State Street, Saturday night. Drunk boy meets drunk girl. At bar time, they head back to her apartment for some post-party action. It’s a “hook up” — a commonplace college campus phenomenon.
Further down the street, a sickeningly cute couple strolls along discussing plans for the week ahead. Every day’s plans include each other. It has been like this for every day of their two-month relationship. This pair embodies another campus cliché — the “joined at the hip” couple.
These two familiar scenarios are often the only relationship options open to college women today, according to a study conducted by the Institute for American Values. The institute, a non-profit group that promotes the importance of families and fatherhood, surveyed 1,000 college women nationwide who told researchers what many UW-Madison students know all too well — traditional dating has disappeared.
“People are either hooking up or in joined-at-the-hip relationships,” said Elizabeth Marquardt, co-author of the study. “Traditional dating required a man to form a plan, pick a woman and pursue the woman, but we didn’t find any rituals [like this] on campuses today.”
Although Marquardt acknowledged that the social rules of past generations should not be resurrected, she said today’s women could benefit from clear relationship milestones.
“Rituals like a guy giving a girl his class ring, or even his asking her on a date, clearly signaled interest, and she could accept or refuse,” Marquardt said. “It helped women know where they stood. They could gradually build an early relationship together without having to immediately be sexually active or have to immediately commit to that person.”
Adding to the ambiguity, the study reported that the term “hook up” lacks a clear definition.
“People usually said a hook up meant anything from kissing to having sex,” Marquardt said. “Some people thought it definitely meant intercourse; some thought it meant everything but intercourse. Three-fourths of women in our national survey agreed a hook up is when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further.”
While the terminology may be new and confusing, sociology professor Myra Marx Ferree said some unwritten rules remain the same. The stud/slut double standard remains prevalent, and men still do most of the choosing.
“If being chosen, selected and sought after by guys is still the standard by which women’s desirability, importance and sexual significance is evaluated, then it’s real dangerous for women to say no, and it’s dangerous to say yes,” she said. “There’s risks in both — you say yes, you become the slut. You say no, you become the ice queen.”