Friday, February 20, 2009

Jessica Valenti on "the hook-up culture"

by Chloe Angyal

Feministing editor Jessica Valenti spoke at Emory and Henry college this week on "the hook-up culture," and no doubt ruffled some feathers. Valenti, whose book The Purity Myth will be out in the next few months, tackles media hype, the moral debate over young women having sex, and even Anscombe Society favourite Miriam Grossman. I can't speak for Amelia or for any other Equal Writers, but personally, I could not agree more with Valenti's argument, and I've highlighted the bits that spoke loudest to me.

"I have to admit that when I found out I would be speaking on "hook up culture" today, I was somewhat at a loss. Because the truth is, I actually don't believe that hook culture exists.

Do I think young people in college have sex and hook up? Of course.

But I don't think that this means that there's some nefarious culture of wanton sexuality rampant across college campuses - at least, not any more than there ever was - and I don't think that the fact that young people have sex or are otherwise physically intimate with each other is necessarily a cause for concern.

What I do think is cause for worry is the way that conservative and anti-women organizations, writers, and media makers are using this myth of a hook up culture to promote regressive values surrounding gender and to roll back women's rights.

So just to get some context - let's talk a little bit about what "hook up" culture actually is as its imagined by the media and conservative organizations.

In 2007 alone, nearly 1,000 news and magazine articles referred to the "girls gone wild" or "raunch culture" phenomenon. The topics of these articles ranged from general finger wagging about girls' supposed promiscuity and spring break, to op-eds about college women's slutty Halloween costumes. I found headlines like "Spring Break, Broken Girls," "Dying to Date" and "Girls Gone Bad."

One article for Newsweek even wondered whether America was raising a generation of "prostitots." (That would be slutty toddlers.) Another piece from The Washington Post - and this one is actually my favorite - said that young women hooking up was tantamount to "a mental health crisis on American campuses."

There should be two things that are immediately evident to you - even from just these small sampling of articles. 1) The concerns about young people hooking up and having sex aren't about young people at all - they're about young women. And 2) The attitude is definitely that young women having sex is a bad, bad thing. There's a whole lot of shaming and scare tactics going on."

It's quite long, but you can read the rest here. Also, if you'd like Equal Writes to bring Valenti to campus to speak more about feminism and gender issues, let us know in the comments section.

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