In defense of….dating?
This essay in defense of casual sex by Tracy Clark-Flory is thought-provoking, and I’ll get back to it in a moment, but I was startled by this part of a review she links of one of the anti-sex books out on the market.
Why hook up? According to Stepp, college women, obsessed with academic and career success, say they don’t have time for a real relationship; high school girls say lovey-dovey relationships give them the “yucks.”
Stepp is troubled: How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture?
Emphasis mine, because if you phrase it that way, the answer is self-evident. A woman cannot be a couple by herself to begin with, nor can she make work this non-entity. That it’s so easy to assume that the only people who need training in being “couples” are straight women (all this hand-wringing over female behavior tends to ignore lesbians outright) speaks volumes about where the abstinence-only scolds are coming from. Wives are glorified secretaries in this viewpoint, ‘hired” to tend to the boss and because she does things for him that he can’t do for himself. And just as a secretary is hired for her typing skills, the bait to get the wife job is sexual intercourse. Of course, sexual intercourse is presumed to be something all women do equally well (lay there and be pronged is all there is to it, right?), so you have to make that skill more enticing by withholding and making him want it because he can’t have it.
It’s hard to pick apart the various levels that make this worldview wrong, but the reviewer, Kathy Dobie, does describe one big reason that this is just not how it is anymore—for most women, wifehood is not their livelihood, and so they don’t have to treat dating like a job interview. Right wingers would have you believe that the boss/employee model of marriage is still the dominant one, and that therefore young women are ruining their chances at being hired by providing their services for free. Me, I have a more romantic view of sex, that it’s fun and stuff, not services rendered for compensation. It’s tempting, in fact, to say that women’s increasing expectations of working for a living has created the “culture of casual sex”, because women have been freed from the labor model of sexuality (withhold until compensated) and now can treat it like a pleasure.
But I digress. Clark-Flory’s piece is what caused me to write this post, because at first, I was a bit wary of it, but by the end, I was thrilled that she wrote it as well as impressed by her bravery in doing so. Because writing about your sexual adventures, when you’re a woman, will cause half the audience to think you’re a slut and the other half to think you’re bragging. And the Nice Guys® in the crowd will accuse you of both—taunting them with your promiscuity that you don’t share with them, and they’d like to be promiscuous but women these days etc. Considering that 50% of the commenters at Salon are terminal Nice Guys®, full of theories about how women have small brains and even smaller hearts (because that could be the only reason to avoid dating a raging misogynist), it was especially brave.
Her argument is simple and refreshing. In sum—look, this “hooking up” that everyone is panicked about is actually just plain old dating, and people fool around when they’re dating. So, in essence, people in a panic about hooking up are arguing that women shouldn’t really date, at least not in the sense that you date to discover if there’s someone you’re compatible with, sexually and otherwise, while having fun while you do it. Maybe what offends them is the idea that women are auditioning boyfriends and husbands in the same way men have the right to audition girlfriends and wives—we’re supposed to wait passively, withholding sex, until someone offers marriage, which we’re supposed to accept graciously because that’s lifetime employment. But most of us don’t do that, thank god. We go on dates and have sex with our dates. Sometimes we reject them. Sometimes we’re rejected. You pick up and try again. And we’re fine. In fact, we’re happier than we would be without this system because we both have control over who we spend our lives with and we get to have fun in the process. The way dating is portrayed by naysayers, you’d think it was non-stop hell for women. They’re mixing it up with looking for a job, which is a hellish and miserable process. The less you treat dating like you’re looking for a job, the more fun it is.
She also exposes the dirty little secret of “hooking up”-style dating—the one night stand is rare indeed. We’re supposed to believe that men—who only will be interested a wretched, horrible, beast monster we call a woman if lured with sex—take advantage of the culture of casual sex to sleep with women and never call them again. You’re warned over and over about this danger, and the reality is that most guys are actually acting just like most women in the dating field—they’re up for fun, but if they do have fun, they’re interested in making more of it. Contrary to misogynist stereotypes, having a wife or a girlfriend is a good thing in most straight men’s eyes, and they don’t actually run fleeing from any hint of interest from a woman. Unless they don’t like her, but that’s true for both sexes.
Voices like Clark-Flory’s are drowned out some by the hand-wringing of the scolds, and I think part of it is because normal women, who have so-called casual sex and are happy enough with it, are afraid to speak up. The word “slut” has a lot of power still, and often what distinguishes a slut from not-a-slut is not actual sexual behavior, but the willingness to pretend that there’s something shameful about a woman who likes sex. Not-a-sluts have as much casual sex as sluts, in other words, but they waste their time and energy hiding that and feeling bad about it.
I will say that I’m not 100% skeptical that the ladies of the IWF or Laura Sessions-Stepp do in fact find young women who are very eager to get married, ASAP, and find instead that men use them for sex and don’t even call. That’s because the IWF, etc. are farming for examples in the froroity circles, where strict gender roles are enforced. And since men and women in the strict gender role circles are supposed to be complete opposites, there’s not really any good ways to launch relationships. Those are the dudes that really do think that having a girlfriend is so gay, and the girls looking for the MRS., and they’re at war. If either side actually wiggled out of the stranglehold of strict gender expectations, they’d do a lot better. I’m not sure how women stuck in this loop are supposed to make the no-sex=husband game work, because if guys already won’t spend a moment’s energy on a loathed woman except to have sex with her, then if there’s no sex at all, they’re sure to spend no energy at all. Bleak, indeed.
But most young people and those of us who are older and stuck in our ways, don’t fit into that category that interests the right wing so much. For us, I recommend Clark-Flory’s piece, a breath of fresh air.