Saturday, February 17, 2007

Glass Houses and Rocks and Other Silliness

My martial arts bash was cancelled. So you get more of me than you dreamt!

Matthew Yglesias links to an interesting review of a new book on young women and sex. The book is called UNHOOKED. How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, by Laura Sessions Step. Here are some choice quotes from the review:

Stepp follows three high school girls and six college women through a year in their lives, chronicling their sexual behavior. These girls and women don't date, don't develop long-term relationships or even short, serious ones -- instead, they "hook up." Hooking up, Stepp writes, "isn't exactly anything." It can "consist entirely of one kiss, or it can involve fondling, oral sex, anal sex, intercourse or any combination of those things. It can happen only once with a partner, several times during a week or over many months . . . . It can mean the start of something, the end of something or the whole something." If that sounds as if hooking up can mean almost anything but "fried fish for dinner," Stepp goes on to offer something more definite: What makes hooking up unique is that its practitioners agree that there will be no commitment, no exclusivity, no feelings. The girls adopt the crude talk of crude boys: They speak of hitting it, of boy toys and filler boys, "my plaything" and "my bitch."

Why hook up? According to Stepp, college women, obsessed with academic and career success, say they don't have time for a real relationship; high school girls say lovey-dovey relationships give them the "yucks."

Stepp is troubled: How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate?

"How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate?"

It was so good I just had to repeat it. Well, Laura, why don't you ask the young men for the answers? Unless I have gotten this quite wrong the hooking-up has been one of the great ideals of the young-guy-talk for centuries, the idea of attachment-free sex, the idea of scoring, the idea of sex as a form of physical release alone. The idea of fleeing any sign of commitment as fast as one can. How did these young men learn to commit themselves to a deep relationship?

I was being sarcastic there. Session Step's point is naturally that it is the women who are supposed to do the relationship-work. Men can just do whatever they always have done in the past, and if that happens to be exactly what the author worries about, well, who cares. It's not a guy thing.

Have you noticed, by the way, how all these books about the sex and the young people are aimed at women and have to do with trying to change women's behavior? It does take two to tango, but for some reason the assumption is that, unlike in tango, it is the women alone who can preserve romance and marriage in this world.

And lest we forget the crucial difference between the sexes, Session Steps reminds that women's sexuality is fragile, can be dirtied, can be invaded. It's a property, in fact. Like virginity:

In fact, Unhooked can be downright painful to read. The author resurrects the ugly, old notion of sex as something a female gives in return for a male's good behavior, and she imagines the female body as a thing that can be tarnished by too much use. She advises the girls, "He will seek to win you over only if he thinks you're a prize."And goes on to tell them, "In a smorgasbord of booty, all the hot dishes start looking like they've been on the warming table too long."


In the final chapter, Stepp writes a letter to mothers and daughters, in which she warns the girls: "Your body is your property. . . . Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn't want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?" And: "Pornographic is grinding on the dance floor like a dog in heat. It leaves nothing to the imagination." The ugliness of these images seems meant to instill sexual shame.

At least she suggests that the girl or the woman is the rightful owner of her acres. But that is the only difference between these quotes and the abstinence folks' attempt to make sex into something that dirties a woman, uses her up.

This is all very tiresome. Session Step does have a point in worrying about the increasingly early sexualization of girls, a sexualization that comes from outside and has very little to do with what ten-year old girls, say, actually think about or want to do, and much more to do with the popular culture and the porn world. I also think that it is hard for women to understand their own sexual needs in a world which blasts them with messages about how best to service men for the pleasure of the men, and I think that the real sexual liberation of women is a very unfinished business.

But returning to that old idea of the woman as the asexual gatekeeper to all sex, the keeper of the fires of the home and romance, and in all manners the one whom to blame when things go wrong is not the way to approach these issues.