There is plenty of depressing reading out there about young women and the sexualized culture they are raised in, the ways in which men are allowed to linger for years or decades in a kind of prolonged adolescence, the sad state of romance and the decline of marriage as a goal. But I can’t think of anything that has depressed me more recently than reading the New York Times article “She Can Play That Game Too.”
The number-one-emailed piece on the website begins with the following description: “The guys on college campuses want to have casual sex, and the girls want romance, right? Increasingly, however, women are the ones looking to hook up.”
Actually, that’s not what the article suggests at all. The author, who has spent a year at Penn interviewing undergraduates about their private lives, describes a world in which women have resorted to casual sex because they have been left without other options.
How do I know that casual sex isn’t their first choice? Because they need to be intoxicated in order for it to take place. “Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk.” Women told the author they had to be drunk in order to even dance with the men in the basement of a fraternity house. Another girl explained, as the author put it, “her encounters freshman and sophomore year often ended with fellatio” because “usually by the time she got back to the guy’s room she was starting to sober up” and that seemed like a good way to end things quickly.
Here’s a good rule of thumb, folks. If you have to get drunk in order to do something—skydiving, casual sex—it’s probably not a good idea. That little voice inside your head telling you to get drunk is actually the last shred of self-respect instructing you to cut it out.
Feminists will say that this is really a kind of unnecessary shame that women have internalized—a sexual double standard—and that if we lived in a more equal society then women could behave just like men and they wouldn’t have to get drunk in order to do it.
But things being what they are, who is going to object to a little vodka if it means the chance to slough off the patriarchy?
The beginning of the article, which reads like a piece Hanna Rosin wrote in the Atlantic last year, describes women who say they simply are too busy with their classes and extracurricular activities to take time out for a relationship.
Some described extracurricular commitments — running debate tournaments for local high school students, or organizing Model United Nations conferences — that took up 30 to 40 hours a week, and came on top of going to class, doing homework and, in the case of less-wealthy students, work-study jobs. Some relationships ended, or never got off the ground, simply because schedules didn’t align.
This is perfectly idiotic. The idea that having a boyfriend is like taking another “four-credit class” is crazy. I graduated from college fifteen years ago and the vast majority of my friends—many of them overachievers—managed to make it through Harvard taking a full courseload, spending plenty of hours on extracurricular activities and having romantic relationships (or at least pursuing them). Hookups happened but they weren’t because my classmates didn’t have time for boyfriends or girlfriends.
So where are women getting these absurd ideas? From their parents, it turns out:
Many of the Penn women said that warnings not to become overly involved in a relationship came not from feminists, but from their parents, who urged them to be independent.
“That’s one thing that my mom has always instilled in me: ‘Make decisions for yourself, not for a guy,’ ” one senior at Penn said.
A friend of hers, who attended a nearby college and did have a serious boyfriend, said that she felt as if she were breaking a social taboo. “Am I allowed to find the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with when I’m 19?” she said. “I don’t really know. It feels like I’m not.”
I’m going to give moms and dads the benefit of the doubt and assume that when they told their daughters not to get “overly involved,” the scene described in this piece is not what they had in mind. It is true that when parents tell women they shouldn’t even think about marriage until they are 30, it has a confusing effect and suggests that they should really refrain from getting too serious with a young man.
But women—and even many men—crave relationships. They want real connections, not just anonymous fraternity basement sex. Such significant romantic relationships can even bring more satisfaction than, say, participating in Model U.N.