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Hanna Rosin, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of The End of Men, has written a piece about hook up culture on and off college campuses for the September issue of her magazine.  Given that I’ve done some research on hook up culture, W.W. Norton’s Karl Bakeman asked me to weigh in.  So, here are my two cents: Rosin isn’t wrong to argue that the culture offers women sexual opportunities and independence, but she mischaracterizes the objections to hook up culture and draws too rosy a conclusion.

Those who wring their hands and “lament” hook up culture, Rosin contends, do so because they think women are giving it up too easily, a practice that will inevitably leave them heartbroken.`She writes:

[Critics of hook up culture pine] for an earlier time, when fathers protected “innocent” girls from “punks” and predators, and when girls understood it was their role to also protect themselves.

If this is the problem, the answer is less sex and more (sexless?) relationships.  But, Rosin rightly argues, this wrongly stereotypes women as fragile flowers whose self-esteem lies between their legs.  It also romanticizes relationships.  Drawing on the fantastic research of sociologists Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong, she explains that young women often find serious relationships with men to be distracting; staying single (and hooking up for fun) is one way to protect their own educational and career paths.

All this is true and so, Rosin concludes, hook up culture is “an engine of female progress — one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”

Well, not exactly.  Yes, women get to choose to have sex with men casually and many do.  And some women truly enjoy hook up culture, while others who like it less still learn a lot about themselves and feel grateful for the experiences.  I make this argument with my colleague, Caroline Heldman, in Hooking Up and Opting Out: Negotiating Sex in the First Year of College.

But what young women don’t control is the context in which they have sex.  The problem with hook up culture is not casual sex, nor is it the fact that some women are choosing it, it’s the sexism that encourages men to treat women like pawns and requires women to be just as cunning and manipulative if they want to be in the game; it’s the relentless pressure to be hot that makes some women feel like shit all the time and the rest feel like shit some of the time; it’s the heterosexism that marginalizes and excludes true experimentation with same-sex desire; and it’s the intolerance towards people who would rather be in relationships or practice abstinence (considered boring, pathetic, or weird by many advocates of hook up culture including, perhaps, Rosin).

Fundamentally, what’s wrong with hook up culture is the antagonistic, competitive, malevolent attitude towards one’s sexual partners.  College students largely aren’t experimenting with sexuality nicely.  Hook ups aren’t, on the whole, mutually satisfying, strongly consensual, experimental affairs during which both partners express concern for the others’ pleasure.   They’re repetitive, awkward, and confusing sexual encounters in which men have orgasms more than twice as often as women:

The problem with hook up culture, then, is not that people are friends with benefits.  It’s that they’re not. As one of my students concluded about one of her hook up partners:  “You could have labeled it friends with benefits… without the friendship maybe?”

Hook up culture is an “engine of female progress” only if we take-for-granted that our destination is a caricature of male sexuality, one in which sex is a game with a winner and a loser.   But do we really want sex to be competitive?   Is “keep[ing] pace with the boys,” as Rosin puts it, really what liberation looks like?  I think we can do better.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

W.W. Norton released a couple two-minute interviews in which I talk about hook up culture, part of their collection of academics talking about their research.

In the first clip, I discuss the difference between hooking up and a hook up “culture.”  In the second, I respond to the concern that there is something “wrong” with casual sex on college campuses.  There is something wrong, I argue, but it’s not unique to casual sex. Instead, the problems students face on campus — heterosexism, gender inequality, and a relentless pressure to be “hot” — don’t go away with graduation.

In that sense, for better or worse, college is a “functional training ground” for the friendships, marriages, workplace interactions, and other types relationships that students will encounter after college; social inequalities threaten the health of all of these relationships.  Instead of shaking our fingers at college students, then, we should recognize that the acute problems we see on campuses are symptoms of the ills that characterize our wider sexual culture as well.

I’m speaking about hook up culture at Harvard and Dartmouth this week. If you’re in the area, please come by and say “hello!”

  • Monday, Mar. 26th at 8:00pm: “Sex Lives and Sex Lies: Hooking Up on Campus” (Harvard University, Science Center D)
  • Wednesday, Mar. 28th at 7:30pm: “Sex Machines vs. Sex Objects: How Stereotypes Subvert Sexual Pleasure” (Harvard University, Fong Auditorium)
  • Thursday, Mar. 29th at 4:30pm: “The Promise & Perils of the Hook-Up Culture”  (Dartmouth University, Rockefeller Center “Rocky” 2)

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the pleasure of giving public lectures on hook up culture at several colleges and universities.  I draw on my research in these talks, but I also always give a shout out to Paula England, a sociologist who has collected tens of thousands of surveys from students at dozens of schools.   My talk would be a shadow of itself if I couldn’t draw on her excellent work.  Accordingly, I’m pleased to be able to feature England giving a presentation about what she has discovered about hook up culture.  I suspect that you’ll be surprised, no matter who you are:

For more on hook up culture, see my 3-minute appearance on MTV Canada or my 40-minute talk at Franklin & Marshall College (slideshow and transcript if you’d rather read).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Super thanks to Rebecca Pardo for inviting me to be part of a segment on hook up culture for MTV News!  She and her team did such a wonderful job of editing and illustrating the interview.  I’m so tickled to be on MTV and excited to share it here!

The gist? College students are having sex, but not as much as you might think. And most of them are kind of disappointed about the whole thing. All in three minutes!

For a longer and decidedly less MTV-y approach to this topic, feel free to watch a 40-minute version of the talk taped at Franklin and Marshall College (slideshow and transcript if you’d rather read).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(view the slideshow)

Back in the spring, Lisa gave a talk at Franklin and Marshall College about data about the newness, prevalence, and content of “hook ups” on American campuses. Surprise, today’s college students didn’t invent casual sex and there’s no need for their parents to worry about a “bacchanalian orgy” in one dorm after another.  Concluding that the problem isn’t “too much” sex, she argues that the problem is too much bad sex.

In her own research, Lisa has found that students want sex to be pleasurable, empowering, or meaningful.  But, alas, they seem to have difficulty achieving any one of those things in great measure.  The culprit, she concludes, isn’t hooking up, it’s hook up culture.  When a hook up culture dominates, all other ways of being sexual are repressed, and that leaves many students involuntarily celibate or having sex they don’t really want. The solution: an opening up of sexual options that allow students to truly, genuinely explore their own sexualities safely.

Franklin and Marshall College arranged to have the lecture filmed, but Lisa was too shy to post it on Soc Images. But she sent me the link to the talk, and I have no such misgivings. Unfortunately, the camera was set up at an angle where you can’t see the PowerPoint presentation that went along with the lecture, so you’ll have to look through it separately if you’re interested (slideshow and transcript if you’d rather read).  Lisa’s got other talks too, if you’re interested, and I know she loves giving them.

Common Hour: The Promise and Perils of Hook-Up Culture from Franklin & Marshall College on Vimeo.

Common Hour: The Promise and Perils of Hook-Up Culture from Franklin & Marshall College on Vimeo.

Photo via Oli (Flickr CC)

Whether you’re taking a long flight, taking some time on the treadmill, or just taking a break over the holidays, ’tis the season to catch up on podcasts. Between long-running hits and some strong newcomers this year, there has never been a better time to dive into the world of social science podcasts. While we bring the sociological images, do your ears a favor and check these out.

Also, this list is far from comprehensive. If you have tips for podcasts I missed, drop a note in the comments!

New in 2017

If you’re new to sociology, or want a more “SOC 101” flavor, The Social Breakdown is perfect for you. Hosts Penn, Ellen, and Omar take a core sociological concept in each episode and break it down, offering great examples both old and new (and plenty of sass). Check out “Buddha Heads and Crosses” for a primer on cultural appropriation from Bourdieu to Notorious B.I.G.

Want to dive deeper? The Annex is at the cutting edge of sociology podcasting. Professors Joseph Cohen, Leslie Hinkson, and Gabriel Rossman banter about the news of the day and bring you interviews and commentary on big ideas in sociology. Check out the episode on Conspiracy Theories and Dover’s Greek Homosexuality for—I kid you not—a really entertaining look at research methods.

Favorite Shows Still Going Strong

In The Society Pages’ network, Office Hours brings you interviews with leading sociologists on new books and groundbreaking research. Check out their favorite episode of 2017: Lisa Wade on American Hookup!

Felling wonky? The Scholars Strategy Network’s No Jargon podcast is a must-listen for the latest public policy talk…without jargon. Check out recent episodes on the political rumor mill and who college affirmative action policies really serve.

I was a latecomer to The Measure of Everyday Life this year, finding it from a tip on No Jargon, but I’m looking forward to catching up on their wide range of fascinating topics. So far, conversations with Kieran Healy on what we should do with nuance and the resurrection of typewriters have been wonderful listens.

And, of course, we can’t forget NPR’s Hidden Brain. Tucked away in their latest episode on fame is a deep dive into inconspicuous consumption and the new, subtle ways of wealth in America.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston (Fall, 2019). You can follow him on Twitter.

2 (1)It seems certain that the political economy textbooks of the future will include a chapter on the experience of Greece in 2015.

On July 5, 2015, the people of Greece overwhelmingly voted “NO” to the austerity ultimatum demanded by what is colloquially being called the Troika, the three institutions that have the power to shape Greece’s future: the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.

The people of Greece have stood up for the rights of working people everywhere.

Background

Greece has experienced six consecutive years of recession and the social costs have been enormous.  The following charts provide only the barest glimpse into the human suffering:

Infographics / Unemployment
Infographics / Unemployment
Infographics / Social Impact
Infographics / Social Impact
Infographics / Poverty
Infographics / Poverty

While the Troika has been eager to blame this outcome on the bungling and dishonesty of successive Greek governments and even the Greek people, the fact is that it is Troika policies that are primarily responsible. In broad brush, Greece grew rapidly over the 2000s in large part thanks to government borrowing, especially from French and German banks.  When the global financial crisis hit in late 2008, Greece was quickly thrown into recession and the Greek government found its revenue in steep decline and its ability to borrow sharply limited. By 2010, without its own national currency, it faced bankruptcy.

Enter the Troika. In 2010, they penned the first bailout agreement with the Greek government. The Greek government received new loans in exchange for its acceptance of austerity policies and monitoring by the IMF. Most of the new money went back out of the country, largely to its bank creditors. And the massive cuts in public spending deepened the country’s recession.

By 2011 it had become clear that the Troika’s policies were self-defeating. The deeper recession further reduced tax revenues, making it harder for the Greek government to pay its debts. Thus in 2012 the Troika again extended loans to the Greek government as part of a second bailout which included . . . wait for it . . . yet new austerity measures.

Not surprisingly, the outcome was more of the same. By then, French and German banks were off the hook. It was now the European governments and the International Monetary Fund that worried about repayment. And the Greek economy continued its downward ascent.

Significantly, in 2012, IMF staff acknowledged that the its support for austerity in 2010 was a mistake. Simply put, if you ask a government to cut spending during a period of recession you will only worsen the recession. And a country in recession will not be able to pay its debts. It was a pretty clear and obvious conclusion.

But, significantly, this acknowledgement did little to change Troika policies toward Greece.

By the end of 2014, the Greek people were fed up. Their government had done most of what was demanded of it and yet the economy continued to worsen and the country was deeper in debt than it had been at the start of the bailouts. And, once again, the Greek government was unable to make its debt payments without access to new loans. So, in January 2015 they elected a left wing, radical party known as Syriza because of the party’s commitment to negotiate a new understanding with the Troika, one that would enable the country to return to growth, which meant an end to austerity and debt relief.

Syriza entered the negotiations hopeful that the lessons of the past had been learned. But no, the Troika refused all additional financial support unless Greece agreed to implement yet another round of austerity. What started out as negotiations quickly turned into a one way scolding. The Troika continued to demand significant cuts in public spending to boost Greek government revenue for debt repayment. Greece eventually won a compromise that limited the size of the primary surplus required, but when they proposed achieving it by tax increases on corporations and the wealthy rather than spending cuts, they were rebuffed, principally by the IMF.

The Troika demanded cuts in pensions, again to reduce government spending. When Greece countered with an offer to boost contributions rather than slash the benefits going to those at the bottom of the income distribution, they were again rebuffed. On and on it went. Even the previous head of the IMF penned an intervention warning that the IMF was in danger of repeating its past mistakes, but to no avail.

Finally on June 25, the Troika made its final offer. It would provide additional funds to Greece, enough to enable it to make its debt payments over the next five months in exchange for more austerity.  However, as the Greek government recognized, this would just be “kicking the can down the road.” In five months the country would again be forced to ask for more money and accept more austerity. No wonder the Greek Prime Minister announced he was done, that he would take this offer to the Greek people with a recommendation of a “NO” vote.

The Referendum

Almost immediately after the Greek government announced its plans for a referendum, the leaders of the Troika intervened in the Greek debate. For example, as the New York Times reported:

By long-established diplomatic tradition, leaders and international institutions do not meddle in the domestic politics of other countries. But under cover of a referendum in which the rest of Europe has a clear stake, European leaders who have found [Greece Prime Minister] Tsipras difficult to deal with have been clear about the outcome they prefer.

Many are openly opposing him on the referendum, which could very possibly make way for a new government and a new approach to finding a compromise. The situation in Greece, analysts said, is not the first time that European politics have crossed borders, but it is the most open instance and the one with the greatest potential effect so far on European unity…

Martin Schulz, a German who is president of the European Parliament, offered at one point to travel to Greece to campaign for the “yes” forces, those in favor of taking a deal along the lines offered by the
creditors.

On Thursday, Mr. Schulz was on television making clear that he had little regard for Mr. Tsipras and his government. “We will help the Greek people but most certainly not the government,” he said.

European leaders actively worked to distort the terms of the referendum. Greeks were voting on whether to accept or reject Troika austerity policies yet the Troika leaders falsely claimed the vote was on whether Greece should remain in the Eurozone. In fact, there is no mechanism for kicking a country out of the Eurozone and the Greek government was always clear that it was not seeking to leave the zone.

Having whipped up popular fears of an end to the euro, some Greeks began talking their money out of the banks. On June 28, the European Central Bank then took the aggressive step of limiting its support to the Greek financial system.

This was a very significant and highly political step. Eurozone governments do not print their own money or control their own monetary systems. The European Central Bank is in charge of regional monetary policy and is duty bound to support the stability of the region’s financial system. By limiting its support for Greek banks it forced the Greek government to limit withdrawals which only worsened economic conditions and heightened fears about an economic collapse. This was, as reported by the New York Times, a clear attempt to influence the vote, one might even say an act of economic terrorism:    

Some experts say the timing of the European Central Bank action in capping emergency funding to Greek banks this week appeared to be part of a campaign to influence voters.

“I don’t see how anybody can believe that the timing of this was coincidence,” said Mark Weisbrot, an economist and a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “When you restrict the flow of cash enough to close the banks during the week of a referendum, this is a very deliberate move to scare people.”

Then on July 2, three days before the referendum, an IMF staff report on Greece was made public. Echos of 2010, the report made clear that Troika austerity demands were counterproductive. Greece needed massive new loans and debt forgiveness. The Bruegel Institute, a European think tank, offered a summary and analysis of the report, concluding that “the creditors negotiated with Greece in bad faith” and used “indefensible economic logic.”

The leaders of the Troika were insisting on policies that the IMF’s own staff viewed as misguided.  Moreover, as noted above, European leaders desperately but unsuccessfully tried to kill the report. Only one conclusion is possible: the negotiations were a sham.

The Troika’s goals were political: they wanted to destroy the leftist, radical Syriza because it represented a threat to a status quo in which working people suffer to generate profits for the region’s leading corporations. It apparently didn’t matter to them that what they were demanding was disastrous for the people of Greece. In fact, quite the opposite was likely true: punishing Greece was part of their plan to ensure that voters would reject insurgent movements in other countries, especially Spain.

The Vote

And despite, or perhaps because of all of the interventions and threats highlighted above, the Greek people stood firm. As the headlines of a Bloomberg news story proclaimed: “Varoufakis: Greeks Said ‘No’ to Five Years of Hypocrisy.”

The Greek vote was a huge victory for working people everywhere.

Now, we need to learn the lessons of this experience. Among the most important are: those who speak for dominant capitalist interests are not to be trusted. Our strength is in organization and collective action. Our efforts can shape alternatives.

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.


My colleague and co-author, Lisa Wade (you’d know her better as one of the people behind SocImages), gave a seven-minute speech at an Occupy Teach-In at our shared institution, Occidental College.  She said I could post it for you.

In the video she says she’s optimistic about the movement because it’s deeply sociological, drawing our attention to the way we organize our society, not just the individuals in it.  She contrasts this ability to critique the system with the early years of the Great Depression, during which many of the unemployed felt like they had failed their families because of personal faults (leading to a rise in the suicide rate).  Then, using the truly inspirational story of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott (in which people walked to work and rode carpools for over a year!), she warns students that the movement is about to stop being fun and require real commitment. She ends by asking the the audience whether they can rise to the occasion and make the sacrifices needed to move Occupy forward to achieve specific demands.

Also see the three-minute bit on hook up culture that she did for MTV Canada.