It’s confusing to be a young woman right now—especially if you buy into the traditional narrative of American womanhood. Are we supposed to “Lean In” with Sheryl Sandberg or resign ourselves to the fact that “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” per Anne-Marie Slaughter? Even The New York Times is heralding “The End of Courtship,” in a piece my concerned mother emailed to me. I think she wanted me to tell her the Times was wrong — but I realized I couldn’t.In a survey I conducted of over 100 Yale students, almost all of the single respondents, ambition be damned, said they were currently seeking a relationship involving dating, commitment or, at the very least, monogamous sex. Basically, the types of relationships which just don’t seem to exist for those of us who are senior ladies, outside of the already-coupled.
Bruner writes that as freshmen, the hook-up culture was still perceived as an opportunity for sexual freedom, and thus strength. But as time went on, she and her peers realized that they wanted more. They adopted the SWUG-life out of exasperation with the “decline of female sexual empowerment,” she says.Bruner might be on to something. In her new book, The End of Sex, Donna Freitas writes that many students find casual sexual experiences to be dehumanizing. Though the majority of undergraduates at many schools participate in hook-up culture, nearly half of them felt uncomfortable with the concept, Freitas found. According to Bruner, only 33 percent of the women she surveyed felt empowered by their sexual choices.So it seems that young women today are caught between what our society says casual sex should be and what many of them feel that it is. But times may yet change. Over the generations, there has always been an alternation of “hook-up cultures” followed by periods of more restrained sexual behavior. In England there was Shakespearean and Tudor bawdiness, then the Puritans, then the rowdy Restoration, and then again the more decorous era of Addison and Steele.Maybe the pendulum will swing back one of these days. One thing we know for sure is that rising generations like to make their own choices rather than having their parents impose a lifestyle on them. Perhaps “sexual empowerment” will mean very different things for these young women and their daughters than it did for their mothers. If so, campus life will change. Young women have much more power over young men than they sometimes realize, and women working together can change the social climate. Courtship may yet make a comeback.[Heart photo courtesy Shutterstock]