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How to spike your results

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, April 12, 2010 22:21 EDT
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Prepare to see this study used as evidence in the mainstream media that a) men are dogs b) women are ring-hungry harpies and c) both these things are instinct and socialization has no bearing on it. The study is actually pretty mundane. Researchers discovered that while both college-aged men and women prefer dating, men are a little more likely than women to prefer hooking up. The assumption that these two things are mutually exclusive bothers me, since it has no bearing on reality, but I’m really not surprised. We’re talking about young people, who are highly sensitive to conforming to their gender roles, and I’ll bet these things even out more over time.

But not to sound like a broken record, the stereotype that women are desperate to find a relationship and men are desperate to have sex but not a relationship is a stereotype based in misogyny. Specifically, the idea behind it is that men are valuable, and women aren’t. If a man dates a woman, he therefore confers status on her. Unfortunately, people act as if this is true, which does create real-life situations where women are so desperate to be validated they do buckle to the intense pressure to lower their standards. But obviously not as much as ye ol’ patriarchy would like, or else there wouldn’t be this relentless pressure to abandon the practice of having standards and date anyone who asks, so long as he has a penis and a pulse.

What bothers me about this is that, in the report at least, there seems to be a sweetening of the pie to get the desired men=dogs, women=ring-hungry results.

Typically, dating follows a predictable pattern whereby the man is active ? he asks the woman to go out with him, organizes the date and at the end of it may initiate sexual activity; whereas the woman is reactive ? she waits to be asked out on a date and accepts or rejects the man’s sexual overtures. They know each other or want to get to know one another and there is the prospect of a future relationship.

In contrast, a hook up is a casual sexual encounter, which usually occurs between people who are strangers or brief acquaintances. For instance, two people meet at a party where they have been drinking; they flirt and engage in sexual behaviors from kissing to sexual intercourse, with no commitment to a future relationship.

If these were indeed the definitions used, then let’s take a moment to empathize with how men and women might hear the questions differently.

Women

Scenario #1, Dating: Men (imagine specifically that guy you think is so cute!) ask you out, pay for it, and do all the heavy lifting when it comes to the awkward signaling desire for sex. You get flattered with attention and don’t risk rejection. You get laid if you want. If you’re interested in more, that’s an option, but you also have complete freedom to reject a relationship. Granted, you also risk the chance of no one asking you out, but the question wasn’t whether you preferring not getting asked out vs. dating, so the scenario where you sit at home alone wasn’t brought to the table.

Scenario #2, Hooking Up:
You have to do half the work. The possibility of being rejected is much more salient, because you have to do some of the asking. The question implied that post-sex rejection is 100%. Your options are limited, and all you get out of this is laid.

Men

Scenario #2, Hooking Up:
Same upsides and downsides as for women.

Scenario #1, Dating: You have to take on all the risk and responsibility. At every point in time, you have to make overtures, which she will have the choice to accept or reject. You have to pay for everything. Sex is far from inevitable, when that’s built into scenario #2. The main upside is that you have a chance at a relationship, but it’s a process with lots of rejection built in.

Of course they got the results they did, if these were the definitions on the table. For women, sex is built into both scenarios, so it’s not going to be a part of their calculations. For men, the difference between the two is the chance of rejection.

I’m not trying to suggest the patriarchy set all this up as some sort of gift to women. Outside of scenario-painting, the “men ask, women wait” system keeps women in a disempowered state, where they have to wait and wait and wait to be chosen, and they’re under constant pressure to lower their standards. And while men don’t like risking rejection in the slightest, this system puts them in the position to judge the worthiness of women. It’s not that women don’t risk rejection in the dating system. They just get rejected out of hand by everyone who doesn’t ask them out. It also paints this insidious expectation that women should be eager to be picked, which makes a lot of men (call them Nice Guys®) feel like they’re owed a woman’s love if they pass a minimum standard of “niceness”.

But on paper, it seems like women have more benefits from dating over hooking up, and men vice versa. So of course that would influence how people react to hypotheticals. I’m not sure it says much about real life, where hooking up and dating are happening with real people, and not just theoretical ones.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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