Review: Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp
Title: Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both
Author: Stepp, Laura Sessions
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Women
Publisher / Year: Riverhead Books / 2007
Why I Read It: I thought it might be interesting… Oops.
Date Read: 27/08/12
Are you a younger woman? Have you ever hooked up while drinking, maybe even more than a couple of times in your life (could involve anything from kissing up to sex)? Well, did you know that could have a lot to do with your daddy issues? He was quite absent from your life wasn’t he? Even if not, you should know that the bar scene is a guy thing and you shouldn’t flirt with a guy you’re not interested in, you’ll only convince him to mistreat women later in life. Oh, and don’t forget, you can’t just pick up another ‘V-card’ once you give yours away. If any of this has you nodding your head in agreement, then this is the book for you! If, like me, you’re a tad horrified… welcome to the club.
Stepp begins by talking about how non-judgemental she is, and in some places she really wasn’t all that judgemental, but in others, it came through strong. Like Stepp, I think we all need to be a lot more free to talk about sex, relationships, dating, and more. I think that parents could talk a lot more to their children, and communication could be improved in many ways. There are a lot of really good points throughout the book and I can see why many might enjoy it, especially if they’ve already moved on from their university partying days themselves and have settled down.
All of that being said, I don’t think judgement or focusing on some negative ideas is the answer. Old fashioned dating, as Stepp mentioned, wasn’t that great for women in many ways. Women now have much more freedom and permission to explore and learn. While we may all make mistakes, that doesn’t mean we should be protected from them.
One main issue I had with the book was the way in which sexual assault was portrayed. While Stepp was clear that it was assault and charges could have been pressed, she focused on how the women didn’t press charges, how terrible they felt, the ways in which they internalized it, and the ways that alcohol fuels all of that. This is not something that occurs because women hook up… this is something that occurs because of the shitty culture and legal system that we have. Women not drinking and not hooking up any more isn’t going to magically save us all from rape, sorry. Even if it would, it’s a bit of a roundabout solution to a problem. Rapists rape, so we should target the rapists, not the survivors.
Another issue I had was the way feminism was treated. The chapter about the ‘feminist’ and the impact of feminism on this culture of hooking up was focused on a girl who hooked up as empowerment, and who then decided / realized that she was still allowing men to use her. Evidently being a feminist meant that she couldn’t actually enjoy the company of men or hooking up, she could only do it to hurt them or punish them. Another chapter talked about feminists who supported each other but that chapter focused on a girl who was avoiding the hooking up culture (feminist friends were good at helping her stay out of it and supporting her decision). It seemed a bit biased. And bra-burning was mentioned as if it was an actual thing that happened often. So there’s that too…
Lastly, the book is overflowing with biological facts about how men are x and women are y. Nothing about culture or nurture or so on, everything comes down to nature and the way we are hardwired from birth. But given that some men are now starting to care about relationships and feelings more, does that mean that women taking control is forcing a role reversal? (She actually pondered that.)
Avoid hookups. They’ll make you feel more ordinary than you already feel – and look more ordinary to the guy you set your sights on. He will seek to win you over only if he thinks you’re a prize. (page 278)
The bottom line is that hookups aren’t meant to be special. In a smorgasbord of booty, all the hot dishes start looking like they’ve been on the warming table too long. (page 283)
Hooking up in this telling becomes something that is selfish and self-centered and done solely to get ahead and avoid commitment. The myriad of benefits that men and women see in it are brushed aside to discuss the possible long-term impacts (of which I’ve yet heard only crickets) because hooking up doesn’t teach us how to be in a real relationship. While I think there is much to be said about open and honest dialogue and discussions, and that hooking up is a very different thing than a relationship and that both still have their place, I disagree fundamentally with much of the book. Instead of this book (unless you want to know more about how damaged and mistaken we really are) I recommend you stick to Feministing which had a really great article about the hook up culture just after I read this book.
(And as a bit of disclosure, I was in university during the years the author would have been researching and writing this book. I’m quite in touch with all that she is discussing.)