Published August 31, 2015
Some geniuses at an Old Dominion University frat house rang in the school year by draping bed sheet banners out the windows during orientation. “Rowdy and Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl Is Ready for a Good Time,” “Freshman Daughter Drop Off,” and “Go Ahead and Drop Off Mom Too.”
The outrage was nearly instantaneous – from the university president, CNN, the BBC, the Washington Post, and well, you get the picture. Just as reliably, some commentators suggested that while the banners were clearly “crude and distasteful,” the response was overwrought. “It staggers me that this is an international news story covered by scores of outlets,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.
They’re asking the wrong question. The proper response to the fraternity’s vulgarity is not to condemn men, or “rape culture,” but the sexual revolution itself. The agonies college campuses are now routinely experiencing are the result of a hyper-sexualized culture that has robbed the young of romance, courtesy, privacy, and, yes, love. The feminists call it “rape culture” and blame “traditional masculinity,” but they forget, if they ever knew, that “traditional” men were never encouraged to behave like this.
According to the Left (and that very much includes the federal government under President Obama’s leadership), we are in the midst of an epidemic of rape and sexual assault. According to the Right, we are in the throes of a “moral panic,” or rape hoax, that has led universities to railroad innocent young men in kangaroo courts while failing to hold women accountable for their behavior.
Hair on fire anti-rape activists insist sexual assault is epidemic. A recent Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” tells their side in chilling terms. Critics reply that the numbers are absurdly exaggerated.
To settle the question, the Washington Post recently teamed up with the Kaiser Foundation to poll 1,053 young men and women between the ages of 17 and 26 who are now or recently were undergraduates at four-year institutions. The conclusion? It’s one in five, just as President Obama proclaimed at a White House event in January 2014.
The Post Poll Repeats Earlier Errors
If only it were that simple. The poll does shed some light on the sexual ecosystem at American colleges (56 percent, for example, believe alcohol and drugs are a problem, and 37 percent say the same about sexual assault) but, far from resolving the question about the prevalence of rape, the poll merely repeats the sloppiness of earlier surveys. “Twenty percent of women and five percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by physical force or while incapacitated” the Post headline declared. The implication was clear: Criminal sexual violence is epidemic on college campuses.
But that is not what the survey proves. Deep into the Post’s coverage, we learn that the new Post/Kaiser poll used an extremely broad definition of sexual assault—much broader than the common understanding of the terms “rape” or “sexual assault.” While the poll included questions about forced vaginal and anal intercourse as well as forced oral sex, it also defined “forced touching of a sexual nature” this way: “Forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way (even if it is over your clothes).”
Further, the poll encouraged students to include under “coercion” situations in which they had sex in response to “verbal . . . promises.”
These are exactly the sort of ambiguities and overly broad definitions that have yielded previous high estimates of the prevalence of rape. The Post/Kaiser survey acknowledged that it used questions and definitions similar to those of the now-famous 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study—the one that gave rise to the “one in five” statistic that has since become official government writ.
To be clear: None of the named behaviors is proper. All should be strongly condemned in a civilized society. And there is, in my judgment, no doubt that college campuses do have a problem with bad behavior of a sexual nature, and even rape in some cases. But is an unwelcome hand on the buttocks sexual assault? What about an unwelcome kiss on the lips? If the Post had run a story about gross behavior, the survey would have served as validation. Instead, they are representing the results as proving widespread, serious criminality—and that leads only to more confusion.
The new survey also reflected the ambiguity of earlier studies about the role of alcohol. The questions seemed to imply that if one or both students were drunk when the sexual contact happened, it could be sexual assault. But as one “survivor” told the Post in a follow up interview, “Whether the other person had the capacity to consent either is something to take into account. So it’s like we’re both raping each other.”
The Left and the Right Don’t Get It
So here we go again, plunging into the same tail-chasing, unhelpful debate. The Left cries havoc, and demands that more men be punished and more civil liberties be curtailed. The Right cries foul, and objects that the “rape culture” is contrived. It’s not that the truth lies somewhere between these two poles—it’s that seeing the truth requires a different perspective entirely.
College campuses, like the rest of American society today, are struggling to contain the wreckage of the sexual revolution. Neither men nor women are happy with the chaotic and utterly unromantic world they’ve inherited. It’s a culture of drunken hook-ups and “booty calls,” where traditional courtship is dead and even dating is rare.
In pop culture, in entertainment, and even in redoubts of “higher” learning, crudeness and vulgarity have become commonplace. “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal,” shouted a bunch of Yale University undergraduates marching past women’s dorms. Our kids grow up bombarded by what feminist Ariel Levy has called “raunch culture,” just as a hormonal fire hose drenches their bodies. At the same time, a thousand spiky barriers stand in the way of mutual respect between the sexes. As for romance, it is like a transplanted tropical plant, struggling to survive in frozen soil.
Managing the transition to adulthood has never been easy or straightforward, but it is hard to think of a time when the path into the world of sex, relationships, and love has featured fewer rules or common understandings. Nor has there been a time in American history when so much of what the young are taught to prepare them for this stage is a product of ideology rather than our best understanding of the truth.
We’ve told the young that sex is “no big deal,” except for those with non-traditional inclinations, in which case, sex is their whole identity. They’ve been instructed that the crucial moral lesson they should take away from sex education is hygiene. They’ve learned that anything goes so long as both (or all) parties consent; and, most crucially, they’ve been schooled that there are no differences that matter between the sexes.
That last one especially is at the heart of the current chaos. Men have been invited to assume that women are neither more nor less sensitive than themselves when it comes to sex. Women have been encouraged to believe that engaging in casual hook ups is another step on the ladder to full equality. As the Roman poet Horace said, “You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will still hurry back.”
The mess on college campuses is part of the larger chaos between men and women that characterizes modern America. This failure is no orphan. It can count among its fathers the sexual revolutionists and the feminists.
The Campus Rape-Industrial Complex
Something is making many young women and more than a few young men unhappy. The progressive interpretation of this malaise is “rape culture.” Feminist anti-rape activists on campuses, aided by the Obama administration’s Department of Education, are responding with a combination of bureaucracy and ideology.
First, they are erecting a massive, unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming, unjust, and joyless establishment to adjudicate claims of sexual assault. Second, they are enforcing an interpretation of what has gone wrong with sexual behavior that emphasizes female victimhood (women must never be advised to limit their drinking), a neo-Victorian vision of female virtue (“women never lie about rape”), and a deep prejudice against “traditional” masculinity.
Rape is a crime usually handled by local police, prosecutors, and courts. In 2011, college and university administrators across America were thunderstruck to discover, by way of a new federal regulation, that they were now required to step into that role. Called the “Dear Colleague” letter, after its deceptively cordial greeting, the Education Department spelled out the new feminist-influenced, progressive rules:
The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime . . . Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.
Note the conflation of “sexual harassment” and “sexual violence.” By interpreting sexual assault to be a form of sexual “discrimination,” the federal government, which would not otherwise have jurisdiction over matters like rape and assault, can claim it under the rubric of enforcing Title IX of federal education laws.
Most people think of sexual harassment as inappropriate attention of a sexual nature in the workplace or classroom, or explicit demands for sex by a superior. To say that sexual assault is a form of harassment is a little like saying that smashing someone’s temple with a hammer is a form of insult and ought to be treated under the libel laws.
These new tribunals, the Education Department continued, must apply the lowest possible legal standard of proof (50.1 percent likelihood that the offense took place), and dispense with protections for the accused such as the right to confront witnesses.
Nearly every campus in America receives federal funds. Accordingly, they’ve been scrambling to respond. As Lawrence Wright, vice president and general counsel of the University of Delaware told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The surest route to disaster is for the Office for Civil Rights to find out we hadn’t done training.” So they train. And they staff up.
The University of North Carolina has hired five full-time Title IX compliance officers. “Gender-based misconduct” officials are in high demand, and sexual misconduct boards, abuse counselors, and offices of “student conflict” resolution have proliferated. If you can market yourself as an expert in this area, it’s a seller’s market these days.
Campus Tribunals Create More Victims
Dozens of male students have also begun to sue universities, claiming violations of due process, or sometimes that they were victims of sex discrimination. More significantly, a number of progressives have resisted what they see as a trampling of the rights of the accused. Attorney Judith Grossman wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2013:
I am a feminist. I have marched at the barricades, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and knocked on many a door in support of progressive candidates committed to women’s rights. Until a month ago, I would have expressed unqualified support for Title IX and for the Violence Against Women Act.
But then her son, attending a New England college, was accused of sexual assault by a former girlfriend. The accusation came years after the purported events. Nevertheless, “what followed was a nightmare—a fall through Alice’s looking glass into a world that I could not possibly have believed existed, least of all behind the ivy-covered walls thought to protect an ostensible dedication to enlightenment and intellectual betterment.” Her son was not permitted to consult a lawyer, nor to call witnesses on his own behalf, though the panel heard witnesses against him. He was not permitted to question the witnesses nor the accuser.
Recently, law professors at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have weighed in, as well. The Harvard professors protested that “Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”
The state of California has now legislated that “affirmative consent” is required before every sexual act, something that many colleges (Grinnell, Dartmouth, Yale, the University of California, and others) already require. Eager verbal consent must be obtained before each and every step in a sexual encounter.
When Antioch College introduced such a rule in the 1990s, the ridicule rang from coast to coast. It was the occasion of a Saturday Night Live parody. Today, it is law in California and policy at dozens of universities. Sex will be regulated, like carcinogens in food, health-insurance policies, and school-lunch menus. That should go well.
A ‘Soul-Crushing Experience’ for All Parties
Disputes about exactly what happened between two people alone in a room are unlikely to be resolved by “yes means yes” campaigns and rules. It will remain one person’s word against another’s. An Occidental College episode is all too typical of the kinds of complex cases campuses across the country are facing. An 18-year-old freshman was expelled after an investigation found that he had engaged in sex with a 17-year-old student who was too drunk to give consent. According to the Los Angeles Times:
The college’s investigative report, performed by an outside firm, said both parties agreed on the following facts: Both had been drinking, she went to his room, took off her shirt while dancing, made out with him and returned to his room later for sex, asking if he had a condom. When friends stopped by the room to ask if she was OK, she told them yes.
In this case, the university referred the matter to the Los Angeles County district attorney. The DA’s investigation concluded that “both parties were drunk but willing participants exercising bad judgment.”
The consequences for both students have been harrowing. The female student has dropped out of school for now. Her lawyer reports that she is in therapy, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The male student says he has been physically attacked and called a rapist. He applied to and was accepted at another college, only to find on the day he arrived that his acceptance had been rescinded following an anonymous phone call about his case.
“It’s been a soul-crushing experience,” he said. It’s a soul-crushing culture we’ve created for the young.
The Ban on Victim Blaming Prevents Protecting Women
Although it would seem obvious to warn students—particularly women, who are 90 percent of rape victims—about the dangers of excessive drinking, political correctness forbids it. It’s branded “victim blaming” or, as some feminists have it, “slut shaming.”
The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault survey is widely cited for the misleading “one in five” figure. Yet other data from that study are overlooked. The study found, for example, that for women, frequency of getting drunk was highly correlated with sexual assault. According to the recentWashington Post/Kaiser study, 62 percent of women who said they were assaulted reported drinking before the episode, and 77 percent of students agreed that limiting alcohol consumption would be somewhat or very effective at reducing sexual assault. But the feminist enforcers have made it difficult to deliver that message.
Shrill protests greet even the most anodyne recommendations that young women limit their alcohol intake, maintain awareness of their surroundings, and take other commonsense precautions to protect themselves. Emily Yoffe of Slate ran into the feminist buzz saw when she wrote that “The campus culture of binge drinking is toxic, and many rapists prey on drunk young women.” The website Feministing.com called her piece a “rape denialism manifesto.” A college professor objected that Yoffe was echoing “the old Puritan line that women need to restrain and modify their pleasure-seeking behaviors” and that represented “a big step backward.” Most critics emphasized that society need to “teach men not to rape. Period.”
Common sense and about 5,000 years of human experience suggest that women keep themselves as safe as possible, mindful that they are the smaller and weaker sex, that some men are not gentlemen, and that even seemingly nice men can behave badly when drunk. They might also want to consider that their own judgment will be impaired by alcohol. Such simple truths were conveyed from mothers to daughters for eons. As Camille Paglia wrote in “Sex, Art, and American Culture”:
Feminism keeps . . . telling women that they can do anything, go anywhere, say anything, wear anything. No, they can’t. Women will always be in sexual danger . . . Feminism, with its pie-in-the-sky fantasies about the perfect world, keeps young women from seeing life as it is.
When scientists at North Carolina State invented a nail polish that would change color if a woman ingested a “date rape” drug, the response among some feminists was not gratitude, but anger. Rebecca Nagle, a co-founder of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, was contemptuous of the invention. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to f—ing test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”
Maybe not, but the world is what it is. It requires a fierce ideological rigidity and even imperviousness to reality to say “that’s not the world I want to live in.” None of us prefers to live in a world where we must lock our doors, either, or memorize a hundred passwords, or stay away from certain neighborhoods after dark, or pay more for clothing to compensate for the cost of shoplifting. But to proclaim that you will not take steps to protect yourself as a matter of principle is both juvenile and foolish.
There has never been a time when women were perfectly safe because society had “taught men not to rape.” There has never been a time when men were perfectly safe because other men had been “taught not to fight.” Both of those are clearly goals of all good societies, but as Emmanuel Kant observed in the eighteenth century, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Feminists, The Neo-Victorians
Some of the most famous campus rape stories have turned out, upon closer examination, to be murky. The case of Columbia University’s Emma Sulkowicz is among them. Sulkowicz, who became the symbol of campus anti-rape activism by carrying a blue mattress around Morningside Heights, described her alleged rape toNew York magazine: “While they were having consensual sex in her dorm room” her attacker “suddenly pushed her legs against her chest, choked her, slapped her, and anally penetrated her as she struggled and clearly repeated ‘No.’”
The accused, Paul Nungesser, was found “not responsible” by a campus tribunal – and that became a part of the narrative: Callous university permits rapist to skate free. Cathy Young of the Daily Beast related Nungesser’s side of the story in February 2015. Not surprisingly, he says that the sex was consensual. Others with knowledge of the case support his version.
Further, he has proof that the couple stayed on friendly terms for months following the alleged rape. Sulkowicz exchanged extremely affectionate Facebook messages with Nungesser, including one saying, “I love you Paul. Where are you?” and another saying “I want to see youyouyou.” Sulkowicz does not dispute the accuracy of the messages.
It is part of the feminist catechism that women do not lie about sexual assault. To doubt a woman’s word is to be at the very least sexist, and probably a rape denier. Just as Victorians considered women to be naturally nurturing and virtuous—the “angel in the house”—today’s feminists consider women to be preternaturally truthful.
The “women never lie” dogma is taught by universities across the country. Freshmen at the University of Montana, for example, are instructed in a mandatory video called PETSA (Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness) that one of the “myths” about rape is that women lie. “Believe your friend,” they are exhorted. “Almost no one lies.” Alan Dershowitz was accused of sexual harassment for even broaching the topic of false rape accusations in the classroom at Harvard Law School.
Of course some women lie. The young woman whose story, “A Rape On Campus,” was featured (and subsequently retracted) in Rolling Stone lied about nearly every material fact. The woman who accused the Duke University lacrosse team of gang rape also lied. It seems highly likely that Sulkowicz is shading the truth. Tawana Brawley lied.
In 2009, a Hofstra University freshman accused five men of gang raping her in a bathroom. The story fell apart when one of the men produced a cell phone video showing that the sex had been consensual. At Ohio University, a woman student was caught on another cell phone video receiving oral sex in a public place. She claimed rape due to incapacitating drunkenness. A jury disagreed. The Justice Department estimates that as many as 8 percent of rape accusations may be unfounded.
Campus Rape Is Not A Myth
Nevertheless, rape is a serious problem on college campuses. The Washington Post/Kaiser poll defined sexual assault overly broadly, but still yielded data that are revealing. Nine percent of women and 1 percent of men in the survey, for example, said that someone had used physical force or the threat of physical force to have sexual contact with them. It isn’t clear from the survey what the nature of that contact was, and caution is thus necessary when describing these contacts as assaults or rapes—nevertheless, they reflect at the very least extremely bad behavior. Similarly, 14 percent of women and 4 percent of men said that someone had had sexual contact with them while they were incapacitated.
The stories of rapes and other kinds of sexual abuse are simply too numerous and too well documented to explain away as some kind of mass hysteria. Over the course of the past 12 months, I have interviewed a number of students and recent graduates at colleges in the northeast. They are nearly unanimous in reporting that they know of at least one woman, and frequently many more, who was raped during her time in college.
My interviews are consistent with other research suggesting that large numbers of women report rape or assault. Thirty-seven percent of students in the Post/Kaiser survey said they knew at least one woman who had reported being assaulted, and 21 percent knew four or more. Sixteen percent knew of a man who’d been assaulted.
What’s Behind This Conduct?
Progressives and feminists believe they understand the source of the sexual assault problem. It’s “traditional masculinity.” The American College Health Association, for example, in its “toolkit” for college administrators to prevent sexual violence, cites the “pressures exerted upon [young men] by traditional (and often violent) ideas about masculinity” as one of the causes of campus rape.
“There is an unfortunate, aggressive sexual norm related to masculinity in our culture,” explains Laura Dunn of SurvJustice.org, a rape “survivors” advocacy group. “We are asserting our rights now in the face of aggressive, predatory sexuality.”
President Obama’s website, Notalone.gov, provides links to organizations that promote “healthy masculinity.” One is called “Men Can Stop Rape.” Among its stated goals is to “Promote an understanding of the ways in which traditional masculinity contributes to sexual assault and other forms of men’s violence against women.” The Nation magazine identified “Ten Things To End Rape Culture.” Among these are “join[ing] organizations working to redefine masculinity.”
How better to combat “hyper-masculinity” than to put men, particularly soldiers, in red high heels? That’s what both Arizona State University and Temple University did for “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” in 2015. ROTC cadets, in full uniforms (except for the boots) were pressured to participate in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event.
But if “traditional masculinity” is the cause of rape, how do progressives explain homosexual rapes? No one would argue that homosexual behavior of any kind fits into the “traditionalist” model. Yet the Post/Kaiser poll found that 16 percent of students, and 23 percent of men, knew of at least one man who’d been assaulted while in college.
Moreover, who gets to define what “traditional masculinity” really means? David Lisak, the psychologist whose small study has been widely cited for the proposition that most college campuses harbor a number of repeat rapists, shares the feminist view that our society encourages rape due to ingrained misogyny. Writing in the journal Signs, Lisak endorses the view that gender is a social construct. “Gender – the division of human qualities into two mutually exclusive categories, each associated with a biological sex is central . . . to the motivations for rape. … this gendering pervades our culture and . . .. while it is purported to be founded on biological differences, it is actually a production of culture.”
Lisak, like many feminists and progressives, believes that our “gender” system, which is not biological but cultural, is responsible for rape and sexual assault. Presumably, if we could eliminate the categories of male and female altogether, as many urge, we’d stop sexual violence. But denying the social, psychological, and yes, biological differences between the sexes is part of what has brought us to the current pass. Progressives survey a flood and prescribe rain.
The depiction of “traditional masculinity” as essentially pathological—encouraging disrespect of women and violence against them—is a highly tendentious interpretation of history and culture. While some men have always been violent, it’s impossible to think of an era in which violence against women was encouraged or celebrated in the West. On the contrary, Western civilization has devoted tremendous effort to constraining male violence (against other men as well as women) and has heaped shame on men who would strike or hurt women.
Many men, even in our egalitarian age, still come to the aid of women who are in distress or in trouble in public places. Such stories are extremely common. Any fair assessment of “traditional” norms of masculinity would have to include male chivalry and protectiveness toward women. The six men, including three Americans, who rushed a terrorist on a train in France, putting their own lives in danger to save others, were displaying traits that have been praised for centuries.
In July 2012, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, not one but three young men sacrificed themselves for their girlfriends. Jon Blunk, 26, Matt McQuinn, 27, and Alex Teves, 24, pushed their girlfriends to the floor and covered them with their own bodies as the bullets flew. All were killed. The women survived. Isn’t that part of “traditional masculinity?”
How About the Sexual Revolution’s Hook-Up Culture
The sexual revolution and the feminist revolution teamed up to create the culture of ultra-casual sex that now characterizes campus life and social life in general. If we were attempting to design a social code that would be more conducive to date rape and less likely to lead to romance and love, we could scarcely improve on hook-up culture.
The hook-up is the fullest realization of the ethic of casual sex. The term is vague, but nearly always conveys some kind of sexual activity. A number of studies, including those by Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt, Donna Freitas, Lisa Wade, and Paula England and Jonathan Bearak, convey the tenor of social life in the hook-up world. The expectation is that people will make their bodies available to casual acquaintances.
Try as they may (and many seem to be making a heroic effort) women are not comfortable with hook-up culture. That, I submit, is why drinking to the point of incapacitation has become such a widespread phenomenon among the young. Hooking up isn’t particularly congenial to men, either, although they almost never perceive it to be traumatic. There are virtually no reports of woman-on-man rape at colleges, though some men are raped by other men. You might think this is a physical impossibility anyway, but in the current climate, in which biology is considered optional, it’s necessary to spell things out.
Alcohol consumption among women has risen quite dramatically in recent years. “Between 1999 and 2008,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “the number of young women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52 percent. The rate for young men, though higher, rose just 9 percent.”
It’s common for young people to “pregame” on a Friday or Saturday night—that is, begin drinking before attending a party. The point is not to relax, nor even to get a little tipsy. The goal is drunkenness. Something is making young women turn to alcohol in huge numbers. Perhaps abrupt sexual intimacy with virtual strangers makes them uncomfortable?
The hook-up script completely inverts the traditional order of attraction and intimacy. Instead of meeting, talking, dating, touching, kissing, and eventually having sex with someone, the new rite requires sexual intimacy with virtual strangers upon a first meeting or after only casual acquaintance.
“It’s just something that I feel like as a college student you’re supposed to do,” explained one student to Freitas, author of “The End of Sex.” “It’s so ingrained in college life that if you’re not doing it, then you’re not getting the full college experience.”
In their study of 1,000 undergraduate women, Glenn and Marquardt found that 91 percent of their subjects said that hook-ups happen very often or fairly often on campus. Among those who participated in hook-ups, feelings were decidedly mixed. Sixty-two percent of women reported feeling “desirable” after a hook-up, but an even larger percentage, 64 percent, said they felt “disappointed,” with 57 percent saying “confused” as well.
One student described the social scene at the University of Pennsylvania to a New York Times reporter:
In general, she said, she thought that guys at Penn controlled the hookup culture. But women played a role as well.
‘It’s kind of like a spiral,’ she said. ‘The girls adapt a little bit, because they stop expecting that they’re going to get a boyfriend — because if that’s all you’re trying to do, you’re going to be miserable. But at the same time, they want to, like, have contact with guys.’ So they hook up and ‘try not to get attached.’
“And try not to get attached.” That is the unwritten code of the hook-up. Divorcing sex from love is one thing, but the hook-up culture is way past that. It has attempted to divorce sex from feeling.
Hooking up puts women at greater risk of sexual assault. According to the Post/Kaiser survey, women who hooked up were more likely to report being sexually assaulted or experiencing an attempted or suspected assault than those who were mostly in relationships or those who were not in relationships and not hooking up with anyone. This is hardly surprising. Without time to consider the character of a man before becoming physically intimate, women are more likely to find they’ve brought home a lout. Freitas found that 90 percent of unwanted sex (of all kinds, including rape) took place during a hook-up and that excessive drinking was involved in 76 percent of cases.
The Hook-Up Culture Leaves Women Dissatisfied
A recent graduate of an Ivy League college with whom I spoke said that she and her fellow women students didn’t really want to participate in the hook-up culture. They wanted to flirt, to date, and to form relationships. They discussed it among themselves like conspirators, but felt stymied. They were powerless, because hooking up dominated social life on campus. They didn’t want to be social pariahs. Moreover, while they agreed that it would be great if women attempted to rewrite the rules of social life, they were trapped by the “prisoner’s dilemma.”
Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, has studied hook-ups and found that most students she interviewed were “overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups.” This was true of both men and women, but “was felt more intensely by women.” The women, Wade writes, “felt that they had inherited a right to express their sexuality from the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s.” But they were disappointed. “They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.” One female student told Wade that “I was just a warm body being used to make a guy have an orgasm.” Another said she felt like a “sex toy with three holes and two hands.”
Students of both sexes reported they felt pressured into having sex. Such are the expectations of the culture. But more women than men said that they had engaged in sex they did not desire—even in the absence of coercion, threats, or incapacitation—because they felt it was their only option. Sex had come to be viewed as an entitlement for young men, and the women submitted.
“Rape culture is an attitude toward women in particular, but not even just to women—to treating all people as sexual objects, nothing more than an opportunity for sex,” Anna Bahr, a Columbia graduate told New York magazine. That’s not “rape culture,” that’s hook-up culture. That’s the post-sexual revolution American culture, and she’s right that it stinks.
Perhaps nothing captures the essential sadness of hooking up better than the simple description of an alternative. Professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College was stunned a decade ago to discover that most of her students had never been out on a date. She decided to make asking someone on a real date part of the class curriculum. Students were advised that they had to make the request in person, not via text or Facebook. They had to invite someone out who was a true romantic interest, not just a friend. They could not see a movie, as this would preclude conversation, and they could not drink alcohol during the date. The date could take place during the afternoon or evening, but it had to be over by 10 p.m.
One student devised a way to frame the invitation that smoothed the inherent awkwardness of asking for a date as part of class work. “I have this assignment to go out on a date, but I’ve been wanting to ask you out for a long time anyway.” Now, reflect on that sentence. Is there any decent person, of either sex, who would not prefer that invitation to a hook-up?
Romance and love, two of the greatest joys of life, must begin with interest in the whole person. To be the object of a crush, to know that someone is a little tongue-tied around you at first, to be appreciated for your unique qualities, to be admired—isn’t that what most people hope for? What a world away that is from the drunken hook-up.
The current approach to the mess on college campuses amounts to doubling down on the mistakes of the sexual and feminist revolutions. We are to deny that men and women want and need different things from sex. We are to embrace a “yes means yes” regime that will do little to clarify “he said/she said” disputes. We are to continue our long march away from tenderness, fidelity, and relationships toward some androgynous utopia in which male and female are no longer even recognized categories.
The truth from which our society has been fleeing for half a century is not really so awful. There are differences between men and women, particularly in what they want and need from sex. Ungoverned sexuality can degenerate into degradation and abuse all too easily. Love and tenderness really are the best routes to happiness. Women have it within their power to reject the hook up culture and insist upon a return to dating. Such a turn would be a boon to everyone—but most of all to themselves.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist and political analyst living in the Washington DC area. She is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.