As college students, many of us have experienced or are familiar with hookup culture. Hookup culture is based on sexual intimacy paired with outward rejection of any emotional connection to accompany that physical relationship. The prevalence of this culture for college students can be attributed to the ease of dating apps, the availability of contraceptives and the freedoms that college and young adult life offer.
Hookup culture emphasizes a sense of empowerment and agency over one’s body to do whatever you want with whoever you want. This agency, however, finds itself unequally shared between women and men. Elizabeth Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan with many published papers regarding hookup culture, asserts that “our society is saturated with gender inequality, so of course (the patriarchy) plays a role in hookup culture. Men are often socialized to disrespect and even dislike women. The institutions of our society allow and encourage these behaviors. This disrespect shows up in hookups and relationships, and in other contexts as well.”
There are many women who genuinely want casual hookups, therefore the statement of empowerment stands true. However, there is another cohort of women who do not want casual hookups but participate in them anyways — not because they want to but because they feel it is their only option as the culture becomes more and more normalized. Thus, those women situated in the gray area are not liberating themselves but, rather, giving men a free pass. What many women want is a genuine connection — a relationship where you are so comfortable you can do anything in front of that person — yet they find themselves going home with strangers after nights out at the bar.
This, unfortunately, paves the way for a form of anti-feminism. Feminism is supposed to ease some of the pressure between what women want and what society deems they are supposed to want, but the popularity of “choice feminism,” a more individualistic approach to feminism, actually caters to the patriarchy. When we force ourselves to mold to societal norms, we are not making a choice anymore, and the line between what we actually want and what we are supposed to want becomes even more blurry.
This dichotomy creates an interesting conflict. For college students, we are left with the question of addressing hookup culture in our daily lives, the question of what to do with these social pressures and, for those displeased with the culture, the question of making choices without appearing to judge women who do choose to embrace hookup culture for their own reasons.
Armstrong helps us understand the facets of the previous questions by pointing out the idea of “sexual citizenship,” which is explored by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan in their book, “Sexual Citizens.” Armstrong states that “by sexual citizenship, they mean that everyone has the right to sexual self-determination and that this right should be recognized by others. Sexual citizenship means educating young people to feel entitled to decide what to do sexually, and to respect other people’s desires as well.”
In other words, as college students, we can support one another’s sexual endeavors, and our own, by staying educated and open-minded to all angles of sexuality and feminism. From wanting casual hookups to wanting long-term relationships, opening up to one another about our genuine desires will only serve to help us maintain open conversation and be honest with ourselves. Sex education should not only emphasize the logistical aspects of safe sex, consent and all the other ins-and-outs but should also emphasize the emotional spectrum on which sex lies.
Aside from the challenge of fostering effective sexual conversation and education, people in the dating pool face another cumbersome challenge: with hookup culture comes the feeling that love and relationships are unattainable prospects. It is fair to note that we are faced with the trivial, but all too real, stressors that have arisen due to technology. For example, we now have the freedom to check our significant others’ followings, bite our nails when we notice they are at a mysterious house on SnapMaps at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night and wonder why they have taken a couple minutes too long to respond to our latest text message. Essentially, social media and technology in general provide an outlet for relationship insecurities and overthinking that make genuine connections even more difficult to foster.
Regardless of said challenges, we should rest assured that dating and love can still be cultivated in today’s age. Specifically referring to the modern day complexities that people in today’s dating world experience, Armstrong says that “traits such as earnestness and vulnerability seem not to be in fashion. Good relationships require respect, trust, vulnerability, communication, commitment and the willingness to take someone else into account. Any context where these ways of relating are encouraged will likely also foster relationships.”
It all boils down to surrounding yourself with the energy and people you want to attract. Though it works out for some people, many of us are not going to find love in a fraternity basement or on a night out at the bar. In fact, fraternities work to uphold a high ratio of women to men at their parties, and bars are more likely to turn away men than women for similar purposes. Both of these contexts are breeding grounds for hooking up, and, of course, they work to the advantage of the patriarchy; men are given more convenient options to sort through when this ratio exists, therefore sending them into an advantageous position of power. Thus it is no surprise that many women are left with no other option than to tolerate our misogynistic society or assimilate into it.
Open conversations, healthy education, honesty with oneself and with one’s community and the courage to explore other social circles can assist in defying the form of anti-feminism and accidental encouragement of the patriarchy seen today. We all have the power to do whatever we want with whoever we want, not only with our bodies, but with our emotional standing and genuine desires.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.