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Viewpoint: Fulfillment through respect

BY ALEX KULICK

Published October 16, 2012

In Jeffrey McMahon's viewpoint, he responds to Bethany Biron’s article on hook-up culture. The resulting flurry of Facebook activity made it clear that many women on campus are not pleased. They accurately pointed out that this example of benevolent sexism may come off as “nice,” but it reinforces this idea that women aren’t able to handle themselves and need men to take care of them.

There are parts of McMahon’s viewpoint that we should learn from. The piece clearly comes from an authentic place that is worth noting, regardless of if we agree with him. First, as he points out, he and many men participate in hook-up culture and aren’t satisfied. He also puts forward that men have a role to play in improving the gendered nature of relationships. What he missed, however, was that the alternative to hook-up culture doesn’t have to be a 1950s white middle-class fantasy of marriage. So, this is a challenge for the men on campus (straight and not straight) who are or aren’t satisfied, who want to be supportive of women and trans people, and want to be fulfilled in their sexual and/or romantic relationship to push a little more critically and imagine new possibilities. Here are a few starting points:

Whoever you’re involved with, treat them as a person. This applies to all people, but men often need the reminder. If you’re “hooking up,” whoever you’re hooking up with is not just an object for your desire. You aren't entitled to have sex with anyone, and everyone comes in with their own wishes and a need for respect of their bodies. It also means that if you’re involved emotionally, it's not necessarily your responsibility to take care of them. There’s a difference between caring for someone and taking care of them. Caring for someone involves respecting their needs, honoring them as a person and knowing that they are capable human beings. We all need care, no matter our gender. Taking care of someone, means that you’re assuming they need something from you, and often comes with the expectation that they owe you.

Challenge yourself to find what works for you, acknowledge what works for other people and dare to be different. As McMahon points out, the hook-up culture isn’t for everyone. It's for some people when it’s negotiated intentionally. Some people want to have sex, some people want to have some sort of emotional involvement, some of our peers are happily married. Most people have some combination of those desires and others. What matters is that you're able to sift through all of the peer pressure and expectations to find what you want. It might change tomorrow. Your best friend might want something different. You’re going to have to think about it more than once. And you can’t just figure it out—you have to have the courage to be different, to feel weird and to voice that difference. For some of us, this means struggling with expectations that are part of daunting systems of racism, sexism and heterosexism. And then, assuming you want something that involves other people, you have to go through the process again to ensure you’re both clear on what the other person wants.

Give up some of your masculine power. As men, we often don’t feel powerful, but it’s in those moments when we don’t feel powerful that we often grasp for control. So when you feel vulnerable or confused, open up to your friends, especially if they’re also men. And start listening to women and trans people. It’s easy to write off what others say in order to defend yourself, but listen and understand first. To take this even further, acknowledge that listening requires the work of encouraging voices that aren’t always heard. We’re bombarded by images of hook-up culture and unequal power dynamics in relationships. So take a minute to acknowledge what’s not being expressed with words.

If we want to have sexual-romantic and sexual-non-romantic relationships that are fulfilling, it’s time to dig deeper than all the images available to us, whether they seem “nice” or not, and find ways to relate to each other without demeaning each other.

Alex Kulick is an LSA senior, Andrea Alajbegovic is an LSA senior, Noel Gordon is an LSA senior, Brock Grosso is a senior in the Ford School of Public Policy, Blake Mackie is an LSA junior, Amy Navvab is an LSA senior and Nora Stephens is an LSA senior.


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