Recently there has been much discussion of the phenomenon commonly referred to as “hook-up culture” on college campuses. There seems to be a great disparity in the levels of condemnation placed upon men and women is these dialogues, however, one which singles women out as making poor moral decisions whilst men’s behavior is bypassed as predictable and unchangeable. The rising trend of slut-shaming is depicting it as more and more degrading for women to act as free agents in their sexual decision making.
The ethos of women engaging in hook-up culture can vary, however many have been said to choose casual sex because they associate relationships, as well as the pursuit of eventual marriage, as stifling to their personal goals. Not only is this decision made due to the demand of time and energy but also to the gender roles that so many other educated women fall prey to when entering a world of pressures to assimilate with the concept of the nuclear family.
This arguably casual treatment of sex as just another need to be satisfied through simple means is a controversial one—a sphere in which one’s opinion is derived from personal ethical and even religious views—but one that it becomes problematic to discuss as anything other than a matter of personal morals and opinion without the condemnation of other people’s behavior being brought up. Perhaps hooking up is immoral to you, and perhaps it isn’t, but it is never more moral for one gender than another.
The common criticism that this practice comes under is based in very valid concerns. Many have brought to the table the principle of hook-ups as a causal mechanism leading to increased instances of rape and domestic violence. These assertions, however, ignore several critical factors.
First and foremost, this presents the principle that assailants are enabled by this culture because more and more women are going out to seek sexual attention, and thus the average woman at a party will likely be consensual in a sexual encounter. Seeing as men are typically said to have a greater proclivity for casual sexual relationships, it is depicted as a tragedy that women with such potential would lower themselves to this level so as to comply with these desires, often times playing into the hands of purportedly predatory men. Dating, on the other hand, is depicted as mutualistic and honorable. This clear demarcation of relationships is a fallacy, completely ignoring the fact that hook-ups can be completely consensual, and sexual assault occurs in greater proportions within the very wholesome and normative relationships being promoted.
It should be noted here that I recognize women are possible perpetrators, and men possible victims, of this as well, but I’m focusing on women as the victims because, not only is this the vast majority, but the impact on women is great.
To blame women’s role in hook-up culture for contributing to rape is to carry on the same deleterious tendencies to link travesties to the victim and not target the true root of the issue. The decision of women to have sex outside of a relationship, no matter how many times it happens or with whom, is neither shameful nor provocative. It does not subvert them to the wishes of men. It does not show them to have any less integrity. It does not place them on a different level than any other woman. And it will never send the impression that sexual assault is okay. And frankly, I don’t see the difference between pretending that a man’s choice to take advantage of a woman is due to a culture of women making independent sexual decisions and saying a woman’s outfit was provocative enough for her to send the message that she wanted to have sex against her will. It is not women that need to alter their decisions about hook-ups, but men who need to understand that a decision is made by two people. Regardless of moral affiliations, we cannot accept women being the target of judgment for this and men being condoned as leaving room for any equality whatsoever.
The practice of frequent sexual interactions with low levels of emotional attachment as enacted by men has gone remarkably unchallenged in our culture, even forming a tenet of how many construct masculinity. The case still seems to be, however, that in this new dialogue surrounding hook-up culture, the emphasis is largely placed on the women partaking in it. To call women’s decisions to engage in this culture, the exact same decisions that men are making, “degrading” is to practice the same excessive preoccupation with women’s sexual decisions that is behind so many issues today. The dialogue of hook-up culture’s negative repercussions tightens the archaic shackles of virtue and purity placed upon women by men. Women will not have freedom of choice until the underlying disease is fundamentally targeted, rather than just a symptom, and women are no longer told to alter their behavior to just slightly bring down the fever. Thus, through a façade of morals, slut-shaming practices that establish a fierce double standard are preserved, the very standards that these intelligent, strong women are standing up against.