Connections: Women’s rights have run amok

Posted: April 9, 2013

Women’s rights have run amok

The women’s liberation movement and sexual revolution burst onto the social scene a few years before I started college in 1971, so I’ve always thought my generation of women, for better or worse, was on the “cutting edge” of freedom of expression in this realm.

Until I read Donna Freitas’ stunning piece on the Outlook page of The Washington Post on Easter Sunday.

According to Freitas, who has written a book on the subject, many college students these days regularly practice a “lifestyle of unemotional, unattached sex,” which she refers to as “hooking up.”

While parents in the 1960s and 1970s imagined these kinds of casual setups were common in that era of dramatic social change, the truth was that most women, while certainly freer from social mores than their mothers, were still selective in practice.

In other words, they slept with men they considered at least potential or long-term partners. One-night stands were rare and were still considered disappointments, not an object in themselves.

And the notion that romance might be tied up with the whole thing was still very much alive and at the heart of the experience. These were girls raised on “Leave It to Beaver” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

Barbie had Ken, and even the career-oriented girl detective Nancy Drew had her steady boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, along with her blue roadster.

When college dormitories were desegregated by sex during the period I was in school, there was no rush of males to the women’s floors or vice versa. And, certainly, the expectation was that a woman would, and could, say no with no loss of social standing.

There were, and always have been, women who were exceptions to this cultural norm. And, there has been, and likely continues to be, somewhat of a double standard for men.

Freitas reports on a survey she conducted of 1,230 college students in 2006 in which 45 percent of Catholic school students and 36 percent of nonreligious private and public school students said their peers were too casual about sex and that they wished this wasn’t the case.

An additional 35 percent at Catholic and 42 percent at nonreligious schools reported that their peers were simply “casual,” without weighing in on whether this is a good or bad thing.

The most arresting conclusion she reaches comes from 41 percent of those who say they are among those who “hook up” casually.

These students, she says, “used words such as ‘regretful,’ ‘empty,’ ‘miserable,’ ‘disgusted,’ ‘ashamed,’ ‘duped’ and even ‘abused’ to describe the experience.”

In one-on-one interviews, many students, she says, say they have sex with virtual strangers for the purpose of fitting in to campus life and because they feel it is expected of them.

All the moral questions aside, this mentality strikes me as the exact opposite of what the women’s movement set out to achieve for women.

The heart of freedom of choice of any kind is the freedom to decide on the basis of what is right for the individual whether to take a certain action.

Every move toward coercion diminishes that freedom.

If, as Freitas says, women now feel they have to conform to any standard that is not their own, we’ve slipped backward into the 1950s, when women couldn’t work. A few generations earlier women couldn’t own property or speak in public.

And a few centuries before that, women were routinely sold into slavery, situations in which they couldn’t say no to sex.

If Freitas’ research is valid, it sounds like the sexual revolution has come full circle.

And, like every other pendulum that gets set into motion with a mighty shove, this one has swung too far.