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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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It’s not you, it’s Hookup Culture

Is there anything wrong with Hookup Culture?

I don’t remember his last name. His first name was Kyle: the perfect name for a faceless memory from your early 20s. In most respects, he was attractive, with a nice smile and deep set blue eyes. I first met him in a bar on Courtenay Place. I don’t quite remember what he wore, but I do remember the way his shirt hung on his shoulders. His hair was wiry and auburn, brushed backwards from the temples. We both knew all too well that we were here on a Friday night with the same intentions. Whether tempted by our desire to de-stress from a week’s worth of assignments or something else —  neither of us cared. Preoccupied by our own lives, we did not bother to dive in too deep to the thought process of the other. The contract remained simple and clear cut. Firstly, our exchange of words would remain fair and few. Secondly, neither of us ought to owe the other anything. And lastly, when it was all over, we would both return to our own lives. Done.

Is dating on brink of extinction? Are millennials responsible for dehumanizing this age-old practice into something that is based purely on face value? Whether we have or have not  heralded the dawn of some sort of sexual Armageddon, one cannot deny that something has irrevocably changed within the dating sphere. The general consensus seems to be that  casual sex has become too easy. Rather than working towards intimacy by fostering an “organic” relationship, our sex-crazed tendencies are seen as a barrier towards making meaningful connections. The rifles are being geared, pointing to Generation Y as the ones to blame.  We are seen as nothing more than hormonal, diseased sociopaths, speeding towards a lonely future. We’re romantically impoverished, weary of commitment — and a bit broken. But I can’t help but ask… says who? And why?

Hookup culture has been deemed socially corrosive, and ultimately toxic to all women, who seemingly have little choice but to participate. However, what people fail to see is that it may actually achieve  the complete opposite. It instead, acts as a positive force in female progress — a force that is being harnessed and driven by women themselves.

Amy, a fourth-year law student, believes women of the 21st century are currently navigating uncharted territory, in both the private and public spheres. As Amy puts it, “everywhere that you turn now, you see girls absolutely smashing it. Being intelligent, career driven, and young, we do not have the time to be tied down by someone else’s agenda”. Amy, alongside many others, believes that independence is one of the greatest pleasures of being a woman today . When once we drowned in the days of chastity belts and “traditional” dating, women today are, comparatively, no longer so restricted.  We are given the time and opportunity to nurture ourselves into whoever we want to be. Or so we like to believe.

The problems we see in hook-up culture today is because of the ingrained sexism in our social psyche. Second year law and sociology student Jay believes that millennial girls are  consistently stifled by double standards, slut shaming, and prejudice. When asked her opinion on the progress of women in relation to hookup culture, Jay explains that “it definitely gives women the opportunity to understand their sexuality, and the chance to explore their own bodies — but it just as easily takes that away from them”. We cannot deny that hookup culture is sexist. It is sexist for the same reason that TV shows, workplace environments, and other socio-political institutions are sexist. Because  women have grown up in a society that actively sexualizes their bodies, it is understandably difficult to disentangle our sexual autonomy from historically sexist and heteronormative views of sex and romance. Women are often belittled if they choose to challenge the sexualisaton that has been ingrained into them for years.

But how is hookup culture affecting millennials in the long term? The claims are a monotonous mantra,  painting an image of a generation alienated from emotion, numbed as we supposedly are by our fixation on illusions on screens. We dodge vulnerability like bullets in a warzone, and avoid the bonding feelings that spring forth from oxytocin. Romance is dead. It died with hookup culture. Modern music teaches us to seek “pussy, dope, and cars”.

But before we dive in to the romance debate, let’s appreciate a few things first. The average age for couples to marry from the 1950s to the 1970s was 23 for men, and 20 for women,  but this demographic also suffered the highest failure rate, with 44 percent of all marriages ending in divorce. Nearly half of millennials have been a bystander to the crash, burn, and heartache of their parents. This is often believed to breed a pessimistic mentality towards romance amongst millennials. However, second year architecture student Noel disagrees,   arguing that the 21st century has welcomed a new wave of romance that is more organic and meaningful than that of past generations. Noel explains that “romance in the traditional sense is dwindling, but it’s because the whole loving yourself movement has become so large. If someone comes with too much baggage, naturally I’m going to turn to the whole there’s more fish in the sea mode. The generation before us may have seen that as weak, not being able to resolve a difference. But I think it just means that you’re not compatible, and you shouldn’t change any part of yourself to fit someone else. It’s not weak, it’s being certain about yourself”. Millennial men and women have never doubted that they would accomplish their life goals, and the unwillingness to settle for less than we deserve is more pronounced than ever, especially with regards to our love lives… why should we waste our precious time and energy, unless we meet someone that we really connect with? Millennials are used to the idea of being able to “curate” experiences, and perhaps that is why so many young men and women are interested in hookup culture. We’re able to test the waters, and to test it with ease. Older generations felt rushed to find someone to share their life with — however, the same pressure doesn’t exist today. Today, women are more self-sufficient and independent. As engineering student Tom puts it, “while young, we just want to have fun and grow as individuals. We no longer need to secure a marriage by 18. As we age, most of us will begin to settle down as we realise what we like in person”.

The hopeless romantic in us all can’t help but worry that maybe the rosy-hued romance we all seem to  yearn for is becoming obsolete. We have traded in first dates at Drive Ins for yelling over one another at a bar.  We can’t deny that this change doesn’t measure up to the fairy-tale. So, in all good clichéd tendencies, can we really exclaim “chivalry is dead”?  If opening doors and adhering to the cheesy tropes associated with courting women is gone — has romance vanished along with it? However, second year law student, Atanas, plainly denies this claim that we are discarding every tradition love has ever known. Atanas goes on to say that even though “the idea of chivalry may be dead, we’re seeing the development of new romances which are equally as exciting and endearing”. The thing is, the concept of chivalry is entrenched  in an already archaic patriarchal system, and so, should we really bemoan its “loss”? Would it not be demeaning for women to continue that under our current feminist wave? As a woman, I still identify as a  “princess” in this quest of life. But that does not mean I am going to passively wait around for my knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet. If anything, the very quest to define myself and my life is my  modern-day “knight in shining armor”.

What makes this debate so challenging is that there is not — and never has been — a definitive recipe for romance, and never has that been more true than in today’s new age of intimacy. First year Otago student, Harry, does not believe that millennials are romantically impoverished. On the contrary, it is quite possible that we are overwhelmed by the sheer level of romance that we are exposed to. It is possible that the excessive dosage of romantic comedies, Nicholas Sparks, and publicized celebrity couples, has distorted our understanding of what “love” is,  what it means to both “be loved”, and to reciprocate this love. We cannot replicate meticulously-constructed movie romances in reality, and we are never given an answer as to whether our picture-perfect couple are able to keep the sparks going after the credits come rolling in.

More than anything, millennials are just a bit confused. Everything we do is open to scrutiny. We are in a new and untested age, and we don’t know what this new culture is going to produce. It is a unique, mind-boggling time, that is crying out for open-mindedness and sensitivity — which necessitates the the demise of prejudice and double standards.  

Sexual liberation is fundamental to the progress of women, but it is also a complex process. As human beings, we all crave intimacy, romantic or otherwise. Hookup culture is disheartening for the same reason life is. What happens when we begin obsessing over the ambiguity of the whole thing? It takes a toll on self-worth when we begin incessantly over-analysing every aspect of ourselves. Rather than drowning Generation Y in constant repetitive outbursts of our “disaffected” ways, I implore previous generations to take a different route. Give us time and space to navigate this murky age. Never has a generation had to bear so much weight with so little support. For the first time, young men and women have discovered a sexual freedom unencumbered by the conventions of marriage, and other such restrictive norms.  But that’s not how the story ends, and we need to allow millennials to discover and describe this new phase of intimacy on their own terms.

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