I’m in the midst of reading Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (the final review should be interesting, as it’s a very yes/no/maybe book), and in the chapter in the hook-up culture, I seized up when I saw that Kimmel was going to use quotes from notorious pearl-clutcher and female essentialist Laura Sessions Stepp. Luckily, he mostly stays agnostic on the idea that women have some deep biological need to pair up with a man, any man—an urge that men are not assumed to share—and points to the double standard as a major reason that the sexual marketplace has a lot more men on it than women. But he does take it as a given that the hook-up culture was designed by guys, for guys.
I’m not so sure. Or, at least it doesn’t seem any more so than traditional dating. As a rule, I tend to be hostile to any knee-jerk assumption that old ways were somehow better for women, seeing as the old ways were part of a culture that was undeniably worse for women’s equality. And while Stepp runs around the country claiming that young women are utterly heartbroken by casual sex, she also carefully admits that a lot of her interview subjects said that they liked hooking up better than dating because they didn’t have time for the care and feeding of a boyfriend. I’m somewhat skeptical of some of those claims, as experience has told me that it’s amazingly easy to find time in anyone’s busy schedule to fall in love and hang out all the time with someone who makes your stomach spin and your eyes starry. But do I think young women are lying when they register satisfaction with the hook-up culture? No, and I think a quote from a man in the prior chapter of Kimmel’s book—the one about pornography—shows why.
“You don’t have to buy them dinner, talk about what they like to talk about,” says Seth, a computer programmer in New York. “And even when you do, there’s no guarantee that you’re gonna get laid. I mean with pornography, no one ever says no.”
First thing I thought was that I feel sorry for anyone out on a date with this guy.
Kimmel does a fantastic job of explaining how, for the frat daddies that populate Guyland, it’s very important to both be very interested in women’s bodies but utterly uninterested in women’s personalities. The former is manly and the latter is veering close to “gay”. And that therefore women, with their own desires and demands, are considered obstacles between guys and the pussy. That’s the sort of environment that a lot of young women have to swim in if they socialize with guys at all. When most guys you meet are closed off, for masculinity-preserving reasons, to the idea of actually listening to you or enjoying your personality, then your options are limited to abstinence until that possible far-off day when you meet someone nice, hooking up, or forcing guys to pretend that they’re interested in you for a few dates before having sex with them. Hooking up is easily the best choice for many women. Abstinence is maddening, for a lot of women, if you do it too long, and anyway, why should a gal be punished for the paucity of boyfriend material when it’s not her fault? And once in awhile, a guy you hook up with turns out to be someone who is worth spending time with. I suspect a lot of young women also know that they’re basically biding their time until guys their age grow up a little and lose some of their allegiance to the “bros before hos” mentality and become acceptable boyfriends who can exhibit care about you as a human being. Until then, why waste your time? And hell, even after guys start growing up, there’s often plenty of times when you’re single and it seems every guy you meet has “issues” with grown women, and it’s self-punishing to hold out for the good one to come along when that could means months or years of waiting.
I’m not bashing Kimmel here. His book is about guys, not girls, and so he doesn’t spend too much time trying to understand girls’ motivations for hooking up. And agreed that the hook-up culture is a reaction to male imperatives to get laid without caring about women as people. (Though a lot of it is about the basic naughty thrill for both men and women of having a one night stand. But it’s fair to say that without the constraints of masculinity to live up to, a lot more guys and girls would probably opt for relationships at least some of the time—being in love is fun!) But women’s part in sculpting the hook-up culture shouldn’t be treated like it’s some horrible thing. I consider it an ingenious strategy that young women have come up with to get their sexual kicks without having to suffer the humiliation of wanting a relationship with a guy that’s categorically rejected you as a person of interest due to your gender.
People like Laura Sessions Stepp who scold young women and tell them to manipulate the guys with their sexuality in order to make everyone more mature are doing young women a great disservice. Young women have enough on their plates—Kimmel does take time to mention how young women feel this intense pressure to be effortlessly perfect, just for starters. They have to grow themselves up, and people like Stepp would have them take on the responsibility to grow young men up, too. Which is fucked up on 14 different levels. To name a few: Good luck even getting a guy to submit to being your maturation project. Love, especially early love, shouldn’t be this horrible and thankless job. He’ll resist you, which means endless amounts of tears for you and hostility from his male friends about how he’s pussy-whipped. He’ll probably cheat on you and dump you. It’s unfair to have to take care of your own development and a man’s, especially when he’s not going to give much back in return.
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