“All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
Sally, A Charlie Brown Christmas
A few years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, I began to hear alarming tales of girls giving blow jobs on school buses and at bar mitzvahs. Once she got to high school, other scandals cropped up: girls and boys sending cell phone photos of themselves having sex, girls kissing each other for guys’ entertainment and girls hooking up with more than one guy at a time. Most of these reports were in the press, but a couple occurred in our own community as well. I understood that these behaviors were indulged in by a small minority of kids. But a sense began to take hold among girls (and savvy parents) that sexual mores and practices were changing rapidly, and that no one was applying the brakes.
I felt fortunate because my daughter was very open with me, and we were able to talk about most everything during her adolescent years. Much of what she observed around her made her uncomfortable, but at the same time she wanted to have an active social life and plenty of interaction with boys. As she navigated those sometimes treacherous waters, I aimed to be a sympathetic listener and sounding board. In trying to offer guidance, I frequently called on my own experiences growing up. I was pretty up front about sharing memories of my own disastrous missteps, and we would often wind up laughing together, which added perspective to her own immediate predicaments. In this way, I believe she came to understand that I expected her to make mistakes, and that I would not judge her. I kept the focus on how important it was that she maintain her self-respect by remaining true to herself.
Through the years, her girlfriends came to our kitchen table, where they too would share their stories and dilemmas. Those conversations often reflected how confused and unsure of themselves the girls were, but the tone remained irreverent and we always found ways to laugh. My contributions continued to be in the area of adding perspective, and in providing a strategic way of helping the girls to identify their challenges and their options. Together we would determine the best next step, and off they would go to give it a try. In this way, I learned a great deal about the hooking up culture and how vulnerable girls feel as they try to find their way to love and relationships.
My daughter is now a sophomore in college, where traditional dating is non-existent, and the hookup scene dominates. There is no other game on campus; one participates or has few opportunities for socializing with the opposite sex. Like most girls her age, she is looking for a good guy, and it’s not easy. They’re out there, but never before have boys had it so good. Boys can have just about everything they want (or think they want) with very little effort. They can hook up every weekend with a different girl. All they have to do is drink enough to get up the nerve to hit on someone. With their “beer goggles” on, almost anyone will do. And they’re not obligated in any way once a hookup is over. It’s usually just “one and done.” As rarely as hooking up leads to a monogamous relationship, girls know that without a system of structured courtship, it’s still their best hope.
I came of age in the 1970?s; it was the era of sexual liberation for women, and we experimented with our newfound freedom. We too had one-night stands that were free from expectations. But we still had the parallel traditional structure of dating to fall back on. To preserve our reputations, we generally did not have one-night stands with boys we hoped to date. We preferred anonymity for casual sex. (And then, as now, boys rarely dated the girls they had casual sex with.) Boys’ status among their peers was based in part on having a steady girlfriend, and they were charged with making most of the effort to attract and keep a girl. Girls had a lot of say in how their relationships developed and progressed; boys wanted sex and girls were in charge of granting access. Boys understood that a girl was unlikely to “go all the way” without going steady.
Today’s girls are dealing with a very different environment, one where they have very little say in how they relate to boys. Boys are not being unfair. They are being true to themselves and playing by the rules in today’s world. Why would a boy want to pursue a relationship with one girl when he can have a variety of casual sexual experiences and earn the respect of his buddies? Today, it is men who define the status of a relationship. They decide whether to call a girl after hooking up, are under no obligation to state their intentions, and usually refrain from initiating any conversations with the girl about what their interactions mean. Boys face very little risk of rejection under the status quo, and girls are more dependent on boys than ever to get what they want. Surely this is the opposite of freedom and equality for young women! I don’t believe that girls want to go back to the old traditions; there were many disadvantages to that system too. But it is time for girls to reclaim some of that power, that sense of having control over their relationships with boys.
As a business strategy consultant with 25 years of problem-solving experience, I propose that we take a hard look at where we are, how we got here and where we want to go from here. We need to carefully consider exactly what we’ve gained, and what it is we’ve lost. Then we’ll develop a strategic plan to help you get what you want in a way that you will feel good about.