paula_england   2

Can Lysistrata Work For College Women?
So you’re happy to see me!

There are a lot of things about us women
That sadden me, considering how men
See us as rascals.
As indeed we are!

Emily Esfahani Smith has a Plan to Reboot Dating in The Atlantic, calling on  women to implement the Lysistrata strategy as a way of ending hookup culture. (Hat tip: Stuart Schneiderman) I first became aware of Smith via her excellent article HBO’s ‘Girls’ depicts wasteland of sexual promiscuity. (She’s doing incredibly well for someone who graduated from Dartmouth in ’09.) Though a feminist, Smith disagrees with Hannah Rosin’s recent assertions:

Rosin argues that the social progress of women depends on the hook-up culture. Women in their 20s and 30s are, for the first time, more successful than their male peers. These alpha females not only outnumber men on college campuses, they have also overtaken men as the majority of the work force. This would not have been possible without sexual liberation, which has let women delay marriage and child-rearing to pursue their educational and career ambitions without worrying about the emotional burdens of a relationship. Women are better off in part because of the hook-up culture, the argument goes.

Smith then goes on to offer evidence (all of which I have previously covered here) that most women are pretty miserable in hookup culture:

Part of the reason the culture is so widespread is, as Rosin correctly notes, because women are choosing to have casual sex. But in another respect, they don’t have a choice. Women make the hook-up culture possible, but men are the beneficiaries of it.
The balance of power in the hook-up culture lies with the men, an issue that has become more pronounced as women outnumber men on campuses, creating a surplus of girls and a scarcity of guys…Robert Epstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard and an expert in relationships, said in an interview with me that the more women there are on campus, the more prevalent the hook-up culture is: “You have a situation in which relationships are bound to fail and men keep switching off from one woman to the next.”
The feminist sociologist Lisa Wade, based at Occidental College…found that most of [her freshman students] 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. College women today feel disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.”
According to a2010 study by Carolyn Bradshaw of James Madison University, only 2 percent of women strongly prefer the hook-up culture to a dating culture.
Miriam Grossman, author of the 2006 book Unprotected, reports that women long for emotional involvement with their partner twice as often as men following a hook up; 91 percent of women experience regret; 80 percent of women wish the hook-up hadn’t happened; and 34 percent of women hope the hook-up develops into a relationship.
NYU sociologist Paula England, whom Rosin cites, says that 66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into “something more.”
A 2010 psychology study out of Florida State University found that students who have casual sex experience more physical and mental health problems, defined as eating disorders, alcohol use, stress, depression, suicidal feelings, than those who are in committed long-term relationships.

Smith rejects Rosin’s assertion that “The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself.”

Sexual liberation may be indispensable to female progress, but the hook-up culture is not empowering for all women. This isn’t to say that early marriage or abstinence is the solution. But these are not the only alternatives to the hook-up culture, either. There is a middle way: meaningful sex in the context of a non-marital relationship.

In other words, the solution is a dating culture, which still allows women to delay marriage and pursue their careers, and also lets them have those intimate relationships with men that they don’t want to delay.

This puts Smith and me squarely on the same page, as this reflects my own views about what constitutes potentially achievable change. Smith spoke with a woman on staff at Dartmouth’s Women’s Center, who began their discussion by saying this:

The point of hooking up is for both people to get something out of it. If it’s to get off, then that’s great. . . . If it’s to work some issue out—like sexual assault—then that’s great. It’s basically to get pleasure and enjoyment out of it . . . the hook-up culture is good for experimentation, and what someone does for experimentation is up to them.

…I don’t think [love is] necessary. Yeah, you know—it’s nice. But if you’re talking about sex and the hook-up culture, it’s not needed. The point of the hook-up culture is not to get attached—no strings attached.

Aside from the deeply disturbing idea that hooking up is a good way to get past the trauma of sexual assualt, it turns out this woman doesn’t even believe in the politics she’s spewing, as she goes on to say that hooking up certainly was never right for her.

Smith retorts:

Hooking up, in fact, shares the defining feature of a sexual assault: using another person for your own sexual gratification, without any regard as to what that person wants or how he or she feels. The philosopher Immanuel Kant—who warns against using another person as a mere means to some end—was closer to the truth than many of today’s sexual health experts when he wrote that sex “taken by itself … is a degradation of human nature.”

…One friend tells me that the girls on campus would prefer a culture of dating to one of hooking up, but they would never admit it or ask for it. If girls demanded dating before hooking up, guys would be unmoved, she explained. “There are always going to be other girls for them to hook up with so we’ll just get left behind.”

These women are looking at the problem the wrong way, I think. They need to realize that, in spite of campus sex ratios and prevailing cultural trends, they hold the power when it comes to the hook up culture. They hold the power when it comes to sex.

This was the insight of Lysistrata, the shrewd heroine of Aristophanes’ marvelous play by the same name. Lysistrata was able to diagnose a problem in her society and to take actions and overcome obstacles to solve it. 

For those who have not read the ancient Greek play, it was written in 411 BCE, and is a comedy where one woman convinces all the other wives to withhold sex from their husbands as a way of pressuring them to achieve peace and end the Peloponnesian War. Hilarity ensues as men stumble around with obvious erections, and ultimately they agree to initiate peace talks. 

Lysistrata has been a feminist favorite, as it celebrates the power of women over men, who appear to do all their thinking with their dicks. However, it also portrays women as using their own genitals to get what they want. There is perhaps some truth in both of these caricatures, as evidenced by the play’s popularity for 2,400 years. 

I first mentioned Lysistrata as a possible model for change years ago here at HUS, but readily acknowledged that such a plan could never work. The strategy amounts to the creation of a cartel, where a small group of suppliers agrees to fix prices in order to share the wealth rather than drive one another out of business via competition. Cartels are notoriously unstable, because at any time one member can defect, drop the price, and scoop up all the demand for a larger short-term gain. The incentive to cheat is great.

To deal with hookup culture, the Lysistrata strategy would be effective only if all female participants (hardly a small group of suppliers) agreed to stop having casual sex, demanding commitment of some form in exchange for sex. We do not need to look very far to find women staunchly defending their right and desire to hook up, whether to pursue physical pleasure freely without judgment or to defend the political stance of feminists. In fact, what we have now is a free market where a small group of women offers sex for free (see: cow, milk) and a small group of men has access to that supply.

While some of those women are clearly distressed by their inability to obtain girlfriend status from their hookups, they have bet on hooking up as a better road to commitment than sitting out, and they are unlikely to forfeit the male attention they currently receive in hopes of making things better for everyone. Raising the price of sex would invite greatly increased competition from all the women not hooking up much, weakening the bargaining power of promiscuous women, limited though it is. 

However, I do think there is value in the Lysistrata concept with some adaptation. If all of the women currently not benefiting from hookup culture in any way (obviously a large majority) were to declare their unwillingness to participate and play by those rules, it would serve two purposes:

1. It would explode the myth that basically everybody is hooking up regularly and feels comfortable doing it, which is prevalent on college campuses. 

2. It would identify the women who are interested in a more traditional dating model where emotional intimacy precedes physical intimacy. 

In other words, this move would clearly identify the dissatisfied 80+% of females. Their unhappy male counterparts would have an opportunity to bring back the date. Of course, some of the women only want the players to take them on dates, but that isn’t going to happen. They’re probably better off continuing to hook up and snag whatever crumbs of affection and attention they can from men who have no desire or incentive to offer anything in return for sex… [more]
Hooking_Up_Realities  Politics_and_Feminism  Carolyn_Bradshaw  Emily_Esfahani_Smith  Hannah_Rosin  hooking_up  hookup_culture  Lisa_Wade  Lysistrata  Paula_England  Plan_to_Reboot_Dating  from google
november 2012 by takshimada
Giving Hookup Culture a Makeover
Hooking Up Smart aims to help people figure out how to navigate the hostile terrain of the contemporary sexual marketplace. I support both women and men in their search for meaningful relationships by providing strategic insight, guidance, and perspective as they manage their social and sexual interactions. 
Hooking Up Smart Mission Statement

Regular readers know that I think of myself as working on the margins here. Thoughtful people seeking relationships come here for sensible, strategic and actionable advice that they can put to use immediately. They get it in the posts, and the comment threads have a great deal of valuable information as well. That is the “bread and butter” of Hooking Up Smart. One relationship at a time.

There are also many other related topics I explore here, including:

1. Biological sex differences

2. Demographic trends around mating and marriage in the U.S.

3. Feminism

4. Hookup culture; environmental analysis and data

On this last point, I have never set my sights on actually changing the culture, as it seems impossibly entrenched 50 years after the Sexual Revolution. How might one be a catalyst for change? But after thoroughly analyzing hookup culture, and comparing it with actual hooking up behavior, it’s clear that there’s a lot less hooking up going on than most people believe, especially of the P in V variety. At the very least, there’s an opportunity to correct some misimpressions, and HUS is a potentially effective platform from which to achieve that. 

Ironically, feminists have used the low participation in hookup culture to discredit those of us who are concerned about its effect on young people. Even Hannah Rosin, in her recent column Boys on the Side, highlights the research of Stanford’s Paula England, who has gathered data from over 20,000 students:

Only 11% of  students enthusiastically enjoy hookup culture.
50% hook up, but do it rather ambivalently or reluctantly, some with extremely negative experiences.
38% opt out of hooking up altogether.

I write for the unenthusiastic 89%. I first began writing HUS for young women that got a good look at the culture and blanched, and that group is still the largest share of my readership. I’m a lot more concerned about the men and women who are sidelined, ambivalent or reluctant than I am about those who are promiscuous by choice. (They’ve already got what they want – let them go at it like rabbits.)

In a recent article The Art of Crowdshifting, author Leon Neyfakh observes:

Culture, the mix of rituals, values, and traditions that defines a group, is tenacious and sticky. Whether the culture belongs to a sports team, a neighborhood, or a country, it persists because it’s one of the main ingredients in the glue that holds the group together–because it exists in the space between people, rather than residing in any one individual. 

…What researchers have found is that there are techniques for changing a culture that appear to work, but they are not always the obvious ones. Doing so in a way that produces lasting results, but doesn’t involve destroying the group entirely, requires finesse, subtlety, and patience. It also requires a certain suspension of optimism about human nature. To really change how a group of people thinks and behaves, it turns out, you don’t need to change what’s inside of them, or appeal to their inner sense of virtue. You just have to convince them that everybody else is doing it.

“The inner conformist is stronger than the inner activist,” said Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the role of culture in decision-making.

Of course, this is precisely what makes hookup culture so pervasive on college campuses. One study revealed that college students prefer dating to hooking up, but continue to hook up rather than go on dates. 

[The study author]…says it comes down to something called “pluralistic ignorance.” Essentially: Everybody’s doing it, so it must be good.

One of Kahn’s previous studies on the topic found that both men and women overestimated the degree to which the opposite gender enjoyed hooking up — described in this study as “a sexual encounter, usually lasting only one night, between people who are strangers or brief acquaintances.”

Furthermore, students overestimated how much members of their own gender liked hooking up. “Because everybody else is hooking up you assume that they do it because they like it. Whereas you know that you don’t like it that much, but you do it to go along,” Kahn explains. “College students are very conformist.”

Neyfakh addresses the leverage of the human desire to conform:

We may need to stop trying to tap into people’s desire to be good or virtuous, and instead take advantage of something less lofty and, frankly, harder to admire: the powerful drive to be normal.

Alternatives include the scorched earth approach, where you destroy a culture in order to end it. Obviously, the downside is that one throws away the good with the bad. Shaming has also been used at times, but it is limiting to punishing wrongdoers rather than eliminating the deeply ingrained beliefs that produced them. 


 Luckily, researchers say there’s a workaround that produces lasting change, but doesn’t call for somehow reprogramming people’s inner values. What it does seem to require is changing their perception of what everyone else thinks.

A 2010 New York Times article about the sex ratio at the University of North Carolina featured students interviewed in bars. Hypergamous sorority chicks lamented that girls steal each other’s boyfriends, that guys don’t respond to texts after ONSs, and that they have to let cheating slide because there are so few dateable guys on campus. The message is clear: Drinking and hooking up define the scene at UNC. However, Neyfakh shares an interesting story:

The idea that we’re often mistaken about our compatriots’ beliefs and behavior has been deployed in anti-binge-drinking campaigns on college campuses, which aim to reduce the pressure students feel to drink by showing them that their peers don’t drink nearly as much as they assume. A poster campaign at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill presented students with hard data about their classmates: “Whether it’s Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, 2 out of 3 UNC students return home with a .00 blood alcohol concentration.” The program worked: After five years, people at the college were drinking less.

By educating students about what their peers were really doing, the norm was redefined, and behavior changed. This approach has also been used to encourage voter turnout:

When told about low voter turnout and encouraged to “buck the trend,” people were actually less likely to vote. A more effective approach, the study found, was to tell people that turnout had been higher in the previous election than at any in history. In other words, more people were voting — so if they wanted to be normal, they should vote.

After decades of publicizing the health risks of smoking, adults knew that their efforts had had little effect on teens, according to an article in the New York Times.

Any teenager could explain why. For them, a cigarette is not a delivery system for nicotine. It’s a delivery system for rebellion. Kids take up smoking to be cool, to impress their friends with their recklessness and defiance of adults. Teenagers don’t care about lung cancer — they’re immortal. They know that smoking is dangerous. In fact, they overestimate the chances of getting lung cancer. Danger is part of a cigarette’s appeal.

Since 1997, we’ve learned a lot about how to prevent teenage smoking. The best strategy? Make smoking uncool.

By depicting smoking as profitable for the big, bad tobacco companies, the strategy dubbed Truth cut teen smoking in half in the U.S. between 1998 and today. Kids want to rebel against adults, but they wish to conform within their peer groups.

There’s something a bit circular about the idea that we change people’s behavior by tweaking their perceptions about the behavior of others. It’s a self-reinforcing process: The more people believe that smoking is atypical, for instance, the less typical it becomes, which in turn provides further evidence that it’s atypical. The most challenging part is kicking off the cycle, by convincing enough people that deviating from existing norms will not leave them shunned by the rest of society.

This is precisely the challenge we face in trying to change the culture of no-strings sex in college. Students are ashamed to admit they haven’t hooked up, and both sexes can expect a round of high-5s on a Sunday morning as they report their exploits of the previous night. Letting students know the real facts about hooking up makes non-participants feel normal rather than the odd one out. I have witnessed great surprise (and some skepticism) when sharing consistent findings across many studies and institutions with young people. There is great potential here for cultural change.

Institutions are beginning to do their own research on hooking up behaviors among their student populations. Duke University surveyed 1,450 freshmen and seniors anonymously online and found the following:

Only one-third in each grade had ever had a hookup.
Less than half of the hookups involved oral sex or intercourse.
60% of freshmen were virgins.
One-third of students were in committed relationships.

According to researcher Wendy Brynildsen:

Our findings call into question some popular accounts as well as some social scientific ones. We find a diverse mix of campus relationships at Duke. We also find a strong association between previous relationship behavior and current relationship behavior for both freshmen and seniors.

The findings show that, of those at Duke who had hookups, many had hookups in earlier relationships, and for freshmen, that meant in high school. Drinking as well as having … [more]
Hooking_Up_Realities  Politics_and_Feminism  Art_of_Crowdshifting  college_culture  college_sex  hooking_up  hookup_culture  Leon_Neyfakh  Paula_England  popular_culture  sexual_mores  sexual_revolution  from google
october 2012 by takshimada

related tags

art_of_crowdshifting  carolyn_bradshaw  college_culture  college_sex  emily_esfahani_smith  hannah_rosin  hooking_up  hooking_up_realities  hookup_culture  leon_neyfakh  lisa_wade  lysistrata  plan_to_reboot_dating  politics_and_feminism  popular_culture  sexual_mores  sexual_revolution 

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