William Raspberry wrote an editorial in Washington Post last weekend (I picked a link to a syndication that does not require registration instead of dinosaurid WaPo) about the sexual practices of young people, mainly college people. This is not the first time he wrote on this topic. For instance, he wrote a column a few years ago, immediately after the release of the famous 2001 study called Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right. You can read the whole report as PDF file (88 pages) if you want. Conservatives, of course, immediately jumped in, but I have not seen a good reasonable response from the Left, either from feminists, or gays, or just plain old mainstream liberals. Wasn’t everyone horrified at the suggestions by the report’s authors at the very end?
My views of marriage (and relationships leading to marriage) have evolved over time from this through this to this, and beyond (don’t ask, don’t tell )…. I think that the report, the two Raspberry columns and the Kurtz column together provide an excellent (and sufficient – there are many more similar views out there, just Google “Hooking Up”) case study of what is wrong about conservative view of relationship between sexes, including marriage and sex.
The authors of the report, as well as the two columnists, are horrified with what they see as “sex culture” on campuses today. The three styles of relationships they identify are “hooking up” (one-night stands, usually drunk), “hanging out” (friendly fucks, as well as going out in groups) and “tied at the hip” (living together and pretending to be married). Although a relatively small percentage of responders stated they participated in “hooking up” (of course everyone is aware it is happening, but that high number says nothing about actual participation), especially multiple times, this is the main target of the columnists. Of course, they neglect to point out that a certain percentage of students (Young Christian Republicans?) still indulges in old-style dating, e.g., dinner and a movie, though in his 2005 column WR does insert a little paragraph about it, before ignoring the issue and moving on with grinding his axe:
“I should note that the hook-up, though widespread, is by no means universal. A
few students still have traditional take-her-to-dinner-or-a-movie dates. Some
avoid the hook-up culture, either by dint of ironclad personal values or by
joining up with a subgroup of like-minded friends.”
The authors are of the opinion that neither of the three strategies is good. Why? They don’t say explicitely – it is supposed to be obvious to the horrified reader. While I agree that repeated drunken hooking-up may not be a good idea, and agree that pretending to be married through four years of college is a pretty bad idea, too, I do not see what is wrong with the third way – the “hanging out”. You know why they don’t like it, of course – it involves unmarried people having sex. That it enough for them. You mention sex and conservatives spit and cross themselves – they have too many hangups about sex themselves, it is a miracle they have kids at all.
The three styles of “dating” described in the report also map to three categories of sex. Here is what the Girl With One-Track Mind (an expert in the field – a sex blogger) has to say about the three ways of having sex:
“For me, sex falls into 3 categories:
1. Making love: Sharing something totally intimate,
caring and loving with someone you love; expressing how you feel about them
through tender physical intimacy. It is emotionally and physically intense, full
of meaning, powerful, and only possible to experience with a partner that you
have feelings for. A way of connecting to another person. The equivilent of
finishing the end of someone’s sentences.
2. Having sex: Fun, laid back physical expression of
desire. A good release of pent up frustration, both mental and physical. Not
necessarily tied with emotions. Can be with a long-term partner, or with a fuck
buddy. Like a game of tennis, but with fewer balls and less
3. Fucking: Expressing carnal desires through rampant
shagging. This is hot, wet, licking, sucking, biting, gripping, slapping,
fucking. This is where you’ve had the horn all day, not played with yourself,
and rushed home to your partner to push them against the wall, rip their clothes
off and fuck them hard. Or where you meet someone new, realise the animal
attraction between you is so intense that you throw all caution to the winds,
forget about your inhibitions, and devour their body hungrily. A purely physical
The category #1 maps to “tied at the hip”, #2 is “hanging out” and #3 is “hooking up”, with some mild overlap. Now, the One-Track Mind Girl is experienced. Most college students are not. They are trying to shed the societal hang-ups they acquired over the first 20 years of their lives. They are learning. They lack self-confidence. They need practice. So, what is wrong with having a couple of longer, more serious relationships during which you experience the spirituality of sex #1 later in your college years, a couple of hook-ups to experience the excitement of animalistic sex #3 also in your later college years, and in the meantime enjoy a lot of fun friendly sex #2? Number 1 is hard to do if you lack practice and confidence. Emotions tend to get in the way if you are trying so hard to reach “spritual union”before you really know what you are doing in teh first place. Number 3 is too fast, energetic and carnal to be much of a learning experience (or to be enjoyable if you do not know what you are doing). But number 2 is a great relaxed way to learn and practice and experiment. That is what the friends are for: to smile and shrug if you do something clumsy and let you try again. What else can one do? Masturbate every day?
Here are some mistakes that adults, particularly conservatives, make when they write about this topic:
Mistake Number One: they try to place the blame on adults for lack of supervision, e.g., here’s Raspberry in 2001 (quoted verbatim by Kurtz):
“These women are out of their minds, and the adults who ought to be teaching
them better — parents and college administrators — have pretty much walked
away from the job.
You go and try to tell college students how to behave and what to do! It is not, at that point in their lives, parents’ or administrators’ job to meddle in young adults’ lives, even if they could – and they couldn’t.
Mistake Number Two: they hear students’ responses within old-time adult conservative worldviews. In other words, they are unable to hear and understand what the youngsters are saying in the report. What the students are saying is, when translated in geezerese, something along these lines:
“Now that we are at the age when we start entering real relationships, we are confused between what we were told all along and what the reality of the world is. You adults keep telling us to do what you say, not what you do. Half of us have divorced parents. This is the time to reconcile the Barbie-wedding children’s dreams that you instilled in us with the reality of our biology, the waking up to the facts of evolving society and crumbling religious dogmas.
Different people cope in different ways. Some cling hard to the idealistic view you taught us – they get tied at the hip and miss out on all the fun. In ten years they will all be divorced as they start regretting they did not get any play so they’ll try to make up for it later. Others react strongly to your hypocrisy and go to the other extreme – hooking up every Friday night. It’s a phase. They’ll grow out of it and become the most loyal (and jealously possesive) spouses once they get married. Some pretend that nothing’s changed and try going out on traditional dates. They’ll survive, too, just like everyone else, though they may not have great memories of college years. Finally, people who hang out together as friends, go out, study together, and sometimes have sex with each other, are the most well adapted of us all. Those are the people who completely “grok” the reality of today’s gender environment and swim naturally through it. Sex is fun and should be fun. Sex is great at strengthening friendships unless one is too hung up on religious dogmas and conservative ideology.
What you, adults, need to do is not to crack down on us and organize closely supervized group dates with no sex. Instead, you need to give us a realistic picture of relationships much earlier, while we are still little kids, so we do not have to figure it all out by ourselves though trial and error once we finally manage to move out of the parents’ house. And for Christ’s sake, stop thinking that sex is dirty or sinful. It just makes it harder to learn to do it right and enjoy it to the fullest later on.”
Mistake Number Three: while they notice that the ideas about relationships and marriage are changing they see it as a negative trend and are trying to stop it, thus Wingers’ screaming about Armaggeddon, intense activity against sex education, abortion and gay marriage, attacks on “liberalism” of academia, insistence on parental notification for teen use of contraception, etc. Even Creationism may fit into this pattern.
“What we have is another sad step on what was supposed to be the road to sexual
equality. The pill and the sexual politics it helped engender were supposed to
empower women to behave like men. It did, of course, but that fact did not make
men and women more equal. Just the reverse, in fact, because it led women to
give up the one power they used to take for granted: the power to control sex. I
don’t doubt for a minute that women’s control of sex helped to tame men, to
focus their attention and make them suitable for, and amenable to, marriage.”
said Raspberry in his 2001 column. Is he clueless or what? In last week’s column he writes:
My young student said something that still has me scratching my head: “At the
end of the night, I could have batted my eyes, given him a hug and said, ‘Thanks
for a wonderful evening.’ But in today’s society, that is rude. A hug is the
universal sign for ‘not interested.’”
The disjuncture from
courtship as earlier generations remember it is startling. For us, sex was the
Super Bowl of relationships. For many of today’s youngsters, it’s just a pick-up
game. I don’t envy them.
But a lot of them – too many, by my
dimming lights – go along to get along. They are not sure who made the new
rules, though they seem to believe they have something to do with gender
equality. And they are not sure they like the new rules, but they like even less
the prospect of being branded weird and left alone in their rooms on weekend
What I have found surprising is their willingness to talk
about the trend. Several young men – after first giving an enthusiastic
thumbs-up – admitted that the new culture leaves them off balance, too. Several
young women said – sadly, I thought – that they don’t really expect to find
their future husbands in such encounters. They see it, they told me, as a
college thing – a phase. Grad school is soon enough to start taking
relationships seriously. [exactly, and with no misgivings, my comment]
more than a few young women see their “liberation” as tinged with awkwardness
and shame. ”
What WR misses is that it is not the new world that confuses the young people – it is what they were told as kids that confuses them as it bears no resemblance to reality. Most of them still say they want to get married some day becuase that is the societal norm, not because they have any idea what marriage is all about. Their dating and sex life reflects reality – their stated (and misunderstood by interviewers) wish to be married one day reflects difficulty of abandonment of fairy-tales they were told as kids. In a sense, what they are saying is “if my marriage will be like Cinderella’s, then yes, I want to get married, who wouldn’t”. The unspoken underlying worry is “if everything about relationships you told us is as wrong as it turns out to be, I am afraid that marriage is a hoax, too, but will wait and see and hope for the best for now”.
Yes, relationsips are changing (see this and this, for instance. What is changing is that real equality between the sexes is emerging. This makes conservatives very unhappy, as being raised in a Strict Father regimen instills the notion of inequality, specifically male dominance over women (see this, this, this and this.
As male dominance is politically incorrect, they revert to a strategy (one of five or so described in Ducat’s book) called “putting on the pedestal”. They are (both Raspberry and Kurtz) waxing poetic about woman’s power to restrain the man. Bullshit. A conservative man looks down at the woman, yet at the same time his religious upbringing makes him think of sex as dirty and sinful. So, conservatives have, over the years, invented a ritual called “courting” that involves flowers, opening doors and paying for dinner. This ritual makes the man feel good about himself and about getting sex later that night – that is the way he is “paying” for it and it reflects the way he thinks about her. It also plays the role of the external focus of moral authority. As conservatives lack internal focus of moral authority (i.e., ability to make ethical decisions without fear of punishment from outside), they need the ritual to keep them in check, to keep them from slapping the woman unconsciouss, dragging her back to his cave and doing with her whatever he wants.
At the same time, a woman out on a date with a conservative man may feel the inequality, may be afraid of what such a man can do, may worry about his sexual perversions (read the comment by “Ath”), so she holds back. She is not “taming” anybody, just protecting herself from a potential pervert. Of course, there is a whole spectrum of people thus generalizations, as useful for discussions like this, do not apply to every single individual.
Now to Kurtz 2001. Read this excerpt:
In repudiating the bogus claim of sexual “equality” implicit in the culture
of no-strings sex, Raspberry offers a remarkable statement: “I don’t doubt for a
minute that women’s control of sex helped to tame men, to focus their attention
and make them suitable for, and amenable to, marriage.”
Now nothing in that statement would have been remarkable a generation
ago. And it’s certainly arresting that Raspberry is publicly willing to affirm
today what ought to be obvious: that men and women approach sex differently, and
that women, by waiting, help men to yoke together love and sex in a way that
leads to and strengthens marriage. But what’s truly interesting about
Raspberry’s column is that he wrote it after penning a piece only last year
expressing puzzlement that anyone could find gay marriage a threat to marriage
Raspberry wasn’t being dense — just honest. Marriage is one of those
institutions we take for granted. The rationale for marriage isn’t so much
written down somewhere as buried in the thing itself. That’s why neither
Raspberry, nor other right-thinking liberals, can see the connection between the
rise of the movement for gay marriage and the decline of heterosexual courtship
and marriage. But the link is there.
In one way or another, the rules of
courtship and marriage are all a way of insisting that, in matters of sex, men
and women are different. And since courtship and marriage depend for their
successful operation upon an ethos of sexual complementarity, people who imbibe
the ethos of courtship can’t help but feel that there’s something not quite
right about the idea of a homosexual marriage.
You can certainly argue that
our growing tolerance for homosexuality is worth some weakening in the ethos of
courtship, marriage, and sexual complementarity. But painful as it is to
acknowledge, it’s a terrible mistake to pretend that our increased tolerance for
homosexuality isn’t related to the weakening of modern marriage. It’s no
coincidence that on the same college campuses where men and women “hook up” as
though there were no real differences between them — as though they might as
well be two men — it is forbidden to openly oppose same-sex marriage.
for all that, William Raspberry still can’t see the contradiction between his
call for a renewed acknowledgment of sexual difference in courtship and his
inability a year ago to see the harmful effects of homosexual marriage upon the
institution of marriage itself. How can we revitalize an ethos of courtship
based upon the sexual complementarity of men and women while simultaneously
declaring that marriage itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the differences
between the sexes?
A world of same-sex marriages is a world of no-strings
heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates. The divorce revolution, the
sexual revolution, and the homosexual-rights movement all emerged simultaneously
in the sixties, and the entirely related advances in these three social
movements explain why we are on the verge of legalized same-sex marriage today.
Again, you can argue that the gains in freedom and tolerance are worth it, but
don’t try tell me that the costs to marriage — and to children — of our new
cultural mode aren’t real.
Yet that’s exactly what Jonathan Rauch tried to
tell us, in a critique of the Federal Marriage Amendment in last Friday’s Wall
Street Journal, the very same day that Raspberry’s column on “hooking up”
appeared in the Post. Rauch, a senior writer for National Journal, and one of
the wisest observers of the Washington scene, is a chief exponent, along with
journalist Andrew Sullivan, of the “conservative” case for gay marriage. For
Rauch, same-sex marriage is a win-win-win proposition: good for homosexuals,
good for heterosexuals, and good for marriage itself.
That’s because Rauch
believes that marriage will help to transmute the sometimes fleeting love that
gay couples feel for one another into stable and lasting commitments — just as
it does for heterosexual couples — all the while strengthening, rather than
weakening, the institution of marriage itself. But Rauch misses the fact that
it’s women — not marriage as such — who make men, in William Raspberry’s words,
“suitable for, and amenable to, marriage.”
It is the unique sexual dynamic
between men and women that domesticates men. Marriage ratifies and reinforces
the basic effect, but cannot create it out of whole cloth. The ethos of marriage
builds upon a series of shared and pre-existing expectations about the way a man
ought to treat a woman — because of her sexual vulnerability, and because of her
need for support as a mother.
So contrary to Rauch’s hopes, simply
redefining the union of two men as a “marriage” will not bring those social
expectations into play. Whether the relationship is called marriage or not, if a
man sleeps around on another man, or fails to offer him financial support, he
will not be condemned as a cad or a shirker. Indeed, a substantial number of gay
couples openly reject such expectations and declare that their interest in
marriage is confined to its economic and legal benefits. More than this, many
homosexuals look to same-sex marriage as an opportunity to intentionally subvert
the ethic of sexual fidelity and ethos of sexual complementarity that they
consider keys to the “oppressiveness” of marriage itself. So contrary to Rauch’s
soothing promises, same-sex marriage will seriously undermine the ethos of
marriage, without significantly stabilizing gay relationships in return.
truth is, but for a few exceptional conservatives such a Rauch and Sullivan (and
in some ways, even for them), the movement for gay marriage has little to do
with an expanded regard for marriage and everything to do with an attempt to
gain social approval for homosexuality. In effect, marriage is being “used” to
send a message that has little to do with the institution itself — without
anyone having honestly faced the real and harmful consequences to children and
families of the change.
That’s why advocates of gay marriage and opponents
of the Federal Marriage Amendment want to talk about civil rights, states
rights, federalism, even love — anything but sex. Marriage springs directly from
the ethos of heterosexual sex. Once marriage loses its connection to the
differences between men and women, it can only start to resemble a glorified and
slightly less temporary version of hooking up. And in the end, it is children
who will pay the price. “
Yes, gay marriage and the evolution of straight marriage go hand-in-hand. But Kurtz is afraid of it, instead of celebrating it. This is yet another step in a long line of advances towards equality of sexes. First, women managed to win the battle for not being their husband’s property. Later, they won the right to own property. Choosing a husband, not paying dowry, divorcing , working outside the house, voting, taking contraception, having an abortion, running for office, …. those are all victories that women won over the past century or so, always against the screaming horror of conservatives who thought, at each of these junctures, that the fabric of the society is unravelling and that the End of the World will result from those immoral shameless practices.
If gay marriages work, the notion of “division of labor in marriage”, which is just an euphemism for “man is the boss in the house”, will be demonstrably dead. Femiphobic men cannot allow that to happen. Thus they want to chain the kids down to chaperoned group dates and brainwash them with Creationism. They are desparate because they know they are losing, despite having political power. No amount of political power can overwhelm the power of societal evolution. And it is happening. We have to fight them, but need not be so worried as many people seem to be. Equality of sexes is here. You can see it if you read the above report without the conservative filter.