As I keep getting older more and more of my education seems to be unlearning my previous knowledge rather than enforcing or solidifying it. Nothing is as simple as it seemed when I was a kid. Different parts of my tongue don’t have different taste buds for different tastes, lemmings do not commit mass suicide, a penny falling from the Empire State Building cannot kill someone on the street. Unfortunately this unlearning doesn’t seem to cross over outside of the classroom. The idea of Occam’s razor, that the least complicated theory is correct, is seductive but can also be disastrous when social justice or activism is concerned.
Ryan wrote last week about how Amherst’s new policies point to alcohol abuse as the main cause of sexual assault on this campus. It’s easier to make policies about alcohol than it is to tackle misogyny and an international rape culture in a broader sense. There is no quick fix. This same kind of over-simplistic logic can destroy any discussion about racist or sexist remarks. The conversation quickly turns into, “No, what I said cannot be racist because I am not a capital-R-Racist because x”; all because of the fallacy that an offensive comment=a person who knowingly hurt someone because they believe their race or gender or sexuality or whatever are superior to another.
Amherst culture often lends itself to this kind of simplification. Amherst Awkward, Amherst Apathy, Amherst Hookups. Why is it so difficult to apply the same analysis every student here uses on literature, science, art, etc. to our own relationships with one another?
I don’t particularly enjoy being an activist. I think it’s necessary and it is immensely gratifying when things begin to change; but fighting against institutions, laws, and ultimately ignorance is not something I particularly enjoy as an act. I hate arguments. They exhaust me. I always feel somehow underprepared, as if I should bring all of my relevant feminist resources with me whenever I go into Val just in case someone says, “But isn’t cat-calling kind of a compliment?” In my perfect world, everyone would just take a minute, reflect, empathize, understand, and move on. Obviously this isn’t really an option.
This summer, a bit of the “Amherst hookup culture” we’re used to hearing about was introduced to the national stage. In her expose on Penn hookup life, Kate Taylor investigated essentially what it was like for “young women in college today.” It’s a familiar story if you’re at all tuned in to how people view Amherst romantic and social life. Hookups are seen as the norm, monogamous relationships are a rarity, women are just as casual as men.
When I first read the article I was struck with how honest some of the women were with Taylor. The woman identified only as “A,” specifically, seemed not only perfectly frank but someone I desperately wanted to be friends with.
“I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible. I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”
This, to me, feels like the classic millenial attitude (not a bad thing). Why are we struggling when there is a more efficient way to get to what we want? This attitude calls everything into question, giving us an opportunity to unlearn unnecessary stand-bys that aren’t perfect for everyone.
Many similar articles followed over the summer, though significantly less comprehensive than Taylor’s. Taylor does a remarkable job in her article of avoiding slut-shaming. The opinions of A and her fellow Penn women are met with the respect they are due. The thing I missed in all of them, though, was the follow-through. Taylor brings in Susan Patton, the (in?)famous Princeton mom who told women to find and hold on to men in college. Patton provides similar advice to her previous statement: hooking up and “accepting less” than a monogamous relationship are mistakes. For a truly successful family down the line, young women would be wise to follow a more traditional relationship path.
This adds nothing new to the conversation. Patton has received plenty of flack surrounding her comments about college relationships, but she isn’t really the problem here. Why is the conversation still steered toward discovering the “correct” path for relationships in college? Even more pertinent, why are we over-simplifying college relationships in the first place?
Statistically, a lot of our assumptions aren’t even very accurate. Hookups in college are not a new phenomenon. A 1976 survey of college students from 12 colleges 44% of women had premarital sex. A recent Yale survey has the percentage at 64.3%. Also, not everyone is hooking up. One fifth of women have hooked up with more than 10 people over their four years of college. Even then, ten partners over the course of four years does not seem particularly “promiscuous” especially considering the loose definition of a “hookup.” (This is supposing, of course, that promiscuity is a dangerous, very bad, no good thing).
Of course you can’t help but notice that it is young women in the spotlight here. In these kinds of articles or posts, women are often described as “settling” or “accepting” what men give them in terms of romantic and sexual relationships. Taylor’s article is an exception to that rule, but still highlights the female side for seemingly no other reason than the inherent shock value. As long as straight men have been having sex on college campuses, straight women have, too.
Amherst doesn’t have a “hookup culture.” Amherst has a college culture. Our statistics are largely the same as the national average. But it’s easier to explain our sudden awareness as a result of a sudden change than just the gradual shift in social norms. Though double-standards are still wildly in play, there’s a base level of acceptance on college campuses that at least allows for discussion of female sexuality. Notice that there’s no big discussion of the LGBTQIA hookup scene as of yet, but eventually that too will be an acceptable topic for a large piece in the New York Times. But once the shock value fades and we’re left with observations anyone studying on an American college campus today knows, we can’t continue to accept these same old analyses. Our education can’t be that stagnant. There’s only one way to go from here, shockingly simple in writing but difficult and even vague in action: unlearn everything we thought we knew about our relationships with one another. Begin again.