academia

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.

This spring the Chronicle of Higher Education offered an in-depth look at the number of highly educated people receiving federal aid.  Though, on average, they are still doing better than people without college degrees, these populations have not been immune to the recession.

While I sensed an undercurrent of classism in the article (e.g., “how could someone like me be on aid”), it offered an interesting profile of the post-graduate degree job outlook, especially for people with a PhD.  Notably, it reminds us just how risky pursuing graduate work can be; 70% of all faculty are now off the tenure-track.  That often means that they teach part-time, have no benefits, and face semester-to-semester job insecurity.

These faculty could probably do something else, but many of them are trying to realize a dream that they’ve spent 10 to 15 years of their lives working towards.  So, they continue to teach part-time for relatively low pay and participate in a job market that, for the most part, opens up only once a year.

For more on the economics and politics of academic labor, read Keith Hoeller’s The Future of the Contingent Faculty Movement.

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.

You’ve probably heard someone in media or politics bemoan the ballooning student debt in the U.S.  In fact, debt has been rising.  It’s more than doubled in the last ten years (that’s a more than 100% increase):
This debt, though, can’t be attributed primarily to the rising cost of education, as Planet Money explains.  The average debt load for a student graduating from a public school, for example, has risen by 20%:
The average debt load for a student coming out of a private school has gone up a bit more, but still not enough to account for the leap in overall student debt.
The increase in debt, it turns out, is largely accounted for by an increase in the number of people going to college.  In 1970, 8,500 8,500,000 people enrolled in college in the Fall; in 2009, that number exceeded 20,000 20,000,000 (source).  A more than 100% increase.

So, the story isn’t quite as dire as we might think.  This may be little consolation, though, for my students who walked across the stage yesterday.  Congrats, Seniors! :)

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.

This weekend is commencement at my college, Occidental, and I thought it the perfect day to post new data on the job experiences of recent graduates.  The data, a survey of 444 people in who graduated between 2007 and 2011, comes from a report out of Rutgers.

Just over half of the sample had a full-time job; 12% were un- or underemployed and looking for full-time work.

The recession appears to have depressed earnings by about $3,000. Pre-recession grads were making, on average, $30,000, while post-recession grads took in $27,000:

A third of students (35%) reported that their first job out of college was “not at all related” or “not very closely related” to their major. Almost half saw their first job as temporary and just “to get you by” (though this would drop to 36% when asked about their current job). Only half thought that their first job required a college degree.

A significant proportion of students felt that they’d had to sacrifice something important to secure their job: 27% reported that they were working below their level of education, 24% took a job that paid less than they expected to earn, and 23% were working outside of their interests and training:

Many graduates would have done things differently. Notably a third said they would have re-thought their choice of major:

And most of them would have been more likely to have chosen a professional major (e.g., education or nursing) or one in a “STEM” field (e.g., science, technology, engineering, or math).

Recession-era grads are much more likely to be getting help from their parents, compared to pre-recession grads:

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.

Every once in a while we post something for those of us who are teaching (and learning) how to write.  This is one of those times.

Get it!  Because you use “i.e.” to mean “what I mean to say is” and you use “e.g.” to mean “for example.”  Cute.

From Learn Something New Every Day.

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.

Yikes.  In a report designed to prove the feasibility of measuring electrodermal activity on subjects going about their daily life, at least one student showed near brain-death during class.

Am I exaggerating?  Yes.  But, even so, brain patterns during class matched watching TV closer than any other activity on the list.  Studying and homework, lab work, and socializing got more of his attention… sleep was a veritable mental work-out compared to class.

Draw whatever conclusions you will…

Joi Ito, via BoingBoing.  Full text of the paper here.

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.