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Is Hook-up Culture Empowering? Sure, But Maybe Not For All

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CREDIT: Flikr/Phillipe Leroyer

Lately everyone has been discussing whether "hook-up culture" empowers or harms women. On the one hand, if feminism is about choice and contemporary hook-up culture is perpetuated by women, as feminist activist and writer Hanna Rosin says it is, then it bucks traditional sexual hierarchies—leveling the playing field between women and their male counterparts. Or does hook-up culture, as some suggest, actually serve to denigrate women and re-institute hierarchical systems under the guise of empowerment?

In “Boys on the Side,” Rosin's recent contribution to The Atlantic, she argues that hook-up culture—the forgoing of long-term relationships with short-lived or single night “hook-ups”—is not only what young women need these days, it's what they want. With so many new professional opportunities, young women don’t have the time or the patience for a serious relationship.

Fifty-seven percent of all Bachelor’s and 60 percent of all Master’s degrees are handed out to women. The growing role of women in the workforce has altered their traditional career choices. Research at the University of Minnesota and Texas at San Antonio revealed that, when men are scarce, women delay having children and instead pursue high-paying careers.  Women are experimenting with different lifestyles and are taking courtship into their own hands.

“To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture,” writes Rosin. College-age women can now “study and work and date, and live on temporary intimacy”. They are able to experience many opportunities that were not previously open to them.

Meghan Murphy, a student at the University of British Columbia and blogger for Feminist Current, disagrees.

Murphy points out that most of the women interviewed by Rosin come from a certain demographic—white middle-class. Murphy makes it clear that "low-income women and women of colour are often excluded from the [hook-up] culture" and questions Rosin on how hook-up culture "can be an unequivocally good thing for women if such a large percentage of the female population is left out of it?" Murphy's point suggests that hook-up culture is actually creating a hierarchical system between women: those who get to participate and those who cannot.

Hook-up culture's critics are not only limited to women. Journalist Frank Bruni criticized the hook-up culture as it has been depicted in the HBO series ‘Girls’ saying:  "You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of 'Girls' engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?" Bruni has a point, but as a new generation comes of age, popular culture is being re-shaped— and so too is the way women choose to live their lives.

The growth of the modern hook-up culture is spurred by the participation of young people, but that does not mean a commitment to or a passion for the culture itself. It's a choice. As Rosin noted, "the hookup culture [for most women] is like an island they visit, mostly during their college years and even then only when they are bored or experimenting."

The same can also be true for men. The desire for companionship is simply innate in humans. Hook-up culture is just a pit-stop of self-exploration along a path to future companionship. What is important, regardless of whether it is men or women who are perpetuating the culture, is to balance the hook-up culture with realistic expectations of what one hopes to get out of it. For better or for worse, it's undeniable that hook-up culture offers more choices to women and yet another facet to the feminist movement.

Aaron Brennan is a Communications Intern with Campus Progress

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