Complexities of the college hookup culture

Kathleen Kennedy | The Daily Cougar

Kathleen Kennedy/The Daily Cougar

Since the publication of Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the future of gender roles in the U.S., particularly in regards to the hookup culture prevalent on college campuses.

The argument Rosin proposes, fleshed out in greater detail in her next article for The Atlantic magazine, “Boys on the Side,” is that the hookup culture is inherently beneficial to women. It, along with increased access to birth control and abortion clinics, empowers them to pursue educations and careers unfettered by the crushing weight of relationships or commitment.

“Feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture,” Rosin said.

Naturally, there has been some push-back to this message. In “Viewpoint: Commitment is Fulfillment,” published by The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan engineering senior Jeffrey McMahon responded to to the prevalence of the hookup culture. According to McMahon, this culture enables selfish, irresponsible men to prey on vulnerable women without consequence.

His piece more or less embodies a distressingly common reaction to the hookup culture and its impact on women, making it worthwhile to dissect. It is essentially written as an open letter to men, pressing on them his high behavioral standards.

“Men, the women on this campus are all vulnerable,” McMahon said. “Without real men to stand up and take on this responsibility, our women are … ultimately left objectified and used.”

This idea of men as the honor-bound protectors of women and their honor merits examination because it is an all too frequent, knee-jerk response to the new sexual dynamics of college life.

On the heels of an admonition to women to dress conservatively, McMahon concludes that women should seek men who value them. According to his article, these are men who treat women like princesses.

This kind of rhetoric, hidden as it always is beneath a veneer of chivalry and honorable intentions, is the worst sort of ignorant blathering. That his article is one long letter addressing men almost exclusively is indicative of the mindset that belies his worldview. Women have no agency; the burden is on men to cowboy up, do the right thing and protect women from themselves.

There is even a veiled suggestion that women who engage in the hookup culture do so primarily because of poor relationships with their fathers.

Numerous media outlets have rightly criticized McMahon for his implication that men are responsible for curbing women’s sexual appetites. It is safe to say women are decidedly not princesses, if the outcry from women is any indication.

In fact, I would say to any woman: If a man declares you his princess and wants to treat you as one, let it be serious cause for concern. Princess is a standard to which you will never live up.

To men: If any woman seeks to make you her protector, take care. Protector is a standard to which you will never live up.

If the above lines read as repetitious — good. They should. Offering divergent advice based on sex is foolish and misguided. It should go without saying — and yet cannot — that people are people. To contemplate what is good for men and good for women is nonsensical, since individuals and their needs are diverse, complex and irreducible.

Rosin blithely suggests even women most frustrated by the hookup culture don’t want to return to the bygone days when suitors arrived at a woman’s family home with flowers and a bow tie. This sort of thinking is born of the same wrong-headed attitude, because it dabbles in what all women do or don’t want.

That’s the problem in dealing with ideals and universalities; they crowd out the possibility if engaging in real relationships with real people, and all the joy that can come with that.

All this glorifying and hand-wringing misses the point; it doesn’t matter whether the hookup culture is right or wrong because it’s not going away. What matters is how people relate to and interact with one another. The moral is: Don’t ask or demand anything of another person they wouldn’t freely and happily give. That might mean not asking someone for sex, but it also might mean not asking for a relationship or commitment when only sex is offered. And this is good advice for anyone of any gender.

Kevin Cook is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].


  • Offering divergent sex advice is foolish and misguided. It should go without saying — and yet cannot — that people are people. To contemplate what is good for men and women is nonsensical, since individuals and their needs are diverse, complex and irreducible.
    No, not offering divergent advice is foolish. Yes, people are individuals but it was feminism’s greatest mistake to assume that they are only individuals. The realities for love, sex, marriage, and parenthood are different for men and women. We must consider, he’ll we must even acknowledge, those differences and then modify for individuals. Ignoring the differences between men and women is foolish.

  • I would disagree with your point about the “standard to which you will never live up to.” If anything, that would be the point. Just because a standard is high doesn’t mean we should run from it: far from it. Though most men have benefited from what feminism has created–read: the hook up culture–at some point, there has to be more; and if more means just more of the same, then there is no point. The woman of my dreams is probably not the woman I’ll ever deserve–and maybe vice versa–but the idea is one that I still believe in: there is a woman out there for which I want to live to higher standard for, because I want and love her. That really doesn’t jive with today’s hook up culture, which is not just in college, but I think most of us still want it, if even just a little.

Leave a Comment