The (white) face of hookup culture

A SYTYCB entry

Hanna Rosin from the Atlantic recently asserted that the elusive “college hookup culture” contained elements of female sexual liberation and empowerment. As a recent college graduate, I agree with most of her general sentiment – I firmly believe that the hookup culture is more nuanced than the ubiquitous, pearl-clutching  “Oh no! Premarital sex! How degrading!” narrative.

But what Rosin and many of her contemporaries have a tendency to ignore is that this brand of sexual empowerment strongly favors white women over women of color. For example, in her opening paragraphs, Rosin recounts the following without batting an eye:

In another corner of the room, a beautiful Asian woman in her second year at school was entertaining the six guys around her with her best imitation of an Asian prostitute—­“Oooo, you so big. Me love you long time”—winning the Tucker Max showdown before any of the guys had even tried to make a move on her. (She eventually chose the shortest guy in the group to go home with, because, she later told me, he seemed like he’d be the best in bed.)

Is this what sexual empowerment is supposed look like for women of color?

Bizarre parenthesized epilogue aside, Rosin uses the above as an example of a woman in charge of her sexual choices, dominating and “winning”. But instead, I felt humiliated hearing Rosin singing the praises of this supposedly sexually liberated woman who put down her race just to get a laugh (and apparently, a lay) by relying on one of the most tired gendered, racial stereotypes in the world. The rest of the article continues on as if this is completely acceptable.

The reality is, the notion of empowerment in the hook up culture strongly favors white femininity. Photos accompanying articles about hookups, Rosin’s included, mainly feature white women. The article speaks of the positive force of sexual liberation while ignoring that participation in this space often goes hand-in-hand with a denial (or even hatred) of racial identity.

Analyses generally ignore the perverse and pervasive racism, and struggles of women of color are largely swept under the rug. Furthermore, Rosin continues to extoll the virtues of Girls and Sex and the City as “iconic single-girl” shows of female sexual empowerment because white girls = all girls! Right? Bueller?

And like my reaction to the success of Girls and Sex and the City before it, I’m happy for those who find themselves liberated by the hookup culture – really! The power to make your own sexual choices without regret can be gloriously cathartic. But without addressing the prevailing emphasis on whiteness within the hookup culture and for those writing about it and analyzing it, those of us who are still trying to find our slice of the sexual liberation pie without being fetishized will continue to be silenced and stripped of our femininity.

Saying that this white-centric profile of the hookup culture “is an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves” sends an incredibly dangerous message that a victory for white women is a victory for all women (because feminism will get to us women of color later, right?). More often than not, progress for white women comes at the expense of women of color.

When will we be included in the conversation?

Instead of resting on the success of (white) women’s sexual liberation via hookup culture, let’s move the conversation forward and see how we can ensure that the same options are available to every woman.

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