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It is as if rape and sexual assault were not a problem for women before they were free to prioritize their own lives over relationships—as if women’s satisfaction with non-committal sexual relationships has lead directly to men’s predatory behavior.This ahistorical logic places blame on women’s independence, rather than on men.

“Hookup culture” is an umbrella term—a vague collection of behaviors associated with today’s young people and how they choose to approach sex, romance, relationships, and social life.

Thus, “hookup panic” is an equally vague collection of anxieties about said mysterious young people.

Having described an account of forced oral sex only four short paragraphs earlier, Taylor writes, “In hookups, women were much more likely to give men oral sex than to receive it.” Such framing undercuts the gravity of the boy’s actions, reframing a sexual assault as just an act of selfishness in a mutually consensual interaction.

Similarly, to cite studies about drinking and sexual assault, focusing on the girls’ narratives without mentioning the agency of the boys, is to conflate a girl’s drinking with a boy’s disregard for consent.

The confused, moralistic judgement around hookup panic is on full display in a recent Style column called “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too,” by Kate Taylor. —that so often accompany narratives of independent women.

Taylor sets out to explore women’s role in “propelling” hookup culture, telling the stories of college students who are too busy for relationships or focused on careers, and countering them with the usual concerns—What about marriage? But the piece also conflates sexual assault and rape with hookup culture, suggesting that the culture itself creates, or contributes to, men’s disregard for obtaining consent.

But the importance of affirmative consent—not merely teaching boys to hear the word “no,” but to actively seek the word “yes”—must be isolated from the moralistic judgement that surrounds hookup panic. Writers can devote as many words as they like to worrying about such behaviors, and Susan Patton can continue to tell women that their new-found liberation (a premise which, as presented, is also worthy of interrogation) will leave them alone and undesirable. But it is even more damaging to act as if sexual assault and rape are the price women pay for independence and sexual freedom.

Want to ruin someone else’s relationship without the messy business of actually getting involved?

Molly Jane Knefel Antiquated ideas about women's sexuality are extremely damaging.

But it is even more damaging to act as if sexual assault and rape are the price women pay for independence and sexual freedom.

Taylor describes a student at the University of Pennsylvania who attended a party with a boy: “She had too much to drink, and she remembered telling him that she wanted to go home.” The boy took her to his room and raped her—he had intercourse with her despite her drifting in and out of consciousness.

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