Valentine’s Day has something for everyone: elementary school children can exchange Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Winnie the Pooh valentines; couples plan romantic dates; flower sales surge; groups of friends get together to watch the latest romantic comedy on DVD; and, there is always candy. Everyone likes candy. Even cynics can rejoice in their hatred of Valentine’s Day – there is a growing market for “anti-Valentine’s Day” products, such as candy hearts and greeting cards with snarky messages about relationships.
On campus the holiday has become a more ominous occasion, serving as a striking reminder of just how dysfunctional the collegiate dating scene has become. Gone are candlelit dinners and a night out on the town. Dating, in general, is an endangered species on campus. In its stead is the hook-up: casual physical encounters, ranging from kissing to sex, with no expectation of commitment.
The hook-up culture has real harmful effects, especially on women. Women are more physically vulnerable to sex, running the risk of getting pregnancy and more likely to contract many sexually transmitted diseases. Many also face emotional distress associated with casual sex—women may tell themselves that it’s no big deal, but their bodies and hormones signal otherwise. Many young women are left feeling confused and depressed.
Thanks in large part to several books on the subject, the negative effects of the hook-up culture are making their way into popular dialogue. Laura Sessions Steep, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, sums up the hook-up scene in this way, “Love, while desired by some, is being put on hold or seen as impossible; sex is becoming the primary currency of social interaction. Some girls can handle this; others…are exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually by it. They struggle largely outside the awareness of parents who either don’t know what is going on or are vaguely aware but don’t know what to do.”
One would expect campus feminists to rally on this issue and protest a culture that could be properly cast as demeaning. But you’ll be lucky to hear a peep from most campus feminists on the issue. They are too busy parading around campus with a 4-foot “living vagina” named “Joan” (That’s at George Washington University), hosting a “Panty Drop Sock Hop: Benefiting Vagina’s Everywhere” party (University of North Texas), selling “I love Vagina” t-shirts (Bucknell University), or playing a rousing game of “sex toy bingo” (University of Delaware). They might also be busy performing The Vagina Monologues (which visits hundreds of campuses each year) or hosting a performance of the Sex Workers Art Show (which is scheduled to visit at least 14 campuses this spring).
If it were men’s groups that were promoting these events, no doubt they would be visited with sit-ins, protests, and would eventually be forced off campus. But it’s women’s group sponsoring these events that either play into the hook-up culture or blatantly promote it. The Sex Workers Art Show is a “celebration of whore culture.” Performers (strippers, porn film stars, sex phone operators, etc.) parade around stage in little, if any, clothing engaging in a series of R-rated skits. The Vagina Monologues glorifies promiscuity and treats women as sex objects. Women should “embrace” their vaginas, “be” their vaginas. Women are literally defined by, and reduced to their genitalia. Women on campus deserve better from these so-called feminists.
Luckily, all is not lost. Students don’t have to buy into a hyper-sexualized Valentine’s Day and feminist movement. Students fed up with the hook-up culture can “take back the date.” If you like someone, ask them out on a real date. Celebrate romance. Reject the notion that it is empowering to detach sex from emotion. The power to transform the hook-up culture rests with individual students, and there is no better time to start than Valentine’s Day.