Ronald Reagan caught a lot of static when he remarked that if it weren't for women men would still be walking around in loin cloths. Feminists went what used to be called hysterical and cartoonists had their fun depicting the president as a cave man, draped only in an animal skin, carrying a big stick, dragging a cave woman by her hair back to his lair.
In the march toward equality, the feminists didn't want to be the civilizing force, but merely equals in the hunt for sex and groceries (not necessarily in that order). The culture was frozen in a mindset devoid of common sense.
Fast forward to the year 2001, when even the politically correct can bemoan the facts set out in a new and very depressing report called "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Dating and Mating Today." It confirms the worst of our fears for our children.
"I don't doubt for a minute that women's control of sex helped to tame men, to focus their attention and make them suitable for, and amenable to, marriage," writes William Raspberry, a columnist for The Washington Post, who has not yet been caricatured as a caveman.
Relationships between college men and women are polarized by either "hooking up" (what we used to call one-night stands) or "joined at the hip" (a suffocatingly inseparable relationship.) In between is "hanging out," in which the participants can swing either way, but "hanging out" implies agonizing ambiguity and an extremely limited standard for measuring worthiness and worthlessness in a potential mate.
The hook-up is not usually premeditated so much as planned after both parties have consumed sufficient quantities of alcohol. A third party, euphemistically described in the jargon as a "facilitator," acts as pimp. A female student at Rutgers describes the new seduction protocols: One of his friends goes to the lady in question and says, "He wants to hook-up with you, you're cute, go to his room."
Cyrano de Bergerac need not apply. The language suits the occasion. Miss Manners could have warned her: "Impropriety is not as much fun as it was cracked up to be."
The survey, conducted by the Institute for American Values and the Independent Women's Forum, includes extensive interviews with 62 women on 11 campuses, and 1,000 telephone interviews nationwide. It's fascinating, if painful, to hear women speaking in their own voices about how the "hook-up" makes them feel "desirable" but only for an interval shorter than the time it takes for the consummation of the seduction.
This is the latest update of "Alice in Wonderland." Sex first, intimacy never. When a woman is disappointed at not hearing from the guy again, she typically blames herself for having done something wrong. The single standard is gone, but feminine guilt has morphed into self-deprecation. The "hook up" gives new meaning to female gullibility, for having fallen for the guy hook, line and s(t)inker.
For most of these college women, sexual experience still begets the feelings that move beyond the pleasure of the moment. Women want a committed relationship and look forward to marriage, but have nothing to guide them toward their goal. The Pill and the rhetoric of the Sexual Revolution may be at the root of changed expectations, but the increased numbers of children growing up in divorced families measure the costs.
Women from divorced families were found to be more eager to marry, but less likely to believe that marriage will last. Women with divorced parents are twice as likely to "hook up" more than six times than women from intact families.
Co-ed dorms, one of the hallmarks of women's liberation, have created a host of unintended consequences, beginning with new kinds of female vulnerability. Many women in the survey say they must lock their doors to keep drunken men from barging in at will. Besides generating a nonstop Animal House atmosphere, the co-ed dorms diminish male initiative. Romantic illusions are quickly flushed away in shared bathrooms.
A freshman at Colby College puts it this way: "Guys are just gross. Like it's almost as if they're our brothers, which is not a good thing. You immediately rule out people because you see the comfortable side of them before you get their good side."
The flip side of this is what co-eds call "housecest." The "housecestuous" couple is stuck in an informal experience of living together without responsibility and breaking up is hard to do with somebody you see every day: "You know, you do dishes together and you eat meals together."
You've come a long way, baby, when the guy in the loin cloth does the dishes.