March 25, 2013
Gender Equality and the "Hook-up Culture"
Two feminist legal theorists for whom I have great respect have recently written pieces on achieving equality between the genders that emphasize the need to take on the 'hook up-culture.' This kind of convergence is all the more remarkable because these two women come from very different perspectives.
Erika Bachiochi bravely jumped into the fray as what looks to me like the only pro-life voice of 10 people contributing to a "Roe at 40" series of blog essays by Notre Dame's Center for the Study of Social Movements. Among the arguments she makes in her essay 10 Years Later: Let's Get Honest about Abortion, Roe, and Women's Equality is the following:
By equating equality with abortion access, we have capitulated to the misogynist view that equality requires women to become more like men, i.e., not pregnant. This is not to say in a biologically determinist fashion that because women’s bodies have the capacity to gestate fetal life, women are assumed by nature to be designed only, or even primarily, to be wives and mothers. It is to say that a culture that relies on abortion to achieve equality between the sexes takes male—wombless—physiology as the norm, and in so doing perpetuates the cultural devaluation of motherhood, and of parenting generally, and the social conditions that are often inhospitable to childrearing. Abortion leaves every societal and familial injustice just as it is, and expects nothing more or different of men.
In her response to another contributor's criticism of her essay, Erika lauds :
the effort to call men and women to a renewed sense of integrity and dignity with regard to their sexual lives. I, for one, think women ought to be at the forefront of such a movement, since we are the ones who deal disproportionately with the consequences of all-too-casual sexual encounters and failed contraception. It’s astonishing to me with so much heartbreak and so much unintended pregnancy—still, 50 years after the Pill—that mainstream feminists wouldn’t take a hard look at the way in which the sexual ethic on college campuses and post-college social scenes tends toward male prerogatives for low commitment sex.
Katharine Baker is one of the 'mainstream feminists' who has recently taken careful look at this issue, and arrived at much the same conclusion as Erika (though she does not share Erika's pro-life commitment.) She recently posted an essay entitled Sex and Equality, soon too be published in Boston University L. Rev as part of a symposium on Hanna Rosin's book, The End of Men. Baker's essay is sharp and punchy, and I think very effectively
challenges Rosin’s suggestion that contemporary sexual norms on college campuses serve women’s interests well. Unpacking the same data that Rosin uses to defend hook-up culture on women’s behalf, the essay argues that hook-up norms facilitate rape and may help explain the high rate of sexual assault on college campuses. Hook-up norms also perpetuate the sexual double standard, disproportionately hurt lower income women who cannot compete in hook-up status games, and valorize boorish, selfish male sexual behavior. In doing so, hook-up norms likely hurt young women’s ability to secure what they say they eventually want, which is sexual relationships rooted in equality.