University students are reporting some unsettling experiences on dating and sexual encounters on campuses.
U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden gave an address on violence against women at the United State of Women Summit in Washington June 14. Two days later Georgetown University released results of its first comprehensive sexual assault and misconduct climate survey.
The survey found that 31 per cent of female undergrads had experienced non-consensual sexual contact. Many students said they felt uncomfortable intervening. Seventy-seven per cent of bystanders who saw a drunk person about to have a sexual encounter did nothing to stop them. A quarter of respondents said they didn’t know what to do.
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said the data were consistent with national trends in universities. Seventy-five per cent of women at Georgetown and 85 per cent of “gender non-conforming students” reported they had been sexually harassed since enrolling.
Another sign of changing cultural mores in university culture was reported by columnist Margaret Wente in the June 18 Globe and Mail. She titled her column “How hookup culture hurts young women.”
She wrote: “When I headed off to university back in the Stone Age, girls were still afraid of being called sluts. By the time I graduated, there was a worse label — ‘unliberated.’ It applied to girls who didn’t have sex. And no one wanted to be that.”
She commented: “On many campuses today, hookup culture is the norm — especially for women who identify as feminists. Hookup culture decouples sex from commitment. It is thought to be practical as well as fun. It allows women to pursue their own interests and academic careers without the time-consuming burden of messy emotional entanglements.”
She added: “There’s just one problem. It makes them utterly miserable.”
Wente quoted an essay by Leah Fessler published in Quartz. Fessler was a student at Middlebury College, an elite liberal-arts school in Vermont. She convinced herself that her desire for monogamy was “antiquated.” Yet she couldn’t help longing for connection. “With time, inevitably, came attachment,” she writes. “And with attachment came shame, anxiety, and emptiness. My girlfriends and I were top students, scientists, artists, and leaders. We could advocate for anything — except for our own bodies. We won accolades from our professors, but the men we were sleeping with wouldn’t even eat breakfast with us the next morning.”
The sex was lousy too, she said. “In retrospect, it’s obvious that I was highly unlikely to have an orgasm with a guy who didn’t know me or care to,” she writes. Yet she blamed her sexual dissatisfaction on herself.
Wente commented that she and her friends also learned the hard way. “We learned that although women may be equal to men, we’re not the same — especially in matters of mating, sex and intimacy. Like it or not, our sexual feelings and behaviour are deeply gendered.”
She added: “Feminist theory denies these differences exist, except as artifacts of the patriarchy. And so our smart young daughters grow up ignorant of the emotional facts of life — as ignorant in their way as their great-great-grandmothers were on their wedding nights.”
Schools today across the country are having strong debates about sex education. Many of the objections arise from the fact that sex education is too much about mechanics and safe sex. Neglected is education about friendship, healthy relationships, intimacy and spirituality.
Surveys and personal testimonies of university behaviours indicate this would be a far more wholesome approach.