Calling Bullshit on “The New Math”

I was snowed in, stuck in a blizzard here in Washington, DC, when I got “the news.”  The New York Times? Talking to me about hookup culture? I was excited, but notably crushed by the article, a hopeless observation of a new “problem with no name.”

The New York Times has given up on hookup culture. They declared that we, as women, were desperate and lonely. We were stuck with other women (the horror!) and we were stuck searching for partners who treated us right. We were being cheated on, and treated like dirt. And the reason for all of this, they say, is not the men we’re dating, the culture we’re living in, or the assumption that we want to get married in the first place.

The problem the The New York Times identified was college admissions numbers.

The article, relying on gender stereotypes, said that the longer colleges admitted so many women, the longer men would have the power to shape the dating landscapes on campuses. Why? Well, because women need these men. Women need their approval, need to love them, to marry them; therefore, women have to choose between being The New York Times prude orThe New York Times slut. When men are in the majority, they control the culture. When men aren’t, they still do. And the problem?

The New York Times really thinks the problem is admissions numbers.

I wrote a letter to solve this problem, and submitted it via email from my couch. My goal wasn’t to be angry or upset, or to go on and on about all the boys that never call and the hookups that become heartaches. My goal was just to let them know that I have suffered at the hands of hookup culture, too, and that I didn’t do it because I went to college to get married or find anyone else’s approval. I am fulfilled just as I am, and that is why this culture hasn’t taken away anything more from me than some of my pride.

My goal was to make them think about how little admissions numbers have to do with hookup culture and partners who don’t respect us.

To whom it may concern,

Last semester, I found myself grief-stricken by college hookup culture. No longer a myth and instead an institution of most contemporary collegiate lives, it has taken its strongest sexually empowered soldiers through the dirt. When I read “The New Math on Campus,” I was struck by your observation that women were being treated badly by hookup culture, and people of all genders were frustrated with it. But I was even more struck by what the article chose to highlight: that these women were lonely and seemingly desperate to be a part of this.

I would like for your staff to do a piece on a hookup culture that does not accept it, but challenges the root causes and assumptions. The problem with hookup culture isn’t marriage, or sex, but the belief that single women are being hurt by their success and not their colleagues. These women are going places! And your staff has no idea.

Hopefully yours,

Carmen Rios.

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6 Comments on “Calling Bullshit on “The New Math””

  1. 1 Nancy said at 7:09 pm on February 11th, 2010:

    Hey Carmen, I’d do cartwheels if the NYT printed your Op-Ed. When are journos going to actually hear from young people and reflect what’s actually going on, without putting their (poorly researched) bias on things? For real. And cheers to women who are going places!

  2. 2 Therese said at 2:41 am on February 12th, 2010:

    That story was a real piece of work. They did manage (at the very end) to work in the fact that men were also having a tough time finding women to date, even when the women far outnumbered the men.

    I know – let’s write a story about how hookup culture is hurting men. Wait, The Weekly Standard already did. Jezebel tears it apart at:

    Women are so darn picky.

  3. 3 Steve said at 11:57 pm on February 12th, 2010:

    This is an interesting response to the NYT article! However, you do not identify what you believe are the “root causes and assumptions” of the hookup culture. I’m interested why you think it exists.

    In your letter, you write, “The problem with hookup culture isn’t marriage, or sex, but the belief that single women are being hurt by their success and not their colleagues.” I am somewhat confused by this. What you identify as the problem with the hookup culture seems to be the problem you have with the article, not the culture.

    I have had no experience with such a culture at either of the two universities I’ve attended for the past 8.5 years, so I’m in no position to offer an opinion on the problems hookup culture creates nor why it exists.

  4. 4 Nancy said at 12:49 pm on February 14th, 2010:

    Hey, I thought I’d chime in here. There’s a lot of great research about “hook up culture”, I’d direct you to Dr. Caroline Heldman at Occidental College who has created a thorough non-moralizing analysis of the when/how/why of hook up culture today.

    A few factors she cites are: rise in binge drinking, co-ed dorms, lack of information/education about sex, and yes, uneven numbers on campus. Seems that if the odds do stack a bit more in favor of the men, they have more power to set the sexual tone on campus.

    Malcolm Gladwell just wrote an interesting piece about alcohol consumption for The New Yorker, and how the culture surrounding its consumption dictates the behavior. So we in the states have plenty of college movies, and MTV’s Spring Break illustrating that alcohol consumed in college makes you rowdy, horny, frat boys and girls gyrating in bikinis, and that’s how it is, so that’s what you (college students) should do.

    Over here, we think that our shame-based sexual culture, and abstinence only education, which tells young people that sex is for marraige (so anal/oral are ok), and that sex is bed – creates a climate of drinking to justify what are totally normal desires. Pleasure, intimacy, sexual contact. However, most of us were not given these messages, or the tools to navigate this exploration, and we look to corporate media for guidance.

    Carmen has done a lot of great writing about how no matter how hard she tries – as a feminist, young person, woman, sexually empowered person – she still gets burned by hook up culture. The reason she gets burned is that hook up culture kind of sucks, not because she’s an intelligent person who wants something better.

  5. 5 Carmen said at 9:55 pm on February 15th, 2010:

    Hey, everyone! Thanks so much for your feedback.

    @Nancy re: Steve– definitely hit it right on the head. I’ve done a lot of activism that centered on sexuality and relationships, and what I drive it down to is that women are playing the game (finally!) but still can’t make any of the rules. So many parts of hookup culture have been gendered and are masculine; we’re all expected to play along with how hookups play out, no matter how. Women lose, a lot. But to have the NY Times tell me that the REAL problem with hookup culture is that I’m going to be “a victim” if I choose to pursue an education is really insulting. This article tried to make journalistic fact out of the myth that any of us went to college to find a husband. I guess what I’m very much so trying to say (and I get caught up in the words because I want so badly to have everyone talk about it) is that hookup culture, in theory, is something most young people come to rationalize, but not enjoy. If the NYT wants to report on hookup culture, that is fine- but not if they position women as desperate, as victims, as lonely. I want them to dig deeper into it.

    I think hookup culture is a very young thing. I think it’s something that my generation doesn’t think is strange, even if it’s unappealing. I think Nancy has it, with the root causes. I think it’s a product. But I think most people are only staying quiet about the culture because they (mistakenly) think nobody else is struggling with it.

  6. 6 where is your line? » Blog Archive » Your Voice Can Change Everything: Write for Us! said at 3:47 pm on June 21st, 2010:

    […] I wrote scathing reviews of journalism and personal pieces on my own turbulent times with hookup culture, interviewed my biggest she-ro […]

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