarser sex—is just wrong; teenagers today, for instance, are far less likely than their parents were to have sex or get pregnant.

Here Rosin acknowledges that hooking up frequently occurs as a means to getting into a relationship, which is the opposite of her contention that women hook up to avoid relationships. The fact is, both are true. Rosin’s error is in focusing on the 11% that is enthusiastic about hookup culture. 

There’s a stark disconnect between the feminist hookup culture script, and the actual behavior of college students. Clearly, there are women who display ravenous, voracious sexual appetites. They may be found at the Yale Women’s Center, MBA Happy Hour, and on campuses throughout the nation. They are the female leaders of tomorrow, and they deserve credit for their achievements. But they do not speak for the majority of women, and Rosin has failed to realize that.