When Jaclyn Friedman responded to my love letter in October, I was, to say the least, ecstatic. She’s an inspiration, a feminist visionary and co-editor of the hailed Yes Means Yes! Anthology, and is already working on her next project, a book called What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Sex, Safety, and Sanity In A World Gone Mad.” (By the way, the book is exactly what it sounds like- a workbook to help women decide what they want sexually and how to communicate it best.)
I wanted to talk to her about how we talk about rape culture, the idea of “the line” and what we call (or don’t call) “hook up culture”.
‘Hookup culture’ is bunk
I like hooking up- casual sex is fine with me as long as everyone’s talking about it.
To Friedman, using the term “hook up culture” creates a smokescreen around the way young people are having sex and forming relationships, and she feels it brings the blame back on women.
It’s not a mistake to want to hook up with a guy. It is a mistake to rape somebody.
Friedman hopes that sexual interaction is eventually just accepted into mainstream culture, no matter how casual or involved. I wholeheartedly agree. Taking away the stigma from all forms of consensual sexual interaction makes for a healthier, non-hypocritical society, and something I work toward in my activism. But from my perspective, hookup culture isn’t just casual sex culture, it is different. And everyone is talking about it. What goes on here on my campus, and across the country, is indeed a phenomena (and not the Laura Session-Step slut-shaming kind).
Professor Caroline Heldman at Occidental College outlines some clear trends and statistics in her forthcoming research of college students. She tracks the end of dating culture and serial monogamy, emotional disconnect from the physical, and a rotation of partners. “Hooking up” is a temporary state: hookups come with no guarantees of second dates, of texts and calls, or even of other physical interactions. Hookup culture is the idea that the quantity of relationships is more important than the quality. I’ve written in the past about some of my own experiences navigating this constructed culture, and I know as a student that it is pervasive.
Not all colleges are alike, but for the most part we are in an environment where partying and drinking is standard, no parents or authority figures are to be found, and resources are scarce and often intimidating. Hookup culture is also a product of the 2.0 generation, a new culture to accommodate young people who are learning about each other online and hitting on each other over kegs. Hookup culture is not casual sex- it is more, or in some ways, less. It is casual, emphasized by the new idea of “friendship” and the already experimental culture of college campuses; it is casual, enhanced by alcohol, recklessness and often manipulated by the most sober person in the room. It is dangerous, and exciting, and it is a very real part of collegiate life.
Adults who engage in casual sex are participating, many times, in a system that accommodates different needs. Whereas adults engage in casual sex oftentimes for their own pleasure or even as part of the search for a committed or poly partner, students are hooking up to gain experience, experiment, and learn more about themselves through their own sexuality. Both casual sex and hooking up are – or should be- about pleasure and individual desires, as well as respect, but hooking up is much more removed from the spectrum of dating.
Friedman feels that the behavior is influenced heavily by the rape culture that surrounds us in our everyday lives. Whether you want to use the language, however, is not the point: Friedman and I agreed on every other point we discussed. Its clear that whether adults or teenagers are hooking up, whether you’re experimenting or set in your ways, seeking a partner or seeking a good time: you will be challenged by the cultural norms surrounding your pleasure.
And whether or not you’re Jaclyn Friedman, feminist extraordinaire, you can play a huge part in changing all of that by standing proud, expressing your desire, and placing respect on top of all of your priorities next time you hit the frat house.