Book criticizes young women, corrupting the message

Sam Womack

Author Laura Sessions Stepp has recently written a book titled “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both,” but the title is misleading and the author writes like a disapproving mother figure, in spite of the fact that the women interviewed are intelligent, insightful and much better judges of our culture than she gives them credit for.

Hooking up is definitely a part of our culture. Like many of the women in the book, our generation has been encouraged to work hard and play hard. There is no room in that mentality to settle down, fall in love, get your heart broken and move on unscathed. Relationships take time and while in high school, college and graduate school, there seems to be no time for thoughts of marriage or children; that’s something for later. In the meantime, why not go out and get yours? Have sex, safely, have fun making out at a bar, and have a fuck buddy, because why not?

These high school and college aged women in the book are all extremely intelligent, driven and successful, and hooking up does not deter them from their goals. Hooking up fits in with their lifestyle and has become a significant part of our lifestyle. Sessions Stepp acknowledges the role of hooking up, but fails to flesh out the deeper-lying societal and psychological reasons for it. Instead she focuses on pressure from mothers, alcoholism, the rewards of courtship and other outdated dating techniques, and the pressure to fit in.

From my very few psych classes, I would have thought that she would spend more than a paragraph on the divorce rates of our parents and how that affects our hook up culture and the lack of father/male role models. But only in two isolated cases does she mention the lack of a father figure and only then to show why a high school girl would be dating an older man.

I assume many people in my generation come from divorced parents. We have seen our parents fail at their relationships and either abandon us or cling to us for support. What logical person would want to emulate their parents’ relationships if they could survive, succeed and receive pleasure from hooking up? In the title of the book, Sessions Stepp says women lose at both sex and love, but she only follows these girls around for a year while they’re still in school. What about after they graduate, are they still failing? I think the title should have been “pursue sex, delay love and learn invaluable life lessons that add to their success as individuals.” But that’s just me.

Sessions Stepp also tends to either victimize men or show them to be raping, sex-filled monsters. Those roles make sense in the context of men attempting to relate to the new equal status women have achieved, but again, Sessions Stepp fails to make that connection.

Women are, in this book, serial overachievers bent on success, and the men in their lives either assume the traditional female role, complaining that they don’t spend enough time on the relationship or their lack of commitment, or they too take what they want, sometimes going so far as rape. But overall men play the hook up game like these women do.

Sessions Stepp fails to mention sexual assault toward males and almost consciously disregards any reason why these men act the way they do. I think male and females alike realize that we all have our issues, no one will argue with that. We have commitment issues, trust issues, we feel inadequate, alone, depressed, anxious, fill in the blank. More college students are on medication than ever before, because we acknowledge our issues. And before we find someone who will accept us for all our issues, we hook up. Instant gratification for an abandoned generation.

One of the first things Sessions Stepp admits is that all but one of the students she quotes is from Duke University, George Washington University or from extremely affluent families. Therefore, her control group is only representative of a small percentage of men and women in our generation. Secondly, Sessions Stepp shows her disapproval by continually juxtaposing what the women say with statistics on alcoholism, rape and depression.

For example, one girl mentions she often gets drunk and hooks up. In the next paragraph, Sessions Stepp writes, “Pretty soon, they’re relying on booze to approach the dance floor, a partner and a bed. It’s a vicious cycle?” She goes on to quote a psychology professor and sexual assault counselor on alcohol and rape.

In another instance, a woman is surprised when a man picks her up and takes her on a date. Sessions Stepp then launches into an account of dating during the 1950s and how the rules of courtship were most likely a safer and healthier alternative than hooking up.

Many of the situations the women relate to Sessions Stepp are familiar to me as a woman in the hook up culture. A guy stops calling and even though you know he’s not that special, you find a way to sleep with him one more time, then walk away to regain control. Another one: You’re dating a guy who’s nice, but you’re hot for a guy who can’t be there for you, so you stay with the first guy and cheat on him with the second in order to keep all options open.

Sessions Stepp uses these examples and others to show that our generation is unhappy with hooking up. She then goes into Take Back the Night rallies and “The Vagina Monologues” and how women find inner strength from participating in them. But if we’re so unhappy, then why does it continue? Peer pressure?

What I think a lot of women and men in our generation deal with are control issues. When your parents divorce, someone close dies, you lose control. As a child, you believe everything revolves around you, and when you realize some things are out of your control, you look for it in other ways. You begin to search for perfection from yourself because that is controllable. You work to attain first place, highest grades, the perfect body, security, etc. which is what these women do.

Sessions Stepp mentions that in college there are high rates of depression, but she doesn’t really delve into why so many people are depressed. I think it’s because, although we want to believe otherwise, perfection is unattainable. No matter how hard you push yourself through eating disorders, over-involvement in academia, sports and extra-curricular activities, and hooking up there is no fulfillment unless it’s an inner change.

However, Sessions Stepp answer to what she sees as our generations problems vacillates between stricter dorm rules and alcohol restricted on campus. “Regulations governing dorm visits, behavior at campus functions and alcohol consumption either don’t exist or go largely un-enforced.” She follows that with college from a historical point of view and the regulated life on campus before the 1960s.

Sessions Stepp sounds like a disapproving mother because of her consistent use of comparison between life before the 1960s’ revolutions and life now. Why compare when almost fifty years have passed? She writes as though she hopes for a compromise between generations, which makes it seem as though she disregards what the women she interviews have said.

Hooking up is part our culture. Is it the best situation for men and women? Probably not, but obviously neither was anything before this. In fact, our generation has more successful women and a larger “can do” attitude than ever seen before. There are always drawbacks, but a generation full of intelligent individuals ought to be able to figure it out for themselves.

Sessions Stepp ends the book with a letter to mothers and daughters, which again seems like she has overlooked the women in the book. Although female competition may govern many decisions women make, it was not discussed in “Unhooked.” In fact, female friendships and solid relationships with mothers are anchors for the women in the book. Lack of male role models and feelings of inadequacy and depression were discussed, but she has no answers to those iss
ues. Just like Freud said, it’s entirely the mother’s fault.