In This won’t end well I explained the seeming contradiction between Hanna Rosin’s assertion that women chose the hookup culture because they found it empowering, and Leslie Bell’s observation that women wanted something more.
What neither author noticed is that young women are comfortable with hookups because they assume that LTRs and ultimately marriage will be theirs for the taking once they tire of hookups. Flings/hookups are fun, and even (feel) empowering when a woman is young and in the SMP power position; each new encounter is further proof that she holds the veto power over men. However, when the men are the ones doing the vetoing empowerment turns into a never ending round of rejection. Instead of having men pursue her she finds herself being passed around, if not passed over.
With the media feeding frenzy on the Yale Daily News article about SWUGs, it is interesting to note that one of the women Rosin interviewed for Boys on the side was a Yale coed:
One sorority girl, a junior with a beautiful tan, long dark hair, and a great figure, whom I’ll call Tali, told me that freshman year she, like many of her peers, was high on her first taste of the hookup culture and didn’t want a boyfriend. “It was empowering, to have that kind of control,” she recalls. “Guys were texting and calling me all the time, and I was turning them down. I really enjoyed it! I had these options to hook up if I wanted them, and no one would judge me for it.”
Rosin starts to point out that some time along the way “Tali” had started wanting something more. Tali now wished a man would ask her out on a $3 frozen yogurt date. However, Rosin then quickly closes the door on any yearning for something other than hookup culture, explaining that women really are empowered by it.
This question, each time, prompted a look of horror. Reform the culture, maybe, teach women to “advocate for themselves”—a phrase I heard many times—but end it? Never.
But there is more to the story. It turns out that “Tali” is Raisa Bruner, the author of the SWUGNATION article which the media is going nuts over:
That’s me — Tali.
The previous year, Rosin, a friend and I plopped down on a patch of grass in the Law School’s courtyard to make sense of what was going on at Yale with women, relationships and sex. That conversation become fodder for Rosin’s trend piece.
Clearly Rosin was overly eager to close the door on the dissatisfaction which sets in with hookups once a woman stops being the hottest, youngest thing on the menu. Yale’s microcosm is highly unusual given how quickly the transformation from hot young and empowered to washed up and passed over occurs, but the basic pattern is what occurs over a longer time period in the larger sexual marketplace.
Bruner does her best throughout her article to convince herself and her readers that she is empowered by the hookup culture just as Rosin argued. She desperately wants to redefine the term SWUG to mean women who are freed from caring about attention from men.
And a SWUG — a female Yalie defined by a “don’t-give-a-fuck” or “DGAF” attitude — should be the modern young feminist ideal.
But for SWUGs like Chloe and I, that’s not quite how it pans out. Whatever empowerment we’re supposed to be deriving from this version of the feminist moment is looking pretty thin on the ground.
She vacillates on this throughout the piece, finally ending with an unconvincing but obligatory nod to feminist empowerment:
We are not any old SWUGs, I decide as I carry empty wine glasses to the sink. And we do want it all — equality and individuality, power and humor. If we label ourselves, it’s only because the language has yet to catch up. As the generations of women before us did, we’ll make sure it does.
She notes that the term SWUG started at Yale as the kind of empowering term she wishes to “reclaim” it to. But the problem with attempts to manipulate language is reality has a way of overpowering the whitewash:
Maybe it was that way once. But right now, SWUG’s social meaning at Yale remains about the hooking up that we women are — and aren’t — doing, and how little we’re supposed to let that bother us.