Hooking Up: Empowering or Not?

March 2, 2010 | NeW Staff

Hooking up.  How does it fit in with sex, sexual freedom, and sexual expression?  Rachel Simmons, a writer for Teen Vogue, has provoked a lively discussion online with her article, “Is Hooking Up Good for Girls?”  Simmons felt compelled to write the article after receiving an increasing number of letters from girls talking about these “casual” and “fluid” relationships they were engaging in with boys.  A physical relationship came first, but often with the anticipation on the girl’s part for a real, defined dating relationship.  Sadly, little in the way of substance was to follow.  After receiving so many of these letters, Simmons responds,

They signify a growing trend in girls’ sexual lives where they are giving themselves to guys on guys’ terms. They hook up first and ask later. The girls are expected to “be cool” about not formalizing the relationship. They repress their needs and feelings in order to maintain the connection. And they’re letting guys call the shots about when it gets serious.

This we know.  But what I find most interesting about this author’s exploration and questioning of the hook-up culture is her acknowledgement of how it relates to the sexual revolution.  Simmons read Kathleen Bogle’s recent book, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus in order to gain a better understanding of the problem at hand.  In a study of the hook-up culture, Simmons points out the bottom line:

Now, Bogle explains, “the sexual norm is reversed. College students…become sexual first and then maybe go on a date someday.”…College men, Bogle writes, “are in a position of power,” where they control the intensity of relationships and determine if and when a relationship will become serious. In case you haven’t caught on yet, us liberated girls are supposed to call this “progress.”

She doesn’t condemn the sexual revolution, rather she writes the predicament facing modern feminists as they seek to address and comment on the hook-up culture facing young women.  Simmons writes,

Can I still be a feminist and say that I’m against this brand of sexual freedom?  I fear feminism has been backed into a corner here.  It’s become antifeminist to want a guy to buy you dinner and hold the door for you.

Simmons’ article has ignited a firestorm of comments both on her site and Feministing.  Many agree with her–hooking up is not empowering but freedom of sexual expression is.  Perhaps, this is an issue that modern feminists and conservative women can agree on.  We may have differences of opinion about sexual expression and liberation, but I think we can both recognize this truth: Hooking up hurts women.  It isn’t empowering, and it effectively erodes traditional dating on college campuses.  So maybe, we can work together to empower women NOT to hookup.  
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