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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp~★★★★

Author: Laura Sessions Stepp
Title: Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both
Release Date: February 15, 2007
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre:  Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "In a world that bombards us with sex---through the media and in our everyday lives---it's the young, particularly young women, who must deal with the consequences. Kids across the country are having more sexual contact than ever before and at an earlier age, often as early as middle school. They call it 'hooking up.' But what exactly is 'hooking up'? According to Laura Sessions Stepp, a reporter for The Washington Post, even the young people who use the term don't really know what it means. It can be anything from an innocent kiss to sexual intercourse. 
In Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love ad Lose at Both, Stepp follows three groups of young women (one in high school, one each at Duke and George Washington universities) over the course of an academic year to discover what hooking up is all about. She attends class with them, spends time with them socially, listens to them talk about their hopes for the future, and comes away with some enlightening and disturbing insights.
Stepp finds that many young people have virtually abandoned the practice of dating, which they see as slow and cumbersome, and replaced it with hookups, which, detached from love and commitment, provide short-term satisfaction. Long-term relationships and romance are seen as not only time-consuming but also as messy and complicated, if not hurtful. Love is something to be postponed---or worse, is thought impossible to find and sustain. 
Some young women can handle an unstructured and emotionally unfulfilling lifestyle, but many can't---even though they try. Instead, they find that they're battered (emotionally and at times physically) by empty and unforgiving cultural patterns. The result is a generation of young people, both women and men, who are confused by relationships and uncertain about where to turn for help. 
Told by Stepp in the honest and unsparing voices of the subjects themselves, Unhooked is a blunt and unnerving indictment of the hookup culture and the social forces that have contributed to it, often unintentionally. And it's a book that's never been more necessary. As Stepp writes in Unhooked, 'The need to be connected intimately to others is as central to our well-being as food and shelter. If we don't get it right, we're probably not going to get anything else in life right.'"

Taryn's Review: I was an undergrad student from the years 2004-2008 and during those years I was both engaged and married, so "hooking up" wasn't on my radar. I don't know if I even used the term, to be honest. I do know when Jersey Shore hit the airwaves in 2009, I was quite shocked; I had no idea that casual sex really was so casual. This book pre-dated the era of Jersey Shore, but the girls who Stepp interviewed for her book are roughly the same age as me now (late twenties). This fact made me want to read the book, since as a single woman I've heard the phrase "hooking up" used frequently in my social circles. To be frank, I had a lot to learn as a newly-singled woman about the word "hooking up," its connotations, and its social impact on our culture; this book jumped out to me from the shelf as one that would enlighten me further on the subject. 

Stepp's research focus was on girls in high school and college, and contrary to the book jacket blurb she focused on more than three girls, who all shared their experience and views on hooking up. Stepp herself felt that hooking up highlighted how "unhooked" students truly were from one another. Socioeconomically, almost all of the girls interviewed were upper-middle class and upper class students. Regarding her work, Stepp's thesis stated, "This book explores, through the eyes of real girls and young women, how complex this unhooked culture is, how firmly entrenched and how it has affected the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and aspirations of this generation---including those girls who want no part of it" (p. 6).

Stepp's work really was eye-opening in demonstrating how wide-ranging the culture of hooking up has spread, with some students beginning as early as junior high. Government studies have shown that sexual intercourse and teen pregnancy are down, but what is not mentioned alongside this news is that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases/infections are still up. Many of the girls interviewed were quite casual in admitting they often sexually engaged with guys who they saw no potential relationship with (and most did not use protection). Sexual acts occurred with the notion that neither party expected commitment of any kind after the act had taken place, but Stepp questioned if girls really walked away without feeling rejected or used. Many of the girls did admit that they felt slighted when they didn't hear from the guy again, but brushed off their pain by telling themselves that is what hooking up is, after all. Stepp argued that women used to date and make the man "earn" access to her body, whereas today it isn't uncommon to hook up with one another and then try to determine whether one would like to actually "date" that person or enter into relationship with someone.

The saddest part of the book was the discussion of the girls who were sexually assaulted and raped while "hooking up" with someone. None of the girls reported the incident to police or pressed charges; the girls blamed themselves for not speaking up more vehemently or for putting themselves in the situation. Women have been liberated to believe they are no less worthy than men for being sexual creatures, yet these girls, it seems, did not realize that sexual freedom still means in the heat of the moment one has the right to say no. It was heartbreaking to read that these girls truly believed they had "deserved" their sexual assault because they had invited a guy back to their rooms and "owed" him some access to their bodies for his pleasure.

Ultimately, these are young girls and young women toying with an act that is closely embroiled with their hearts and it's questionable whether the maturity level of most of these students are truly high enough to grasp the consequences of their actions. Many girls felt the high of hooking up for only a short amount of time. That is not to say that some girls could and did hook up while experiencing pleasure and no remorse from it; in fact, some did. Stepp's sample, albeit small, showed that overall hooking up wasn't as pleasurable (sexually or emotionally) as gossip made it out to be, yet peer pressure and cultural expectations led many to engage in the act of hooking up.

The book really made me think about hooking up and its role in our culture. Sometimes I wonder how different and/or similar hooking up is as an "adult" outside of college versus those in college and high school. I think it would be really fascinating for Stepp to go back and interview these girls now, since one of Stepp's biggest concerns was how hooking up affects the ability to engage in long-term relationships. How do these girls feel now about their hooking up past, and do they still engage in the behavior? I don't deem hooking up as "right" or "wrong"; it is a personal choice each individual can make for themselves. The book provoked a lot of thoughts for me and I had a lively conversation with a friend about the subject. In my opinion, it is definitely a book to read for those interested in society and cultural shifts. Although Stepp's anecdotal sample was small, she used some of articles and published data throughout her book, which I appreciated. You don't have to agree with all of Stepp's inferences on the topic (I personally didn't), but she provided insight into an act and belief system that is currently the norm for many people across the nation. I'm not going to debate the subject here, but it is definitely a hot topic, no doubt, that can open some great dialogue between people.

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