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April 12, 2013

The End of the Hook-Up Culture?

I read this piece the other day. On the emptiness of "sexual empowerment," as currently defined, from a Yale senior. "SWUG" stands for "Senior Washed-Up Girl."

It’s confusing to be a young woman right now — especially if you buy into the traditional narrative of American womanhood. Are we supposed to “Lean In” with Sheryl Sandberg or resign ourselves to the fact that “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” per Anne-Marie Slaughter? Even The New York Times is heralding “The End of Courtship,” in a piece my concerned mother emailed to me. I think she wanted me to tell her the Times was wrong — but I realized I couldn’t.

In a survey I conducted of over 100 Yale students, almost all of the single respondents, ambition be damned, said they were currently seeking a relationship involving dating, commitment or, at the very least, monogamous sex. Basically, the types of relationships which just don’t seem to exist for those of us who are senior ladies, outside of the already-coupled.

Only 33 percent of the senior women I surveyed said they were currently feeling “very” or “a lot” of empowerment in their sexual choices and decisions.

Sixty-six percent of that same group of women recalled feeling “very” or “a lot” of empowerment back when they were freshmen.

My senior year is almost over. I’ll soon go to my last sorority formal, my last frat party, my last night at Toad’s. And at the end of those nights I’ll probably be resigned to going home vaguely dissatisfied and very alone — except, of course, for the company of my sympathetic suitemates. When it comes to my love life, I’ll be leaving Yale in not so much a blaze of glory as a blur of disappointment.

Welcome, then, to SWUG life: the slow, wine-filled decline of female sexual empowerment as we live out our college glory days. Welcome to the world of the ladies who have given up on boys because they don’t so much empower as frustrate, satisfy as agitate. Welcome to what “KiKi” likes to call “SWUG nation.”

This is actually the second Ivy-alumna-speaks-an-unpopular-truth story. There was also the Princeton Mom alumna who suggested marrying early:

Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.

For years (decades, really) we have been bombarded with advice on professional advancement, breaking through that glass ceiling and achieving work-life balance. We can figure that out — we are Princeton women. If anyone can overcome professional obstacles, it will be our brilliant, resourceful, very well-educated selves.


For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.


It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market....

Here is another truth that you know, but nobody is talking about. As freshman women, you have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?

Let me turn to the first article, and this notion of "empowerment." This is one of the most laughably sad things I've ever heard. It's so laughable the Onion did a piece on it.

Nothing important can come from anything easy. Sorry to break this to everyone.

"Empowerment" is, as I conceive it, important.

How on earth would empowerment derive from the easiest thing in the world, having sex with a guy, who, frankly, is either going to have sex with A) you, or B) someone else, or C) his hand, or D) a pomegranate, if A) and B) both fail and he's feeling a little carpel tunnel which precludes C) or maybe is looking for a little Fruit Strange?

When teenagers want to "be adults," what do they do? They smoke cigarettes, they drink booze, they have sex they think they're old enough for but actually, on a maturity level, are not.

They do, in short, Easy, fun things. Does this make them adults? Of course not. They're not doing the difficult things of adulthood -- working full-time, paying their own way, and paying for others to whom they have responsibility. They're doing the easy things.

It's a cargo cult sort of things: Adults do these things, so doing these things make me an adult.

They're merely badges of adulthood, but not adulthood itself. Not actual maturity and sophistication, but little petty false signifiers of it.

This also applies to the notion of "empowerment," which has been defined, as a popular definition, of doing the easiest possible things and claiming that those easy things have somehow given birth to something important, elevated, and noble.

Hooking up with guys (and by the way, there's no challenge here; a guy will sleep with you, even out of boredom, if you ask him) is the easiest possible thing a woman can do, and yet somehow, it is postulated, this results in the achievement of something difficult and profound, full intellectual and moral "empowerment" of a woman.


There are some ideas so plainly stupid that only a faux intellectual could believe them. This is among the most laughable.

Smoking a cigarette does not make a 14 year old boy a man and sleeping around with a bunch of random dudes does not make a 19 year old girl "empowered" or some kind of autonomous fully-formed intellectual and moral being.

I'm not going to knock 19 year old girls sleeping around -- I thank every one of them who once took pity on me and did so -- but it's not an act of "empowerment," so long as "empowerment" means anything other than sexually loose.

If it means something more than that-- if it means something important -- I'm afraid I have to inform people that difficult, important things are accomplished by difficult, taxing work. And not just by blowing Cubby the Earth Sciences major in the back room of Tau Kappa Sig.

In the constellation of Difficult Things, inducing a 18-year-old boy to do something involving his penis is definitely not the most distant and difficult star to reach.

There may be good reasons to have sex -- such as simple hedonism, which gets a bad rap in our society, even among leftists, for crying out loud* -- but "empowerment" is not on that particular list.

But "empowerment" by simply sleeping around is a popular notion. It's dumb, and it's easy. And in our effed-up culture, Dumb is Easy and Easy is Holy. So of course the notion is popular! It plays right into the current National Credo.

No wonder the SWUGs are disappointed. They were having sex to satisfy needs it was it was never intended to satisfy, and never capable of satisfying.**

* Just as an aside: Our culture is so f***ed up, with everyone claiming to be Working Towards Some Important Cultural or Moral Good at all times, that apparently no one can say "I have sex occasionally because it feels good and gives me a feeling of validation." (No one ever admits the latter because it's a confession of weakness and vanity; I'm here to declare that that's a big part of sex, and that we are all, in fact, weak and vain, and that's... okay. Such are human beings.)

No, even the left, for crying out loud, is so puritanical that they have to dress up a simple human act of pleasure-seeking as some spiritually-consequential Work For the Soul.

It isn't. Work is work and pleasure is pleasure.

Can anyone in this stupid culture admit they ever do anything just because it gives them pleasure to do so? Must we all carry on with this absurd posture of Always Working For the Betterment of Man and Self?

** Someone should do a cartoon: "I know you came here for empowerment, but all I've got here is this penis. But let's give it a whirl."

Cargo Cult and Madonna: This idea that sexual looseness = "empowerment" seems to have been given a massive lift by Madonna.

But this is Cargo Cult thinking. It is true that Madonna is empowered; it's also true she is (or was, anyway) a bit of a tramp.

But the former didn't have all that much to do with the latter, except, perhaps, indirectly, psychologically. Madonna became "empowered" (I hate that I'm about to say something in Madonna's favor, but here goes) because she was massively ambitious and ridiculously determined to be A Star, and also willing to scramble and hustle and work towards that goal, and also had some modest amount of talent as a dancer and somewhat less as a singer.

She became "empowered" by out-hustling and out-wanting everyone else. She wanted success, and she devoted herself to that. She wasn't much of a singer, but she had the most important "talent" of all: Grit, as Adam Carola says.

And that's how she became "empowered."

Did she sleep with a bunch of people along the way? I'm sure she did, and I'd guess a few of these liaisons were careerist trysts.

But she didn't become a superstar just by sleeping with a few people.

There are a lot of women to sleep with people who would like to be Superstars. As a general matter, that's not enough. You actually have to work pretty hard at it too, and get unbelievably lucky besides.

But of course the Dumb Take on this becomes "Madonna became a superstar because of her sexually-liberated attitude." Cargo cult.

Dumb is Easy and Easy is Holy.

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posted by Ace at 03:25 PM

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