Monday, August 27, 2012

Is This Really Progress?

I really enjoy reading The Atlantic, partly because so many of its articles go deeper than reporting current events, and its writers tend to explore important cultural trends and controversies that matter. In the last few years I've read a fair number of the articles the magazine has featured on women's topics--the hookup culture, the fact that women are marrying later and later, the balance between family and work, whether or not to have a natural childbirth. I've agreed with some and disagreed with others.

The latest article I read simply makes me very sad. Hanna Rosin's argument is that the hook-up culture, which has totally permeated college campuses and male-female relationships in general, has been a good thing for women because it has been the primary instrument in allowing women to succeed professionally and financially. The lack of commitment between young men and women and the abundance of sexual freedom, she says, is what is enabling modern women to shine in their schools and in their careers.

I want to share a paragraph from Rosin's piece in which she is praising quite victoriously the gains she believes women are reaping as a result of the "temporary intimacy," as she later puts it, of their hook-ups:

"[Women] are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future."

Now just glance over the words I have bolded. What makes me so sad is the self-interest and the confusion of priorities and values in these words. Women today make more money. They manipulate. They keep their own ends in mind always. A promising future for modern women is all about an education and a career. And this is progress, Rosin argues.

I really have to wonder about what Rosin is celebrating. To me, these seem like steps in the wrong direction. Rosin directly connects female advancement in the world to money-making, manipulation, selfishness, and an avoidance of true commitment to men and families. And she applauds the hook-up culture for making it all possible. 

As a woman, I am actually embarrassed to read these words. The qualities Rosin is praising (manipulation, selfishness) are not only unhealthy, but they will assuredly lead to long-term unhappiness. Perhaps Rosin is right that the hook-up culture contributes to more women maintaining serious careers. Perhaps she is right that some women enjoy the lack of commitment when it comes to men because it allows them to focus on their education. Perhaps she is right that women are using this culture to get what they want.

But is this really progress? Are these the kind of character traits we should be celebrating? Are these women happy, are they fulfilled? What saddens me the most is that I believe Rosin is praising a culture that much more often leads to serious heartbreak and inner emptiness for young women than it does to a blissful career. 


  1. ... very sad!

  2. I completely agree with you! No, it's not progress. It's encouraging women to separate sex from love. Philosophies like these may further a women's career but it comes at many costs. I've read research that shows that women who co-habitate before marriage are less likely to have happy, long term marriages. How is this a promising future?

  3. I thought that whole article was so depressing--and I really think she has it backwards. I doubt young women are accumulating degrees and jobs because hook-up culture has *enabled* them to; I suspect it's more a case that they feel they *have* to invest in degrees and work, because hook-up culture has convinced them that family and marriage are impossible dreams.

    1. Yes, I agree with you, C.M. Depressing indeed, and a totally backwards argument.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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