Laura Sessions Stepp, the Washington Post writer who contributed greatly to the urban legend of rampant “rainbow parties” among teenagers, has written a book (and an article) bemoaning “hookup culture” among our youts.
Fortunately, Kathy Dobie has written a snarky review.
Stepp follows three high school girls and six college women through a year in their lives, chronicling their sexual behavior. These girls and women don’t date, don’t develop long-term relationships or even short, serious ones — instead, they “hook up.” Hooking up, Stepp writes, “isn’t exactly anything.” It can “consist entirely of one kiss, or it can involve fondling, oral sex, anal sex, intercourse or any combination of those things. It can happen only once with a partner, several times during a week or over many months . . . . It can mean the start of something, the end of something or the whole something.” If that sounds as if hooking up can mean almost anything but “fried fish for dinner,” Stepp goes on to offer something more definite: What makes hooking up unique is that its practitioners agree that there will be no commitment, no exclusivity, no feelings. The girls adopt the crude talk of crude boys: They speak of hitting it, of boy toys and filler boys, “my plaything” and “my bitch.”
Isn’t that also known as “playing the field”?
Cripes, people, hooking up is nothing new, and if you’re defining it so broadly as to include kissing games at parties, you really need to unclutch your pearls because you’re cutting off the circulation to your brain. My friends in college 20 years ago were complaining that guys didn’t really want to date, they just wanted to hook up. Maybe all that’s different is that now, the girls aren’t complaining. And maybe that’s what’s so scary for Stepp (not to mention for other wingnuts who have latched onto “hookup culture” as the lastest thing to hold against young women who are NEVER GOING TO FIND A HUSBAND DUE TO THE SLUTTY SQUANDERING OF THEIR OXYTOCIN).
In any event, most college students are over 18. If they want to hook up, they’re grown people.
Mind you, college women can’t win with Stepp. If they’re not dispassionately hopping from hookup to hookup, they’re joined at the hip with their boyfriends — assuming their boyfriends haven’t dumped them for causing impotency with their horniness. They lose their virginity in the hot, sticky summer, no doubt to a guy who had a good wingman and kept their less-hot friends busy.
But, really, this has to be my favorite. From the review:
Stepp is troubled: How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate? These questions sound reasonable at first, until one remembers that life just doesn’t work that way: In our teens and early twenties, sexual relationships are less about intimacy than about expanding our intimate knowledge of people — a very different thing. Through sex, we discover irrefutable otherness (he dreams of being madly in love; she hates going to sleep alone ), and we are scared and enraptured, frustrated and inspired. We learn less about intimacy in our youthful sex lives than we do about humanity. And of course, there is also lust, something this very unsexy book about sex doesn’t take into account. In fact, Unhooked can be downright painful to read. The author resurrects the ugly, old notion of sex as something a female gives in return for a male’s good behavior, and she imagines the female body as a thing that can be tarnished by too much use. She advises the girls, “He will seek to win you over only if he thinks you’re a prize.”And goes on to tell them, “In a smorgasbord of booty, all the hot dishes start looking like they’ve been on the warming table too long.”
It seems strange to have to state the obvious all over again: Both males and females should work hard to gain another’s affection and trust. And one’s sexuality is not a commodity that, given away too readily and too often, will exhaust or devalue itself. Tell girls that it is such a commodity (as they were told for a number of decades), and they will rebel. The author is conflating what the girls refuse to conflate: love and sexuality. Sometimes they coexist, sometimes not. Loving, faithful marriages in which the sex life has cooled are as much a testament to that fact as a lustful tryst that leads nowhere.
In the final chapter, Stepp writes a letter to mothers and daughters, in which she warns the girls: “Your body is your property. . . . Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn’t want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?” And: “Pornographic is grinding on the dance floor like a dog in heat. It leaves nothing to the imagination.” The ugliness of these images seems meant to instill sexual shame.
Think about those images: you’re nothing but Swedish meatballs, missy, and if you let just anyone stick their frilly toothpicks in you, you’ll sit out on the table too long, and your gravy will congeal long before the little can of Sterno under the chafing dish goes out. You’re only worth anything if some man thinks you’ve got that new-car smell. You can dance, but you look like a dog being humped.
But the weirdest, and potentially most revealing, image is the whole broken windows thing. I dunno about you, but if someone throws a rock through my window, it’s a safe bet I didn’t give them permission. I let my guests in through the door. And it’s not going to fall off the hinges if I let more than one person through (even at once!).
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- Why I Hate the Washington Post by Jill June 2, 2006
- Thoughts on the “hookup culture,” or what I learned from my high school diary by Jill March 1, 2010