The Sunday New York Times ran an article by Kate Taylor discussing the casual sex game on campus that girls can play too. The notion that women have casual sex is really not news to anyone, except apparently the location of “all the news that’s fit to print.” It doesn’t take a genius to discover this, after all who else do you think has been sleeping with the promiscuous straight guys out there? Every time this conversation happens I gnash my teeth because the conversation inevitably centers on unaddressed privilege.
The same conversation comes up again in Taylor’s work. She reminds us that Hanna Rosin in End of Men argued that hooking up was a functional strategy for hardworking ambitious women, and that Susan Patton urged Princeton women to find a husband during college because that’s when men who are worthy of you are around. Combine these two viewpoints with Taylor who summarizes women’s experiences based upon elite universities like the University of Pennsylvania, and speaks tenderly of the women who long to be Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and we have three bodies of work that ignore the experience of the underprivileged while claiming to speak for a generation.
Writer Anna North at Salon, evidently as annoyed as me, writes, “[t]he women’s story sidles up to you at a party and asks in the honeyed voice of a false friend whether you or other women like you might be doing sex or love or motherhood (the top tasks of the woman) slightly wrong.” She also gives credit to Taylor for speaking to the women who are out of scope of this article generally — women of color and those from working class backgrounds. As North says we deserve a better kind of story than the recitation of women getting married, women having babies late, or women having casual sex.
There’s a generation of us women who grew up in hookup culture with a vastly different set of experiences than those covered by mainstream media. It seems the only time we get to make the news is as a story of perseverance where a woman’s hardship is inked in a Sunday reader as a piece that is intended to renew faith in the American Dream. These tropes too, from rags to riches, turn women into a two-dimensional set of experiences. Take the "survivor" story of a woman who is sexually assaulted that becomes the only thing that the media seems interested in — rather than her accomplishments or her personhood.
For the economically disadvantaged, university was a place to form friendships and relationships, but this had to be done amidst a struggle to remain in school at all. When working towards my own degree I was sometimes homeless, often starving and even frequently in a relationship. One memory stands out in particular: Brushing off the concerns of my landlord who smelled pot coming from my apartment and begging my stoner boyfriend to please abstain for a few hours so I could keep my apartment. This happened while in the midst of having to rush off to a final exam. I provided for him by working in a café where he would often come to spend the whole day instead of looking for a job. Sometimes in desperation we would have to turn to his mother for help. The ability to opt out or lean in to life existed only insofar as I could complete my homework and manage to scrape up something for dinner. Yet I would have told you at the time that I was young and in love and he would find himself in time. He did of course — just not with me.
For many women in the 20-something category there’s concern over whether to acquire the debt involved in attending university at all. There’s alcoholic intake to curb the anxiety of a job that does not pay a living wage. There’s waiting for the men around you to show ambition or mature. There are as many reasons to be in a relationship as there are not to be in one. But they are all infinitely more complicated than we are being credited for and this depiction of women’s choices as a buffet of endless possibility erases the voices of those who struggle.