Hookup Culture—Sexy or Sexist?

Story By: Cianna Allen

She’s at a party. She meets a cute guy. They start talking and flirting and everything is going well and she’s thinking that maybe, just maybe, he’ll ask her on a date. But the night doesn’t end with an exchange of numbers or a making of future plans. How does it end?
With a hookup.

According to Emily Russell, a junior Strategic and Corporate Communications major, that very scenario is scarily common at Chapman. “I feel like nowadays people are more afraid to ask someone out on a date than to ask them to have sex,” said Russell.

According to many Chapman University students, hookup culture is alive and well on our campus. But the issue isn’t the hookup culture itself—it’s the fact that, most likely, it only negatively affects one group of people: women.

Before going any further, what exactly is hookup culture? Hookup culture is a culture that accepts and encourages casual sex without the binds of emotional intimacy, bonding, or long-term commitment. In today’s hookup culture, people feel more comfortable engaging in casual sex than asking someone on a date. So, the next logical question is… why? Why is hookup culture overtaking college campuses?  Why is casual sex beating out emotional intimacy? And why is hookup culture detrimental to women, and not men? The answer to these questions is multi-faceted, but let us focus on one possible reason. Sexism.

Now at first this may sound a little counterintuitive. Hookup culture allows both men and women to engage in casual sex for pleasure and without consequence, so how is this sexist?

First off, we must ask ourselves if women are truly engaging in casual sex because they want to, or because society tells them to. Many college women feel that in order to be appreciated and validated, they must hook up with men. This comes from media images and portrayals of women as sexual objects for the pleasure of men. Media tells women that in order to be beautiful, they must be desired by other males.

On the other hand, media’s portrayal of men, specifically college age “frat boys”, pushes men to participate in the hookup culture. Television shows and movies such as “Old School”, “Animal House”, and the more recent movie “Neighbors” depict fraternity men as partying, sex-crazed boys. These types of media portrayals tell college men that in order to be popular, you must hook up with a lot of different girls.

Also, due to today’s hookup culture, women often feel that they must have sex in order to be asked on a date, which is backwards from how it used to be.

“I feel like even if hooking up is not necessarily what you want and a first date is, girls might just hook up with the guy in hopes of later being asked on a date,” said Russell.

On another note, recent feminist sexual movements have been promoting casual sex because it promotes agency in women. This sexual movement aims to allow women to make a choice to have casual sex without being looked down upon, which many Chapman students favor.

“I think it’s awesome that sex isn’t just okay for guys now. It shouldn’t just be a man’s thing, it should be an anyone who wants to thing,” said Kennedie Habermehl, a Chapman sophomore.

However, this feminist movement is highly contradictory alongside media and society’s aforementioned views of women. Therefore, it is often hard for women to tell if they are choosing to engage in casual sex for their own pleasure and as their own choice—the feminist reason—or if they are doing it to be viewed as desirable by men like society tells them to—the sexist reason.

“I think a lot of girls want to have sex just because they enjoy it, but I’m sure they’re also affected by society and want to feel desired. I mean, since girls aren’t getting asked out on dates as frequently, the only way that they can get male affirmation and reassurance is through hooking up,” said Rachel Cooklin, a junior Health Sciences major.

Another reason hookup culture can be viewed as sexist, and a main reason that hookup culture can be detrimental to women, is that men and women can’t both engage in casual sex without consequence. Men often can, simply because casual sex is encouraged for men and often represents masculinity. For women, however, casual sex can be harmful to their image. Hooking up does not equate to femininity in today’s society.

Hooking up equates to “sluttiness” and impurity. There is this double standard that has been evoked that leaves women trapped. If you have casual sex, you will be seen as a slut; if you don’t have casual sex, you will be seen as a prude.

Going along with this double standard is the idea of “lists”, a growing trend on Chapman’s campus and among the college age group. This is when men and women maintain a list of all of the people they have slept with.

“I know a lot of people, both guys and girls, that have lists,” said Cooklin. However, if a man’s “list” is really long, they will be praised and high-fived by all of their buddies; but if a woman happens to be on one man’s “list” or has a long “list” of her own, she will be regarded as a whore and seen in a less respectful light.

“I feel like girls keep lists for more personal reasons and don’t share it with many others. Guys, on the other hand, probably share it with their buddies and compare lists which can be really harmful to girls on those lists,” said Habermehl. The effects it can have on girls varies, but according to Russell it can lead to less respect or a tainted reputation: “A lot of the time, I don’t want to participate in a hookup simply because I don’t want to have to tell my friends that it happened and I don’t want other people to find out because I don’t know how it’ll affect my reputation,” said Russell.

The battle between feminism and sexism is prevalent today. The line between the two is much thinner and blurrier than people think. As mentioned earlier, it is often hard to distinguish between the two when making decisions regarding hookup culture and casual sex. If a woman chooses to have casual sex, is she doing it because of feminism… or because of sexism?

Movies often glorify the process of hookup culture
Movies often glorify the process of hookup culture

There have been recent media representations of hookup culture, such as Amy Schumer’s movie “Trainwreck”. This movie got mixed reviews due to its balancing on the line between feminist and sexist. Some reviewers stated that the movie gave Schumer’s role sexual agency and reversed the gendered roles so that her character was the pursuer and had the power to some degree.

“I personally really liked the fact that it wasn’t the man being in control the whole time. I thought it was cool that the roles were kind of reversed. It went against everything that rom-com’s normally are and I felt the switch-up was empowering to women,” said Habermehl.

Others, however, believed that the movie could have been much more progressive. They felt that the movie perpetuated the belief that women who engage in casual sex do it because they are emotionally bruised or just haven’t found the right man yet, rather than doing it simply because they want to. This movie shows that the difference between feminism and sexism in the world of female sexuality can be quite ambiguous.

And “Trainwreck” isn’t the only recent movie promoting hookup culture. Movies from the last few years such as “Friends With Benefits” and “No Strings Attached” have glorified the process and outcome of hookup culture as well.

So whether it’s caused by sexism or society, feminism or media, it is pretty clear that hookup culture is prevalent on Chapman’s campus and isn’t going to change anytime soon.

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